Going green in the Gateway City

Ben Goldstein on Wednesday, May 31, 2017 at 12:00:00 am

What can chambers of commerce do to get local businesses serious about going green? For Andrew Smith, vice president of entrepreneurship and innovation at the St. Louis Regional Chamber, the answer is surprisingly simple: challenge them.

It all started back in 2010, when the chamber teamed up with the Missouri Botanical Garden to introduce the Green Business Challenge, a competition that encourages organizations to draw up measurable road maps toward achieving sustainability.

“The Challenge works with companies to help integrate sustainability into the kinds of day-to-day operations common to every business,” explains Smith, who oversees the program on behalf of the chamber. “Our aim is to make sustainability work in accord with each company’s unique goals and culture.”

By leveraging corporate competition and public recognition, the chamber encourages  businesses to adopt sustainable policies and implement green practices.

“The global marketplace increasingly demands sustainability measuring, goal-setting and reporting up and down supply chains,” says Smith. “As companies engage locally with the basics of this range of accountability, they build resources needed to globally compete.”

Participating firms sign up for one of four program levels, ranging from “apprentice” to “champion.” They use a points-based scorecard to track progress, which gives businesses an efficient structure to plan and schedule work on a wide range of sustainable practice options.

“Each company determines its own strategy,” says Jean Ponzi who oversees the program at the Missouri Botanical Garden. “The categorized scorecard offers a comprehensive list of best practices to reduce waste, conserve energy and water, implement green purchasing and more.”

Companies are encouraged to assemble “green teams,” or groups of employees responsible for coordinating green strategy. Green teams collaborate with Garden staff, including Ponzi, who personally visits offices, plants and business campuses to advise firms on working with scorecard items that fit the company’s culture and capabilities.

“During site visits, we check out the supply closet, the break room, their parking lot and their dumpsters on the dock to get a sense of how green is working in each company,” says Ponzi. “Our customized coaching aims to improve financial performance, while reducing environmental impacts and engaging employees.”  

Now going on eight years, the Challenge has achieved impressive results. Of the 65 organizations that took part last year, 98 percent formed a green team, 97 percent established a corporate sustainability policy and 86 percent implemented a green purchasing policy.

One standout from last year was Hunter Engineering Co., a Branson, Mo.-based manufacturer of auto service equipment. Through the Challenge, Hunter installed equipment to reduce stormwater runoff, committed to purchasing environmentally friendly print materials and made the switch to more efficient, fluorescent lighting.

“The Green Business Challenge enabled Hunter to take a close look at a number of our business practices,” says Chip Hiemienz, director of business development at Hunter Engineering Co. “While converting to more environmentally friendly products, we were also able to experience big cost savings, too.”

At the chamber, Andrew Smith is hopeful that the initiative will pay off in the long run, by enhancing the region’s reputation as a leader in sustainability.

“Our achievements are still a pretty local story, but we have world-class players on our green business team who have had real success through the Challenge,” he says, adding: “We’d like to continue to foster successes like these—and we plan to.”

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