Now that the Biden Administration is in full swing, most of the discussion relating to the climate crisis and clean energy is what the federal government should do to mitigate long-term risks and propel our economy forward in the 21st century. After all, the climate crisis is too big of a problem for individuals and everyday companies to solve, right? And so, we need a solution that leverages Uncle Sam’s ability to create macroeconomic supply and demand through incentives and disincentives—solar power is an enticing solution.
Yet as a business leader, I think that waiting for the government to tell me what to do and how to do it is missing the opportunity. By the time the government gets involved, the problem is usually so acute and the solution so commonsense that the first-mover advantage for businesses has been significantly watered down. The strategic benefits belong to those who see around the corner, take smart risks, and commit themselves to success despite ever-changing government regulations.
In 2004 I attended a green building conference in Cleveland and peered into the future. Inspired by architects, engineers, contractors, and manufacturers who were determined to help make the building industry more sustainable, I returned to my hometown in Cincinnati and designed the first LEED Gold certified building in Ohio for our corporate headquarters. Lo and behold, the public learned about our project and wanted more information about how to go green. After hundreds of tours, we pushed the envelope further and achieved LEED Platinum certification, and then Net-Zero Energy status by 2011.
Since then, my namesake company has continued to grow, and we constructed a second Net-Zero Energy headquarters in 2019 which we dubbed HQ2. The cost to go net-zero was less than 10% over a conventional building and the primary technology allowing us to achieve this super-performance was the solar array covering our parking lot. Most people do not realize how simple and affordable solar power is today, and that, in fact, more and more utilities are installing solar (and wind) farms rather than traditional fossil fuel-based power plants to sell you power.
Herein lies the opportunity for Corporate America, and medium and small businesses everywhere. You can become your own mini-utility by installing a solar array on your roof, ground, and/or parking lot. You can partly pay for this upgrade with a 26% federal investment tax credit and accelerated depreciation. You can realize the energy savings for the next 30+ years and use this as a hedge against future rate increases. Most importantly, you can reduce your carbon footprint and brand your company a clean energy leader in a time when ‘socially responsible’ has become a must-have attribute.
Going Net-Zero Energy is one of the best business moves I ever made as a company leader. Yes, the investments yielded competitive returns, but the far greater benefit has been the overhauling of our brand. We are now widely recognized as a sustainability leader and this allows us to attract better customers and employees. This, in turn, has helped grow our top and bottom lines and made us more resilient to things like pandemics and recessions.
The point is, don’t let the solar and wind power companies, battery storage and electric vehicle companies, and utilities and government entities become the primary beneficiaries of the coming Clean Energy Revolution in the years and decades ahead. If you become a savvy clean energy consumer and producer, and by natural extension, burnish your brand as a sustainability leader before your competition does, you will garner untold future benefits as the world marches inexorably toward a greener future.
And, certainly, you want to do this before it becomes so commonplace that even the government is behind it.