Tom Benson, owner of the World's Largest Laundromat in Berwyn, Illinois, is tired of listening to conservative industry groups' bluster that climate change legislation is bad for business.
That's because clean energy saved his.
When Benson bought his business a decade ago, all that hot water helping scrub everything from Speedos to sheets ate up a staggering 25 percent of total monthly revenues. With 153 washers using thousands of gallons of hot water daily, you can only imagine the energy costs. And that is before you factor in the 148 dryers.
So to cut his natural gas costs, Benson installed a solar hot water system on his roof. The three-dozen 10-by-4-foot solar panels produce more than 2,400 gallons of hot water daily, saving him some $25,000 a year.
"Our energy bills could have sunk this business," says Benson. "Now, they're a source of pride."
That's why Benson joined 10,000 small business leaders -- hundreds of them Chamber of Commerce members -- in signing Moveon.org's petition last week asking the chamber to stop lobbying against the Waxman-Markey clean energy bill. The small biz shout-out echoes the dozens of major U.S. companies already calling for strong policies to build a 21st century clean energy economy.
Benson got a grant from the state that paid for the half of the system's cost.
He knows firsthand that renewable energy incentives like those in the Waxman-Markey bill are critical for putting clean energy options within reach of small businesses.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has been re-playing its classic fear-mongering tune with the Waxman-Markey bill, saying it's "unworkable and would cause significant economic harm by imposing a multitrillion-dollar tax on businesses."
It's a tired song. This is the same crowd that fought ozone-protection legislation measures in 1995, saying the costs would exceed $135 billion and that industries would collapse. The actual costs were barely one percent of that, the health benefits were enormous, and chemical companies made millions producing less dangerous chemicals.
But if 10,000 businesses say the chamber doesn't speak for them, just whom does it represent?
Not major U.S. businesses like Nike, Starbucks, Levis & Strauss Co., the Gap and Sun Microsystems, who are members of Business for Climate and Energy Policy (BICEP). The BICEP coalition of consumer companies has publicly endorsed Waxman-Markey and published its own core principles for getting the country on a clean energy path.
"The way we see it," says Ben Packard, Starbucks VP of Global Sustainability, "addressing climate change will help companies like ours reduce operating costs and mitigate future economic instability due to extreme weather conditions, agricultural loss and the very real human costs they bring."
Starbucks already sees the imprint of climate change on coffee growing regions around the world. Global rainfall and harvest patterns are shifting, hurting farming communities and shrinking the availability of arable land.
Nor does the chamber speak for the U.S. Climate Action Partnership, a coalition of dozens of major corporations, many heavy carbon emitters, that also support pollution reductions, CO2 limits, and immediate steps to improve energy efficiency and boost clean energy.
And then there's the Northwest Business Leaders for Climate Solutions, a network of 300 businesses and executives in the Pacific Northwest who share a common belief that leadership on clean and efficient energy is good business. Its members include regional giants like Puget Sound Energy, the McKinstry Co. and Vulcan.
Dean Allen is the CEO of the McKinstry Co., a Seattle-based leader in the built environment that operates in 15 states spanning from Washington to Wisconsin to Texas.
Allen grew his business over the last decade by focusing on making buildings more energy efficient. He says that focusing on energy efficiency and sustainability has helped the company weather economic downturns, and even helped it expand.
"Our results have proven that a focus on green does create significant numbers of sustainable, family-wage and career track jobs," says Allen, who now employs 1,600 people.
From Benson to Packard to Allen, these business leaders see strong climate and energy policy as pro-business because increased energy efficiency and clean energy save money.
And what about AVOIDED costs? Burying our heads in the sand by letting a warming planet heat up even faster -- as the Chamber would have us do -- could be catastrophic. Each new scientific report brings proof of a changing climate that promises to disrupt agricultural patterns, raise sea levels, propel population shifts and require massive emergency spending as we try to react to the growing crises.
The cost of switching to cleaner energy and lowering emissions will spur competitive gains, cost far less than claimed, and come more quickly once we set our goals and adjust our incentives.
The U.S. Chamber should listen to the businesses it purports to represent. As Benson told a Roll Call reporter, "I don't think the business community ought to do knee-jerk reactions to something just because there's a change in the ballgame."
Mindy Lubber is president of Ceres, a leading coalition of investors, environmentalists and public interest groups working with companies to address sustainability challenges such as climate change