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Striving for Sustainability: More local companies opt to make environmentally friendly investments

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For Dan Chiles, respecting the environment has been a passion for as long as he can remember. He said changing how people treat nature and use its resources is desperately needed. It’s a message he’s delivered to community organizations, businesses and individuals for nearly two decades.

Chiles, who served Springfield City Council 2007-11 and on the City Utilities Board of Directors 1994-2000, resides in a solar-powered home on a 250-acre farm in Bois D’Arc he owns with his brother, Mike. He began giving a presentation about climate change and investing in energy efficiency in 2006, when campaigning for the council seat he would later win.

“I was just inspired by events that I could see and read in the paper. It seemed like the right thing to start talking about. I started doing PowerPoint presentations back then and have been doing them ever since,” he said.

Chiles estimates he’s made the presentation he dubs “The Optimist’s Guide to Climate Change” roughly 60 times. Aside from environmental groups and Rotary clubs, he’s presented to small and large employers, such as the city of Springfield, Greene County, Missouri Association of Manufacturers and City Utilities.

“What I talk about is that we should electrify everything in this town,” he said, noting Springfield is adjacent to a great source for wind-based electricity. He was referring to the Great Plains states of Kansas, Oklahoma and others. “It has limitless amounts of wind and energy, and it’s cheap. It’s long-term cheap, not short-term cheap like natural gas prices or gasoline.”

Smart investments
He said CU has made some smart investments in energy and solar power. According to City Utilities’ 2022 integrated resource plan, which looks at the 20-year future of potential energy demand in its service territory, the company is committed to reducing its carbon dioxide emissions 70% by 2035 from 2005 baseline levels. Beyond the resource plan, CU has a goal of net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, according to Christopher Jones, vice president and chief electric operations officer.

“From an energy services perspective, we have committed to invest $1 million annually in energy efficiency programs for our customers,” Jones said via email, noting that financial investment started in 2007. “We have a long history of promoting energy and water efficiency.”

CU’s programs include residential and commercial rebates for customer investments in products such as high-efficiency toilets, electric vehicle chargers and insulation upgrades, according to its website.

In 2014, CU added solar energy to its portfolio of locally generated electricity, with a 4.95-megawatt solar farm on 40 acres along Farm Road 112 east of Springfield, just south of Interstate 44, according to Springfield Business Journal archives. Customers can choose to participate in the solar program and elect to receive some or all of their electricity from energy produced at the solar farm. Energy produced at the farm is enough to power over 900 homes annually, according to company data. 

For future power supply, Jones said CU expects utility-scale solar to be a significant piece of the replacement of one of the two coal-fired units at the John Twitty Energy Center. The resource plan recommends a 2030 retirement date. Jones said its replacement likely would be supplemented with natural gas and potentially battery storage for reliability purposes. 

According to CU officials, the utility generates more than 1.1 million megawatt hours annually from its investment in renewable projects, such as wind, solar and hydropower.

While Chiles’ message hasn’t been presented to Jack Henry & Associates Inc. (Nasdaq: JKHY), the Monett-based financial software firm with nearly 2,400 employees locally is committed to sustainability. It published its first corporate sustainability report in 2020 and now produces one annually, said Tara Brown, senior director of corporate sustainability. Part of the report speaks about the company’s commitment to the planet, which includes reducing greenhouse gases.

“We have a number of different strategies that we believe will help us reduce our emissions in the near term by 2030,” she said, noting part of that work includes optimizing its real estate footprint and cloud computing.

Renewable energy options also are being pursued, such as purchasing LED light fixtures for its offices and data centers, as well as appliances that are Energy Star certified, Brown said.

“Once we have the right amount of space and it’s powered in the right way, with renewable energy there’s opportunities for energy efficiencies that we’re taking along the way, where we have end-of-life equipment and that kind of thing,” she said. 

Jack Henry recently was recognized by USA Today on an inaugural list of America’s Climate Leaders, a data-driven recognition of companies that cut their carbon footprints in recent years. The list, developed by market research firm Statista, comprised 400 U.S.-based companies with revenue of more than $50 million in 2021. Jack Henry, which reduced its core emissions by 9.7% in 2021 from 2019, was the only Springfield area firm of the six Missouri companies on the list, according to USA Today. T-Mobile topped the list with 73.2% emissions reduction.

Sustainability is a business priority, although challenges exist to collect data and measure impact, according to a 2022 study conducted by The Harris Poll on behalf of Google Cloud. In the study, 63% of executives are willing to grow their business in a way that is sustainable for the planet, even if it means lower revenue in the near future. However, while nearly all companies have at least one program in place to advance sustainability initiatives, only 36% of businesses are measuring their efforts.

Taking steps
For Chiles, investing to help the environment even on a small scale “makes good business sense.”

That was the thought process for Amy Bennett, owner of Bosky’s Vegan Grill. Her downtown Springfield restaurant on Walnut Street recently hit its one-year anniversary. The shop includes receptacles for trash, recycling and composting. Sustainability efforts also cover products such as to-go containers and straws, she said, adding Bosky’s uses Lor Tush for toliet paper, which is made from bamboo pulp instead of trees.

“There’s more and more products coming out that are tree-free, which is pretty cool,” she said.

Springfield Compost Collective picks up all of Bosky’s food scraps and packaging that is compostable, while Republic Services is used for trash and recycling. Bennett said the composting bill is $60 per month, noting a 64-gallon bin is emptied every week.

“It’s full every week and that’s not going into a landfill. We’re proud of that,” she said, adding the monthly cost for recycling also is around $60. “The cost is worth it.”

Soap at the shop for the restroom and cleaning dishes comes from nearby downtown business Soap Refill Station, a connection Bennett said she made upon opening last year.

“The soap really is a savings. I fill that jug probably twice a month, maybe,” she said of a 90-ounce bottle. “But it’s less than I’d spend at the store if I got a brand-new bottle every time.”

Investing in the environment goes along with being vegan, Bennett said.

“The single-most impactful thing a person can do for the climate, for environmental efforts, is to be vegan. Adding Springfield Compost Collective and trying to reuse bottles and recycling, bamboo toilet paper and LED lights, it’s all just part of the vegan effort,” she said. “I feel like if we’re going to do vegan food, I want to be trying to be as conscientious about what goes out of here as well – not just the food, but the waste impact, too.”

Taking small steps is what Chiles said he constantly reminds people to do to help the environment.

“I’m waking you to the potential for a better life but in a small step. Try a small step and see if you like it,” he said.


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