Entrepreneur with an Eco Twist
Launched in April 2012, the Ecopreneurs pilot program of the Human Impacts Institute(HII) offers small business participants individualized opportunities to incorporate environmental sustainability into their everyday practices. Ecopreneurs is a program to really emphasize the impact small businesses have on the environment and their community, showing that the “eco” and “entrepreneur” combination is the latest in innovative approaches to business. HII aims to help business owners see that “going green” makes good business sense by providing face-to-face, free consulting services that walk owners through straightforward actions that address the efficiency and customer appeal of their business. Working with the idea that our current consumption and “business as usual” patterns mimic the signs of addiction–denial, anger, helplessness, etc—HII is marketing the Ecopreneurs program as a twelve step program for stores to follow.The “greening” actions or twelve-steps walk businesses through examining the energy, water, waste, and transportation components of their business with the guidance of HII Ecopreneurs Crew–volunteers developing environmental consulting skills through hands-on green jobs training. The environmental consulting services are both free-of-charge and offer a diversity of benefits relating to the three pillars of sustainability–environmental, social and economic.
As of July, HII has signed up twenty-one business participants–now deemed HII Ecopreneurs. One of the appealing components of the program to businesses, is that they can take it at their own pace and choose which greening actions they want to prioritize. With amazing volunteer staff and interns, the HII crew makes weekly visits to stores to ensure the personal connections with business owners, address questions or concerns, and to promote the program. The HII goal for this totally volunteer-led program is to get fifty storefront businesses in the NYC neighborhood of Williamsburg to participate in the program by the end of 2013. Once HII has established the pilot program, they are excited about expanding it to include numerous partners, targeted sponsorship and to expand it to other communities around NYC and beyond.
Energy, the Designated Hitter of Greening
In NYC, energy use in buildings is considered a “low hanging fruit” when it comes to sustainability. According to PlaNYC, over 70% of NYC’s emissions come from buildings (mostly from electricity and HVAC systems), making it a key place to start with greening for businesses. The Ecopreneur Energy Step is a two-pronged approach to reducing emissions from energy usage: energy conservation and efficiency. HII works with participating businesses to do a free energy audit of their storefront in partnership with NYSERDA (the state energy authority) and Con Edison (NYC’s energy provider) and to be smart when using energy around their store. During the summer, this “smart energy” step from HII’s Ecopreneurs–the “Cool Biz Campaign”–focuses on getting businesses to pledge to close their doors while they are running their air conditioners.
Although most would think it’s a no-brainer, many businesses in NYC’s shopping districts claim that keeping their doors open and cooling the sidewalk in 100 degrees August heat is important for their business. Some owners claim “customers will think we’re closed” and seem to assume the average consumer has somehow lost the opposing thumb dexterity of turning knobs and pushing doors open and shut. Another part of Cool Biz involves a petition asking people to sign a pledge saying they will not enter a business if their door is open and the AC is running. Other than the obvious benefit of not wasting energy, driving up urban greenhouse gas emissions, and throwing money out the door (literally!), HII is working to develop other incentives for businesses take a first step to becoming an Ecopreneur, including: Free advertisement through the “Cool Biz list” and shaming through the “Uncool Biz list” for those refusing to close their doors.
From Consumption to Production
One common misconception is that achieving environmental sustainability is both expensive and time-consuming; HII and Sustainable America hope to change current thinking through their respective programs. HII’s goal is to show local business how they can save time and money while reducing their energy usage, thus modeling for their community as they engage in environmentally-conscious business practices. It’s important to connect the on-the-ground actions of these Ecopreneurs with the bigger picture: emissions are rising, climate change is affecting all of us, and where we get our energy and how we use it is at the core. Sustainable America’s 2012 infographic on Renewable Energy Around the World shows the U.S. ranked #2 in the world in 2011, spending $44.51 Billion on “new clean energy investments”. Unfortunately, the flip side of the coin is: according to Oil Change International, the U.S. spends between $10 billion and $52 billion annually on subsidies for fossil fuels. So, even as small businesses and consumers turn over a new leaf towards energy conservation, where does that leave us when our national government is still spending tens-of-billions per year on subsidizing “dirty energy”, which still dominates the domestic energy marketplace? For the Human Impacts Institute’s newest Ecopreneurs, the answer is clear: the clean, green choices just makes sense for people, planet and profit. The commitment to taking action from local business owners in NYC is not only inspiring, but also emphasizes that individuals and communities across America are leading the way in environmental sustainability. It is these Ecopreneurs that are saying, “The time is now. The denial is over. The change starts here.”
By Elaine Baker, Human Impacts Institute NGO Management Intern 2012 and Tara DePorte, Human Impacts Institute Founder and Executive Director