For nearly 25 years, Jeff Morrill and his brother John have spent their days thinking about their company’s impact on the earth. As the owners of a Subaru dealership in Hanover, they’re well aware that every car that rolls off the lot has an internal combustion engine, and the manufacturing of those cars emits greenhouse gases, too. So the Morrill brothers are doing what they can to offset some of the detrimental impacts, from planning to collect rainwater to wash cars to installing hundreds of solar panels on the dealership’s roof. Sustainability is so central to the Morrills’ mission that the brothers incorporated it into the company name: Planet Subaru.
“Emerson said that, ‘An institution is the lengthened shadow of one man,’” Jeff Morrill says, “and for my brother and I, these are the values we brought to the company from the beginning.”
Planet Subaru is part of a growing cohort of companies across the region incorporating sustainability measures into day-to-day operations to help offset the role they play in the climate crisis. And it’s a significant role: Across the globe, buildings account for 40 percent of greenhouse gas emissions — offices and industrial facilities play an outsized role in that tally, due to their size. Some employers are starting small by removing single-use plastics from office kitchens. Others offer subsidies for public transportation. There’s also a surge in corporate sustainability committees that identify wasteful practices and push for more corporate accountability.
At AAA Northeast, solar panels are being installed on buildings while an environmental employee resource group plots the organization’s path toward becoming carbon neutral. As of this summer, Burlington-based life sciences giant MilliporeSigma has matched 100 percent of its US electricity needs with renewable energy sources. In Somerville, SmartBear Software has been measuring its greenhouse gas emissions since 2019, has a LEED certified building, and this year signed the VISTA climate pledge, committing to measure and reduce its carbon emissions in the years ahead.
Part of this is strategic: When a large company reduces its carbon footprint, it not only reduces carbon in the atmosphere, it can also decrease its energy costs by hundreds of thousands of dollars. And because Massachusetts has a target of net-zero emissions by 2050, many companies using the statewide roadmap as a guide are getting ahead of possible future mandates.
But many say that their efforts to incorporate sustainability have benefits beyond the obvious ones for the planet: Workers love it. A study by Kite Insights found that more than 52 percent of employees link their company’s climate action to their job satisfaction, and 90 percent say their employer’s climate initiatives are important for their motivation and well-being. Companies lagging on climate issues should take notice: 36 percent of employees think their companies aren’t taking enough action, and more than half want climate training, with 1 in 10 ready to walk without it.
“It’s something that’s part of the fabric of who we are, it’s embedded in our mission and part of our values,” says Matthew Burke, chief executive of Cape Cod 5 bank. “Part of that’s the nature of where we’re located. We have a front row seat to how things are changing and we project that into a lot of our long-term planning.”
So far, that planning has involved the construction of its buildings, including the new LEED gold certified campus in Hyannis, which features an 80,000-square-foot state-of-the-art building outfitted with more than 16,000 square feet of solar panels on the roof. The company’s new parking garage at the site will feature a solar canopy that will triple its solar capacity. And the bank went one step beyond just installing electric vehicle chargers in its parking lots: Last December, it started offering an EV incentive program for employees, providing them with $1,000 toward the purchase of an electric vehicle, or $200 for an e-bike or e-scooter. Burke says his employees were thrilled to get the incentive. The hard part, he said, is actually finding an EV in stock because of supply issues and skyrocketing demand.
That’s where companies like Seurat Technologies might soon be able to help. The Wilmington-based high-tech firm’s massive laser printers can 3-D print metal parts for things such as cars and other products instead of forging them by traditional means, greatly reducing waste and greenhouse gas emissions in the process. “Traditionally, parts are made today by casting or forging,” says chief executive James DeMuth. “And for those processes, you use the cheapest form of energy you can get, which is generally burning fossil fuels.” The first factory is currently under construction in Wilmington, and DeMuth hopes that eventually, parts for things such as phones and cars will be manufactured alongside the factories where they’re assembled instead of shipped from halfway around the globe.
Seurat has a contract to manufacture parts for a local company developing fusion power plant technology — a potential climate game-changer. But that means keeping its own emissions in check to avoid contributing to greenhouse gas emissions while simultaneously trying to solve for them. Right now, they’re powering the printers with 100 percent renewable energy, but Seraut’s long-term plans involve developing micro grids adjacent to the factory sites that ultimately power themselves.
“We have an opportunity, and I think, essentially a mandate, to say, let’s help the world convert to green energy,” DeMuth says. By developing micro grids, “We guarantee that our energy source is a non-greenhouse-gas emitting source. The best way to do that is by deploying your own source.”
While far less high-tech, Morrill sees his car dealership as a “laboratory for others.” It’s why the brothers installed 347 solar panels and high-efficiency HVAC systems on the roof of their facility. They also planted an apple orchard on the grounds of their 11-acre dealership and helped reintroduce a local quail population along the nature trail that they built — lined with native pollinator-friendly wildflowers, of course. Weeding on-site is typically done by goats. Up next, they’re planning a water harvesting system that will make Planet Subaru the first car dealership in the country to wash cars with rainwater.
There are more than 18,000 car dealerships in the United States, and Morrill says he’s delighted to see many of the initiatives he’s piloted adopted by his peers. And the sustainability initiatives definitely resonate with his employees, too. “There’s a Groundhog Day component to any job,” he says. “This just makes it interesting.”
But what excites him most is the future: This year, Subaru is producing its first electric car, and Morrill already has his reserved. It takes everyone — and every company — doing its part, he says. His goal is to “inspire other businesses to think about what we’re doing, and think about how it can work for them.”