Minnesota companies working to reduce carbon footprint

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If you're turning off lights and driving less these days to save money and maybe help the planet, you're not alone.

Businesses are looking to reduce their energy use, both to boost the bottom line and to reduce their contribution to global warming, and some Minnesota companies are part of a federal program to reduce greenhouse gas emissions voluntarily.

3M says it's reduced its greenhouse gas emissions by nearly 70 percent since 1990. Ecolab plans to reduce its emissions-per-dollar sales by 20 percent. Travelers Companies promises to reduce emissions by 7 percent.

What's gotten into all these companies?

"Where we saved energy, we've also saved money, because when we consume energy we pay for it," Amy Reilly, a Target spokeswoman, said. "We've saved millions of dollars."

In one year, Target reduced its emissions from electricity by 1 percent.

Try that at home. It's not easy.

Target and seven other Minnesota companies are part of the Environmental Protection Agency's Climate Leaders program. The EPA helps the companies make an inventory of how much global warming gases they emit and figure out where the emissions come from in their operations. Then together the company and the agency set a goal to reduce the emissions.

You can read a more detailed list of the Minnesota companies in the program here.

The EPA program won't come close to reducing enough emissions to turn the problem of climate change around, but motivated companies find useful technical help, and encouragement to set high goals.

Target has been working on its goal for eight years, ever since it joined the Climate Leaders program.

"We'd like to be further along than we are today, and we're working toward understanding what an appropriate goal would be, and working toward setting one," Reilly said. "That said, we don't want to throw a number out there that we can't meet."

"Where we saved energy, we've also saved money."

3M has set -- and met -- several goals, each one more ambitious than the last. The company has worked on energy efficiency since the oil embargo of the 1970s. 3M also reduces its greenhouse gas emissions by buying renewable energy, and installing solar panels on some of its factories.

Over at Best Buy, they've set a goal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 8 percent per square foot of floor space, from 2005 levels, by 2012.

A reduction by unit of sales or square feet isn't considered the gold standard for this kind of effort. But for a growing company like Best Buy, it's less risky than an absolute reduction goal. Leo Raudys directs environmental affairs at Best Buy. He said three-fourths of their greenhouse gases are from electricity use.

"We've done some things to retrofit our lighting so we're using newer technology," Raudys said. "We're looking at things like LEDs to further reduce our emissions. So a lot of these I'd classify as low-hanging fruit, and there's still quite a bit out there to be picked."

Raudys said he expects the company to set a more ambitious goal after they reach the one they're working on.

That's essential, according Andrea Moffett. She directs corporate programs at Ceres, a non-profit group that works with investors and environmental groups to get businesses to be more environmentally friendly.

"If you want to be real, and demonstrate leadership, and if we're going to try to meet some of our scientific targets around climate change issues, we really need absolute emissions reduction targets and commitments from companies," Moffett said.

Nationwide, companies in the EPA Climate Leaders program account for 12 percent of U.S. gross domestic product and 8 percent of U.S. climate change emissions.

The House of Representatives approved a cap and trade program in June, and the Senate is considering similar legislation.

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