PeoplesBank Puts Its Energies into Environmentally Friendly Business Ventures, Practices
Doug Bowen didn’t actually use the term ‘green banking’ to describe the niche his institution is shaping in terms of environmentally friendly lending and internal business practices — but it essentially works for him.
That’s perhaps the best way to categorize a multi-layered focus on the environment, helping to fund development of alternative energy sources, and broad conservation efforts at Holyoke-based PeoplesBank, a philosophy or “culture” (that’s the term Bowen, the bank’s president, and others used repeatedly) that is somewhat unique in this sector and manifests itself in a number of ways.
These include efforts such as recently approved loans for smaller-scale wind power projects in the Bay State; an ongoing business relationship, or partnership, with the Holyoke Gas & Electric Department to develop and expand hydro-electric facilities; lending to develop several brownfield, or contaminated, sites in the region; and even initiatives within the bank to reduce energy consumption, curb the use of paper, and other steps that fall under the category of ‘going green.’
“The traditional measures of a community bank are asset size, branches, footprint, and lending power,” said Bowen, noting that PeoplesBank is the largest such institution in the Pioneer Valley and thus leads in all those categories. “But we think it goes beyond that. We believe we have a responsibility to the region and its people to create a better place to live and a healthier place to live — and that’s part of our philosophy and our mission.”
Over the past several years, the bank has developed working relationships with HG&E, for which it has provided funding to update hydroelectric equipment, and, more recently, with the Mass. Municipal Wholesale Electric Co. to develop a wind turbine project in the town of Princeton, just north of Worcester. These experiences and others have helped provide a level of expertise in this sector and both an understanding of the risks involved with such businesses and an appetite for accepting them.
“We showed a willingness to be creative when these borrowers presented us with alternative types of requests for financing alternative forms of energy,” Bowen explained, noting that these additions to the portfolio, totaling roughly $20 million, have provided a comfort level of sorts for business ventures that some banks wouldn’t be nearly as willing to touch.
This is especially true with regard to lending for development of brownfield sites, said William Sullivan, a vice president of commercial lending at PeoplesBank, who has roughly $16 million in such loans within his book of business. These are usually complex deals that involve several regulating agencies and often take months if not years to finalize, he said, noting that these factors and others make most lending institutions quite wary of such transactions.
“But this is good business,” he told BusinessWest, noting quickly that there are many more doable projects across the Valley for those willing to assume the risks. “It’s good for the bank, it’s good for those trying to develop these sites, and it’s also good for the communities involved, which can take properties that have been dormant for years and put them back to productive use.”
Meanwhile, inside PeoplesBank, ‘going green’ is becoming a growing force within the corporate culture, an attitude that starts at the top, with Bowen, who became president last summer, but now pervades the company.
Evidence of this came several weeks ago, when the bank sent out a global E-mail seeking suggestions for how to reduce energy consumption and become more environmentally friendly.
Xiaolei (pronounced ‘chalet’) Hua, bank-wide project manager, and coordinator of the ‘green’ response initiative, said comments and suggestions came quickly and from every department of the bank.
“It was an overwhelming response,” he said, “one that shows that people understand the importance of making the business more environmentally friendly, and are deeply committed to doing what it takes to get that done.”
In this issue, BusinessWest looks at how PeoplesBank is giving new meaning to ‘green’ in an industry that has focused on another definition of that word.
Getting Wind of the Concept “Scary.”
That’s the word Sullivan summoned as he talked about some of the brownfield sites for which the bank has provided financing for clean-up and planned future development.
He was referring to the actual accumulation of hazardous wastes on these properties and the challenge of removing them. “There was one site with a waste area 15 feet wide and 15 feet high; it wasn’t easy, but now it’s clean.”
But he might as well have been referencing the degrees of difficulty and risk involved for the parties developing the sites — and for the institution weighing requests for financing to make such ventures reality.
“These are challenging projects … the borrower needs to have a good team that understands the government programs and contracts,” he said, adding that a number of players, from state and federal agencies to environmental clean-up firms and lawyers representing several different parties, must work together to make a contaminated site clean.
“A lot of banks may not want to invest the time it takes to work with these customers to get these deals done,” said Sullivan, noting that PeoplesBank is often so inclined, because it takes the long view. “You need to have the insight into what the long-term picture is for the community.”
