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Green is Big Business | By Jason Brady


When does becoming green put a business in the black? When it brings in business from Fort Bragg or attracts an emerging “green” consumer. “It’s a huge, new market with diversified demographics,” says Jon Parsons, executive director of Sustainable Sandhills, a non-profit organization dedicated to raising awareness of environmental and quality-of-life issues for the eight-counties surrounding Fort Bragg. On any given day, you can find workers and volunteers installing energy-saving light bulbs in private homes, talking to classrooms of children about gardening or working with county governments to improve our air quality. Sustainable Sandhills sponsors a spring urban garden tour and year-round film series, encourages aggressive recycling programs and lobbies for more sustainable practices with government bodies. A new federal stimulus grant will allow Sustainable Sandhills to place recently-graduated university and college interns with local governments to conduct building, transportation and energy analysis. Parsons plans to start with the local school system. Not only will this help schools save money, he said, it will allow the program to promote environmental issues in the curriculum. “We get to the kids, and the kids get to the families. It’s a great investment,” he said. Among Sustainable Sandhills’ newest venture is the Green Business Certification Program modeled on several successful programs throughout the country but, according to Parsons, adjusted to the area’s economy. “A successful green program has to be a program businesses can be successful in, a program tuned for our community,” Parsons said. “What works in San Francisco doesn’t necessarily work in Fayetteville.” The program looks at a number of areas where businesses can become green: buying practices, transportation, reducing solid waste, conserving water and limiting runoff and conserving energy. Businesses are categorized into office and retail, restaurant and groceries, entertainment and recreation, hotels and motels, services and institutions and government. To become green certified, a business identifies a suitable area and works with Heidi Johnson, green business program coordinator, to develop a tailor-made certification program followed by on-site visits to ensure compliance. Frank Ferraro, relocation specialist for All American Relocation & Office Solutions on Tom Starling Road, knew the value of becoming green. Fifty percent of All American’s business comes from moving commercial customers and much of it is military. The Department of Defense adheres to Executive Order 1310: the greening of government through waste reduction, recycling and federal acquisition. That 1998 order, coupled with the Obama administration’s focus on a green economy and the more than $20 billion in American Reinvestment and Recovery Act green tax initiatives, makes the federal government a major green consumer. Workers at All American Relocation & Office Solutions had already installed water-saving toilet bowls and faucets. The company also installed energy-saving lighting, and most of its office materials are made from 30 percent post consumer materials. Walking through company warehouse, where signs urge employees to use water wisely, Ferraro points to the minimal lighting and open doors. Strategically-placed fans move a cool breeze throughout the warehouse, despite the heat outside. He nods toward an empty 18-wheeler in the parking lot reserved for cardboard refuse. As for the rest of the 18-wheelers in the parking lot, none are washed on site. Instead, they are driven to a truck-washing facility that recycles the water, Ferraro said. Since the program began in April 2008, about 60 Cumberland County businesses have become green certified including the Cameo Theatre, Moore Exposure, Cumberland County governmental offices, the Fayetteville-Cumberland County Chamber of Commerce, Cape Fear Botanical Gardens, Fayetteville’s Public Works Commission and more recently, The Green Bean, a new coffee shop downtown. Johnson works with each client to arrive at a plan of action that a business can achieve. While there are no requirements that can hurt a business, the program does require the elimination of Styrofoam, a non-biodegradable product that harms the environment in its production and in its introduction into the waste stream. “It’s a challenge to get restaurants involved because of Styrofoam,” she said. Johnson said it may cost a business to recycle but there are savings, too. She recalled a business that recycled its cardboard and saved $500 in annual waste disposal fees. For Ferraro, it made good business sense and was the right thing to do. “I really believe people are becoming more aware of our environment. I think it’s cool,” he said.