America’s Green Cities (Part 1): East of the Rockies

The city of Cleveland last fall enacted a ground-breaking “buy local and sustainable law” that gives sustainable small businesses an advantage when bidding on city contracts. The legislation, part of a larger effort to lead the emerging green economy, grants certified companies the same benefits as minority- and women-owned enterprises (which receive extra credit for becoming sustainable). The U.S. Small Business Administration touts that more than a dozen other cities nationwide have launched initiatives to encourage green business practices by providing resources, opportunities, and incentive programs. This week, we’ll take a look at green cities in which it pays to be a sustainable small business east of the Rockies; next week, we’ll check out their West Coast counterparts.

Austin, Texas
Austin Energy, the nation’s ninth-largest community-owned electric utility, offers financial rebates and bonuses to qualifying small businesses and nonprofits in Travis and Williamson counties. The discounts — up to $30,000 per fiscal year — offset an organization’s initial investment in making its air conditioning, lighting, windows, and roofing more energy efficient. For example, replacing a 10-ton AC unit with a unit rated 11 EER (energy efficiency ratio) qualifies for a $300 rebate and results in energy savings of up to $600 annually, the city says.

Chicago
The windy city’s Energy and Sustainable Business Division sets policies and oversees efforts that aim to assist nonprofit, commercial, and industrial enterprises in becoming more energy efficient. Its programs include energy efficiency retrofits, renewable energy projects (such as solar PV and solar thermal), and clean air partnerships. Chicago also sponsors a “Green Office Challenge” in which downtown property-management firms and major tenants set and meet goals related to energy efficiency, water conservation, and waste reduction. The winners receive recognition from the mayor.

Dallas
The city of Dallas supports various programs to help residents and business owners protect the environment and save money. They include free irrigation system checks and minor plumbing repairs, financial assistance for weatherization, and rebates for upgrading or replacing diesel-powered vehicles and equipment. The city also gives away low-flow/pre-rinse spray nozzles to restaurants, and it partners with hotels to encourage guests to conserve water. “We estimate that the average hotel can save up to 200,000 gallons of water a year. With more than 70,000 hotel rooms in Dallas imagine how much water can be saved if most patrons participate in this program,” Mayor Tom Leppert says.

Denver
The mile-high city’s Office of Economic Development runs a Greener Denver Business Program that “encourages, measures, and monitors the efficiency and conservation efforts of local businesses.” The free, voluntary program provides entrepreneurs and their employees with courses on recycling, water conservation, and energy efficiency, plus networking opportunities and financial incentives and discounts for taking green initiative. “But even if all you get out of joining the program is a reduced energy bill, that in itself is enough to make the most hard-nosed, pragmatic businessperson go green,” the city promises on its website.

Minneapolis-St. Paul
Minneapolis officials say they are “deeply committed to retaining, growing, and attracting green-manufacturing businesses and jobs.” The city’s Homegrown Minneapolis initiative aims to foster the growth, sales, distribution, and consumption of locally produced foods, while its environmental purchasing policy gives preference to green goods in the municipal procurement process. Perhaps most notably, the cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul have formed a unique green manufacturing partnership, under which they collaborate with each other and business and industry leaders to build up the region’s markets and reputation for green products, services, and business development (including cleantech).

New York
New York City’s Waste Less for Business program supplies free tips and tricks for making any operation more efficient and profitable. Its resources include a “virtual improvement district” that offers one-click access to waste-prevention advice for different types of establishments and suggestions for advertising green accomplishments to customers and employees. Bonus: A handy savings calculator helps managers examine and rethink purchasing decisions and routine operations to conserve and save resources.

Philadelphia
In 2008, then-new Mayor Michael Nutter vowed to make Philly the leading green city in America by 2015. He set up an Office of Sustainability and set 15 “Greenworks” targets for energy, the environment, equity, the economy, and engagement. To reach these goals, the city has launched diverse initiatives to benefit residents and small businesses, from increasing the number of green jobs through retraining to reducing vehicle miles traveled by repairing sidewalks and adding bike lanes.

Does your city offer support or incentives for being a sustainable small business? Tell us about your favorite program in the comments section below.

About Rebecca Smith Hurd

Rebecca Smith Hurd is a veteran freelance writer and editor who, like you, runs her own small business. A savvy sole proprietor, Hurd is always on the lookout for new ways to make her operation smarter, greener, and more profitable.Follow Intuit’s sustainability efforts on Twitter (@intuitgreen)!
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