Is it still possible for
businesses to be profitable and green?
FILE: SCAN OF THE ARTICLE AS PUBLISHED
- (Click here if you need a PDF
- by Patricia Dines
- February 2011
NorthBay biz magazine
- Regular biz contributor Patricia Dines looks at
how green is weathering our current economic storm.
(c) Copyright Patricia Dines, 2011.
All rights reserved.
"When you're conserving something, you aren't paying for it.
It's just smart business."
-- Robert Boller, Kendall-Jackson
- Only a few short years ago, the concept of "green" was the
newest media darling. Having worked its way over decades from our
culture's fringes into the mainstream, green suddenly graced the
covers of our largest magazines, joined the product portfolios of
major corporations, became a key shopping criteria for consumers,
and shaped new definitions of business and personal success. Even
pretenders hopped on board, adopting eco-friendly façades
and creating confusion with authentically earth-aligned
- But now, as everyone trims their sails to navigate today's
turbulent financial waters, the media's topic du jour is the
economy. So has green been discarded like last year's fashion
trend, the new hire without seniority, an unneeded luxury during a
time of survival?
- I asked various local opinion leaders this question and found
out that, at least in the North Bay, these ecological values are
so well-rooted that they're not only being retained, but are being
used as an economic survival tactic.
- Certainly, there are a range of commitment levels, motivators,
and activities being pursued, and projects that directly save
money are an easier sell. But now it's not just activists,
idealists, and government regulators who are bringing up the
topic, but also industry groups, government educators, and a wide
range of businesses offering eco-resources and inspiration.
- Green ideas have become so normalized that, for many
businesses, the question less often is if they'll pursue greening
activities but which ones and how. People also increasingly
recognize that eco-wisdom positions us for future success and is
essential for our overall well-being.
- So let's take a peek at how green is weathering our current
- Profiting from
- For 24 years, Ben Stone has been director of Sonoma County's
Economic Development Board (EDB), an innovative and respected
program that's tasked with "encouraging the startup, retention,
and expansion of Sonoma County businesses and jobs." EDB does this
by developing and disseminating local economic data and operating
other programs that help local businesses start up and grow.
- EDB's projects include the Business Environmental Alliance
(BEA), which was recommended for formation by a business task
force 15 years ago. "The BEA was founded on the concept that good
environmental practices are simply sound business," says Stone,
"that cutting energy, water and materials costs means substantial
savings to the bottom line." One of the first initiatives of its
kind, this education and outreach program informs businesses about
the benefits of eco-activities, including financially.
- The EDB also operates the Sonoma County Green Business Program
(SCGBP), which offers businesses free greening checklists,
assistance, and certification. SCGBP has certified 106 businesses,
including restaurants, wineries, landscapers, cleaning services,
auto shops, manufacturers, and more. It's part of the nine-county
Bay Area Green Business Program, which has certified nearly 2,300
organizations since 1996.
- Stone indicates that local businesses are still quite
interested in green. In fiscal year 2009-2010, SCGBP's certified
business membership grew by 50 percent (it's now the most active
green business program in the Bay Area, says Stone). Plus, in
BEA's 2010 Sonoma County business survey, more than three-quarters
of those responding said they've done a voluntary environmental
assessment of their operations. More than half are working toward
measurable targets for resource efficiency and 63 percent have
staff dedicated to sustainability initiatives. Many organizations
also see a marketing and competitive advantage in being green,
adds SCGBP coordinator Mara Hochman.
- Perhaps the most surprising result in BEA's survey is that the
companies' top reason for greening is to benefit their bottom
line. According to BEA's 2010 Annual Report, which describes the
survey results, companies' motivations for eco-action include:
cutting costs, avoiding future price increases, taking advantage
of financial incentive programs, aligning with community targets,
adapting to regulations, and working within resource limits such
as constrained local water supplies.
- Key targets for business include reducing energy consumption,
water use, and waste generation. Additionally, companies are
installing solar, especially local wineries, Stone observes,
because they have the roof space and sun exposure and can sell
excess energy to the power grid during the more expensive daytime
hours. Then they draw energy to process their wine at night when
rates are cheaper, benefiting from the price difference while
generating clean local energy that replaces the usual polluting
sources. Sonoma County now has 33 megawatts of renewable energy
installed, primarily solar.
- Stone also finds it notable that a close second reason survey
respondents gave for greening is to help preserve Sonoma County's
quality of life. He muses, "I think it's amazing that, along with
the bottom line, their sense of responsibility is right up there.
It's one of the special things about Sonoma County."
- BEA's report indicates that, while the current recession can
make it sometimes more difficult to fund eco-improvements, many
programs also exist to ease up-front costs, including utility
company rebates and Sonoma County's innovative Sonoma County
Energy Independence Program (see "Financing
a Greener World," Aug. 2009).
