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Wednesday, 15 April 2009 16:26

Haywood Chamber of Commerce helps businesses achieve green goals

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When most business owners cast their eyes about the office — noting the reams of white paper spilling off the printer, the blinking lights on computers not shut down at the end of the day, the drafty crack under the front door — they know intuitively their workplace falls short in the green arena.

But figuring out what to tackle first and biting off manageable goals is usually so daunting, they do nothing. The Haywood County Chamber of Commerce hopes to change that with the launch of its Green Initiative. The program will help businesses “go green” with an easy-to-follow plan.

“We know that green-collar jobs and green businesses are the way of the future,” said Laura Leatherwood, director of Community & Economic Development at HCC. “We don’t want to be behind the eight ball. We want to be in the forefront. We want people who move here and set up businesses here to realize we support a green lifestyle.”

The momentum of a green community will hopefully feed on itself.

“As Haywood County becomes more recognized for its sustainability efforts, it will be able to recruit other business with similar goals of practicing sustainability,” said Dr. Rose Johnson, president of Haywood Community College and champion of sustainability efforts in the county.

The chamber’s Green Initiative is part of a growing critical mass of sustainability efforts taking off in Haywood County. From Haywood Community College to Haywood County government, sustainability practices are being implemented on several fronts.

Thanks to the efforts, Haywood County is positioning itself at the forefront of the green movement.

“If we are marketing our community as a green friendly community, people are going to go, ‘Wow what a place to live. They are already ahead of the curve when it comes to initiating green,’” said CeCe Hipps, executive director of the Haywood Chamber.

While eco-havens like Oregon and Vermont are far ahead of Haywood County, the efforts underway here already make it a leader as far as the South goes, and on track to be a national leader in the future.

“I believe we are laying the appropriate groundwork and are getting important players involved. All of those things combined over a period of a few years are going to make a very dramatic impact,” Johnson said.

Leatherwood said Haywood County is a natural place for sustainability to make a stand and to be on the leading edge of the movement.

“Natural resources are part of the beauty of where we live. That’s why people come here,” Leatherwood said. “We want people to live it personally but we need our business community to live it as well in their practices as they do business throughout the day.”

 

Simple steps, big difference

The program has been more than a year in the making.

“It seemed all of a sudden that word green was everywhere,” Hipps said. “It was something coming on the forefront fairly strong and a fairly quick pace. We wanted to educate our businesses on this is what you can do to be green and how you can save money.”

The chamber formed a committee to figure out how businesses could jump on board the green movement. That committee in turn formed subcommittees to draft various parts of the plan: water, energy and recycling. A fourth subcommittee is in charge of education, which will provide support and outreach for businesses implementing the plan.

“We designed the green initiative so it is flexible enough to pertain to the smallest organization to the largest,” Johnson said.

Businesses can tailor or personalize the plan to better fit their particular organization, Johnson said.

“There are some simple things that even one-man or two-man businesses can do,” Leatherwood said. “We want every business to be able to participate. If everybody does one small thing can you imagine the collective impact we would have?”

Beyond doing the morally right thing, businesses that decide to go green stand to gain. For starters, they can market themselves as such. Those that complete the program will get “green business” designation by the Haywood County chamber. With an increasingly green-savvy public willing to go the extra mile to support — or extra dollars — to support businesses with an eco-bent, the self promotion as a green-designated business is a big benefit.

From an overhead standpoint, business will save on energy costs and office supplies if employees use less paper, for example.

“We wanted to educate our businesses on this is what you can do to be green — and how you can save money,” Hipps said.

The plan encourages businesses to conduct an energy audit, essentially an assessment of how much energy they use and where they could save it. With an upfront investment, an energy audit can help a business save money on energy costs over the long run, said Buddy Tignor, the director of Haywood Community College’s natural resource department.

And, “The more we all reduce carbon emissions the more likely we are going to be able to at least slow down or mediate the global warming that is taking place,” Tignor said.

Stephen King, the county’s solid waste director and a champion for recycling, helped create the Green Initiative component that targets a business’s trash, resource consumption and recycling.

King said it is hard to break out of old habits, but very simple steps can often make change easier. For example, when King looked for ways to improve recycling participation in the county tax office, he targeted the placement of trashcans. Before, trashcans were placed in a central location, but a lone recycling bin was at the very back of the office tucked in an out of the way place.

“Nobody had to make an effort for trash but for recycling, you had to make an effort. You just have to flip that,” King said.

King moved the recycling can up front, and all the trashcans down the hall and around the corner and low-and-behold, recycling increased.

King, who has been a ringleader in the sustainability movement in county offices, is thrilled to see the business community jumping on board.

“It shows community camaraderie around what they believe in and trying to make it work,” said King. “More people understand what’s going on now than in the past.”

Other chambers of commerce are already looking to follow suit, Hipps said, and no doubt more will be clamoring to copy Haywood as word gets out.

“I imagine there will be a lot of others who will follow in our footsteps,” Leatherwood said.

At some point, the Haywood Chamber would be willing to share its Green Initiative templates with other communities, but until it has taken root and garnered attention for Haywood, they will protect the program, Hipps said.

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