Bowen agreed, noting that imagination, patience, and diligence are also key ingredients in this formula.
“You have to have creative thinking and willingness to put in lots of hard work to get these environmentally friendly initiatives off the ground,” he told BusinessWest. “That’s because there’s a lot of work involved — more than in a conventional financing situation.”
Creativity is the common denominator for the many aspects of what could be called a ‘green’ niche, or focus, at PeoplesBank, which now has more than $1.5 billion in assets and nearly $1 billion in deposits. This is not a recent phenomenon, said Bowen, but rather a specialty that is in some ways still in the developmental stage.
It began with the HG&E and several alternative energy projects it has pursued over the years, said Marian Poe-Heineman, another vice president of commercial loans, who noted that the latest, in 2004, involved purchasing and upgrading several water wheels within Holyoke’s extensive canal system used for generating hydroelectric power.
“They came to us with a need, and we had to find a way to structure that financing to meet that need,” she said, noting that water power is not a proposition that would have interested most area banks.
Creative thinking also played a role with the bank’s successful efforts to finance MWEC’s latest development in Princeton.
There, the company’s Mass. Municipal Light Department Wind Energy Cooperative, formed in conjunction with the Princeton Municipal Light Department, mapped out plans to build install two 1.5-megawatt turbines that would replace eight smaller turbines that were dismantled in 2004 after 20 years of operation. What the company needed, and received from PeoplesBank, was a $6.5 million line of credit needed to keep its place in line with a German manufacturer neck-deep in orders for the equipment.
“Losing your place means running the risk of not getting your project off the ground,” said Poe-Heineman. “So being able to their respond to their request quickly and get this transaction completed was a key part of the process.”
Hua told BusinessWest that the global E-mail seeking suggestions on making the company more ‘green’ went out in November, from Bowen, and that some responses started coming back within minutes, while others took a few days, but were clearly the result of pooled thoughts involving teams or entire departments.
Some proposals were fairly simple — like placement of more recycling bins across the company’s many facilities, providing PeoplesBank mugs to all employees to cut down on use of paper and Styrofoam cups, and removing all space heaters, which are dangerous and use large amounts of electricity — while others were more involved, such as creation of more environmentally friendly products and, overall, reduction of paper consumption in a business laden with forms and printed account statements.
“There was a really broad range of ideas and suggestions,” said Hua. “And to date, we’ve had responses from 16 different departments. What’s great is that a lot of departments did a team effort, with many members contributing ideas; that’s important because it’s going to take a lot of teamwork for this to succeed.”
Steps already taken across the PeoplesBank organization, which includes corporate headquarters at 330 Whitney Ave., former corporate facilities in downtown Holyoke, and several branches spread across the region, include replacement of incandescent bulbs with more energy-efficient compact fluorescents and installation of more energy-efficient heating, venting, and air conditioning units. The request for new ideas was part of a broad effort to take initiatives to the next level, said Janice Mazzallo, senior vice president of Human Resources for the bank, and also imbed ‘green’ thinking into the company’s culture.
“The way you achieve that is first with the support of senior management, and we have that,” she explained, “but also with employees, because you can’t be successful unless employees understand why this is important to us and want to get behind it.”
Referring to the bank’s ‘green’ lending activities, but to the in-house initiatives as well, Bowen said there are costs involved, in terms of dollars, time, and personal capital. When asked if it was worthwhile, business-wise, to be focused on this niche, he gave a quick ‘yes,’ but said there are considerations beyond the bottom line.
“We think there’s a corporate responsibility to do these types of projects, and to get contaminated properties back in active use, and thus create jobs,” he explained. “For us, financially, it’s worked out fine, but we also think it’s the right thing to do for the people of this region; it improves quality of life here, and that creates more business for the bank.”
As he talked about brownfield-remediation projects, some of which take years to plan and complete, Sullivan stressed how intimidating they can often appear — to both developers and the banks they turn to for financing.
“You have to approach them with an open mind because, when you first see some of these sites they can be scary,” he said. “You look at them and say, ‘oh my gosh, what are we doing here?’
“And then, you look at the end result, and it just fortifies why we’re here,” he continued. “Just to see people working in a facility that was dormant for so long … you can see the impact on the community, the positive change.”
