By Steve Graff
It’s not just the politicians, academic leaders and advocacy groups working to ensure a greener, more sustainable future. Now more than ever, the business community belongs on that list.
From the financial institutions to the hotels to the locally-owned shops, many businesses remain motivated to reduce impact to the planet, while serving as responsible corporate citizens invested in improving island communities — and bottom lines — through recycling, energy efficiency, community engagement and more.
But experts and business leaders agree, the journey towards sustainability is only getting started. Like anywhere, the region has its share of early adopters, the less eager and everyone in between. To catch up with other areas, many say a bigger change in behavior is critical — litter and an addiction to plastic remain a problem — along with more education, greener policies and incentives that pave an easier path forward for cost-conscious businesses.
If Guam plans to fulfill its 10-year plan modeled after the United Nation’s Sustainability Development goals, boosted by an executive order by Gov. Lourdes A. Leon Guerrero that brings stakeholders together, it’s going to need businesses to help get there.
Reuse, reduce and recycle
Jacqueline A. Marati, senior vice president and chief communications officer for the Bank of Guam, calls it the gateway into sustainability.
Recycling is among the lower hanging fruits companies have implemented, whether it’s cardboard, construction materials or aluminum. It has been around for years but ramped up in recent time, as waste businesses, the Guam Solid Waste Authority and efforts like i*Recycle Guam, a nonprofit started by businesses that has installed recycling bins at 45 schools and raised more than $250,000 for them, take more initiative to ensure trash is being shredded for other use or properly disposed of — and most importantly out of the landfill.
Begun in 2007 by Ambros Inc., the members of Guam Business Partners for Recycling Inc. are Ambros, Guahan Waste Control Inc., South Pacific Petroleum Corp., Matson Navigation Co., Pyramid Recycling, Bank of Guam, Glimpses of Guam, Coca-Cola Beverage Co. (Guam) Inc., Foremost Foods Inc. and Subway Restaurants in Guam.
When the Layon Landfill opened in 2011, many items were banned, taking Guam’s recycled materials from 1% to around 28%, says Philip J. Flores, president and CEO of BankPacific, and chairman of the board for Guahan Waste Control Inc., which does business as Mr. Rubbishman.
In the Guam Business sustainability survey, nearly 80% of businesses indicated some form of recycling.
Guam faces challenges, however. Plastic and paper are being put aside and sorted, but many go-to places, like China, aren’t accepting those products, which is creating a stockpile until a solution arises.
“If we end up where the bulk of our plastic and paper have to go into the landfill,” says Margaret “Peggy” Denny, i*Recycle’s program administrator, “it’s just not a good thing.” i*Recycle began as a schools recycling program, but Denny has taken the program to island events and broadened it.
Recycling isn’t always financially viable either: Currently, it costs about $160 for a ton of waste to go to the landfill and $900 to recycle a ton of plastic, Denny says. And the value of aluminum keeps rising and falling. It has gone from 90¢ a pound down to 40¢ at times.
“In my opinion, I don’t think it’s changed enough,” says Aaron Sutton, a civil engineer and office manager at GHD Inc., an environmental and engineering firm in Tamuning, which, as part of its efforts, shreds paper for animals at GAIN. “While it’s nice to see some recycling, more than [the island had 10 years ago], there is still a long way to go. And part of that is the difficulty of collecting the materials, the cardboard, the glass, the plastic…it has to go somewhere for processing. To ship that off island is cost prohibitive. Hopefully, somebody will figure out ways to recycle.”
That’s why there’s a strong push for zero waste. Many companies strive to use less and encourage consumers to do the same, away from non-biodegradable products such as plastic and Styrofoam and towards sustainable products, like the metal straws that Maisa Guam sells and reusable shopping bags.
Pay-Less Supermarkets Mission Zero Bags initiative, now in 8th year, has been slowly prepping the island for the single-use plastic ban set to take effect January 2021 by not supplying plastic bags on Wednesdays and encouraging reusable bags with a 10¢ credit that day and 5¢ on other days at its eight stores. Since 2012, Pay-Less has given $170,000 in rebates to customers.
