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May 2, 2016 Biz Money

Biz Money: Sustainable practices aren't just for big companies

The 46th annual Earth Day celebration April 22 occurred when record numbers of companies, including many small businesses, have adopted eco-friendly practices, working with green vendors, recycling or eliminating paper or using more energy-efficient lighting.

But bigger initiatives, such as implementing smart meters, energy-efficient equipment or even installing solar panels still can be too expensive, according to a recent survey of close to 1,200 small-business owners by research company Manta of Columbus, Ohio. Some 39% said larger investments were too pricey.

Manta found that 97% of small-business owners believe sustainability is important to their business, even though 53% still don't agree climate change is a serious threat. Businesses have found even small sustainability efforts, including the 64% that reuse or donate items, the 33% that work with green vendors and the 58% that recycle, can bring good will from both employees and customers.

Some local Maine companies and institutions are making the investment, with optimism that the return-on-investment will improve both their bottom line and their business reputation.

When it moved from an old barn in Brownfield to a former school in Hiram, GrandyOats said it intended to initiate broad-ranging sustainability practices in the rehabilitated school. It aims to power its offices and processing plant 100% with solar energy that it says will generate more than 95,000 kilowatt hours yearly.

When the company made the announcement, it said it aims to be the first carbon net zero production facility in New England, meaning it will not burn any fossil fuels.

“Going off the grid has long been a GrandyOats goal,” Aaron Anker, chief granola officer of GrandyOats, said in a statement when announcing the sustainability plans last September. “Maine is our home and its rivers and mountains have shaped the spirit of our company. By going 100% solar we're doing our part right here at home.”

The custom-designed solar electric system by Portland-based ReVision Energy will power ovens, computers, forklifts, lights, heating, cooling and everything else at GrandyOats. The installation will include an 80.64 kilowatt system with 288 photovoltaic modules and offset an estimated 145,000-plus pounds of greenhouse gas emissions annually, according to GrandyOats, which said that's the same as driving 25 round trips from Hiram to San Francisco.

And in late April the owners of the former Brunswick-based Fort Andross said they are looking to install 160 solar panels on the four-story building's roof, according to the Bangor Daily News. The newspaper said that because Fort Andross is eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places, it must receive a certificate of appropriateness from the Village Review Board to install the panels, which are expected to be supplied by ReVision Energy.

Since such systems in smaller companies are still relatively new, it will take time to see if cost-saving expectations meet the reality of the investment.

Manta's survey found that the top way small businesses could be encouraged to adopt more sustainable practices are affordability (31%), government incentives or tax breaks (30%), more sustainable material and vendor options (26%) and greater public demand (13%).

John Swanciger, CEO of Manta, told tech publication eWEEK that smaller sustainability practices like recycling are fairly cost-efficient and simple, but implementing larger eco-friendly measures like solar panels are still expensive and complex. “ … business owners should weigh the larger up-front costs with the long-term potential savings,” he told eWEEK. “By carefully measuring potential savings and researching available tax breaks, owners may find that some of these bigger initiatives may be more affordable than originally thought.”

Read more

Solar project at former Brunswick mill gets thumbs up

Additional solar project planned for Brunswick

Maine’s largest solar farm could come to Farmington, but where?

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