A green Federal Way makes money grow

What can green do for you?

Much like the slogan for United Parcel Service, environmental measures (or green) can do a lot for businesses.

How about creating a shopping environment where customers are willing to pay up to 12 percent more for products at retail shops? Or increasing your efficiency and reducing operating costs by reducing waste?

Experience and evidence is growing that “greening up” has benefits for individual businesses. Kathleen Wolf, a forest research scientist at the University of Washington, has studied central business districts and found that customers are willing to pay up to 12 percent more for the same product in business districts that feature large trees.

Many businesses, from big to small, have reaped financial benefits from eco-strategies. Oil giant BP saved more than $3 billion in two decades from measures to reduce its carbon emissions. Small to medium-sized businesses can typically save 20 percent to 30 percent on water utility bills by replacing inefficient equipment and implementing water conservation techniques. Simply using energy efficient power strips on computers can save 70 percent of the cost of operating each computer in a business.

For too many years, people have pitched environment and business as opposing forces. In reality, they’re both integral elements of community quality of life. High quality communities feature a strong economy and a clean, healthy environment. Federal Way is fortunate to be blessed with an effective, creative Chamber of Commerce, a growing economy with community-minded businesses, and some spectacular natural areas like the West Hylebos Wetlands Park.

Studies have shown that a vibrant natural environment like Federal Way has can be a competitive advantage for a community trying to grow its economy. Along with the bread-and-butter basics of good schools, safe streets and transportation, the amount of protected open space and quality parks is a major element for new businesses deciding to locate a shop or headquarters.

The Friends of the Hylebos is working to protect and restore a large swath of the Hylebos Creek Watershed, more than 745 acres and 10 miles of Hylebos Creek as it flows south from Federal Way through Milton and Fife and into Commencement Bay. We’re a market-based conservation organization, working with willing sellers to buy property for preservation. Being a lean, efficient group, we catalyze conservation projects by facilitating partnerships with businesses and government agencies, and securing grant and public and private funding for acquisition. We also work with businesses needing to mitigate for development, locating suitable sites and even designing and building the projects.

To date, we’ve preserved more than 400 acres of habitat. We vest ownership in the corresponding local government. Since 2000, we’ve helped bring over $4 million of open space to the city of Federal Way alone. This also has its own positive economic effects. Protected open space has been shown to increase property values of adjacent properties, benefitting landowners, and increasing local tax revenues that fund basic services.

I can’t say whether achieving the Hylebos Creek Conservation Initiative will have as dramatic an impact to individual businesses as the above example with shoppers paying 12 percent more for goods. I do know, however, that it will contribute to a cleaner, healthier Federal Way — one that’s attractive to high quality businesses and new residents.

It’s not enough anymore to say that environmentalists and businesses are not enemies. They should regard each other as friends with common interests.

Businesses can benefit directly from the environment by increasing energy efficiency and reducing waste. They can also benefit indirectly by supporting market-based conservation efforts like the Hylebos Creek Conservation Initiative, which is improving the environment we all live, work, shop and play in here in Federal Way.

Chris Carrel is a lifelong Federal Way resident and executive director of the Friends of the Hylebos, a nonprofit conservation organization working to preserve and restore Hylebos Creek and the West Hylebos Wetlands. Contact: chinook@hylebos.org or (253) 874-2005.

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