At the end of April, the supermarket chain will expand the effort to Tuesdays, and more days are expected to be added throughout 2020.
“It’s not only on Wednesdays; we’re seeing across the board an increase in the number of people who bring in reusable bags,” says Carina Pegarido, marketing manager at Pay-Less. “We definitely have had a good response. But of course there are some customers that do complain about it. But we’re hoping that through the education portion and offering value through the bags that they see this as the best choice in terms if you have to choose from a plastic bag or a paper bag.”
Pay-Less reports that it has saved more than 15 million plastic bags from going to the landfill or into the environment and expects to sell eight to 10 times more reusable bags this year compared to 2015.
Bank of Guam, which implemented its corporate social responsibility initiative in 2018, has a well-known penchant for such practices, too. It works with i*Recycle and incorporated community involvement into employee performance evaluations. Want to partner for an event? They will likely ask what sustainable practices, like less paper or paper straws, will be part of it.
Consuming less is a mutual feeling among financial institutions in the region and all around the world that have been backing away from paper and implementing digital strategies to move customers toward online banking.
“Stop using paper,” Flores says. “At our board meetings several years ago, we use to have hundreds of pages there, and we said, ‘We can’t keep doing this.’ Now, we all have iPads.”
BankPacific also contributes up to $10 to new customers who go paperless and $15 for existing ones. “It saves a lot of time, a lot of money and a lot paper,” Flores says.
According to a report by Deloitte, going paperless can cut operating costs at financial institutions by as much as 25%.
“Being socially responsible doesn’t just make our business look and feel good, it also makes good business sense,” Marati said last year at a Guam Chamber of Commerce women’s event. “Policies that help make the world a better place have the potential to boost company revenues, increase customer satisfaction and employee productivity.”
To many, it’s the shining green example up on the hill of Maite.
Coast360 Federal Credit Union’s headquarters, built in 2010, stands as the only Gold Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design-certified commercial building on Guam (Guam Community College boasts three buildings – two of which are Gold certified). The $15 million, 50,000-square-foot building conserves energy with natural light and energy-efficient lighting and reduces water consumption with a 26,000-gallon rainwater catchment system for the toilets and irrigation. It’s constructed and furnished with recycled materials in some parts—builders used cement from the prior building’s footprint to make a staircase. It has a green roof to cool equipment and a solar-powered water heater. Though rarely used, electric car charging stations also sit in the parking lot.
“From a sustainability perspective, it has met the expectations,” says Gener F. Deliquina, CEO of Coast360. “What you see here is pretty much the original, I would say 95, 96% of everything in the building today is the same from 10 years…And so they were designed for long term. They are very durable.”
“The energy definitely has met out expectations, that kind of savings,” he adds.
In a smaller Coast360 building, they were spending 72¢ for every kilowatt, Deliquina says, while the new building costs around 35¢ per kilowatt. “We saw almost a 50% reduction.”
While no other LEED commercial buildings have cropped up, many of the features can be seen across the island.
Almost 75% of the companies that completed the Guam Business survey indicated energy-efficient measures. They change out lights for LEDs and upgrade older air conditioners and handlers and other appliances that suck up energy.
“Seven or eight years ago, maybe one out of 50 companies would make the investment,” says Lynn Scott, chief operating officer and managing partner of Green Energy Solutions Inc, which performs free energy audits for companies and works with them to install energy conservation measures. “Nowadays, what we find, the majority will do some portion of it. Maybe it’s just lighting. Maybe it will be a portion [of the property]. It really depends on their budget.”
GESI has helped Calvo Enterprises Inc., Hawaiian Rock Products and Hyatt Regency Guam, to name a few clients, upgrade their facilities to be more energy efficient. Costs can range anywhere from $3,000 to change exterior lights, for example, or in the millions, depending on the project, Scott says. And returns on investment for energy-efficient technology can emerge within one to five years.
