April 25, 2011 | last updated March 25, 2012 9:56 am

Clark, Worcester Local First Team Up For Sustainability

Photo/Christina H. Davis
Jack Woods, president of Thomas J. Woods Insurance Agency in Worcester, is one of the first small business owners to sign up for the new Sustainable Business Leader Program in Worcester.

It's hard to argue against the notion that businesses should be going green. Saving electricity, improving recycling rates and tightening up buildings to make heating and cooling more efficient are all moves that help both the environment and the bottom line.

But while large corporations can devote whole departments to these kinds of efforts, small local companies rarely have much time or energy to spare for anything that's not directly related to the immediate needs of the business.

Review At A Discount

That's where the Sustainable Business Leader Program comes in. Already three years old in the Boston area, the program is being brought to Worcester by a partnership between the Sustainable Business Network of Greater Boston, Worcester Local First and Clark University of Worcester.

Will O'Brien, a visiting professor at Clark and director of the program, said he expects to have 10 to 15 businesses signed up to participate in a pilot round of the Worcester program by the end of April. O'Brien said the companies will each undergo a three- to four-month process assessing their needs and making plans for improvements in areas including heating, electricity, water use and recycling.

The assessment and planning part of the program is being run by Bill Bean, president of Lee-based Green Planning & Coaching. O'Brien said this type of service would typically cost around $2,000, but the Worcester participants will pay only $400.

"It's heavily subsidized and heavily discounted because of the donors that have enabled us to do this," he said.

Aside from the environmental benefits, O'Brien said participants will be able to save money by reducing their use of utilities and water and by limiting their waste removal costs.

He said there's also a marketing benefit: participants will get a mention in the program's promotional materials, work with the press and receive a "Sustainable Business Leader" decal for their companies' windows.

"We're definitely seeing more and more data that consumers are looking for companies that are environmentally sustainable," he said.

Local Buying Local

In a nod to the notion of doing business locally, O'Brien said the program will encourage companies to use nearby vendors for things like like installing insulation or replacing heating systems.

Cyrus Mizrahi, manager and part owner of Viva Bene Ristorante in Worcester, is one of the first participants to sign up for the program.

Mizrahi said he hopes the restaurant will find ways to save money, but he's mainly motivated by his own environmental concerns.

"Basically I'm a nature lover," he said. "I'm interested in green projects."

Mizrahi said he already makes an effort to teach his employees how to properly separate recycling and otherwise run an environmentally tight ship, but he hopes the program will teach him some new tricks.

Most of the companies that signed up for the program are also active participants in Worcester Local First.

Executive Director Katy Sullivan said the benefits are obvious to the group's members, who already tend to see connections between shopping locally and striving for sustainable operations.

"For this really minimal investment you can find so many ways to operate your business more efficiently," Sullivan said. "In my mind it's kind of a no-brainer to do this."

Jack Woods, president of Thomas J. Woods Insurance Agency in Worcester, another business that has already signed up for the program, said he was happy to jump on the chance to make environmental improvements.

"I think it's a really great thing that they're doing here, because small businesses like ours, we just can't afford to do this on our own," he said.


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