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How Businesses and Communities Focus on Sustainability

Published Tuesday Jun 25, 2019

Author Judi Currie

Editor’s note: In this follow-up to our Climate Change feature in April, business and community leaders discuss managing natural resources and tackling climate change.

Concerns about climate change as well as the high cost of energy in the Northeast have businesses encouraging out-of-the-box thinking and employee buy-in to reduce carbon footprints. Many are developing or adopting innovative technology to achieve energy efficiency. And while it may be “the right thing to do,” the reality is it’s good business, as increased  energy efficiency reduces operating costs.  

Two NH firms recently received millions in government funding for developing cutting-edge technology that can increase the efficiency of energy conversion and essentially serve as a mini in-home power plant. The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) awarded $1 million to Brayton Energy in Hampton and nearly $3 million to Creare, an R&D firm in Hanover, for energy efficiency projects.

The two companies are separately working on a unified energy system that could provide all the energy needs for a home or commercial building —electricity, heat, air conditioning and hot water—instead of needing separate systems for each. “You could own your own electric power generating plant and make electricity just as you can with solar cells,” says Jim Kesseli, president of Brayton Energy.

Brayton Energy is also working on the storage end of renewable energy and efficiency. “The utility companies need giant batteries to store the power, so there is an effort to have batteries on the grid,” Kesseli says. “This would also help with net metering; they could suck up all the wind or solar power coming in that they don’t need at the time and store it.”

Creare is working on its project with IMBY Energy in Peterborough, a technology developer that aims to reduce building energy consumption, says Jonathan Bass, IMBY’s production designer. “We envision a future where these systems are run on biofuels and will contribute to the shift to sustainable energy,” Bass says. “It is essential to decarbonize building energy consumption. We have yet to see a major reversal and hope we will be part of it.”

U.S. power plants have an efficiency of just 33 percent, because the heat that is generated along with the electricity is not captured. There is additional loss during the transmission of electricity to the customer. So, a mini power plant makes perfect sense, he says.

Capturing heat as a byproduct of another process, or cogeneration, can result in 90 percent efficiency. “We spent a lot of time creating a system to address all of the building needs. You are not adding a furnace, hot water heater, AC or backup generator; you are supporting or even replacing those, giving you the ability to be less grid-dependent.”

Hypertherm’s Environmental Mission
Hypertherm in Hanover, a global company that designs and manufactures advanced cutting products, prioritizes the environment. The company is looking at internal processes as well as how much electricity their products consume in the hands of customers.

Hypertherm in Hanover prioritizes the environment in their processes. Courtesy photo.

“We consider it part of our mission, our triple bottom line: people, planet and profit,” says Robin Tindall, team leader of environmental stewardship. “We have been doing things that benefit the environment and community for 50 years.”

The company developed a 10-year plan in 2010 with goals to be met by 2020, targeting waste, energy efficiency and carbon impact. With a year to go, Hypertherm achieved its goal of decreasing carbon output from business operations and logistics by 50 percent each, Tindall says. The company has exceeded its goal of 20 percent reduction in carbon output of its products that are in use across the globe.

“We are making our products as low-impact as possible and doing well with recyclability at about 99 percent. So we are always looking at our own usage, but since we make equipment that uses energy, we want to make sure it uses energy efficiently,” Tindall says. “The goal was to improve our portfolio by 20 percent, and we have actually hit 40 percent.”

Hypertherm is even looking at the energy use of employees commuting to work. Due in part to a shortage of affordable housing in Hanover, the company  began to offer benefits for carpooling. It also pays for bus cards and rewards those who bike or walk to work. “We have saved the equivalent of nine trips to the moon by encouraging associates to do more low-impact commuting,” Tindall says.

Sustainability Bubbling Up at Coca-Cola
Nick Martin, director of public affairs and communications at Coca-Cola Bottling Company of Northern New England (CCNNE), says the company has a strong track record of supporting energy efficiency and sustainability practices.

Headquartered in Bedford with dozens of locations throughout the Northeast, CCNNE has a large production facility in Londonderry that in 2016 became one of just a few Coca-Cola bottlers nationwide producing zero waste. Martin says 96 percent of aluminum, plastic and cardboard are recycled, and the remainder is burned to become energy.

The company significantly reduced its carbon footprint by investing in equipment that reduces how many truckloads are needed to deliver bottles. Instead of receiving fully formed bottles, Martin says CCNNE now receives preformed bottles about the size of test-tubes and uses a blow-mold machine to inflate them to various soda bottle sizes. “That took us from 3,500 truckloads of empty bottles down to 300 truckloads of preforms,” he says. “It was a vast saving of energy and, [on] the transportation cost, removed an estimated 85 tons of carbon.”

Coca-Cola Bottling Company of Northern New England’s preform bottles. Courtesy photo.

CCNNE also installed motion-sensor lighting throughout its half-million-square-foot facility, saving about $100,000 per year in electricity costs. “All of these investments required a capital investment up front and resulted in savings on the back end,” says Martin.

