Walkabout: Carnegie business credited as best at sustainability

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Of 110 small businesses throughout the region that have a special status with Sustainable Pittsburgh, only one has hit the gold level.

Bonita Farinelli, the owner of Distinctly Different Decor and More at 103 Chestnut St. in Carnegie, scored more points than 109 other business owners from Aliquippa to Verona, from Bridgeville to Bridgewater.

The point system is based on a range of practices including conservation and waste reduction, paying a living wage, inclusive hiring efforts, community service, solid business plans, updated bookkeeping, compliance with applicable regulations and support of local suppliers.

"When they sent me the questionnaire, I realized I had been doing a lot of things that are sustainable" beyond conservation of resources, Ms. Farinelli said. "I feel honored by the fact that even though I am a small business, I still rank up there."

Carnegie has six businesses that took the sustainable test. Three -- Carnegie Coffee Co., Modern Mercantile and Puhlman Flower Shoppe -- scored at the silver level. The entire program has only one other silver level business, KU Resources in Duquesne.

All others are at the bronze level or in the "striver" category, for which you need one point.

A recently updated checklist offers potential for a lot of businesses rated as bronze to go higher, said Isaac Smith, who managed the project for Sustainable Pittsburgh as the Student Conservation Association fellow last year. He also implemented a cash mob one day in November to bring attention to the Carnegie businesses.

"Carnegie had two small businesses in the program at the time and a really thriving community and business district," he said. In planning the cash mob, "we used the event to get four other small businesses to fill out the checklist."

Most of the businesses in the program have a few employees, he said. Ms. Farinelli has one.

"A good part of my job was going out to these towns and pitching the program," Mr. Smith said. "I encountered a lot of people who would roll their eyes. I was trying to tell them that a sustainable business is good business. The checklist acts as a pathway."

Sustainable Pittsburgh does not ply this program within the city of Pittsburgh, where programs and outreach already exist to encourage sustainable practices, Mr. Smith said. There is one participant in Pittsburgh, however: Fisher Architecture in Shadyside, at the bronze level.

Ms. Farinelli rents the building in Carnegie where she established a boutique and gift shop as the base for her full-service interior decorating business six years ago. Before that, she worked for clients out of her home in Kennedy.

"Being environmentally conscious about everything is something I strive for," she said. "I even tell my landlord about things we can do."

Some of the points resulting in her high sustainability score came from recycling everything possible, turning the thermostat down and opening windows instead of running the air conditioner.

"I also bring in locally made artists' items," she said. "I take donations of pet food for food banks. Some of the coffee I sell is from a nonprofit that supports widows and orphans of genocide in Rwanda. I have artists who bring in things they have made from reused items."

Carnegie itself is a striver and is scoring points in attracting new businesses.

"We have a lot of new young business owners," said Joanne Letcher, executive director of the Carnegie Community Development Corp. Two of them hit Sustainable Pittsburgh's silver mark.

"I think one reason is that Carnegie has a low business privilege tax. We also operate a program with privately funded money that offers matching business retention and attraction grants and matching facade grants. I think that stirred up interest in Carnegie because a lot of communities are not offering matching grants."

Ms. Letcher started the Building and Businesses Owners of Carnegie last June, and each monthly meeting draws most of the business owners in the borough, Ms. Farinelli said.

Ms. Letcher said Carnegie's plans for 2014 include new signs to make getting in and out of the borough less confusing and a bioswale and rain garden at the library and main parking lot.

Diana Nelson Jones: djones@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1626. Read her blog City Walkabout at www.post-gazette.com/citywalk.

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