Leaders of local environmental sustainability nonprofit GreenSpaces have launched a pilot program aimed at helping local business owners save money and energy while reducing environmental impact.

ACA Compliance Group; Benwood Foundation; Chambliss, Bahner & Stophel Law Firm; Delegator; Full Media; River City Company; Taco Mamacita; and Urban Stack have joined the new green business certification program, called Green Light.

Program funding

GreenSpaces leaders got grants to fund Green Light.

The program is supported with $7,000 from the Community Foundation of Greater Chattanooga and $50,000 from the Benwood Foundation.

“It makes good business sense as well as good environmental sense,” Tesia Gorka Jones, Green Light program director, said. “It’s great that people want to do the right thing, but if you could save 20 percent on your utility bill-wouldn’t you want to do that?”

There is already a wide range of green certification programs with a range of difficulty levels.

And GreenSpaces leaders wanted to create a local alternative to national programs, such as LEED, one of the country’s leading third-party green verification systems.

For example, some programs require that businesses hit a certain level of energy consumption, but for leaders in Chattanooga who don’t own their buildings or aren’t in a position to buy a new, environmentally sustainable building, meeting that target isn’t practical.

But GreenSpaces officials found that local business leaders still want to do what they can to save energy and money.

So Green Light allows for more flexible options.

“It’s not that we didn’t want a stringent program-we really wanted a program where energy is part of it, but behavior is maybe a bigger part of it,” GreenSpaces Director Anj McClain said.

The numbers
In the United States, commercial buildings are responsible for 20 percent of total water usage, 30 percent of total energy consumption and 40 percent of municipal solid waste.

And each employee generates 1.5 pounds of waste a day, according to GreenSpaces.

According to the State of the Green Business 2012 report from Greenbiz.com, carbon emissions are outpacing economic growth, and about 80 percent of businesses are not doing well in taking steps toward an environmentally sustainable future.

But green buildings outperform other businesses in areas such as occupancy, sale price and rental rates, according to CoStar Group.

And sale prices for energy-efficient buildings can be as much as 10 percent higher per square foot compared to conventional buildings, according to the U.S. Green Buildings Council website.

The program
Jones said Green Light is a “road map” to help get area business leaders into more environmentally sustainable routines.

“We wanted to address environmental literacy on the whole and empowering people to understand that you have a choice,” she said. “All your actions can either positively or negatively affect the environment.”

GreenSpaces leaders start by giving business leaders a checklist so that they have a better understanding of where they are with energy consumption, waste production and other areas.

The program evaluates tasks in the categories of environmental literacy, custodial management, staff participation, purchasing policies, landscaping practices, smart utilities, waste reduction, and recycling and transportation.

Staff participation is a big component of the program.

Things such as smart purchasing, for example-buying printers that print on two sides-or thinking about how employees get to and from work are an important part of the evaluation.

Business leaders can think about money versus time trade-offs when going through Green Light.

Can they hire someone to do a lighting retrofit, or is that too expensive? Is it more feasible to implement a comprehensive recycling program?

“It’s all about picking trade-offs that work for your business within your time and monetary constraints,” Jones said.

After completing the checklist, GreenSpaces officials will evaluate participants and help them implement the green standards.

“There are a lot of things that people aren’t aware of, like phantom plug loads,” Jones said. “When you keep things plugged in, it’s creating an energy suck. Some research [shows] that 20 percent of a commercial utility bill is just phantom loads. So, it’s a simple strategy-get a power strip, and at the end of the night, turn everything off.”

Business leaders have flexibility in how they choose to complete the program, and at the end of the two-year certification process, they get a plaque that provides “marketing collateral,” Jones said.

Those who complete the program also get a resource guide with information about how to carry on the work.

The Green Light certification process costs between $300 and $600, and if leaders need extra consultation, they can work with GreenSpaces on hourly fees.

“It’s not a one-size-fits-all-it’s flexible and there are options,” Jones said. “And we are here to help you. I think that’s the beauty of a local program.”