Sustainability Manager Ray Dube says when the company could not find local facilities that could recycle some of its waste, it decided against shipping it 2,000 miles to one that could—an effort that would create a carbon footprint larger than the benefits of recycling. Instead, the company worked to find manufacturers in New England that could use those materials in their own products.

Dube says they are constantly on the lookout for better technology, such as reusable plastic pallets instead of wood to hold bottles or cans. “It was expensive to get into, but they last forever,” he says.

It’s not just energy that is a concern. CCNNE is a major commercial consumer of water. The Londonderry facility draws about 120 million gallons of water annually from Manchester Water Works’ supply at Lake Massabesic, Martin says, with a new line being added that will increase use to 128 million. “It is the lifeblood of our product, and we try to use as little as possible and recycle as much as possible,” Dube says.

Greening The Glen House
When The Glen House opened last fall at the base of Mt. Washington, the 68-room hotel was the fifth iteration to sit on that site. The latest rendition, however, was built with 21st century sustainability technology in order to reach energy self-sufficiency and carbon neutrality.

The hotel has a geothermal system—with 30 wells that are 500 feet deep—that provides heat for the hotel in winter and cooling in summer. Using a closed-loop system, a water and antifreeze mix is circulated through the wells and into the heat pumps in the guest rooms and common areas.

Glen House elevators regenerate energy when the car is moving down, returning energy to the building to use in other places. And a hydro-generator produces around 80 percent of the electricity for the Great Glen Lodge activities center that is across the street, and an additional generator, soon to be installed, will produce an additional 20 kWh. The hotel also intends to install solar photovoltaic arrays to add to its on-site energy production.

And instead of those little bottles of shampoo that get only partly used and thrown away, bathrooms feature refillable pump bottles for body wash, shampoo and conditioner. The hotel even provides a wax paper bag so guests can take bar soap home.

The Glen House provides amenities while cutting waste. Courtesy photo.

Anheuser-Busch’s Efforts
Anheuser-Busch in Merrimack relies on natural products to make its beer and as such, General Manager Tom Jokerst says the company considers the health of the environment in every step of its production and distribution, or, as he says, from “seed to sip.”

“The parent company set sustainability goals for 2025, but we challenge ourselves every year to get better and better. We want to get to 100 percent renewable,” Jokerst says. He adds the process starts with their partners—the farmers—encouraging smart agriculture, being good stewards of the water, and managing shipping. “There are initiatives throughout the value chain,” he says.

Over the past 10 years, he says the Merrimack plant has met local goals in three key areas: reducing water usage by 46 percent, fuel by 37 percent, and electricity by 32 percent. “It’s no secret that Northeast energy prices are higher than the rest of the U.S.,” Jokerst says. “But that doesn’t prevent us from being sustainable. It is on us and our passion and mission to be these stewards within our community and do the right thing for the natural resources we need to brew our great portfolio. It motivates us a little bit more, as our cost per barrel compared to another sister brewery is higher.”

The Merrimack plant compares its success to other breweries and has internal competitions. Bill Dineen, resident engineer, says it is friendly competition, and all the facilities share ideas and best practices to help achieve reductions and savings.

“We strive for the target and continue to find ways to make improvements,” Dineen says.

He explains that the plant uses natural gas to create heat for brewing and takes steam boiling off the kettle to heat water for cleaning. Anheuser-Busch converted all the light fixtures to LED and installed variable-speed drives on conveyors to slow them down during lower production cycles. The plant reclaims water from the brewing process to reuse it where it can, such as recapturing water from final rinses to use in refrigeration systems.

“Metering and understanding how we use utilities leads to innovation. We can turn off unused equipment like a conveyor in a can line,” Dineen says. “Every employee goes through with a fine-tooth comb and turns everything off to keep us from using electricity we don’t need.”

At the national level, Anheuser-Busch has ordered 40 Tesla electric vehicles and up to 800 Nikola hydrogen-electric trucks as part of a plan to convert the entire fleet. Jokerst says some of those may be deployed in NH.

Eversource’s Evolution
It’s not just large energy consumers looking at ways to reduce their impact. Eversource, the state’s largest electric utility, is at the center of the changing energy landscape. Bill Quinlan, Eversource NH president, says several traditional power plants, such as coal, oil and natural gas, are being retired, in part due to climate change as well as meeting regional carbon reduction goals.

Eversource spent millions upgrading its technology, including this control room that monitors the entire grid in NH. Photo by Matthew J. Mowry.

“We are actively involved in figuring out what are the next generation of power plants,” Quinlan says. “How do we provide the energy we need to drive the economy? How do we finance and construct clean non-carbon-producing power plants?”
Quinlan says Eversource is pursuing intermittent generation options, including wind and solar around New England.

“Predominantly wind,” he says. “We are exploring offshore as a large-scale clean, reliable power source … it is really catching on in southern New England and we are looking at offshore wind in the Gulf of Maine.”

As a company that sells energy, it may seem counterintuitive to help customers use less, but Quinlan says Eversource is investing heavily in ways to help business and residential customers reduce energy consumption. “We think reduced consumption is good public policy, helping to ensure businesses can remain competitive and making significant contributions to the economy,” Quinlan says. “We look at all aspects of an energy-intensive business: lighting, refrigeration, motors and machinery.”