The same can be said for all the other ‘green’ initiatives being pursued by the bank, be they loans for wind power projects or simply changing light bulbs at the bank’s offices. They’re all powerful statements.v
George O’Brien can be reached at[email protected]
Enterprise and Early Education Intersect Through a Unique Pooling of Efforts
Chris Sikes, executive director of the Western Mass. Enterprise Fund (WMEF), says that when it comes to micro-enterprise, focusing on one sector at a time is the best way to provide assistance and measure success.
“Power is found by going industry to industry,” he said, noting that restaurants, animal care enterprises, and health, wellness, and beauty ventures are among the clusters of activity the WMEF hopes to work with in the future.
Today, though, the WMEF is focusing in particular on one rather small but significant facet of the region’s economic landscape: child care.
“There is no micro-entrepreneurial sector in Western Mass. right now that is seeing more activity than child care,” said Sikes, noting that this reality, and the importance of early education to the region’s economic stability, are two reasons why the WMEF has entered into a new, multi-partner agreement to take the softest voices in the child care market and make them heard.
“I’ve wanted to do this for a long time,” he said.
The WMEF is a nonprofit entity that provides access to resources such as grants, training opportunities, scholarships, loans, tax credits, and gap financing in concert with area banks to new and small business ventures. In October of 2005, the group entered into a partnership with Square One, formerly Springfield Day Nursery, to assist family child care providers — those that offer child care out of their homes — acquire new business loans and acumen.
That program has recently received a new infusion of funds thanks to a grant made by the Irene E. and George A. Davis Foundation, a private philanthropic body based in Springfield that typically awards grants to culturally and educationally relevant causes. As such, the program will be expanding to assist a larger number of family child-care providers across Western Mass. this year.
Square One already offers a variety of services to family child care providers (FCCs) who are licensed by the Commonwealth, but according to Joni Beck Brewer, vice president of Family Services for the network of early education centers, the entrepreneurial nature of this new partnership is a welcome departure.
“It’s a great partnership for us because we know human services and education, but the WMEF’s business expertise adds a lot,” she said. “It also goes hand in hand with the changes we’re seeing in the family child care world; there’s a strong move toward fostering more educational activities for the children, and to do that, providers need to see themselves as educators and business owners.”
Sikes said the partnership stemmed from a meeting between his organization, Square One, and the Preschool Enrichment Team (PET), a nonprofit training organization based in Springfield that develops training courses and curricula for day care providers. He added that the WMEF had long hoped to develop and offer new resources for the FCC sector, because while it’s one of the more robust cells of business activity in Western Mass., it’s also one of the most overlooked.
“We wanted to develop a business program, because these are not babysitters. These are professionals, who are often unaware of that fact themselves.”
In Its Infancy…
In order to provide assistance to the greatest amount of FCCs in the Greater Springfield area, Sikes said the WMEF needed to identify an existing network of providers, and did so through Square One.
The pilot program, launched in 2005, included three components, the first of which was the training provided through PET, for which the WMEF paid for out-of-pocket, Sikes said.
“These were basic business courses tailored for the issues that face the family day care provider,” he explained. “Marketing, bookkeeping, policies and procedures, and tax issues were all covered, but in a targeted way, in order to ensure these business owners got the support they need.”
In addition, the WMEF provided one-time business loans to participants ranging from $500 to $2,000, depending on an FCC’s needs. The loans served to, as Sikes said, allow FCCs to “build to a place at which they can become more business-oriented.”
“The goal wasn’t so much to make business loans as it was to get family care providers thinking of themselves as businesses,” he said, noting, however, that the loans were reported to the major credit bureaus, thus improving each recipient’s personal credit score as they paid the loans back. Throughout the course of the pilot program, Sikes said, only one payment came in late.
“That’s a huge show of success, especially since some of these participants are high credit risks,” he said.
The third aspect has become a pivotal piece of the project as it matures; however, Sikes said it was one that, at first, was unexpected.
“The final, unforeseen benefit of that program was that the providers got a chance to network amongst themselves,” he concluded. “The importance of the peer networking component was evident right away. Family child care providers are often isolated, and never get the chance to compare notes with others. Through meeting each other regularly at training sessions, they were able to discuss common issues, and draw from each others’ strengths.”
Helen Shea, family child care coordinator at Square One, said the state requires that small business training be made available to FCCs, but due to a lack of funding, Square One’s role in providing this assistance has long been smaller than the early-childhood provider would have liked.
