Start small, think big |

Start small, think big

Cassie Pence
Daily Correspondent
Vail CO Colorado

When it comes to making a business more sustainable, what most proprietors and managers don’t realize is that when you reduce your impact on land, water and air, you usually increase your bottom line. It’s a win-win for the economy and the ecology that supports it.

There are numerous practices businesses can do that won’t cost a dime, but affects their bottom line, said Janet Burgesser, program coordinator for the Denver Pollution Prevention Partners sustainable business program. She helped to launch a green certification program for restaurants and automotive shops in Denver and is currently working on a certification for retail businesses.

“Businesses should look to the ‘low hanging fruit’ first, through energy conservation measures and then energy efficiency measures,” Burgesser said. “Take advantage of utility rebates for lighting and new equipment, change occupancy behaviors such as turning off unneeded lighting, fixing water leaks, printing two sided, reusing used paper for scratch pads.”

These are just a few of the sustainability ideas Burgesser will give as a panelist at the second annual Big Green Think Thursday from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. at Manor Vail Lodge in Vail Village.

‘The spectrum of sustainability’

Presented by Eagle County’s Energy Smart program – and hosted by the Eagle Valley Alliance for Sustainability (EVAS) and Vail Valley Partnership (VVP) – the Big Green Think is an educational luncheon featuring a panel discussion focusing on sustainable solutions to improve business’ bottom line. Panelists will discuss easy and tangible practices to make business more sustainable and profitable.

“My experience has been when you talk environmental sustainability, business owners and managers tend to get overwhelmed because there are so many options,” said Jen Schenk, director of EVAS. “It’s our goal to give people really simple ideas that they can take away and implement, ideas to take them to the next level regardless of where they are at on the spectrum of sustainability.”

While panelists will discuss the simple “low hanging fruit,” other panelists – like Sustainability Programs Manager for Colorado Convention Center Lindsey Arell – will dive deeper into strategies that take a holistic approach to sustainability. Arell, who has her own sustainability consulting business called Arell Logic, said “There’s no one silver bullet for sustainability.”

“So I look for actual strategies to find out where the biggest opportunities are for an individual organization to become more sustainable,” Arell said.

She evaluates a business’ operations, find out what it’s currently doing and how to improve those operations as far as energy, waste, water and air quality and community. Her investigation begins with the staff, and Arell can’t stress enough how employees can be a business biggest resource for sustainable ideas.

“Often the people doing the job every single day know the inefficiencies, and they probably talk about it … saying ‘Oh, that’s such a waste.'” Arell said. “Ask them honestly and empower them whenever you are considering ideas and making changes.”

The three P’s

Luke Cartin, Senior Mountain Environmental Affairs Manager for Vail Resorts, who will also weigh on the panel, agreed that employees are where businesses should go first for innovative ideas.

“We have many success stories from initiatives started by various employee groups – from reducing our paper usage by over 50 percent, to using wood from a construction project to make new furniture for Blue Sky Basin,” Cartin said. “Employees know their part in the big picture, whether it’s housekeeping, engineers, mechanics, or accounting, and they all can help make your business more sustainable.”

In the end, any business entity that truly wishes to become a sustainable enterprise needs to move away from the single bottom line mentality (only thinking about profit) to understanding the importance of a triple bottom line perspective – balancing people, profit and the planet, said panelist Mercedes Quesada-Embid, professor of Sustainability Studies for Colorado Mountain College. She will discuss the connection between economy and ecology and talk about the steps businesses can take to transition to the triple bottom line philosophy.

“Although we tend to separate our economy from our surrounding ecology, we would not have one without the other,” Quesada-Embid said. “Sustainability is about accountability, transparency, cooperation, and internalization, realizing that our economic world is intimately dependent and interconnected to our ecological and social worlds. This means that inherent in any profit seeking venture for people, the profitability for the society as a whole and the non-human environment must be equally embraced as well.”

Cassie Pence is a freelance writer based in Vail. She sits on the board of the Eagle Valley Alliance for Sustainability, the non-profit that helped to organize the Big Green Think.

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