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SOCAN Spotlight: Businesses are key players in climate action and social responsibility

Companies have been using words like “sustainable” and “eco-friendly” in their marketing since the early 1980s. Calling your products “good for the planet” became so trendy that the term “greenwashing” emerged to alert consumers that some companies were describing their products as “green” when they were anything but.

Similarly, businesses may say that “Black lives matter” and how much they cherish their employees. Are they actually doing anything to back up these statements?

An ongoing survey by Southern Oregon Climate Action Now provides a new resource for businesses to share what they’re doing to be more environmentally sustainable and socially responsible. By presenting the responses online, SOCAN’s tool can help guide consumer choices, help businesses identify what more they can do, and provide a progress report for our community.

“This project aims to support businesses that are purpose-driven,” said Gabriela Safay, a SOCAN intern who is spearheading the survey. “As a sustainability student at Oregon State University, I see great potential in the business community here in Jackson County.”

While the survey is aimed primarily at Jackson County businesses, others are welcome to participate.

The survey is available on the SOCAN website at https://socan.eco/business-survey, and several businesses have already responded. Ranging from organic farming, solar energy and auto repair shops to food co-ops, local businesses are taking meaningful action to reduce their greenhouse gas footprint.

Ashland’s Climate Vision for 2050 — adopted by the City Council in 2017 — is to be a “resilient community that has zero net greenhouse gas emissions, embraces equity, protects healthy ecosystems, and creates opportunities for future generations.”

We all have a role in realizing this vision, but the Ashland Chamber of Commerce website makes scant mention of climate action and the key role local businesses play in meeting the city’s climate goals and targets. A 2015 greenhouse gas inventory conducted for the Ashland Climate and Energy Action Plan estimated that energy use by businesses accounted for 11% of Ashland’s emissions, compared to 13% from home energy use. Other local business sources of emissions include food waste (which creates methane, a highly potent greenhouse gas) and buying and transporting new manufactured goods. While local businesses are dealing with multiple challenges right now, they are an essential part of our community. And this year has brought home just how much climate change is already affecting our local economy.

State and local programs are available to help businesses do their part and reap the benefits. Businesses that install electric vehicle chargers for their fleet, employees or customers can take advantage of a $500-$1,000 per charger incentive from the city of Ashland. Energy Trust of Oregon offers a Strategic Energy Management program to help businesses improve energy efficiency, share best practices with peers, increase employee engagement, and monitor the progress of energy savings work.

The Ashland Food Co-op has been enrolled in the program for the past two years, according to Rianna Koppel, the Co-op’s sustainability coordinator. The Co-op has reduced its natural gas use by 6% since joining the program, says Koppel, and has been able to divert most of its food waste from the landfill by donating it to local farmers for animal feed.

Natural Earth Paint and Ashland Automotive report that they’ve switched to solar energy to reduce their climate impact. Willow-Witt Ranch has implemented an “off-grid on-solar electricity and a micro-hydro electric unit” and uses monitoring systems to track and reduce its energy use.

Participating businesses are featured on the SOCAN website at https://socan.eco/survey-responses/.

“Ethical and transparent practices lay a foundation for our businesses and residents to work together for positive change,” adds Safay. “And when people buy locally they reduce their greenhouse gases as well as support the local economy.”

Ideally the project will help businesses connect more deeply with local climate work and social action.

“If businesses want to come together to work on climate issues, share resources and participate in discussions, we’d love to help facilitate,” said SOCAN co-facilitator Kathy Conway. “Often just having conversations and sharing information is a great first step.” Conway can be reached at kathy@socan.eco; Gabriela Safay is at gabriela@socan.eco.

For more information about Ashland’s CEAP goals and targets, visit www.ashland.or.us/climate.

Lorrie Kaplan is chair of the Ashland Climate Action Project of Southern Oregon Climate Action Now. She can be reached at ACAPSpotlight@socan.eco.

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