Sustainability strategies overlook potential tax benefits

Only 20 percent of businesses consider available tax credits or incentives when calculating the possible return on investment for environmental sustainability projects.
Written by Heather Clancy, Contributor

Most companies with a corporate sustainability agenda are pretty clued into the potential for operational savings, but a new Ernst & Young survey finds that many be overlooking the potential for tax credits or incentives.

The survey covered approximately 225 executives, most of them from tax departments, with about 20 percent coming from a sustainability team or role. Ernst & Young reports that the responses from these two groups were dramatically different. For example, only 28 percent of the tax directors who were surveyed were clued into the fact that their companies were actually running a sustainability program. In contrast, 90 percent of the chief sustainability officers surveyed said their company had a formal corporate sustainability program.

Overall, approximately 40 percent of the respondents are apparently missing some of the potential savings opportunities that various initiatives -- such as energy efficiency upgrades and renewable energy investments -- could have in terms of tax obligations.

Only 19 percent of the companies surveyed are using different return on investment evaluations and calculations to consider the impact of environment sustainability projects because they are failing to consider incentives or tax credits that could alter the results, Ernst & Young reported.

"Reducing energy consumption and carbon emissions, switching to alternative energy and fuel sources, innovating for cleaner technologies and offsetting carbon emissions -- all of these efforts have tax considerations," said Paul Naumoff, Global and Americas Leader of Climate Change and Sustainability Services and CleanTech Tax Services, in a statement about the survey. "Companies with tax departments that aren't taking sustainability efforts into account are missing an opportunity."

What incentives actually are available to companies planning to get smarter about energy consumption or environment impact? Here's a list of what might be available to your company if you clue in your tax team, with the caveat that the political climate may affect whether or not these incentives are available in the future.

  • The federal IRC Section 179D tax deduction for commercial buildings that have invested in energy efficiency.
  • Turns out some places offer credits for complying with the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design program (currently offered in five states, 18 counties and more than 69 cities and towns).
  • Federal IRC Section 45 & 48 both offer tax credits for facilities selling electricity generated by renewable sources.
  • The Department of Energy still offers some funding opportunities and grants (although who knows how long that will last).
  • Check out what your state offers. Pennsylvania apparently offers grants of up to $2 million for certain "high performance" building projects; North Carolina offers a tax credit of up to 35 percent for renewable energy technologies installed during a given tax year; New Jersey has a 100 percent tax credit up to $100 million for any company manufacturing wind energy technology in the state.
  • If you're looking to develop something outside the United States, Ernst & Young suggests exploring Clean Development Mechanisms (CDMs). These are projects (defined by the Kyoto Protocol) that could allow businesses to earn Carbon Emission Reductions credits.

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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