'Sustainable' label recognizes area businesses that go green
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Saving energy and natural resources makes both good marketing and good economic sense.
Staff members from a new Sustainable Business Designation Program are taking that message to merchants in Allegheny, Beaver and Washington counties.
The sustainable business, or SB, designation is the latest element in an ongoing effort supported in large part by Allegheny County's Department of Economic Development to encourage revitalization in traditional downtown business districts.
"We're getting a wide range of responses," said Matthew Mehalik, program manager for Sustainable Pittsburgh, one of the three main partners in the project. "Many merchants are very enthusiastic, while a number of folks have been skeptical -- a common, natural reaction in Western Pennsylvania."
Since 2007, county efforts, under the name "Allegheny Together," have concentrated on supporting independent, locally owned businesses in eight older suburban communities. The sustainable business designation, which will be available without cost to merchants, is casting a wider net.
The "SB" decals will be available to businesses in at least 22 municipalities in southwestern Pennsylvania that can show evidence of adopting environmentally friendly business practices. Locally owned businesses and those that are part of national chains can apply for the designation.
The program "recognizes businesses for taking actions that are good for their bottom lines, the environment and their communities," Allegheny County Executive Dan Onorato said.
In 2008, the county launched a multiyear "Green Initiative" with a goal of reducing the county's carbon footprint by 20 percent by 2015. "We want to encourage other businesses and residents to institute some of the same practices," said Jessica Mooney, assistant manager for business development in the county's economic development department.
"It seems like the world goes in cycles," said Bill Herman, principal partner in Site Signatures, a land planning and landscape architecture firm in Tarentum. "Reduce, reuse and recycle -- the current mantra of the green, sustainable movement -- would have seemed very familiar to my parents' generation."
His firm was among the first businesses to take the program's sustainable business survey.
Making a change as simple as switching from incandescent to compact fluorescent light bulbs resulted in energy savings that paid for the costs of the new bulbs in about two months, Mr. Herman said. "What's good for the environment is good business-wise," he said. "We're saving energy and using resources smarter."
His clients require that the projects he designs meet standards for minimum impact on the environment. "It would be hypocritical to be doing green projects for others and not follow green business practices ourselves," he said.
The county economic development department's partners in the program are Sustainable Pittsburgh and Town Center Associates, a private firm that provides planning assistance to "Main Street" communities.
Information on businesses that qualify for the rating will be posted in stores and online.
The idea behind the Allegheny Together effort in Allegheny County and the "Main Street Network" in Beaver County is itself "green," Mr. Mehalik said. Encouraging people to shop near where they live can keep traditional downtowns thriving and reduce reliance on automobiles. Many people can take public transportation or walk to neighborhood commercial areas, he said.
To qualify for the sustainable business designation, business owners must meet a minimum of 15 requirements among 10 categories listed on the online survey.
The survey can be viewed at www.downtownfirst.net. Click first on "sustainable certification" in the left-hand column and then on the link directly under the question "Does your business qualify for the sustainable business designation?"
Additional information is available by calling Ms. Mooney at the Allegheny County Department of Economic Development at 412-350-3300.
First Published August 24, 2010 12:00 am