“We were trying to get by on teaching policies and procedures,” she said. “State funding has truly been inadequate.”
She added that a lack of support and funding is also a reality for FCCs, who receive approximately $25 per child in reimbursement for providing child care services.
“That’s barely enough to make ends meet,” said Shea. “It’s very difficult for them — there’s no room for error.”
Due in part to these pressures, Shea said interest in the pilot training and loan program was high enough to necessitate a lottery draw for participants, and that bodes well for the future of the initiative.
What’s even better, however, is the $45,000 grant the WMEF has just received to prolong and expand the FCC assistance program. Awarded by the Davis Foundation, the grant will allow the partnership to serve providers in Holyoke as well as Greater Springfield, and to enter into a third collaboration with the Valley Opportunity Council (VOC) based in Holyoke to offer a greater number of training opportunities for eligible FCCs in Holyoke, Chicopee, Springfield, Westfield, Agawam, West Springfield, and South Hadley.
The next generation of the program will offer training from PET, peer support from Square One, and a similar set of loans from the WMEF, as well as a new set of business and child care courses provided by the VOC. Sikes said the WMEF is also exploring the possibility of identifying, or even inventing, a health care insurance program to collectively serve FCCs that participate in the program.
“The way these things go is the private money comes in first, and that’s when we get a chance to be innovative and prove that a program works,” he explained. “Then, the public money follows, and that’s about where we are now.”
But it’s a position that includes a modicum of power, that this partnership is working to leverage.
“This is something we’d like to see funded permanently,” said Sikes, “and we have some positive, loud voices helping us get there.”
Jaclyn Stevenson can be reached at[email protected]
Working for the Union Label
The Nevada caucuses are over, following on the heels of the Michigan primaries. This schedule calls to the mind the striking contrast between the way Detroit greets air travelers and the way Las Vegas does it. If you fly into Detroit Metro Airport and catch a ride east toward the city itself, you have to go a stretch before a gigantic tire welcomes you to the Motor City. But far be it from Las Vegas to show such reserve. At its airport, just after you exit the jetway, slot machines greet you in the terminal.
As different as it is from Detroit, however, Vegas has imitated it in one respect: Detroit used to be a place where a person with little education could still get a good-paying job. With the contraction of the auto industry in Michigan, and the expansion of the gambling business in Nevada, Vegas has become the town that beckons with this opportunity.
In Nevada, the average hourly wage of a worker with no more than a high school diploma is $23.30, the highest of the 50 states and the District of Columbia. On this count, Michigan is now 10th.
Nevada isn’t on top by accident. It’s there because the vast majority of the state’s workers hold jobs in the Las Vegas area and, though Nevada is a right-to-work state, Las Vegas is nonetheless a union town. In fact, as Hal Rothman reports in Neon Metropolis, his insightful book on Vegas, it is now “the most unionized city in the United States.”
Its largest local union is Culinary Workers Union Local 226. This is the 60,000-member local that endorsed Barack Obama last week. Caucuses aside, though, this union is also a possible model for the future.
The typical hourly wage of a 2008 worker with at least a four-year degree is higher than the typical hourly wage of a 1973 worker with a four-year degree — but the typical wage of a 2008 worker without a degree is lower than the typical wage of a 1973 worker without a degree. Moreover, two of three of today’s workers do not have a degree.
One reason why the non-college jobs of today don’t pay as well as the non-college jobs of 35 years ago, it has been claimed, is that a lot of the 1973 jobs were in manufacturing, and a lot of the 2008 jobs are in the service sector — and rank-and-file work in the service sector, unlike such work in the manufacturing sector, is inherently low-wage work.
But the paychecks of the Culinary Workers Union members rebut this claim. As working stiffs in the gambling industry — hotel maids and fry cooks, busboys and cocktail waitresses, laundry workers and card dealers — they do menial work in the service sector. But they do not have to do it for menial pay. In part, this has to be because unionization has given them some leverage.
To be sure, the pay levels for rank-and-file workers in manufacturing have been higher than those for such workers in the service sector. But this isn’t because there is something in the nature of manufacturing itself that makes for higher pay. It’s because it has been more unionized. An old issue of Life magazine tells the story of a steel worker whose pay jumped by 260% in 10 years. This was chiefly because, at the beginning of the 10-year-period, the steel workers across the country unionized.
