Taking an opportunity to expand green movement

Article originally posted in the The Gardner News - The Hometown Newspaper for Gardner, Ashburnham, Hubbardston, Phillipston, Templeton, Westminster, Winchendon

Will O’Brien and Patrick Bird stand in front of Jonas Clark Hall at Clark University, which has supported the Worcester Sustainable Business Leader Program in helping business- es save money through sustainable efforts.

Westminster man helping businesses save


WORCESTER — Westminster native Patrick Bird has tapped into his environmental passion as he works with the Worcester Sustainable Business Leader Program to bring savings to local businesses.

“What we’re offering makes sense to anyone,” said Mr. Bird, who currently studies at Clark University. “Anyone who pays an electric bill, a water bill, who pays for trash and recycling to be disposed of, can find value in this program.” Mr. Bird had plans to start his own nonprofit in Worcester when he discovered this program that brings sustainability efforts to small businesses.

“The towns west of Boston have been under served by this green movement, including Worcester and north county and the cities of Fitchburg, Leominster and Gardner,” he said. “I saw an opportunity.”

The Sustainable Business Leader Program helps businesses realize savings while reducing their impact on natural resources. This allows them to be marketed as a sustainable business. Sustainability and cost savings do not have to be mutually exclusive, said Will O’Brien, who teaches business courses at Clark University and volunteers with the program. “Most people are good people that want their future generations to have the benefit of these wonderful natural resources, but they still have to make a profit,” said Mr. O’Brien. “You have to start off with talking about how I can help sustain your businesses financially.”

The Worcester County arm is a new addition to a program that began when Sustainable Business Owners of Boston began looking for sustainable options in 2006. It is operated primarily by Clark University student volunteers. These students have multiple focuses and bring their own expertise, including a master’s in business administration and master’s of science in finance.

Mr. O’Brien said the program puts practices he has taught about for years into reality. These changes can be simple, but they affect real change in the business and spread the message of sustainability that extends to employees and suppliers.

“We understand the value of small businesses in the community,” said Mr. Bird. “When we go into a business, we are not pushing ideas that are going to take a ton of money. We are working with them to develop a plan they think they can do.”

Businesses are involved throughout the entire process, said Mr. Bird, with improvements that are appropriate and attainable being chosen. This program recognizes that every business is different and finds changes that provide sustainable changes along with savings to the businesses.

Professional consultants come through the businesses to establish improvements that extend from the physical business to business practices. The businesses must pay a $400 fee, but the evaluation is subsidized through corporate donations and is worth thousands, said Mr. O’Brien. All business can benefit from this evaluation, said Mr. Bird, with the restaurant Viva Bene in Worcester projected to save roughly $3,100 annually from sustainability-related upgrades with a payback period of less than 2 years.

“These are regular businesses that you can find in any town,” said Mr. Bird. “People are always surprised we aren’t working with the crunchy coffee store down the road ... and the reason is because what we are offering makes sense to everyone.”

The businesses also receive an endorsement as a sustainable business and promotional assistance through the organization. With more businesses pushing their green nature and consumers becoming more educated, it is becoming increasingly important to have efforts backed by a recognized organization, said Mr. O’Brien.

“That is certification that a company is genuinely green and that is going to become more important over time,” he said. “People are going to start asking the tough questions of how are you really green.”

The organization is looking to North Central Massachusetts as it plans to certify 100 businesses by the end of 2012. It has already certified six in Worcester. More information about the organization is available at www.worcestersblp.org or by contacting Mr. Bird at [email protected].

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