By Adam Blust

Commitment leads to change. 

When an organization makes a commitment to a sustainability project, big or small, that’s when good intentions become reality. 

Sustain Dane gathered 44 organizations and companies from around Dane County and beyond April 7 to firm up their 2023 sustainability project commitments at the Accelerate Sustainability Workshop. This was just the first step in a process that will culminate in a summit on November 3 to review the projects. 

“Being here today is a great first step or second or third or 100th step on your way, on your sustainability journey,” said Lorenza Zebell, Program Manager at Sustain Dane. 

Zebell used Union Cab as an example of how one small change can cause a ripple effect throughout an organization. Union Cab’s first commitment was to purchase one hybrid vehicle for their fleet – just one. And over the next two and a half years, that small change culminated in them replacing their entire fleet with hybrids and putting solar on their roof. 

On the panel to discuss their current projects and the future: 

  • Alexandra Klabacka, Boardman Clark 
  • Chris Meyer, Zoe’s Pizzeria in Waunakee 
  • Sasha Stone, Green Life Trading Co. 
  • Ben Reynolds, Reynolds Transfer & Storage 

Reynolds said his company’s first sustainability project was installing solar arrays on two of their buildings in 2015 – a project that is close to being paid off. 

“We’re really looking for those projects that have an impact on our carbon footprint without needing to sacrifice revenue or service for customers,” Reynolds said. 

The company’s newest project is another solar installation that will cost $250,000, but will see $90,000 back in incentives, Reynolds said, with a $15,000 savings in energy each year. 
“The nice thing about solar is that it’s a relatively safe, easy investment when you look at it over the long term,” he said. 

Green Life Trading has been working for more than a year now on a project partnering with Green Box Compost in Sun Prairie. Stone said it started as a free service where customers could bring anything compostable they buy at the store back to be composted. And now the project is in a new phase where customers can drop off their compost at Green Life Trading, and Green Box picks up the compost from there. 

One big problem in the space today is “greenwashing,” which Stone said is companies marketing something as “sustainable” when it really isn’t. 

“You want to look out for companies that are just throwing these words at you, but they aren’t backing them up with data. They’re not backing them up with projects,” Stone said. 

At Zoe’s Pizzeria, Meyer and his wife Michele have replaced their entire fleet of seven delivery vehicles with EVs. Creating the EV fleet was primarily because of the environmental impact, but for Meyer there was also another reason. 

“I’m also a car nerd. I eat, sleep and breathe cars,” Meyer said. 

A critical step in their changeover was analyzing GPS data for the fleet, Meyer said, so they could have confidence that EVs would be able to handle the routes efficiently and cut down on “range anxiety.” 

Boardman Clark has started a composting project that has increased from 38 to 50 pounds per month of what would otherwise be food waste. Klabacka said the project, in collaboration with Earth Stew Compost Services, has had the added benefit of encouraging employees to compost at home as well. And waste from events at the firm has been greatly reduced. 

Klabacka said while Boardman Clark has had a sustainability committee for the past 10 years, its operations have taken a hit since covid. She said Sustain Dane was a great help in defining the sustainability goals for the firm going forward. 

One of the challenges of sustainability initiatives is finding ways to pay for them. Also presenting at the workshop was Kathy Kuntz, Director of the Dane County Office of Energy & Climate Change. Kuntz mainly spoke about the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) of 2022, which provides financial incentives to make clean energy cheaper than fossil alternatives. 

“We’re in this amazing moment,” Kuntz said, “because after decades of little to no federal action on climate, we have substantive action.” 

Two-thirds of the money in the IRA is tax credits, so rather than going from the federal government to state governments, the money goes directly to nonprofits, local governments and individuals to support their clean energy efforts. Also, Kuntz said, the funding is in place through 2032, instead of Congress “turning on and off tax credits like it was a light in a hallway.” 

This is not like federal grants, Kuntz said, that require tons of forms and regulations to be satisfied. It’s filling out one form, and getting the money sent directly to your account from the IRS. Projects include solar, geothermal, battery storage and electric vehicles. 

After the presentations, workshop attendees registered their commitments for projects they will pursue in the year ahead. Zebell said organizations can focus on what she called “micro deliverables” — small steps that can snowball into big changes. 

“You can reward yourself every time you get something checked off your list,” she said. 

Sustain Dane Board Vice President Sandy Xiong, who moderated the workshop discussions, emphasized how these projects can bring us together in a common purpose. 

“No matter what our political views are, or backgrounds are, we all have a part in keeping our planet safe — making sure there’s a future for our kids and their kids,” she said.