Much of the workforce can be divided into two groups. One group is the workers who can build a brand for themselves as individuals, such as the best-known real estate agent in a small town. Because such workers stand out from the crowd, they hold bargaining power as individuals, and get paid well.
The other group is the crowd: the workers who are generic. They have little or no bargaining power as individuals. In the way of pay, they often must take what the job market offers to workers like them. If they want to earn more, they can try to brand themselves. Or they can bargain not as individuals, but en masse. It worked that way in Cadillac plants. It works that way in resort hotels.
Ralph Whitehead Jr. is a professor of Journalism at UMass Amherst.
The following Business Certificates and Trade Names were issued or renewed during the month of January 2008.
Angelina Rose Photography
Hec’s Auto Detailers
Hollands Home and Heart Crafts
A Step Forward Message
River Shark Café
Welcome Home Amherst Veterans
White Crane Renovations
Green Tree Services
Klondike Sound Company
Ozzie’s Auto Body & Paint Shop
The Country Jeweler
Barnes & Noble
The Hadleigh Collection
Jo-Ann Stores, Inc.
Massachusetts National Guard
Food For Thought Vending
Hair By Patrick
Misty River Ballooning
Praying Mantis Kung-Fu
Zoom Auto Sales
Mark Gilbert Auto Repairs
Allery’s Package Store
Life Champions Through MA
Lteif Taxi Service, LLC
Maxim Seamless Gutters
Miranda Auto Body
Premier Caulking & Restoration
Ray Auto Electrical Tech
S & H Boston Road Fuels
S & H St. James Fuel Inc.
Simply Divine Beauty Lounge
Spring St. Super Grocery
Vega Baja Men’s Wear
Elizabeth Cotnoir Designs
Little Black Dog Gallery
Westfield Tae Kwon Do Services
Z & Z Tool Manufacturing
Diamond Gold Connection
East Coast Granite And Flooring
Giovannis Pizzeria & Restaurant
Mitchell’s Formal Wear
The Crop Shop
Green Building Can Benefit the Environment and the Bottom Line
It’s called ‘green,’ or ‘sustainable,’ building, the practice of incorporating environmentally friendly concepts into design and materials. It’s not exactly a recent phenomenon, but it’s gaining greater acceptance as home and business owners and developers realize that the practice is not simply the right thing to do — it can also help on the bottom line.
A recent expansion of the Food Bank of Western Mass. doubled the space at the Hatfield facility from 17,000 to 35,000 square feet. The facility, which once could store 2 million to 3 million pounds of food at any given time, can now stockpile up to 9 million pounds.
It’s a recipe for electric bill sticker shock, right? Well, not exactly.
Thanks to a new photovoltaic roof, which features panels that harness solar power, the Food Bank saves some $5,000 in electricity costs annually; in fact, the cutting-edge roof generates some 10% of the building’s total energy.
“This way, we’re able to experience a 35%-per-square-foot reduction in energy costs,” said Andrew Morehouse, executive director of the Food Bank. “So while our total energy costs have increased because of the new space and new freezers, our per-square-foot energy costs have been greatly reduced.”
Morehouse said the Food Bank’s interest in incorporating what is known as ‘green’ or ‘sustainable’ design in its expansion project eventually led to a $250,000 grant from the Kresge Foundation to install the energy-saving roof. Recently, the U.S. Green Building Council awarded the facility its gold certification, one step below the highest level, platinum, for its efforts.
“We’re a food bank; we rescue food from the food industry and are able to turn that around with very little waste,” Morehouse explained. “The way we look at it is, if we minimize our overhead costs, that plays right into our mission, helps us be stewards of the environment, and sets an example for other businesses in the Pioneer Valley.”
It’s an example that others are already taking seriously. In this issue, BusinessWest examines why a combination of cost savings and environmental stewardship is convincing state agencies and construction leaders that sustainable design has a clear future in the Bay State.
Crunching the Numbers
In 2005, the Mass. Sustainable Design Roundtable, a public-private partnership of more than 70 professionals involved in design and construction of buildings in Massachusetts, was convened under the direction of the Executive Office of Environmental Affairs (EOEA) and the Division of Capital Asset Management (DCAM), and funded by the Mass. Technology Collaborative.