The Fiesta Resort Guam, which is set to become a Crowne Plaza hotel in 2021, has implemented its Green Engage program to align with other InterContinental Hotels Group hotels. That meant inputting 2019 energy bills and consumption of water to determine a baseline and goals to work toward.
The plan is to reduce the hotel’s carbon footprint by 15% over the next two or three years with upgrades and building tightening, among other initiatives, says Thomas Mayrhofer, general manager of Fiesta.
The upgrades will be gradually introduced and likely costs millions — an expense that has been built into the renovation budget, he says.
“Every one of these has a measured return on investment inside of five years,” Mayrhofer says. “As long as we align ourselves and show the return on investment, we normally get the green light because in the long term, it actually doesn’t cost the owner anything.”
The hotel also pledged to ban single-use plastics, including toiletries, like shampoo. Mayrhofer says the move was driven in part by customer demand, including one large company that indicated it would not allow its employees to stay at hotels that use single-use amenities.
“I think we are seeing it a lot more,” he says. “And this is only the very, very beginning. Every IBM, every Apple, every Amazon, every Boeing — every global company will have strict [green] guidelines on where its teams are allowed to stay.”
While progress has been made to upgrade Guam’s buildings, the truth is, the majority of them are not energy efficient. Part of that stems from ownership and subsidies available on Guam.
What incentive does a building owner have to upgrade the facility when they aren’t paying the utility bill? That’s the tenant’s responsibility. “It’s a catch-22,” Scott says.
“If they own the business and the building, they are doing pretty OK. They are trying. They are investing what their companies can invest. I am pretty impressed with what some of them are doing,” Scott says. “If they had similar subsidies like they did in the states, they would all be on board. [Guam Power Authority], because we’re a small market, doesn’t have that kind of help.”
In some areas of the mainland, subsidies and tax rebates can help cover up to 75% of the investment, with up to 50% coming from the utility company and the rest from the federal government. Right now, Guam relies on federal rebates.
However, that is expected to soon change. In 2020, GPA will expand its Guam Energy Sense Rebate Program, which affords residents an energy audit and rebates on appliances up to $800, to businesses, according to Patricia L. Diego, GPA program coordinator.
Since 2016, the utility company has paid out nearly $3.5 million in rebates to residential customers. Nearly $2 million is expected to be made available for the business program.
“GPA is doing a quite a lot to help get fuel costs down,” Scott says. “The less fuel they have to buy, the lower the power costs can become for the whole island, and the more stable the grid can become.”
It’s always sunny
Another initiative from GPA that continues to ramp up is solar photovoltaics, as the island works toward 100% renewable energy by 2045.
To date, the island produces a total of 24 megawatts of solar energy. Contracts for large photovoltaic projects signed over the past few years are expected to add more than 100 megawatts of solar to the grid by 2021. For comparison, Hawaii has nearly 700MW of installed distributed solar capacity and is working toward the same 2045 goal.
Guam sits in a prime spot to soak up rays, but costs, storage concerns and GPA’s limits on solar have kept the number of businesses to a smaller amount. According to GPA, 101 businesses and government buildings have solar, producing a total of about 4MW. GPA allows each business to install a system that generates up to 100 kilowatts.
“For the big, big users, a 100kW is kind of small,” Scott says. “So, for the hotels, [for example], that’s a just a drop in the bucket. When you are talking about big power users, they are using megawatts…It’s not something that’s going to adjust their power bill or hit their radar.”
Today, some businesses are implementing solar as part of a more comprehensive upgrade to reduce energy consumption.
Calvo Enterprises Inc, which occupies the former GPA building on Route 16 as a storage facility, has solar on a parking garage — a project that GESI worked with the company on, along with LED lights and solar thermal aircon on the roof. According to Scott, the upgrades reduced a $10,000-a-month power bill by 80%.
DGX Guam installed solar panels at its terminal and Pay-Less said solar may be coming to its facilities in the near future, as well.