He says there was a time when the utility’s energy-efficiency projects meant going to a home and doing weatherization upgrades, but today it is much more involved, technical and sophisticated. “We are starting to see it pretty broadly,” Quinlan says. “In the Northeast 10 years ago, there was less support and less adoption. Companies looked at it from a cost standpoint. These programs are now quite cost-effective.”

Quinlan says they demonstrated the savings in power consumption with prior projects. As a result, energy efficiency program participation doubled in the past three years. “We do expect this trend to continue, especially with large businesses. The support is also coming from policy makers to build momentum.”

The transportation sector is another critical area that must be a part of planning for future energy needs. “Everyone needs to get on board if we are serious about driving down carbon. Having a power grid that can support widespread electric vehicles is critical … we are focused on ensuring it is ready,” Quinlan says.

Cities and Towns Take Action
It’s not just the private sector responding to climate change. In the wake of the Trump administration’s announcement to withdraw from the Paris Agreement, a global climate action treaty, a number of mayors nationwide stepped up to support the intentions on their own. Mayors of six NH cities have joined the “Climate Mayors,” a bipartisan commitment to honor the Paris Agreement. It now includes Concord, Dover, Manchester, Nashua, Portsmouth and Somersworth.

Rob Werner of the League of Conservation Voters says climate change action has been a central organizing principle for the group at the national level and in NH. He has been encouraging mayors in NH to be part of Climate Mayors to show that there is support on the local level for a clean energy economy.

“I wanted to play a part in local action, and I wanted to work with the New Hampshire mayors. We now have six of the 13 on board,” Werner says. “It is important that we continue to support the Paris Agreement in the face of retreat by the Trump administration, developing plans for renewable energy, electric vehicle charging stations, and expanded solar.”

Manchester Mayor Joyce Craig says local leadership is essential to creating a clean energy economy that spurs economic development and works to ensure that the environment is safe for future generations.

“It is important that municipalities take the lead on developing local responses to the impacts of climate change,” says Craig. “Here in Manchester, we’ve been working for the past year to implement energy-efficiency programs across the city and school district and develop renewable energy initiatives—primarily focused on solar energy—to help our city reduce carbon emissions and allow us to better control energy costs.”

Craig says such efforts help communities create economic opportunities and jobs, and they also improve public health.

Climate Action NH, a project of the League of Conservation Voters, is promoting the Clean Energy for All initiative (, where communities commit to 100 percent renewable energy by 2050. Werner says Hanover was the first to commit, followed by Plainfield and Cornish, then Concord and Keene. Concord is the largest municipality to make the commitment, with a goal to generate electricity from renewables by 2030, and have the city’s transportation and thermal infrastructure running off renewables by 2050.

“The Greater Concord Chamber of Commerce board of directors voted unanimously to support that effort. It is so important to collaborate and work with the business community, not just for the environment but to recognize the economic opportunity in creating a green economy,” Werner says.

One of the fastest-growing cities in the state is also focused on sustainability efforts. Sitting among the Cochecho, Salmon Falls, Bellamy and Piscataqua rivers, Dover is no stranger to flooding and has already updated city building codes. Mayor Karen Weston says understanding rising water levels is central to the city’s biggest project to date: a mixed-use development along the banks of the Cochecho. The city is building up the banks of the river before anything is built. “Dover is very green, and we do understand the repercussions that if we don’t preserve, future generations will be severely impacted and it may be too late to recover from the changes,” Weston says.

A mural in Dover illustrates the importance of the city’s river ecosystem. Courtesy of Strafford Regional Planning.

In Portsmouth, where the harbor is the lifeblood of this top tourist destination, residents, business owners and city officials are coming together through PS21 (Portsmouth Smart Growth for the 21st Century) to tackle the city’s lack of affordable housing as well as keeping an eye on sustainability.

In February, PS21 showed the film “Paris to Pittsburg,” a 2018 documentary film about climate change. This was followed by a discussion with University of NH climate scientist Cameron Wake about the importance of having a bold eco movement, such as the Green New Deal, which was released in February by U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA). (The 14-page resolution calls for a 10-year national mobilization to improve housing and education, as well as combat climate change and specifically reduce greenhouse gas emissions from all sources.) Wake stressed the important role NH voters play in national politics. “We need a litmus test for our politicians: If they are not willing to support climate change initiatives, then throw the bums out,” he says.

More discussions about climate change are coming. On May 4, businesses, municipal officials, and advocacy groups will be taking part in the NH Climate Conference at Southern NH University. The keynote speaker is Gina McCarthy, former administrator of the EPA and director of the Center for Health and the Global Environment at Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

Werner says the half-day conference will focus on public health, the business case for climate action, municipal initiatives on renewable energy, and international climate negotiations.  

Presenters include representatives from Clean Energy NH, CERES, NH Businesses for Social Responsibility, the City of Boston, Harvard Business School, Union of Concerned Scientists, Harvard Kennedy School, and the Natural Resources Defense Council.

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