The group examined sustainable-design concepts — which consider site selection, waste minimization, energy efficiency, water conservation, indoor environmental quality, and other environmental and health factors in construction — with the goal of fostering dialogue about green-building issues among public and private design and construction professionals and other experts.
The roundtable also examined barriers to sustainable design and discussed ways to promote widespread incorporation of sustainable design practices and technologies into all state government construction. It eventually determined that, like the Food Bank found, the initial investment in such practices is often followed by long-term cost savings.
“Across the country, initial experience with both public- and private-sector buildings that incorporate sustainable design principles is demonstrating that operating-cost savings provided by green buildings are considerably greater than any additional upfront or ‘first’ costs,” wrote Robert Golledge Jr., secretary of the EOEA, and David Perini, commissioner of the DCAM. “First-cost premiums, if present, generally do not exceed 4% and commonly have simple payback periods of as little as three or four years.”
In fact, the roundtable cited one comprehensive study of green buildings claiming that an average cost premium of $3 to $5 per square foot produced direct operational savings of about $15 per square foot over 20 years. Recent efforts to use such practices on Massachusetts public schools showed an even greater rate of return, the Roundtable claimed, with average cost premiums of 3% to 4% resulting in long-term savings of at least six times that amount.
“Although the most advanced green buildings have been operational for only a short period of time, initial evidence of their improved performance is highly compelling, most notably energy cost savings of at least 20% and up to 50% compared to baseline,” Golledge and Perini reported. “At a time when energy costs are high and getting higher, the ability to reduce energy consumption and gain significant financial savings is perhaps the single most significant benefit that green buildings provide” — savings that offset the extra up-front costs that green building often requires.
Green buildings also help to protect and conserve water resources, they continued, as well as providing a market for recycled and environmentally preferable products, and creating improved working and learning environments for building occupants.
None of that surprises Jeff Hayden, executive director of the Kittredge Business Center at Holyoke Community College, which opened in 2006 with a ‘green roof’ covering 2,500 square feet of its fourth-floor roof.
“A portion of the fourth-floor roof is a green roof,” Hayden said. “It essentially takes care of itself in that there’s very limited maintenance that needs to be done on it. That was part of the design — the fact that it would operate on its own. Essentially, it’s the first public building in the Commonwealth to have a green roof, and it’s part of our effort to look at these issues.”
The roof has been populated with native ground cover, grasses, and plants — a modern design concept that students in the environmental science program may eventually incorporate into their program of study. HCC officials intended for the roof to attract some of the birds and insects native to the area, as well as reducing water runoff from the building and lessening the environmental impact on a neighboring brook — one way the campus could preserve some of the rural, woodland feel of its surroundings.
“As a matter of fact, one of our college priorities for the coming year is to add a plan around sustainable development here on campus,” Hayden noted. “We’re looking at education in relation to the carbon footprint that we make, and to implement green policies that will help with more environmentally sensitive development of the college as we go forward.”
Easy Being Green?
That, in a nutshell, is why green building has become an attractive option for some developers; they see it as a crossroads of two desirable outcomes, cost savings and environmental impact. In a state as progressive as Massachusetts, these are no small concerns.
Take the Food Bank, for instance, which didn’t stop at the photovoltaic roof; it also replaced its inefficient diesel refrigeration units with ozone-friendly refrigerators and freezers, and used more natural light in its offices to cut down on fluorescent lighting.
“The features of this building are low-ozone-generating and low-toxicity,” Morehouse said, adding that any unusable food is donated to local farms as animal feed, and all paper products are recycled to generate additional revenue.
“To receive this top-of-the-line green building certification is an extremely difficult and complicated road,” said Peter Wood, vice president of sales and marketing at Associated Builders in South Hadley, which worked with the Food Bank on the project. “It’s called sustainable building because it’s developed from a green concept but is also sustainable in the business market.”
The U.S. Green Building Council certified the Food Bank through its Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) rating system, which provides a set of standards for environmentally sustainable construction.
Most recent and current LEED-certified projects in Massachusetts are located in the eastern part of the state, but there are several in Western Mass., including the Mount Holyoke College Science Center in South Hadley, as well as an addition and renovation to the college’s Blanchard Campus Center; the Koch Center at Deerfield Academy; and the North Adams Public Library.