It’s a significant investment. Before the solar tax credit — which allows for a 26% deduction of the total cost from federal taxes — installing a 100kW system can run anywhere from $370,000 to $450,000 on Guam.
To fully appreciate the benefits of solar, however, Scott says, the property must first be energy efficient. Otherwise, it doesn’t make any financial sense.
“What is the point of building a live solar PV system if you are still consuming more energy than you should be?” he says. “Because believe or not, energy-conservation products save more money than solar can generate in power. And it costs a whole hell of a lot less. So I am more impressed by those that take energy conservation seriously.”
A better tomorrow
“Sustainability is not just the environment,” said one Guam Business survey participant in the comments. “The conversation is much larger than that.”
Indeed, it’s also about food security, reducing poverty, creating new economic opportunities, innovating and preserving the culture.
They’re goals that motivated the governor to establish the Guam Green Growth, or G3, Working Group under Executive Order No. 2019-23 in 2019, pulling together eight teams comprised of representatives from the private, public and federal sectors.
They’ll not only develop plans to reduce the effects of climate change, but also help the island adapt to more sustainable ways to survive and thrive. Part of the Local2030 Islands Network efforts, the group is aligning its goals with the U.N. 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development “designed to put the world on a path to a more sustainable, equitable and prosperous future.”
The groups met for the first time on Jan. 30 the University of Guam and are set to deliver a concrete path forward at its Conference on Island Sustainability beginning March 31. In December, the governor established another working group tasked with creating a zero waste master plan.
Businesses will no doubt play a key role in those plans, leaders have said. But they’ll need help.
Sen. Sabina Flores Perez, who is co-leading one of the G3 teams, is pushing for more zero waste initiatives to encourage businesses to reduce while improving bottom lines. Both, she says, are critical for it to work.
“If you look at the business community, it has to be dollar conscious,” she says. “Unless you are a business that already has that ethic, it should be easy. But for most businesses, I think change…is not easy. So it’s really kind of setting out the steps for them. Change comes in steps. It’s about encouraging and investing in the beginning.”
Her zero waste bill aims to offer up grants to help businesses move to ecofriendly products or consult with advisors to help them find ways to reduce waste, she says. Last year, she also introduced a bill to extend the electric vehicle 10% rebate to businesses and says government agencies should buy electric cars.
These are the types of initiatives that should be part of the next wave, she says.
“If we want to get more results, we would have to mandate certain things, but ideally we want to encourage it through commerce and other ways,” Perez says. “That’s the part I would like to address first, more of the incentives.”
Another new initiative geared toward businesses will also be announced at UOG’s sustainability conference, called the “Guam Green Commitment,” to encourage businesses to take action, says Austin Shelton, the director of CIS. It’s modeled after efforts in Hawaii and “will be similar to the Hafa Adai pledge,” he says.
Businesses can earn “badges” by reaching certain goals (energy reduction or use of sustainable products, for example), that could be displayed or promoted. It gives bragging rights and shows a business is commited to sustainability. More details are expected at the conference.
“Sustainable development is not only about the environment. It’s about economic welfare, social empowerment, cultural creativity and ecological health,” Shelton said at the G3 kickoff in January. “With 2020 starting the decade of action, United Nations tells us to achieve these ambitious goals by 2030 to save the planet. We have never had such an urgent and important task.
“We hold knowledge as past sustainable societies that can be blended with modern, innovations to achieve a sustainable, global future.”
“When you are doing things for sustainability, you can also be doing it for profitability. That [argument] will drive a lot of people. You say, ‘Hey, if you do this, you’re helping the environment, but you’re also helping your bottom line.’ Nine times out of ten they are going to do it.”
Philip J. Flores
“How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.
“As engineers, many of our projects incorporate
“It can’t happen without top support. Your leader
Jacqueline A. Marati
“I do point out to companies that will listen if
Margaret “Peggy” Denny
“The more and more our corporate citizens, the
“I think there is a definitely an increasing interest.
Gener F. Deliquina