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Is your company missing the boat on green tax incentives?

When it comes to getting government dollars for sustainability efforts, too many companies in the United States don't know what they are missing.

According to an Ernst & Young Green Tax Survey (PDF) released today, many companies are not aware of the countless opportunities to receive money from the federal and state governments, because they are unaware of the growing number of environmental tax incentives that are being offered.

Lack of awareness and department coordination are the main underpinnings of the problem, Ernst & Young found.

The survey shows that only 16 percent of companies that either have or are developing an environmental sustainability strategies are actively involving their tax or finance departments. In addition, about a third of respondents said that they did not know whether their companies had a sustainability leaders. Also, 37 percent of companies said they were unaware of tax incentives for environmental sustainability efforts.

With environmental sustainability playing an increasingly important role, companies must pay attention to tax opportunities-- including incentives, credits, grants and subsidies, said Dominick Brook, manager of tax credit and incentives advisory services at Ernst & Young.

Brook said officials at Ernst & Young decided to conduct the survey after they began to notice an alarming number of companies that were losing out on tax incentive money because of lack of knowledge.

"We weren't totally surprised by the results because of what we've seen in the marketplace," he said. "There was this totally disconnect between sustainability efforts and the tax side. So, we wanted to look on a wider scale to see what was happening."

Brook said that while it's "fairly hard" to say with certainty how much money is being left on the table by companies, it could easily be in the millions.

"That number is fairly hard to quantify," he said. "because it depends on what the (sustainability) project is and what state the company is located in."

Over the last several years, many major companies have invested millions into environmental sustainability efforts, including reducing energy consumption, switching to alternative energy and reducing carbon emissions. However, as sustainability efforts have grown, companies have not wizened up to the financial incentives that are given out by the federal government and many state governments.

Brook said that based on the survey, it was clear that most financial and sustainability officers aren't working together.

"I think a lot of companies are going to be surprised to hear about all of the opportunities they may be missing," he said.

Brook said often times sustainability efforts are driven by stakeholders expectation and customer demand, with little time spent on the financial side.

"They're looking at this from the sustainability angle and they are not necessarily looking at costs," he said.

In order to better align the sustainability and tax efforts, Ernst and Young recommends companies adopt a clear, broad framework to identify and take advantage of financial incentives.

The Ernst & Young survey was conducted in June 2011. Responses were from 223 senior executives at companies mostly in the United States. Of the survey respondents, 19 percent were chief sustainability officers, while 81 percent were tax directors or their equivalent.

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