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With some help, Prince George businesses embrace sustainability

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Business in Prince George is lightening up. On the planet, that is.

With their local chamber of commerce in the lead, Prince George companies are doing energy assessments, upgrading lighting, and helping spread the word about energy efficiency to their customers.

"A year and a half ago when I started with the Chamber of Commerce, I didn't know if Prince George was ready for energy efficiency; there hadn't been a lot of uptake," says Jennifer McCall, "But I can say over the past year and a half, from the results we've had so far, there is definitely a shift in the consciousness of people in this city."

Chamber sets an example

The Chamber helped start the trend by taking steps towards more sustainable operations in-house, including going paperless at its annual general meeting last March.

"That might sound small for some organizations, but we produced a hundred 100-page packages in the past – to go to totally paperless was a huge step," says McCall.

The Chamber hosted Climate Smart workshops, surprising themselves with how many local businesses signed up. "We kind of tested the waters to see if there was an appetite for this, and we exceeded our goal," says McCall. "That meant to us that our members had an appetite for energy conservation."

Seeking ways to do more while operating with a non-profit budget, the organization "jumped" at the provincial LiveSmart BC Small Business Program, says McCall.

"We thought this is a way we can, through a funded program, indicate and show our support for sustainability and best practices with regard to energy conservation."

Now, the Prince George Chamber of Commerce has a Business Energy Advisor (BEA) on staff. The BEA works with local businesses to help them reduce their energy consumption and make the most of rebates and incentives to do it.

But first, they walked the talk.

LED upgrade saves $350 a year

Sorin Pasca, the new BEA, worked with McCall to retrofit the lighting in the Chamber's own offices. An initial project removed halogen and incandescent bulbs and replaced them with LEDs, at a cost of about $1,600 that qualified for a rebate of $1,300.

Savings per year on electricity are $350, giving an 11-month payback. A second project included wiring in new fluorescent fixtures, with a cost of $1,700, a rebate of $1,100, and annual savings on electricity of $320.

"It was good practice," says Pasca. "Going through all the stages of a project like that, now I know exactly what I'm talking about. We don't even have a big area – three offices and two cubicles, but look how much we're saving.

"It was pretty smooth, and we had the cash back in less than two weeks."

Adds McCall: "We felt what our business members respond to best is testimonials, seeing others try things and talk about how it works. So we decided to use our marketing budget for the upgrade, and act as our own testimonial. And the quality of light we have now is amazing."

A growing appetite for green

Armed with the in-house experience, Pasca has been knocking on doors and doing energy assessments throughout the Chamber's region.

"I think a lot of businesses are aware there are incentive programs out there through BC Hydro and FortisBC," says McCall. "But what we are providing – along with the level of trust our members have in us – is the personal service. We're basically holding the hand of that business owner through every step, until they've got their incentive cheque back. They're not alone and they're not having to seek it all out themselves."

In three months, Pasca has completed nearly 60 energy assessments, a pace that's double the Chamber's target of 120 assessments in a year. And a number of businesses he's working with are now implementing upgrades.

McCall says it points to the growing appetite among small and medium sized businesses to go green.

"Businesses are seeing that there's a true benefit and value to becoming green, and energy conservation is a part of that," she says. "From an ethical point of view there's value, but also there's a business case to be made for being conscientious and ethical and sustainable.

"It means something now to customers to know that the businesses they're purchasing from are sustainable and ethical and energy aware. So businesses are more eager to go in that direction because they know it means something to their customers. I think even a couple of years ago it didn't carry that same weight."

Like last year, the Prince George Chamber of Commerce is partnering with BC Hydro to help promote the annual Candlelight Conservation Dinner. Last year, six local restaurants took part, and "the feedback was incredible," says McCall. She's hoping this year will build more momentum.

With the leadership shown by the Chamber itself, it seems this is business community is taking big steps – and reducing its footprint too.

If you're in the Prince George area and are interested in an energy assessment for your business, check out the Chamber of Commerce's LiveSmart webpage or contact Sorin Pasca directly by email.