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More Businesses Embracing Conservation, Survey Shows

Environmentally friendly practices also are helping bottom lines as companies opt for energy-efficient lighting, double-sided printouts.

June 02, 2003|From Associated Press

Some California companies are increasingly taking steps to use environmentally friendly practices in their day-to-day business, from hotels' letting guests reuse sheets and towels to manufacturers' avoiding foam packing material.

"It can be a simple thing, like making double-sided copies to save paper," said Ben Stone, coordinator of the Sonoma County Economic Development Board.

Showing companies how those practices save them money, however, is what makes conservation an easy message to sell, he said. "It helps their bottom line. It is enlightened self-interest. It is being more efficient, but it is also being mindful of the environment."

Efforts by business to embrace conservation practices are reflected in the latest survey by the Economic Development Board's Business Environmental Alliance. Twice the number of businesses participated in this year's survey than in the past, the alliance said.

The report, given to the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors, indicates that the majority of those responding are actively undertaking conservation practices.

About 90% of the respondents say they want to contribute to a healthy environment, and 70% say it is a way to save money.

The report also singles out a number of companies for their programs.

Price Pump Co. in Sonoma, as an example, uses shrink-wrap plastic for insulation instead of nonbiodegradable foam for its packaging, and a brown box instead of a bleached-white one, at savings initially of $60,000 and now about $40,000 a month.

"It is a rare company that does something out of the goodness of its heart," said Bob Piazza, president and chief executive of Price Pump. "My motivation is to stay in business and make money. If I can do that and be environmentally conscious, why not?"

The Doubletree Hotel in Rohnert Park uses gray water from the city for irrigation, has cut energy use by changing lighting, and even asks guests whether it's OK to not give them fresh sheets and towels every day -- and 35% agree, said Bill Comstock, general manager.

"The only complaints I have ever gotten about the program is when the employee has accidentally put in fresh towels when they didn't ask for them," Comstock said.

The 150,000-case, family-owned Benziger Winery in Glen Ellen recycles water, composts waste, uses a cave for barrel storage and plants cover crops for natural pest control.

"Our costs are competitive with any hillside farming operation," said Mike Benziger, managing partner. "The other side is, we are producing a wine that is unique to our property. For a small winery like us, we have to compete on the basis of individuality and uniqueness."

Conservation also is part of the corporate culture of Bank of America Corp., which operates in 22 states, and saves the bank about $8 million a year, said Dave Middaugh, a senior vice president in the Santa Rosa commercial banking office and member of the Business Environmental Alliance board.

"The whole objective is to speak to economic benefits," Middaugh said. "It is very much how you can benefit economically, and that resonates with the large populous of business owners."

Bank of America has retrofitted lighting systems and installed energy-efficient motors in heating and cooling systems. It also recycles paper, uses recycled paper products and requires that copies be double-sided.

Middaugh said such conservation also is very much a part of Sonoma County, where in previous surveys residents and workers indicated that quality of life was very important.

"The clear message from Sonoma County residents is, the reason they are here is quality of life, and so when you drilled into the surveys to determine what the quality of life is, it is the environment. We have rolling hills and clean water and compared to Silicon Valley, we are a breath of fresh air," Middaugh said.

Conservation also has taken hold at Agilent Technologies Inc., which saves about $400,000 a year at its Sonoma County facilities through energy management, wastewater reuse and a solid-waste diversion program.

Of the 107 businesses responding to the survey, which was sent out to 500 of the largest Sonoma County companies, 88% said they are taking steps to save electricity and 63% to save water.

Three-quarters have a written environmental policy, have someone in charge of conservation practices, ask employees to suggest improvements and are more aware of ways to address environmental issues than they were three years ago, according to the survey.

"Our companies are very [conservation] conscious and doing some interesting things. Sonoma County is certainly in the forefront," Stone said.

A company can benefit without having to be the size of an Agilent, which has 2,500 Sonoma County workers, said Claire McCarthy, Agilent's environmental health and safety manager in the county.

"I believe that no matter how small the company, there are things you can do," she said. "With a larger corporation, we are dealing with larger systems, we are producing more wastewater, more hazardous waste, more solid waste and we will see larger returns. But smaller companies can take the same measures."

Showing how businesses can save money with conservation reaches the mainstream businesses and is more successful, Stone said.

Still, he said, progress has been slow.

"Government did a poor job marketing conservation by focusing on enforcement. And many of the ultra-green approaches are just too extreme for the average business to implement," Stone said.

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