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30 local businesses can ‘green up’

By Emery Cowan
Herald Staff Writer

Businesses across the country are greening up their operations, and a local nonprofit wants to help more of La Plata County’s businesses join the trend.

The Four Corners Office for Resource Efficiency is rolling out a program that will help businesses assess their resource usage and implement energy-efficiency measures, increase employee wellness and incorporate sustainability into work-site practices.

The program, funded by a $500,000 grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, takes a “wholistic approach to sustainability” that sets it apart from other commercial resource efficiency programs, said Amanda Saunders, program coordinator at 4CORE.

Participating businesses will receive free energy assessments, a $1,000 rebate to implement resource-conservation recommendations and a “resource smart” certification. The businesses also will receive assessments and recommendations about health in the workplace and incorporating sustainability into everyday operations.

Beyond energy savings and employee health benefits, 4CORE is promoting the program as a way for businesses to gain positive recognition, competitive advantage and increased revenue from new markets and new customers.

But while energy savings are easy to measure, the benefits of “greening up” in terms of attracting new business and boosting publicity prove harder to track. Among local businesses, it’s hard to tell how, or if, energy-efficiency measures translate into revenue dollars.

At Durango Coffee Co., evidence that past energy-conservation measures effect customer traffic is purely anecdotal, owner Tim Wheeler said.

“There’s an element of goodwill our customers feel about being able to shop at a business that tries very hard to take care of these issues, but it’s really hard to measure,” Wheeler said.

The company has solar panels on its roof, uses low-watt lighting, composts tea and coffee grounds and uses an evaporative-cooling system instead of air conditioning.

At Carver Brewing Co., sustainability efforts have been only one, surprisingly small piece of the puzzle, owner and general manager Mike Hurst said.

“To be honest, I’ve been surprised that we haven’t seen more reaction from the public,” Hurst said. “For as visible and active as our local breweries are in the community, a large portion of downtown visitors seem indifferent as to whether they’re drinking stale beer shipped from across country ... or drinking fresh, handcrafted brew from a local brewery that goes to great pains to reduce their carbon footprint.”

Zia Taqueria owner Tim Turner agreed that despite the company’s emphasis on solar power and local food, the quality and consistency of service matter much more than the restaurant’s commitment to sustainability in making the register ring.

Meanwhile, on a national scale, a handful of recent reports have attempted to measure ways businesses that adopt greener practices are slowly gaining in the marketplace.

The data show businesses that are leaders in environmental, social and governance policies have reported higher stock earnings and that “green” mutual funds outperformed their peers.

A recent New York Times article reported that Wal-Mart Stores Inc.’s efforts to reduce waste and greenhouse-gas emissions have boosted public opinion of the company.

It is those results that 4CORE is trying to publicize and replicate. The organization is piloting the Resource Smart Business Program with KSUT in Ignacio, Pine River Valley Bank in Bayfield and Durango Natural Foods Co-op.

The fact that 4CORE offers a third-party certification validates KSUT’s efforts, said Rob Rawles, the station’s administrative director.

“I don’t know if I can put a dollar amount on it, but as far as our image and our brand and our identity in the community, I think (the certification) says a lot,” Rawles said.

The program also helped KSUT to take a more organized approach to addressing wellness, sustainability and energy efficiency in its offices, he said.

La Plata County was 1 of 50 communities across the country to receive the EPA grant. The goal is to create programs that reduce greenhouse-gas emissions and can be replicated in other communities.

In May, 4CORE will start accepting applications for the program and hopes to work with 30 businesses or nonprofits by the end of the year.

“It’s exciting to see 4CORE bringing these initiatives into the marketplace and to businesses here,” Rawles said. “They are being the leaders in showing people new ways of how to run a business or a nonprofit.”

ecowan@durangoherald.com

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