This month, Lewis and Clark County is launching a green business certification program in Jefferson, Broadwater and Lewis and Clark counties.
The Tri-County Green Business Program is a free, voluntary certification program that recognizes local businesses for their resource efficiency efforts. Businesses who participate will learn how to assess their energy and water consumption, their waste generation, and also, how to increase overall sustainability.
Businesses that take steps to reduce resource consumption and educate staff, or those who are already doing so, will become “Green Business Certified” and will receive recognition and promotion for their efforts. In addition, they’ll save money by using less energy or paying less in waste disposal fees.
The program is intended to build community among businesses and patrons, and also to break down some of the barriers to changing behavior and making efficiency improvements. A shortage of time and money, lack of awareness, and leasing rather than owning a retail or manufacturing property, all detour investment in sustainability that would add to the company’s triple bottom line, people, planet and profit.
With those barriers in mind, the program was designed to walk businesses through the certification process, to educate business owners and facility managers about sustainable business practices, and also fund some efficiency upgrades or renewable energy projects.
In partnership with the Helena Chamber of Commerce, we’ll offer workshops each month in 2013 bringing in local experts to discuss topics about marketing, sustainable packaging options, renewable energy installation, lighting efficiency, and recycling programs, to name a few. Another aspect of the program is to offer $1500 grants to small businesses in the Tri-County area that invest in water or energy efficiency or that install renewable energy systems. The grants are funded through EPA’s Climate Showcase Communities program, awarded to Lewis and Clark County in 2011 through the work of Laura Erikson, our grants coordinator.
Dale Brackman, owner of Brackman Service and Repair, used a grant to install solar PV on his shop in East Helena. Concerned with high-energy costs, he began increasing the energy efficiency in his home and shop. He installed insulation, eaves for shading, a waste oil heater and a wood stove to burn scrap wood. When he felt he couldn’t gain any more efficiency, he looked to solar as an investment to further decrease his energy bills. With the $1500 grant and other incentives available, he installed a 6.2 kw solar PV system and said how satisfying it is to see the meter run backwards.
Helena Industries is another business that took advantage of our grant program. For more than 40 years, Helena Industries has provided work options for people with disabilities. They manufacture textiles and wood products and also do bulk mail sorting on site, work that requires good lighting. They used the $1500 grant to upgrade the lighting quality and efficiency in their facilities. They purchased lighting retrofit kits, new fixtures, and T-8 lamps and are doing the installation work themselves. So far they’ve installed 175 out of 300+ fixtures, expecting to be finished by June of 2013. From an investment of over $12,000 in equipment, with $1,500 of that paid by the county and additional rebates from Northwestern Energy, they estimate savings between $3-5,000 dollars a year, an investment that wouldn’t have been made without the grant and rebates.
Other businesses that have used the grant to increase building efficiency include: an Edward Jones Investment branch, Farcountry Press, Elements Consign and Design, Little Folks Daycare, and the Coffee Shack.
To date only about 20 of the possible 180 grants have been paid to small businesses in the area. So far the grants have been used for insulation, solar panels, new windows; and refrigeration, heating, and lighting efficiency projects; saving those business owners over $27,ooo annually in reduced energy costs and saving enough energy to power 20 average homes in the U.S. each year over the life of the equipment.
To learn more about the Tri-County Green Business program and how your business can become green business certified, visit Greenbusinessmt.com.
In Helena, I’m Emily Post for the Alternative Energy Resources Organization. AERO is a grassroots membership organization that’s been building communities by linking people with sustainable agriculture and energy solutions for more than 35 years. If you’d like to get involved, visit us online at aeromt.org.
This commentary originally aired on January 3, 2013 on Montana Public Radio.