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Businesses glory in being green

Ashland wants city's merchants to take it easier on environment

ASHLAND — Compact fluorescent light bulbs, spring-loaded faucets and bicycle parking for employees are just some of the ways the seven participants in the Ashland Green Business Program are reducing their impact on the environment.

The pilot program guides participants through an environmental assessment, and then asks them to commit to improvement measures in four areas: energy conservation, water conservation, pollution prevention and solid waste reduction. Flexible criteria depending on the size and type of business are emphasized.

Even the businesses that have done things in the past have found new things to do, said program coordinator Ross Finney, who designed the pilot as part of a master's degree program in environmental education. The participating businesses are Architectural Design Works, Ashland Community Food Store, Ashland Greenhouses, Brothers restaurant, Parkside Cottage, Standing Stone Brewing Co. and the Stratford Inn.

Businesses participate, said Finney, because of the potential cost savings, the satisfaction of environmental stewardship and public recognition. The goal of the pilot program is to get feedback from participants and ask the City Council this fall to support a larger program.

The first participant to be certified green and receive a window sticker to publicize its achievement will be the Ashland Community Food Store. For a business already committed to the environment in its mission statement, the green business program gave ACFS management a chance to reevaluate current practices and look a little closer at ways to improve.

We can always do better, said outreach coordinator Annie Hoy.

Everything is conservation. We try to conserve water in everything we do. We are maniac recyclers. — But there's still plenty of stuff for us to do.

The program helped the store to find a new kind of full-spectrum fluorescent light bulb with half the mercury of the bulbs the store was previously using and at a lower cost. After an energy audit, the store found some of the compressors it was using weren't the right size for optimum efficiency. Hoy will learn to read the store's water meter to monitor usage, with the aim of detecting problems early on. Down the road, the store plans to participate in the city's green power program and install solar panels on the roof.

For years, Ashland Greenhouses has been looking for new ways to conserve water and minimize pesticide use. We have always tried to be as efficient with natural resources as we can, said owner Valri Williams. We just look at these programs as sources of information on new resources that we weren't aware of.

Some of the plants the nursery buys are shipped in plastic trays that cannot be recycled locally. Williams hopes the program will help her connect with other businesses in the area that may have the same kind of plastic or who may have another item they could jointly ship to the same recycling center.

While Finney is quick to point out the potential cost savings to businesses that become more efficient, he also says the bottom line is backing green practices, not just greenbacks.

(The program) acknowledges that most businesses have an impact on the natural environment and (it) tries to minimize that even though it may cost more in the short run, said Finney. But it's really trying to shift the focus from a total economic focus of doing business.

(Cost savings) is a nice benefit to go along with a concern for the environment.

Several of the program participants agree that their primary motivation to participate in the program wasn't the potential savings.

We hope they are not mutually exclusive, said Williams. conserving resources we are saving money. It's a nice complement.

Williams says she will get her money back from the purchase of an additional $20,000 heat-retention curtain for the greenhouses. Using the fabric will cut down on heating costs when it's cold and will shade plants when it's hot.

We aren't making investments in cutting-edge technology — that would put us out of business, said Williams. On the other hand, we're not afraid to invest if it makes sense.

The main impetus for us is not about saving money, said Brothers? owner Beth Evoniuk. We're a family business in a community-based setting. Most of our decisions aren't made on a black-and-white money basis. It's about doing something that is a real conscious act for our kids and the world.

Businesses glory in being green