Green Scene: Steps to Sustainability

Teri Kent (far left) with members of the staff of Woodard Properties, where employees propelled themselves to a win in the Charlottesville Better Business Challenge by transitioning to a paperless office. Photo by John Robinson.

Challenge reveals ways businesses can trim waste

More than 100 Charlottesville businesses recently wrapped up the year-long Better Business Challenge, a contest organized by local sustainability advocate Teri Kent, in which they collected points by incorporating ways to make their businesses more environmentally friendly. The results not only showcase a major volunteer effort to take tangible steps toward sustainability, they also offer some helpful insights into how others can follow the lead of the businesses that decided to go green.

“It was such a friendly competition, with everyone encouraging the other participants,” said Liz Eure, director of marketing at Carpet Plus, which took home an award for its efforts from the Challenge’s recent closing ceremony. “There’s such a positive outcome at the end that you want everybody to do well.”

Throughout the competition, Kent, director and founder of the nonprofit Better World Betty, stressed not only the ease of making businesses more green, but also the money that’s saved along the way—even with small adjustments.

“I used to ask businesses, ‘How many of you have old incandescent exit signs? Because it’s costing you $102 a year. You can switch to an LED exit sign and only pay $3,’” Kent said.
Other changes Kent advocated were converting from disposable to non-disposable dishware, switching out paper towels for normal towels, replacing overhead lights with individual task lights, and incorporating single stream recycling.

Woodard Properties took the bold step of going paperless, said Kent—quite a feat for a property management company. But using digital files for everything from records to newsletters and coupons can help cut costs as well as waste.

Electricity use was a frequent target during the challenge, too. Kent recommended more businesses be aware of their air conditioning use, suggesting they appoint someone to turn off the AC at night and on weekends.

“What drives me crazy is that a lot of Charlottesville businesses run the AC so cold,” she said. “And when you open the door and let the cold air all out, that’s a huge thing, because that’s literally energy being completely and utterly wasted.”

One way to target places to cut back is by using kilowatt meters on different appliances. Local nonprofit JAUNT did so with its business, and found that its vending machine was a big culprit. “We put a timer on the machine,” said executive director Donna Shaunesey. “There’s no need to keep drinks cold at night, and that was really easy. And it didn’t have any impact on comfort.”

Kent said that above all, the key to success is having multiple people work together to brainstorm ways to keep improving sustainability. “The businesses who were able to accomplish the most were the ones that had more than one person working on it. They all got together with staff and pooled ideas and asked ‘What can we do as a business to be more green?’”—Ana Mir

A green primer

The 107 businesses that joined the Challenge cut back on energy use and waste in a variety of ways. Here are some suggestions from top performers that offer a lot of bang for your buck when it comes to making businesses—or homes or schools —more earth-friendly.

Carpet Plus: Let the light in. Install solar tubes, skylights, and glass doors—more natural light means less electricity used.

Blue Moon Diner: Compost your scraps. Leftover food eventually makes great fertilizer, and you’re diverting waste from the landfill.

VMDO Architects: Give business to the good guys. Have a list of priority suppliers that aim for sustainability within their own companies.

GreenBlue: Set the temp. Install a programmable thermostat for more efficient cooling and heating.

For more tips and information, visit



Climate court battle: Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli’s challenge to the EPA’s greenhouse gas “endangerment finding,” which says emissions put human health and welfare at risk, was struck down in Federal court last week. Attorneys out of the Southern Environmental Law Center’s Charlottesville office represented a Norfolk environmental nonprofit in the case—a group that has spoken out on climate change following noticeable sea level rise in Virginia’s Tidewater.

Cycle party: Bike Charlottesville is launching a regular First Thursday Cruiser Ride, a fun way to join other bikers and roll through town on the first Thursday of every month—with an emphasis on fun and safety. Meet outside of Squid Logistics, 315 W. Main St. at 6pm. July 5; the group will return to the same spot by 8pm.

Tree ID: Learn to identify Virginia’s native trees using leaf, bark, branching, seed, and flower characteristics during a free guided walk with a Forest Service expert in the Ivy Creek Natural Area. The tour leaves the ICNA parking lot at 2pm. Saturday, July 8.
Teri Kent (far left) with members of the staff of Woodard Properties, where employees propelled themselves to a win in the Charlottesville Better Business Challenge by transitioning to a paperless office.

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