With help from chambers of commerce, local businesses go green

Greater Merced Chamber of Commerce members listen to a presentation of upcoming commercial recycling changes in the county at the Green Team Merced's September meeting.

Chambers of commerce have long been known for furthering the interests of local businesses. Now, more consumers want an economy that is steering toward sustainability, too, and that’s made Merced’s own chamber a champion of green business practices.

The Greater Merced Chamber of Commerce launched a Green Team this past summer. The team of local business people is quickly getting into small mom and pop stores and large companies to call attention to ways they go green and save money in the process.

“Environmental stewardship is an added positive but in reality businesses aren’t going to do anything unless it positively affects their bottom line,” said Adam Cox, communications and public relations representative for the chamber.

The Green Team works on two levels. There is a public education component, focused on communicating the different ways to be more environmentally friendly, and a task force, called the REACON team, which goes out to business sites and assesses their recycling, energy and conservation and air pollution mitigation efforts.

The REACON assessment is voluntary, and at the end of the visit, the business is left with a checklist of suggestions – from what kind of bulbs to use to what types of practices reduce paper waste. Business decide which changes they want to make, but it is the chamber’s hope that they move forward to receive a Green Sustainable Business Certification.

Even though committee members themselves are in the recycling or solar business, Cox said, the REACON visit is not a sales call.

“What those members get out of it is the hope that if your business is interested in solar that you would call our solar guy but we don’t leave anything more than a business card,” he said.

Cox said that since July, about 20 county businesses have taken them up on a REACON visit. Most of the businesses that Cox visited himself had already been practicing sustainability in one form or another.

A few businesses had been recycling paper, no small feat, Cox said, because there is no commercial recycling. Others had taken advantage of renovations to make their facilities more eco-friendly, as was the case with Label Technology Inc., a label and packaging company located in Merced.

Dale Reschenberg, vice president of manufacturing of Label Technology, said their sustainability efforts truly started about a year and a half ago, when they had to upgrade their lights and decided it would be a good opportunity to look into saving energy.

“The more you do, the more you find out and the more you want to do,” he said. “You never truly finish. You start thinking about it, how to defray costs and help the environment.”

Since then Label Technology has become more sustainable. The company now mixes ink using computers to reduce error and waste, upgraded its HVAC system to web base control of the manufacturing and offices facilities heating and cooling. They have also installed motion controlled low energy lighting, used LED lighting where possible, expanded its paper-recycling program, worked with material vendors to promote eco-friendly materials and packaging and have invested in a satellite irrigation system that waters landscaping depending on the weather forecast.

Plant engineering and facilities manager Albert Gabriel said that although the company already had a commitment to sustainability, he and his colleagues were happy to participate in the Green Team to become more informed about new vendors and the different solutions and opportunities available in the field.

“It’s a learning process and learning to think out of the box,” Gabriel said.

Merced is not the only chamber that is adding committees and task forces on Green practices as a way to help business keep up with trends and add value to their chamber membership.

Bev Jorgensen, vice president of corporate and member relations for the Carlsbad Chamber of Commerce, said that the chamber’s board of directors decided to start a sustainability committee in 2007. She said back then it was still a new philosophy but to everyone’s surprise, it quickly took off.

“This is one of the committees I am in charge of and honesty I went dragging my feet in,” she said. “But the task force is made chamber members, volunteers, and they have done such a great job. They understand it and get it and they want to implement it.”

Carlsbad also offers its own certification program, which it is currently upgrading, and is looking to how to facilitate green jobs and work with the local community college on feedback for a green education certificate program.

The chamber’s president and CEO Ted Owen said the education and workshops the sustainability committee offers has increased their membership, now standing at 1,500. He has noticed changes in committee members themselves.

“We put out bottles of water at our meetings and nobody takes it, but when we put out a pitcher everyone brings out their cups,” he said adding that in his office they have made some energy saving upgrades and buy green products too.

The Long Beach Chamber of Commerce has started a Green Business Council too, but one more geared towards helping businesses that already offer green products or services.

The group is still relatively new, according to Kent Peterson, the council’s president. About 30 companies are involved that already offer green products and services. Like Carlsbad and Merced, they also promote sustainable business practices to the chamber members.

Cox and Jorgensen each said they spend a lot of time educating chamber members and non-members on the myths of sustainability. There are some upfront costs, they acknowledge, but going green is getting cheaper and the return on investment is well worth it.

Gabriel at Label Technology said it would be too difficult to calculate how much the company has saved on the improvements, but they have noticed their energy bills have gotten smaller and they take advantage of as many rebates as they can.

While some businesses may not have the budget that Label Technology does, chambers suggest small improvements like switching to CFL light bulbs, using reusable water bottles or encouraging biking to work. One significant but small thing Label Technology has done is switch to 100 percent recycled paper for the employees to use in the office.

“Recycled paper costs more than new paper but it’s the right thing to do,” Gabriel said.
Cox said attendance to the monthly meetings keep growing and he attributes it to consumers own environmental awareness which Jorgensen agrees

“This is a huge thing nowadays so at least embrace it,” she said.

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