The roundtable, for its part, has called for the adoption of minimum green building standards for all new construction and major renovation projects overseen by designated state agencies — standards that take into account both environmental impact and long-term operating costs.
Considering that buildings in the U.S. account for 40% of total energy consumption and 70% of total electricity consumption, according to the federal Energy Information Administration, as well as using more than 12% of fresh-water supplies and generating 25% of all solid waste, these are no small goals.
“Buildings have a significant impact on our budgets,” said Golledge and Perini. “The Commonwealth already commits more than $1 billion of public money each year to building construction and renovation projects. The state constructs a range of buildings for a variety of uses, from schools, hospitals, offices, and courthouses to colleges, prisons, park facilities, and affordable housing.”
But public-sector activity isn’t enough, Morehouse said, which is why the economic benefits of sustainable design must be effectively communicated. “The bottom line,” he asserted, “is that it’s going to take government support to convince the private sector to invest in green technologies to reduce costs for businesses and households alike. This is common in other countries; we’re behind the curve.”
As for Holyoke Community College, “I think it’s very important for us to do what we can to maintain and enhance our environment, especially since we are a community campus and have a lot of people driving cars here,” said Hayden. “We need to provide an example to our students and the community.”
It’s an example some are shouting from the rooftops — be they shingled, covered with grass, or powered by the sun.
Joseph Bednar can be reached at[email protected]
Bay Path Student Earns National Recognition for Her Pitching Prowess
According to many a poll, public speaking prompts more fear in people than death, heights, or spiders.
Aubrey Malanowski, a senior at Bay Path College in Longmeadow majoring in marketing, is well-acquainted with that assertion, though she can’t necessarily relate. Public speaking, she says, has always come easily to her, and she’s recently found how many windows of opportunity that skill can open.
Malanowski recently ranked among the top five students in the nation, both graduate and undergraduate, at the Collegiate Entrepreneurs’ Organization (CEO) National Elevator Pitch competition in Chicago.
It’s a high-level challenge that charges participants with delivering a 90-second pitch for a business concept. (The name refers to the typical amount of time one would have in an elevator with a potential, if not theoretical, investor).
No props, note cards, or written speeches can be used, so faith in one’s abilities and the idea they’re presenting are key to such contests. Malanowski said she first heard of the elevator pitch competition through her affiliation with Bay Path’s CEO chapter (she’s the founder and president) and through the business-oriented honor society Phi Beta Lambda (she’s its secretary), and felt she had the right combination of confidence and drive.
“I love public speaking, and I had an idea,” she said.
And that’s where it all started.
Health and Beauty
In fact, Malanowski’s original idea for a less-than-two-minute pitch was more than just a notion — it’s an existing business she founded as a student, and continues to pursue. A licensed esthetician, Malanowski devised a business plan for a company called Beginning Beauty, which, largely by organizing parties at homes and community organizations, targets ‘tween’ girls (roughly ages 8 through 12) and teaches appropriate, sanitary makeup application and care.
That venture has received positive feedback from many constituencies, including mothers who struggle with teaching their adolescent daughters how to look and act their age as they mature. But as she researched the art of the elevator pitch, Malanowski decided she needed another idea, one that was perhaps more hard-hitting and far-reaching, to truly dazzle an audience.
She drew again from her own experiences, this time focusing on her year behind a desk in a doctor’s office, and the copious paperwork she was constantly asking patients to complete.
“Standard paperwork can be really repetitive, especially for the elderly,” she explained. “The only way most doctors’ offices can record changes to insurance, medications, and other basic information is by having a patient fill the same forms out again and again, each time they come in.
“It’s a faulty system in my eyes,” she added. “I figured there must be a better way.”
Thus, Malanowski’s first pitch began to form. Starting with the problem of repetitive paperwork and the trend in many offices today toward going paperless, she presented the idea for the “MedLink,” a portable USB device that would contain a patient’s basic personal information (barring anything sensitive that could violate HIPAA regulations). The idea is that patients could then bring their MedLink with them to a physician’s office, where that information could be uploaded into a computer, saving both time and resources.
Rising to the Top
Malanowski first presented her pitch at Bay Path College at a competition for the college’s undergraduate and graduate students. After placing first in that contest, she won a place in the 2007 Harold Grinspoon Elevator Pitch Competition, a regional event that draws contestants from 13 of the area’s colleges and universities, and is judged by a panel of presidents and vice presidents from a number of the region’s financial institutions.
