Making Sustainability Pay Off Now

For many Scout councils, the biggest downside to sustainability is the upfront cost. They know sustainability is the right thing to do and they know monetary savings will mount up over the long term, but none of that matters when this year’s budget is tight.

Take the example of low-flow toilets. Say you replace a functional 4-gpf (gallon per flush) toilet at your service center with a 1.6-gpf toilet that costs $150. Assuming you’re spending $2 per 1,000 gallons of water (about the U.S. average, according to the Environmental Protection Agency) and assuming the new toilet is flushed 20 times a day, you’ll save $35.04 per year on your water bill, which means you won’t start seeing cost savings for 4.28 years. (Place the same toilet at a camp with mostly weekend and summer usage, and the time horizon lengthens.)

But some sustainability measures pay off faster—much, much faster.

A few years ago, Chesebrough Scout Reservation near San Jose, Calif., didn’t have a dishwasher in its dining hall, so it had to rely on disposable plates, cups and utensils. Under the leadership of properties chairman George Denise (whose day job is director of sustainability at Oracle’s headquarters), the camp invested in a high-efficiency dishwasher—at a cost of about $2,800—and $500 worth of reusable plastic plates, plastic cups, and stainless-steel utensils.

So what return has the camp seen on its investment? “It saves us about $2,000 a year in solid-waste hauling fees and also saves us between $1,000 and $2,000 a year in buying paper products,” Denise says. “It’s actually a huge savings.” (Since the camp has its own water and septic systems, the water bill is not an issue.)

In other words, the first-year cost of $3,300 was basically offset by cost savings. And since that cost won’t be repeated—aside from replacing cups that break and utensils that land in the trash—the camp should enjoy annual savings of $3,000 to $4,000 per year for the foreseeable future.

What could your camp do with an extra few thousand dollars this year?