- In short, concludes Stone, "Everybody has their own approach
to it, but I think there's a very strong sustainability and green
emphasis here. Many companies could be other places. They've
chosen to be in Sonoma County and care about Sonoma County. And
one of the best ways to care is to make sure we maintain our
environmental integrity and help reduce our air pollution, solid
waste, energy use, and greenhouse gas emissions."
- So what are some of the specific ways businesses are being
financially aided by their eco-activities? BEA highlights local
environmental success stories in its annual Best Practices Awards
and indicates that it honors these companies "not only for the
money they saved, but also for the value [they] added to
their product, workspace and daily operations."
- The diverse honorees in 2010 include:
- Kaiser Permanente, which saved more than $61,000
during its recent Santa Rosa hospital expansion by diverting 92
percent of construction waste from the landfill.
- Petaluma's Labcon, which makes laboratory
disposables and has reduced power consumption by 25 percent over
the past 10 years, even as it doubled production volume, thus
generating $700,000 in annual savings.
- Occidental's Osmosis Day Spa Sanctuary, which
uses thermal solar collectors to heat 80 percent of its hot water
and has constructed wetlands to recycle all its graywater for
- Nature's Best Cleaners in Petaluma, which
changed from a dry cleaning to a wet cleaning process and became,
according to BEA, "a demonstration site for the Bay Area." The
company no longer uses the toxic solvent PERC and saves more than
60 percent on its annual water bill. It's also insulated steam
lines, replaced lights, and streamlined production times, cutting
its energy bill by 25 percent.
- Santa Rosa's Vintners Inn, which installed an
ozone laundry system that uses 90 percent less hot water, put in
high-efficiency water fixtures and a towel and linen reuse program
that dramatically trims water bills, and eliminated toxic
chemicals and cleaning agents to protect groundwater. It provides
recycling bins in every room, runs an onsite treatment plant that
processes its wastewater for irrigation reuse, and keeps 10 goats
to eat its restaurant's vegetable scraps, a decidedly low-tech
approach that has helped reduce waste by 40 percent.
- Another project Stone appreciates is the energy-efficiency
initiative of vintner Kendall-Jackson (KJ), which cut nearly 30
percent from the company's energy bill and saves it $2 million per
year. In BEA's Summer 2010 newsletter, KJ's vice president of
sustainability, Robert Boller, explains, "At the end of the day,
it's about conservation, and when you're conserving something, you
aren't paying for it. It's just smart business."
- New market
- In addition to greening existing businesses, local companies
are creating products that are ecological from the start. For
example, Dick Herman, founder of Northern California's 101MFG, an
association of local manufacturers, sees "truly remarkable
business opportunities" in new green technology.
- As an example, he points to Petaluma's Enphase Energy. On its
website, Enphase describes its distributed microinverter
technology as "a completely new class of advanced solar energy
solutions," that offer quick and simple installation, reduced fire
risk, and 24/7 customer management over the Internet.
- Companies like this confirm one of Stone's original reasons
for cultivating local green business, which was "to help Sonoma
County companies be more competitive" because he realized that,
"from an economic perspective, the whole world was going
- Marin's Green Business
- Marin County also offers its own Green Business Program, which
has certified more than 400 businesses in categories that include
food and drink, building and construction, business and financial
services, landscaping, and community organizations.
- Program coordinator Dana Armanino says applications to the
program have stayed stable over the past few years, noting that
businesses see certification as a way to differentiate themselves
from competitors and demonstrate their commitment to the
community. She finds businesses are "very excited" to learn about
the resources available to help with costs, including energy and
water efficiency rebates, adding that this program definitely
seeks to "ensure that being green makes both environmental and
"I've had several businesses tell me that they obtained clients
because of their green certification."
-- Danielle Sinclair, Napa County Green Business Program
- Green business in
- Napa County's website indicates that it launched its Green
Business Program (NCGBP) "in an effort to preserve the unique
place that is the Napa Valley." NCGBP certifies local wineries,
restaurants, hotels, travel and tour companies, office and retail
operations, landscapers, auto repair shops, and several other
- NCGBP program manager Danielle Sinclair says there's been a
slight drop in program applications overall, probably because
people are "more focused on keeping their businesses afloat."
However, she adds, "I've had several businesses tell me that they
obtained clients because of their green certification."
- Steve Lederer, NCGBP's director, notes that winery
certification applications have been steady. "The smarter wineries
have always realized there's a benefit to increasing efficiency,"
he comments, "but these days, the economy has probably pushed more
people to recognize the good business sense of saving energy and
water. The smarter ones also look closely at return on investment
[ROI] and the many incentive and rebate programs to get
over the initial capital costs." He says some folks are delaying
plans if they can't find up-front capital, "particularly for
projects with a longer ROI, such as solar."
