Can being a good steward of the environment be good for a company’s bottom line?

According to panelists at CBIA’s 198th Annual Meeting and Reception on Oct. 24, the answer is a resounding yes.

The panel discussion, “Sustainability’s New Bottom Line” was moderated by CBIA president and CEO John Rathgeber and included Dan Esty, commissioner of the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP); Beth Barton, a partner at Day Pitney LLP who helps her clients navigate the state’s regulatory system; and Don Droppo, Jr., president and CEO of Curtis Packaging [all pictured above].

Droppo’s company, said Esty, “is a model of how small businesses can benefit from this idea that [you don’t] have to have tension between energy and environment on one side, and economic success, job growth, and prosperity on the other.”

Droppo noted that a while back, he realized that his firm—a fiber-based operation—wasn’t handling the waste generated by its manufacturing processes in the most efficient way possible.

“We thought we were doing a good job at waste management,” he said.

Today, Curtis Packaging sends no waste to landfills and sells 98% of its waste materials to recyclers and others for reprocessing.

“We used to earn around $4,000 or $5,000 a month in what we used to call waste but now call ‘post-production assets,’” quipped Droppo.

“We now have reached about $35,000 a month, and that is absolute bottom line…new-found money for just doing the right thing.”

Streamlining at DEEP

The panel discussion also focused on the regulatory improvements undertaken by DEEP and the benefits that have accrued to businesses as a result.

“One of the things I’ve been committed to doing…was to really break down the suggestion that environmental success has to come at the price of economic progress or vice versa,” said Esty.

“We try to think very hard about the competitiveness of Connecticut businesses every single day. And that’s meant things like 60 different lean teams taking apart all 26 of [DEEP’s] permanent programs…and rebuilding them for speed, efficiency, and reduced regulatory burden.”

One key outcome, said Esty, is that his department has reduced the time it takes to issue permits by 75%, a point that drew loud applause from the more than 500 business leaders and state officials in attendance.

“We now have 90%-plus of our permits out the door in 60 days or fewer,” the commissioner noted.  “This makes a dramatic difference in terms of creating a platform for job growth and for prosperity in Connecticut.”

Barton noted how pleased she was that DEEP welcomed the active participation of the regulated community in its lean initiative, which was extremely important  “not only from the perspective of facilitating the lean process, but also important for mending some broken fences between the DEEP staff and members of the regulated community, because everyone was rolling up their sleeves…in the context of trying to meet the same goal when we sat at the table.”

More Work Ahead

The panel also recognized that there is more work to be done. For example, DEEP needs to strive for greater consistency and predictability in its decision-making and continue to instill in each of its employees an appreciation for the link between a health economy and a healthy environment.

There’s also more lean work to do at DEEP, said Esty.

“We’re going to continue to try to streamline,” the commissioner announced, referencing Gov. Malloy’s recent executive order requiring all state agencies to conduct an independent review of regulations more than four years old in order to identify any that are ineffective or unnecessarily burdensome.

“We put into the legislature during the last session two bills to strip away legislation, statutes, regulations, and guidelines that were duplicative, burdensome, outdated, outmoded, or otherwise not working,” said Esty.

“And we didn’t get all of them done, but we got 15 different regulatory programs wiped off the books.”