This story is part of The Salt Lake Tribune’s ongoing commitment to identify solutions to Utah’s biggest challenges through the work of the Innovation Lab.
It started with asthma symptoms.
Hanko Kiessner was a healthy, active entrepreneur working to grow his packaging business in Salt Lake City when he started to have shortness of breath after exercising. A doctor diagnosed it as asthma and prescribed a spray for treatment.
But Kiessner wanted to know more. He wanted to know why — for the first time in middle age — he suddenly was encountering breathing problems. He had been a marathon runner who was used to running in fog in his native Germany, so he didn’t think much about Utah’s inversions. But his research brought him to blame the Wasatch Front’s poor air for attacking his lungs.
“These are not natural particles,” Kiessner said, speaking about particulate air pollution. “They are man-made, and we don’t have any defenses for them.”
Fifteen years later, Kiessner has turned his troubles into inspiration. The CEO has become a leading Utah voice for converting to clean transportation, starting with his own company.
Packsize, based on Salt Lake City’s west side, offers its employees thousands of dollars to buy electric vehicles, and Kiessner installed 53 charging stations outside the headquarters where 150 people work. The chargers are free, and he even lets employees of nearby businesses use them.
It was home to the most workplace chargers in one place in Utah, until Zions Bank opened its new technology campus in Midvale this summer with 179 stations.
The value of workplace charging
Kiessner sees workplace charging as an essential element in the path to EV conversion. Powered by solar panels on the headquarters roof, daytime charging draws little if anything from the grid. Because employees generally spend hours there, they can be “level 2″ chargers, meaning they’ll charge a car in hours, not minutes like rapid chargers.
And they’re always free. Kiessner said the cost of the software to bill people wasn’t worth it, given the lower electricity rates charged for businesses. It’s more important to offer “abundance,” including having more chargers than needed, to induce more people to adopt electric cars. About 30% of employees have taken advantage of the incentives and bought electric cars.
Kiessner’s obsession is an extension of his dedication to sustainability. Packsize is a worldwide distributor of “right-size” shipping solutions. Packsize equipment, including machines assembled in its Salt Lake City facility, allows shippers to use cardboard boxes that fit rather than filling standard-size boxes with bubble wrap or other fillers.
If right-size packaging were embraced by large companies, Kiessner said, it would remove millions of truck trips from American roads.
‘An absolute convenience’
Ed Carr, Packsize’s senior vice president of sales and marketing, bought an electric car a month and a half after joining the company. He went six months before he finally got set up to charge at home, living off the free chargers at work.
“It’s an absolute convenience,” he said. “Everyone who has an electric vehicle charges at the office.”
As for whether it was a factor in joining Packsize, he said the chargers are just one sign of the company’s overall vision — “with heavy ties to social responsibility and sustainability.”
Kiessner sees the chargers as another tool for staff retention. If an employee gets used to workplace charging, it’s hard to give it up.
Tim Fitzpatrick is The Salt Lake Tribune’s renewable energy reporter, a position funded by a grant from Rocky Mountain Power. The Tribune retains all control over editorial decisions independent of Rocky Mountain Power.