The damage that we do becomes more obvious as we see change and the word starts to spread. In 1993 we began a recycling plan when Jock McKernan set up a strong business recycling challenge. My wife Kathy took charge, and by 1994 we were recycling 95% of the solid waste that came into our warehouse and stores, reduced our costs for trash removal strongly, and were awarded the 1994 state of Maine award for recycling.
In 1995 Maine had begun to recover from what had been a modest blip of a recession in the country, but a terribly severe recession in Maine. We opened a store in Falmouth, and sought to do it in as environmental a way as possible. We found carpet from soft drink bottles, used chairs and fixtures that we re-did, and shelving that we had had in other stores. The store worked well, and was much more economical to build.
The wonderful surprise in these attempts was to discover that doing what was environmentally right was also economically right. Clearly, “waste not, want not” had not been repealed. When Angus King was elected, he appointed me to a term on the FAME board, and I became very aware of the tremendous need that Maine had to educate its young people and keep them in Maine. We began the Maine Difference Scholarship – a four year scholarship for a Maine student to attend a Maine college, with plans to improve Maine economy and or its environment.
By 2004, the horrors of climate change had become more broadly disseminated, and we began a strong program to reduce carbon emissions. The first job was to track and understand them, and we have had spread sheets charging fuel and electric usage and costs that go back to 2002. It’s wonderful to see the reductions in usage, and they have been steadily decreasing every year.
Again, there is a great blend of economic and environmental results. Each store that has been re-done or relocated has had work on insulation, lighting, windows, etc., as well as making sure that the materials used are as sustainable as possible. Our carpets are now all carpet squares that are made from soft drink bottles by Interface Carpets, a great company that is gearing to be a net zero company. When the carpet squares are replaced (and they last a long time.) Interface will again take them and recycle them.
We have skylights in our Scarborough store, with light sensors and occupancy sensors to manage lighting. The wood in our shelving is all from a sustainable forest in New Hampshire from a very green company, our paint is No-VOC, and our slat wall is from Auburn, Maine, to reduce transit costs.
We have an energy efficient low emission diesel truck to deliver to the stores, and the company cars are Priuses. We have switched signs to LED signage, We have switched to natural gas where possible, and have a large solar array in our Auburn store that handles the electric needs of the store.
We have temperature sensors in the stores and offices, and keep day-time temperatures at 75 in the summer, and 68 in the winter, but have unoccupied times set with higher temperatures in the summer, and lower in the winter. All of this has made a great difference, and our energy bills have dropped substantially as a percent of sales.
At the end of last year, from 2004 to 2012, we had achieved a 37.5% reduction in Green House Gases, and are committed to a 50% cut by 2020. And while there are some extra initial costs in some of these steps (not all, and some quick paybacks) the overall economic benefit of doing the right thing environmentally has been spectacular.
As we move forward, we have increased confidence that reduction in greenhouse gases and constantly finding more environmentally sound ways to do things is a very achievable process. The only question is whether enough of us will understand how strongly economic and environmental goals correlate, and how quickly our energy technology will improve.
This year is the company’s 100th anniversary from my Dad’s founding it, and our focus will be on the oceans. The major threats to them are global warming (which is causing acidification such that shell fish in a very short time may be unable to grow new shells, and with the melting of Arctic waters, will change both the circulation of currents and the up and down movement of water), agricultural nutrient use, overfishing, and plastic in the ocean.
We will focus on the plastics issue, and hope to achieve legislation in Maine similar to Los Angeles, Washington DC, and Ireland, banning plastic bags, and charging for paper bags (which break down very slowly in landfill, and require four times the carbon cost to manufacture and transport.
If we can move on these issues, it will be a happy new year.