- The California Sustainable
- Another of the many groups available to help businesses reduce
their eco-footprint is the nonprofit California Sustainable
Winegrowing Alliance (CSWA). The fact that CSWA was created by two
large mainstream organizations shows just how far green has
traveled into the mainstream. One founding organization is
California's Wine Institute, whose membership of 1,000 California
wineries and affiliated businesses accounts for 95 percent of
California's wine production. The other is the California
Association of Winegrape Growers, whose member growers represent
approximately 60 percent of the state's total annual grape
- CSWA's goal is to encourage and assist the widespread adoption
of sustainable winegrowing practices and, through that "ensure
that the California wine community is recognized as a change
leader in the global marketplace" and create "a healthier
environment, stronger communities and vibrant businesses."
- Allison Jordan, CSWA's executive director, says, "I haven't
seen anybody cutting back on sustainability efforts. In fact, it
seems that people are recognizing more and more the business case
for sustainable practices." The group's 2009 Sustainability Report
notes participation in the organization is increasing, with 9,239
people attending 184 CSWA educational events since 2004.
Additionally, since 2002, 1,566 vineyards and wineries have
self-assessed their operations with CSWA's sustainable practices
workbook; these organizations essentially represent 68 percent of
California's winegrape acreage and 63 percent of its wine case
- Jordan adds that, while "leaner times" are encouraging
wineries to become more efficient, they're also being pushed
toward sustainability by market forces that started "even before
the economy tanked," including Walmart's sustainability initiative
and retailer inquiries about sustainable practices.
- Organic's continuing
- OK, so it's great to see so many mainstream folks moving in an
eco-direction. But what about the pioneers who helped develop and
champion environmental approaches long before they were popular,
such as the farmers who commit to organic's strong farming
For this perspective, I talked with Elizabeth Whitlow, North
Coast service representative for Santa Cruz's California Certified
Organic Farmers (CCOF). Founded in 1973, CCOF is one of organic's
oldest and largest certification, education, and outreach
- According to Whitlow, the organic market remains strong,
referring to an Organic Trade Association study which found that
"U.S. families are buying more organic products than ever before
-- and from a wider variety of categories. In fact, 41 percent of
parents report they're buying more organic food now than a year
ago, up from 31 percent in 2009."
- Whitlow estimates that the North Coast Chapter's client roster
increased by 8 to 10 percent over the past year. She notes that
grape growers are continuing to convert to organic and expand
organic acreage, and more wineries are going through the organic
certification process as well. Additionally, organic dairy farmers
are "doing far better than their conventional colleagues," she
reports, "although they've also been hit by the bad economy," and
there's been an increased number of forage farmers supplying them.
Mixed fruit and vegetable operations have stayed stable, probably
because of the increased popularity of local farmers' markets, and
there's also been an increase in small-scale animal operations
such as grass-fed cattle, laying hens, ducks, and sheep.
- Julie Johnson is owner/winemaker of Rutherford's family-owned
Tres Sabores Winery, which was founded in 1999 (on a vineyard she
had moved to in 1987) and was the third Napa Valley property to
get organic certification. The winery's website says, "As stewards
of the land, we're devoted to exploring the character of the
grapes we grow and producing wines that truly reflect the 'voice'
of the vineyard." Johnson is encouraged by the increase in
wineries being certified green as well as those making the
commitment to organic farming. She adds, "the cost of
[organic] certification isn't the issue it's often
portrayed as, because growers can get reimbursement for a
substantial portion -- if not all -- of their certification fees."
She's optimistic that farmers will increasingly adopt organic
farming philosophies and systems, because vineyard health does
- The big
- Of course, in addition to the financial benefits of taking
ecological action is the broader survival value for everyone,
including businesses. BEA's website describes its view of "The Big
Picture" by saying, "There is little denying that the earth is
changing in significant and potentially catastrophic ways." It
quotes expert James Gustave Speth's conclusion that, "if we
continue to do exactly what we are doing today, [even]
with no growth in the world economy or population, the world in
the latter part of this century will be unfit to live in."
- Thankfully, BEA says, everyone, including business, "has a
vital role to play in the transition from environmental crisis to
sustainability.... There are real and practical steps that
[each] business can take today to mitigate its ecological
impact," while also ensuring profitability. The organization
encourages businesses to do their part "to ensure that the needs
of the present are met without compromising the ability of future
generations to meet their own needs."
- Ed Barr, president of two SCGBP certified business (P&L
Specialties and Tom Beard, Co.), described his greening experience
in the July 2010 NorthBay biz Green Scene. He wrote, "I've always
felt very strongly about conservation and minimization of waste
generation, but it wasn't until we embarked on this green
certification journey that I saw the concept's true application to
an operating business -- and the value of its returns. Receiving
the green business certification was much more powerful for me
than I'd originally expected. I [started from]
desire to do the right thing and be a good steward, but through
the process, I realized something much more important: As a small
business owner, I could really make a difference."
Patricia Dines is the author of a wide variety of helpful
books, newsletters, and articles that inspire and empower
constructive action on community issues. For more information, see
- Thanks from the BEA
- Hey Patricia, Thanks for your excellent article in North
Bay Biz about the BEA and Green Business Program. We really
appreciate it, and please keep in contact!
Best -- Sarah McKibben, Project Coordinator, Business
This article (without graphics) is also on the publication's
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