Strathcona businesses take on Power Smart 5% challenge

Sign at the popular Sunrise Market on Powell Street in Vancouver's Strathcona neighbourhood.

Operating in the notorious downtown eastside of Vancouver, oft-described as Canada’s poorest postal code, the Strathcona Business Improvement Association wants to transform the area into a “green zone.”

The idea, according to the association’s executive Cathy Kwan, is to create a culture of sustainable business that will help with business recruitment and in hammering home the conservation message to its members.

And the SBIA isn’t wasting any time pushing that strategy.

Working with BC Hydro Power Smart, the association has agreed to take on a 5% collective electricity reduction challenge for 2009. It’s equipping its 600 member businesses with energy-saving information it expects will pay off when BC Hydro adds up the businesses’ collective consumption at year’s end.

“We’ve been sending out monthly tips from BC Hydro Power Smart on how our members can reduce their energy usage,” she said. “For instance, in February, we said ‘Change to LED exit signs’, and hopefully people are starting to do that.”

The greening of poor neighbourhoods in cities is not without precedence. A pioneer in that movement is Majora Carter, whose story of “greening the ghetto” she grew up in – New York’s Bronx – has made her an A-list speaker on the sustainability circuit. And guess who’s the keynote speaker at the SBIA’s second-annual green expo on April 2?

“Because of the interesting social dynamic we have in Strathcona, we thought it was relevant to bring her to speak to us, learn from her successes and challenges and how sustainability and building a green local economy in Strathcona can provide some avenue of success for us here,” says Kwan.

Strathcona BIA members will get first crack at seats for Carter’s talk, but if you’re lucky, you may be able to pre-register for the event. Attendance at the one-day expo, titled Sustainability 2.0: The Evolution of Green is free, but you’ll need to pre-register. And if you’re wondering what all the fuss is about, check out Carter’s talk this year at TED.

From Power Smart’s perspective, the Strathcona BIA is making all the right moves. Publicly pledging to save 5% in electricity consumption in 2009 may seem a small step, but given the complexity of motivating a group of 500 businesses, it’s a bold undertaking.

“A lot of their businesses are older businesses, they’re smaller businesses,” says Ben Gardiner, a BC Hydro community specialist working with the Strathcona BIA. “There are language barriers and technology barriers. A lot of these businesses don’t have email accounts or they don’t have English as a first language.

“Through this challenge, we’re actively engaging them – we’re offering them a reward, and we’re trying to get them to sign up for our [energy assessment] walk-through program before it ends. And we’re trying to offer them incentives through the Product Incentive Program, and to give members some special attention.”

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Source: BC Hydro News