MADISON — With dozens of heavy-duty diesel trucks, Reynolds Transfer & Storage may not seem like a modern green business. But the Madison moving company has undertaken a raft of efforts aimed at reducing its environmental footprint.
The steps have been both modest — using rain barrels and encouraging employees to walk or bike to work — and bold — solar arrays on three warehouses that offset much of the company’s energy use.
The motivations are both economic — greater efficiency translates to more profit — and moral, said Ben Reynolds, director of operations for the business his great-great-great-grandmother started in 1888.
“For me it’s a personal thing,” said Reynolds, 30. “I believe the science. I believe that climate change is going to screw us all over. I want to make sure we’re doing what we can.”
At a time when the federal government has been largely indifferent to climate change, businesses like Reynolds are embracing sustainability like never before.
“Today the political impasse has caused government to be lagging the private sector when it comes to climate change,” said Alex Flint, executive director of Alliance for Market Solutions, a conservative group trying to push the Republican Party to confront climate change.
“For corporations, climate is not really a politically divisive issue,” he said. “They’re not in denial.”
President Donald Trump and prominent Republican leaders continue to question the scientific consensus that greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide are the cause. Trump has vowed to withdraw from the Paris climate agreement, a multinational blueprint for limiting the rise of global temperatures.
In the absence of government leadership, the responsibility for addressing the problem will largely fall on private sector businesses, which are responsible for 70 percent of global economic activity, said Jessy Servi Ortiz, incoming director of the Wisconsin Sustainable Business Council.
“We need leadership like we’ve never needed it before,” Servi Ortiz told a recent gathering of business representatives. “You’re the leaders.”
While politicians debate the reality of a warming climate, scientists are warning of catastrophic impacts if no action is taken to curb greenhouse gas emissions.
A recent report by 13 federal agencies said damage related to climate change could reduce U.S. economic output by up to 10 percent by the end of this century.
In an increasingly global economy, businesses are already noticing. Rising sea levels, drought and increasingly intense storms and wildfires threaten assets and supply chains.
Almost no business is immune from the impacts of climate change, Servi Ortiz said.
And many corporations are anticipating there will eventually be a price for carbon emissions, which Flint argues should take the form of a carbon tax.
Corporations have also learned that sustainability can bolster profit.
“Sustainability is the right thing to do, and it is good for business,” said Tim Wiora, CEO of the Wisconsin Manufacturing Extension Partnership, a nonprofit consulting company that has helped 154 businesses save about $20 million through sustainability practices while saving some 85 million kilowatt-hours of electricity use and 193 million gallons of water use.
Those same businesses generated $22 million in new revenue from green products.
Since 2010, Wisconsin-based Kohler Co. has cut energy use by 20 percent and greenhouse gas emissions by 24 percent while cutting waste by more than half. The company aims to eliminate its direct greenhouse gas emissions while also producing products that conserve water and energy.
Kohler sustainability director Rob Zimmerman said there’s no trade-offs involved: cutting waste benefits the environment, customers and the company.
“We’re not doing this as a political statement,” Zimmerman said. “We’re doing this because it’s good business.”
For companies such as Milwaukee-based Johnson Controls, sustainability is a revenue engine.
“It’s actually a megatrend,” said Clay Nesler, vice president of global sustainability and regulatory affairs for the company’s building technologies division.
Nesler said his company is working on $1.5 billion worth of sustainable building projects that will cut carbon emissions, including a Hawaii college that is on track to be the nation’s first campus completely powered with renewable energy.
“We’re getting some pretty big impacts,” he said.
Corporations are also responding to public pressure as customers, employees and investors put increasing value on sustainability.
“It’s an expectation,” said Tom Eggert, who started the Wisconsin Sustainable Business Council in 2007. “More and more customers, especially millennials, are interested in the footprint of products.”
Public utilities — responding to customer and investor pressure as well as the rapidly falling cost of renewable energy — are leading the charge.
Alliant Energy, which serves nearly 1 million customers in Wisconsin and Iowa, has pledged to eliminate 80 percent of its carbon emissions by 2050. Earlier this month Minnesota-based Xcel Energy announced plans to be carbon-free by mid century.
“They’re not doing that because the federal government or anyone else has put a gun to their head,” said Bill Davis, executive director of the Sierra Club’s Wisconsin chapter. “They’re doing that because they’re business people and they see the way things are going.”
