Second try gets green light

Boston, Portland and Philadelphia all have one. And soon, Colorado Springs will join the list of cities with sustainable business networks.

The Pikes Peak Sustainable Business Network launches March 12. It is a program of the Catamount Institute, a nonprofit group whose mission is to teach school children about the benefits of environmentally sound stewardship.

Now, the institute also will be educating area business leaders.

“I’m hoping this group will increase the awareness of the importance of supporting the local community,” said Mike Callicrate, owner of Ranch Foods Direct and one of the founding supporters of the business network. “If you support local business, then you support local prosperity. If you support Wal-Mart, then we’ll no longer have local businesses. We’ll just have global businesses.”

And that “think local” emphasis can have serious consequences for sustainable business practices and the global environment, said Eric Cefus, executive director of the institute.

“The average product at the grocery store travels 1,500 miles,” he said. “And we don’t even think about what that means in terms of expense, in terms of fossil fuel used. If we want asparagus in January, we go and buy asparagus.”

This is the second time the institute has tried the sustainable business network. The first time, Cefus said, the business model wasn’t — well — sustainable.

The new model requires businesses to buy in — $50 for small businesses; $1,000 for larger businesses and $2,500 for those who want to be yearly stewards.

Referring to the business network as the “green” chamber of commerce for the Pikes Peak area, Cefus said that companies see both the economic and social benefits of being sustainable.

“That said, leaders don’t know what it means, they don’t know how to start,” he said. “That’s where we come in — we’re going to educate, give them knowledge on community issues and community goals.”

The step-by-step process is one reason that Kevan Worley, owner of Worley Enterprises and executive director of the National Blind Merchants Association, is becoming a member of the group.

“I’m interested in finding ways to make the vending and food services we do more green,” he said. “I think we, as businesses, ought to be doing more (for the environment) — and doing it in a step-by-step way.”

The Pikes Peak Sustainable Business Network plans to help companies meet their goals in a systematic manner — introducing the ideas of recycling and energy conservation a little at a time.

Worley Enterprises provides food service and vending employees to Fort Carson, and he said the Army post is working with him to make his business more sustainable.

“For instance, you don’t have to have all the lights on, all the time,” he said. “I’ve assigned workers at Fort Carson and in our office to research one thing we can do each week — add recycling for paper and plastic, change the light bulbs. People do want to transform their operations, but they don’t know how. ”

Worley’s approach shows that most businesses are concerned about the “triple bottom line,” Cefus said.

“It’s known as people, planet, profit,” he said. “That’s why businesses want to be sustainable — it actually can affect the bottom line.”

The network will help them with that bottom line. They will visit member businesses, make suggestions about how to cut energy costs and save money.

But Colorado Springs has a long way to go before it can meet the successes of sustainable business networks in other cities. The city was ranked 43 of 50 in the SustainLane’s 2008 sustainable cities ranking.

“And they just cut the bus service,” Cefus said. “That’s going to make an impact on how sustainable, we, as a city, can be. The city also ranked 48 out of 50 for its recycling efforts. ”

But the sustainable business network also will be about creating business and recruiting industry.

“We want to give the EDC (Economic Development Corp.) a product to sell,” he said. “It’s a common question, ‘do you subscribe to sustainable practices as a community?’ We’ll show them we do.”