By Brian E. Clark
Growing up in Milwaukee, Laurel Sukup learned
at the knee of her grocer father the frustrations of dealing with
Her dad often had to deal with
city, county and state regulators who sometimes gave conflicting
information, she recalled.
“My father wanted to follow the rules,
but it wasn’t always easy, and it took up a lot of his valuable time,”
said Sukup, who now works for state Department of Natural Resources,
but not as a regulator.
Instead, she helps businesses with good
records exceed environmental standards and – as a result – be rewarded
with streamlined paperwork, coordinated inspections and other
Sukup is a business sector specialist
with the DNR’s Cooperative Environmental Assistance Bureau in
Rhinelander. As part of her job, she coordinates the Green Tier
program, which will be one of the main topics at Monday’s conference at
Monona Terrace on “Environmental Law in a Connected World.”
The gathering – sponsored by the UW-Madison’s
La Follette School of Public Affairs (see www.lafollette.wisc.edu for
details) – will draw business, government and environmental experts
from around the globe. They will discuss how new regulatory strategies
and policies, including Wisconsin’s goal-oriented “Green Tier” law, can
improve environmental performance and business success.
Participants will look beyond the
top-down, traditional regulatory solutions of the past, and examine
strategies and policies that can lead to better environmental results
and a more productive business climate.
The conference is a follow-up to last year’s passage
of Green Tier and a related fact-finding mission to Germany, where a
Wisconsin delegation examined innovative technologies, “green building”
practices and new directions in environmental governance. The
broad-based Wisconsin group explored how the Green Tier law (modeled,
in part, after the Environmental Pacts of Bavaria) could encourage
companies to improve environmental performance while boosting
productivity and cutting costs.
Sukup’s father probably would have liked one
of his daughter to follow in his footsteps.
“As a kid, however, I knew I had a different calling,” she said. “I was
interested in the outdoors and geology. I believed and I still do that
it is good to protect the environment. But I know now that you don’t
have always be the adversary of business to get things done.”
the beginning of her career with DNR, Sukup said she had little concern
about the economic impacts of making a business clean up a spill.
Later, when she worked for a time at the Commerce Department, she saw
how expensive it could be.
“I’m sure my work probably put some people out of business, though that
wasn’t my intent,” she said.
“Over time, I saw that helping avoid problems in the first place would
better for everyone,” she said. “And I truly think that most business
people want to do the right thing.”
at DNR after a three-year stint at Commerce, Sukup went to work for the
environmental assistance program, which helped lay the groundwork for
“I worked with companies on waste minimization and recycling and
generally helping industry understand – in plain English – what
regulations they had to follow and then was a conduit back to the
agency for them,” she said. “I thought it was a pretty cool process.”
Sukup said her agency had long operated by telling industry what laws
it had to follow.
“And those laws were put in place because of bad actors, because the
public had a sense of outrage over misdeeds,” she said. “But the laws
also could make life difficult for others who didn’t need intense
scrutiny. They still had to deal with all the paperwork and hassles.”
she said, construction companies, paper processors, printers and others
are rewarded for going beyond the minimum.
“We don’t need the command and control system with the vast majority of
businesses,” she said.
“For those few with problematic
backgrounds, however, we won’t enter into agreements,” she said.
Sukup called the environmental assistance
program and Green Tier a new way for DNR and businesses to deal with
“It’s not perfect, but I like it better than
the old system in most cases,” she said.
Tom Still, president of the Wisconsin
Technology Council, said he believes Green Tier is an important step
“I think we can responsibly steward the
environment while giving businesses flexibility and a chance to be
creative about how they meet goals,” he said.
“There is nothing about Green Tier that diminishes environmental
protection,” he said. “You can actually set even more aggressive goals
and give companies incentives to reach them that aren’t so costly and
cumbersome. I think this is a way to get Wisconsin back on the map for
both environmental protection and business expansion.”
Jerry Deschane, deputy executive vice president of the
Wisconsin Builders Association, said his group is now negotiating with
the DNR for a Green Tier charter for new industry wide standards.
“Green Tier is a great idea,” he said. “And this conference will bring
in some of the world’s leading experts on the topic.
“The concept is that in exchange for going above and beyond the letter
of the law, we can see our regulatory burden streamlined,” he said.
“The great challenge is to work out the details and define what needs
to be done on both ends,” he said. “Green Tier is not for every
industry, but we are excited about it. The DNR and developers both
recognize that the traditional regulatory scheme won’t get either of us
where we want to be in the future.”
Caryl Terrell – director of the Wisconsin chapter of the Sierra Club –
had praise for the Green Tier concept, but not the Wisconsin bill that
“The bill that was passed by the Legislature last year was the “Green
Tier Lite” version,” she said. “It was incomplete and compromised.
“Still, the whole concept of challenging businesses to go beyond
minimum compliance is noble,” she said. “And it can provide a useful
tool to deal with gaps in environmental regulations that affect
people’s lives and the future of clean water and air.”
John Imes, executive director of the Wisconsin Environmental
Initiative, was more upbeat about the bill.
“I like it because it creates mechanisms for industries and builders to
invest in technologies and practices that will improve both the
environment and business performance,” he said.
“It can also give them competitive advantages and distinction in the
marketplace,” he added.
“They get the opportunity to do well by doing good and integrating
environmental priorities into their business practices,” he said. “So
in the end, everyone should benefit.”