Despite the efforts of some, the business sector has a long way to go.
Energy companies continue to profit from fossil fuels. U.S. oil and gas production are at an all-time high, and even with the shift to renewable energy, electricity producers continue to burn more than 600 million tons of coal each year.
Davis points out that even with 80 percent reduction, utilities will still be pumping out a lot of carbon dioxide.
Reynolds acknowledges there are limitations to what he can do with existing technology. There’s not yet a viable alternative to diesel trucks for long-distance routes, although Reynolds said his newer trucks have doubled their fuel efficiency — to 6 mpg.
“We are not sustainable,” he said. “We are a company that wants to be sustainable. We have a long way to go.”
Despite the private-sector leadership, business leaders say there’s still a role for government to play.
“I don’t think we can let government off the hook,” Zimmerman said. “Regulations drive innovation. Good ones do.”
Don Ferber of the grassroots climate group Madison 350 said the federal government should be taking the lead.
But even in the absence of federal and state action, cities and counties can play a big role. For example, Ferber said, the pending loss of Boulder, Colo., which is in the process of terminating Xcel’s utility franchise, may have pushed the utility to make bolder moves.
Flint said a carbon tax would be more effective than regulation.
“Companies frequently prefer the simplicity of a carbon tax,” he said. “For a corporation, the climate tax creates a market, and they know how to respond to markets.”
Davis, of the Sierra Club, said while it’s good that companies are taking action, government regulations and assistance could speed up the timelines.
“This is kind of an all-hands-on deck situation,” Davis said.
Nesler isn’t holding his breath.
“It ain’t going to come from Washington,” he said. “We’re going to address this bottoms up more than waiting for our state Legislature or certainly the federal government.”
If the young woman driving the squad car leading the Winter Daze Parade in Menomonie didn’t look familiar to local residents, they will soon be getting to know her a lot better. Kayla Tisol became a full-time officer the day after her graduation Dec. 19 from the Law Enforcement Academy at Chippewa Valley Technical College.
Tisol, a 2015 Chippewa Falls Senior High School graduate, started with the Menomonie Police Department on Aug. 1, and she was immediately sent to complete training through CVTC’s Academy.
Being a law enforcement officer in Wisconsin takes a great deal of training. The Academy graduates needed to complete 60 hours of college credits to qualify. Many go through CVTC’s two-year Criminal Justice-Law Enforcement program, or through a university or other technical college.
CVTC Associate Dean of Emergency Services Eric Anderson said the 720-hour academy instructs the recruits in six areas: policing in America, tactical skills, patrol procedures, legal context, relational skills and investigations. Completion of training at a Law Enforcement Academy is required to become certified as a law enforcement officer in Wisconsin. However, officers can start work with a department before completing the training.
Tisol took a year off after high school, then followed the CVTC route by completing the two-year program and was promptly hired by the Menomonie Police Department. That’s a prized position to be in for an Academy student. Most students enroll on their own, and at their own expense. Those sponsored by an agency not only have their employer pay, but have a job waiting for them when they finish.
For Tisol, it’s a dream come true. “Law enforcement is not your typical job,” she said. “It’s more exciting and more than any job it allows you to stay in contact with the public while protecting them. It allows you to give back to your community.”
Tisol said her interest in the field started early in her high school years. “I have an uncle who’s a police officer and seeing officers do their work looked exciting and appealing to me.”
Working part time for the department while attending the academy, Tisol went on ride-alongs with seasoned officers and got a feel for the community. “When they gave me an opportunity to lead the Winter Daze parade in a department squad car, that was really thrilling for me,” Tisol said.
Tisol was honored at the Academy graduation as the individual champion in the Defense and Arrest Tactics exercises, one of the more challenging components of the training.
Two other graduates of the Academy may soon be joining Tisol at the Menomonie Police Department. The Department has made offers to graduates Erik Weiss of Altoona and Peter Geary of New Brighton, Minn., but formal acceptances of the offers have not been finalized.
The student speaker for the class at the ceremony was Kelsey Davis, who was sponsored by the Superior Police Department. “A career in law enforcement is challenging,” she said. “But you don’t have to carry the burden by yourself. Don’t be afraid to seek the help of professionals.”
The address to the graduates was given by program instructor and former Chippewa Falls officer Rob Teuteberg.
