Almost a year into it, the Tacoma-Pierce County Chamber's environmental initiative has a new director and eight businesses signed on to learn "green" techniques.
The Tacoma Alliance for Clean Technology and Sustainability – or TacomaACTS – is now under the direction of Stephanie Gowing , a Gig Harbor native with a masters degree and LEED accreditation.
Gowing said TacomaACTS offers businesses free consulting on environmental sustainability. The program uses a “carbon footprint calculator” developed specifically for Pierce County. After a business gets its footprint measured, Gowing will help it find cost-effective ways to be more environmentally friendly.
The Chamber’s finance director, Joanne Buselmeier, conceived the program and has nurtured it through the first 11 months. Caring about the environment is “no longer a oh-that’s-a-nice-thing-to-do, tree-hugging, granola-eating kind of thing,” Buselmeier said.
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As a result, the Chamber is a natural place to have a clearinghouse for businesses looking for green information, the two said.
“You can have the greenest, nicest place in the world, but if you have no jobs to sustain it, no one will live there,” Buselmeier said.
If a company wants to take advantage of TacomaACTS, what happens when they approach the chamber?
Buselmeier: We would give them access to the “carbon footprint calculator” so they could do a baseline carbon footprint analysis. Our biggest thing that we’re working to do is to pull together resources – grants or ways for them to fund some of the initiatives that they would like to do.
A lot of businesses really want to do this. They don’t understand how to get started. “Oh, it’s so overwhelming and it’ll cost me a ton of money” – that’s one of the big first things [we] hear from people.
What do you hope TacomaACTS will accomplish?
Gowing: [The Chamber] has a chance to make some progress for small businesses. Ninety percent of its members are small businesses, and they’re competing with other industries. Having them implement sustainability within their practices is going to give them a better return . I think a lot of people don’t see sustainability as something that will save money, but there are definite savings within some of this work.
What is the Chamber doing to be more sustainable?
Buselmeier: First we did double-sided copies and turning out the lights. Now we’re looking at a more comprehensive commute trip-reduction program. When we did our baseline carbon footprint, we found that our biggest obstacle was that we use caterers. We don’t know how far they transport things. So that’ll be our next thing, is to look at that.
Gowing: We’ve also changed our purchasing practices, on cleaners and recycled paper.
What’s a really important, but really difficult, thing for a business to do to be more sustainable?
Buselmeier: To not subsidize parking and have their employees take alternative modes of transportation. That’s one of the biggest challenges for downtown businesses.
What are the Chamber’s solutions for that?
Gowing: To continue the commute trip reduction program, and education.
Buselmeier: And, offering the alternative modes. We’ve been able to provide a map for Pierce Transit of businesses and where their employees are coming from. It doesn’t have any personal information, but it has where all of (a company’s) employees are coming from; how do they get into downtown; what sections of Pierce County they’re coming from and then outside of the county. So we’ve been able to provide that to them, so they can make better decisions about their bus routes.
Kathleen Cooper: 253-597-8546