When Roger Curtis sets his mind to something, he makes it happen. Not only does he make it happen, he does so in a way that gets everyone excited and shows he truly cares.
That is why it comes as no surprise that under his command Michigan International Speedway has taken significant steps to become more sustainable and energy efficient than ever before. But Curtis understands the work is far from over.
While MIS is currently one of the tracks in NASCAR spearheading the green movement, Curtis has set a goal to become “the greenest track in NASCAR,” leading by example and proving that a significant impact can actually be made.
Partnering with Consumers Energy, which ranks second in the nation in sustainability practices among energy providers, MIS has already taken steps to reduce their energy usage, make changes to be more sustainable and have goals that are being worked toward every day. Through this work, the track is 100 percent powered by renewable energies.
“When you first mention ‘green’ and NASCAR, they’re polar opposites. It’s just not your first reaction that they’re going to go together,” said Curtis. “I know that’s how Consumers was when they first came out. Once they saw the recycling program, once they went around with some of the fans, and they saw our commitment to it, they totally got it.”
Brian Wheeler, senior public information officer at Consumers Energy, understands Curtis’ commitment and is working alongside him to fulfill that goal.
“Roger Curtis really spelled out this vision he had that he wanted Michigan the greenest track in NASCAR, and it’s a vision that we support,” he said.
“He’s charismatic,” Wheeler said of Curtis. “He’s a guy that understands using a symbol and making a point that people can understand. I’ve known him to testify at the State Capitol. I’ve known him to work the infield and marry a couple on a race weekend. He just has this real skill to take what he’s doing and translate it to whatever audience is out there. That’s important.”
Located in the heart of Michigan’s Irish Hills, Curtis knows his fans love the outdoors and are mindful of changes going on in the environment. He understands the fans expect MIS to be as responsible as possible in their everyday efforts, and the track is hoping to showcase all of their efforts to everyone that enter the gates.
The racetrack is not the only place MIS is making a lasting, positive impact on the environment. Again partnered with Consumers Energy and the Michigan Association of Conservation Districts, the track planted 50,000 trees across Michigan last Earth Day.
“We can build a bridge. We can be a huge influence on a very large group of people that do care,” said Curtis. “If we can get them to activate and show them some things, it can have a huge impact.”
Together, MIS and Consumers Energy have demonstrated, and are continuing to demonstrate, in a very public way that being environmentally responsible not only works, it is the right thing to do.
“The public sees – whether it’s a homeowner or a business owner – people see that you can do these things,” said Wheeler. “The example MIS sets is a powerful one.”
“Consumers are out on a race weekend talking to our race fans about energy efficiency and they’re eating it up,” Curtis added. “They want to know more about what they can take home, what they can practice and what they can do differently. It’s been really phenomenal how the message has been received.”
As part of their efforts, MIS worked closely with Consumers Energy engineers to walk through the facility at peak times and down times, to determine where energy cuts could be made. These changes ranged from turning off lights in buildings and rooms when not used, to revamping the heating and air systems, to installing solar panels on the infield suites and media center.
“It was mind-boggling,” Curtis said of the results. “I thought some of our older buildings, maintenance buildings with little insulation and doors opening and closing would be the culprit where we were losing all of our efficiencies, but it was actually our newer buildings. I was really glad we had access to these engineers. They have come in and helped us immensely.”
Wheeler pointed out that if a facility can focus on reducing energy usage in the first place, that results in energy that never has to be produced at all.
Curtis admits they have just scratched the surface when it comes to making changes based off the information gathered by the engineers. Yet the work is already producing results.
As a company, MIS has saved close to six figures last year by making significant changes to the facility’s operation systems and adopting the suggestions of Consumers Energy engineers. The track was named the 2015 Consumers Energy Green Generation Customer of the Year and was presented with a renewable energy check for $29,460.
“We’ve been able to show people we can go green and do what is right,” said Curtis.
“In a way it’s been an even more powerful example,” Wheeler said of MIS. “We’ve been able to say to people that even a partner that you wouldn’t think about, like a NASCAR racetrack has shown how you can do things differently and really pave the way for a more environmentally friendly future for our state.”
MIS has proven that by making changes you can not only set a great example and influence others, but you can also save a significant amount of money in the process.
“The other piece is that it literally pays to be green. We’re well into the six figures this year in our energy savings,” said Curtis. “We’ve just done maybe one-fifth of what we ultimately can do in terms of efficiencies. I think we could double and triple our savings over the next two or three years. Why would you not do that? Also, you’re doing the right thing.”
While the savings are important, the biggest reason Curtis is so passionate about going green and pushing environmental responsibility is to make a lasting impression on NASCAR fans and fellow businesses around the country.
“I would hate for us not to utilize the power of the NASCAR fans and do something that can have a huge impact,” he said. “It’s not like we can single-handedly go out and stop global warming, but we can have a huge impact on it and at the same time a lot of people could be saving a lot of money.”