“Someone else’s worst day will be your every day,” Teuteberg said. “That’s the reality. It is absolutely necessary that you develop that internal gratification. If you are looking for a pat on the back, an award or a medal, you’re not going to get it.”
“I have an uncle who’s a police officer and seeing officers do their work looked exciting and appealing to me.” Kayla Tisol
MADISON — Wisconsin’s new legislative session begins Jan. 7 with Democrats still seething over a Republican lame-duck session that weakened incoming Democratic Gov. Tony Evers’ powers. With divided control for the first time in a decade, there’s fear that partisan gridlock and infighting among Republicans who control the Senate and Assembly may produce few meaningful compromises with Evers.
Here’s a look at the challenges lawmakers face as they head into the two-year legislative session:
Evers made big promises on the campaign trail, including pledges to reduce the state’s prison population by half, find a long-term funding solution for roads, expand Medicaid and hand public schools an additional $1.4 billion. But he can’t do anything without the approval of the Republican-controlled Legislature.
Democratic Assembly Minority Leader Gordon Hintz said “trust isn’t there” following the GOP-led lame-duck session.
“It’s fresh, it’s pretty significant and it’s pretty toxic,” Hintz said. “The best-case scenario (going forward) is compromise and the worst-case scenario is gridlock.”
Even some Republicans voiced frustration with the lame-duck session.
“There’s no trust on either side,” Republican state Rep. Joel Kitchens told the Door County Pulse. “This will make me redouble our efforts to work together and get past this. I don’t want this to be my life.”
Republican Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald predicted that the Legislature will write its own budget and ignore what Evers submits. That sets the stage for what is likely to be a protracted battle to pass a two-year spending plan.
Republicans have controlled both legislative chambers since 2011 but have struggled to work together. Most significantly, in 2017 they couldn’t agree on a long-term transportation funding plan, delaying passage of the last state budget before they ultimately agreed to borrow more to avoid a more permanent solution. During that battle, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos called three Republican senators who finally brokered a budget deal “terrorists.”
The Senate will only become more conservative this session, with the election of Andre Jacque, a state representative who clashed with Vos when he pushed hard-line anti-abortion bills. Fitzgerald said Republicans will have to work harder at getting along.
Finding a long-term funding solution for Wisconsin’s roads has vexed Republicans for years. Vos insists that the state needs new revenue streams; his proposal to raise the gas tax led to the impasse with Walker and Senate Republicans that delayed the last state budget. Walker solved the problem by borrowing more money, keeping the issue alive for Evers and the next Legislature. Evers says he’s open to anything, including raising the gas tax.
Evers promised to give schools an additional $1.4 billion in the next state budget. Republicans say that’s unrealistic. That sets up the likelihood that the Legislature will write its own budget, but Evers maintains strong veto power that he can use to get it back closer to what he wants. That could force a compromise.
Evers promised to accept $180 million in federal funding to expand Medicaid coverage for about 75,000 more poor people. But the move would require legislative approval. Fitzgerald said it was too soon to rule it out but Vos said in October it won’t happen. Evers plans to count on the money in his first state budget, forcing the GOP to find other revenue sources or make cuts if they won’t accept the money.
Evers wants to all but wipe out a manufacturing and agriculture tax credit that Walker and Republicans enacted. Evers’ proposal would save $300 million, which he would use to cover an income tax cut. Republicans want to keep the credit. Fitzgerald said Senate Republicans are always open to cutting taxes but they won’t raise other ones to do it.
Wisconsin’s prisons held a record number of adults in 2017 and the population is expected to grow. Assembly Republicans passed a bill in February authorizing $350 million in borrowing to build a new prison but the measure died in the Senate. Evers wants to reduce the population by half. Significant reforms that would reduce the prison population would be a heavy lift for the GOP. Lawmakers did manage to strike a bipartisan deal to overhaul the juvenile justice system last year, kindling hope for compromise.
Evers wants to eliminate the quasi-governmental Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation, which Walker created in 2011. It’s probably not going to happen; doing away with the agency would require changing statutes and Republicans would never allow it. Indeed, Republicans in the lame-duck session prohibited Evers from controlling the agency’s board and prevented him from replacing CEO Mark Hogan for nine months.
Republicans have been criticized for approving $3 billion in state incentives for Foxconn Technology Group’s new flat-screen plant in Mount Pleasant. The incentives are locked in by contract with the Taiwanese electronics giant, but Evers could still bring things to a halt by rescinding the plant’s air pollution permits.