Malanowski said she had her work cut out for her that evening. Not only was she presenting a pitch along with several other undergraduate and graduate students, she was also staffing her own tabletop display at the event, featuring her business, Beginning Beauty.
“It was a little daunting to say the least,” she said, adding, however, that she was so busy, she had little time to be nervous. “I had practiced, and that night, I kept walking up to my mom as though she was a stranger, and pitching the idea to her.”
Her dry runs paid off.
Malanowski won the Grinspoon competition, earning her $1,000, and also won a spirit award in recognition of Beginning Beauty the same night, an award that came with an additional $500 prize.
“When I gave my pitch, I felt amazing about it,” she said, “but coming in first place was still pretty awesome. I had attended Holyoke Community College prior to coming to Bay Path, so when I walked to the podium I had not one, but two colleges cheering me on.”
Her Kind of Town
Soon though, it was time for the entire region to cheer on Malanowski at the national elevator pitch competition in Chicago. Her participation wasn’t guaranteed by her regional win; she had to apply online and survive two major cuts — the first narrowing the pool of applicants to 120, and the second cutting that number in half — before moving on to the competitive level.
But Malanowski was among the final 60 contestants, and began fundraising to finance her trip by sending letters asking for support to various individuals and organizations in the community.
Last November, Malanowski found herself in a Chicago hotel room, pacing and pitching to prepare for three rounds of grueling competition.
“There were 15 of us in each room, presenting to separate panels of judges,” she explained, “so I had no way of knowing how well everyone else was doing.”
Still, she made it through round one of the national competition, which eliminated 48 people. Then, in the semifinals, the pool was reduced to six contestants, and Malanowski advanced to the final round. This time, the pitches weren’t made to a small panel of judges, but to a full audience in a grand ballroom.
“There were in excess of 1,000 people in attendance,” she said, “and it wasn’t the same people who’d seen me doing great all day.”
Malanowski said she stumbled over a word in the very last sentence, but in the end, she placed fifth in the nation, after competing at the college, regional, and national level, and it’s not a finish she laments by any means.
“What are you going to do?” she said of her single flubbed line, with a slight shrug. “I view the entire process as a huge success.”
Loud and Proud
And Malanowski isn’t going to stop there. She said she’s been approached more than once by potential investors regarding the MedLink idea, and in addition to continuing to develop Beginning Beauty, she’s mulling plans for a second endeavor aimed at young girls — this one focused on the importance of public speaking.
“Change occurs by women voicing their opinions,” she said. “That’s something I feel very strongly about, and now that I’ve had some success on my own in that area, it’s become a direction in which I can see myself heading.”
There are other areas she’d like to explore, too, including the field of social entrepreneurship as a whole (ventures that are launched to address a social problem, such as educational gaps, economic distress, or gender biases) and green entrepreneurship — the practice of launching or assisting environmentally friendly initiatives.
“Public speaking has opened so many doors for me, and is so useful in general,” she said. “Who knows where I’ll go?”
Wherever she lands, though, it seems Malanowski won’t have any trouble telling people about it.
Jaclyn Stevenson can be reached at[email protected]
Local Creators of ‘The Berries’ Share the Secrets of their Sweet Success
Their theme song says ‘there’s no doubt when the Berries come along,’ and the creators of the rising children’s stars couldn’t agree more. As they enter their fourth year as producers of an increasingly popular program and musical act for kids, three local dads look back at the road they’ve taken, and how The Berries are leading to just desserts.
When three girls wearing brightly colored costumes and big smiles visited the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame last summer, they nearly brought the house down.
The performers were The Berries — Raz, Straw, and Blue — the stars of their own children’s DVD and recording artists with their own CD soundtrack. Their fans will tell you they also have their own T-shirts and downloadable coloring pages.
Children waited in line patiently to meet the Berries and pose for photos — one little girl burst into happy tears after shaking hands with the stars she sings along with nearly every day.
The event was a success for the group, and for its creators, three dads who formed Brain Powered Concepts Inc. (BPC) in 2004 to try their hand at producing, as well as augmenting the pool of children’s programming available today. They started slowly, learning the ropes as they continued to balance family with full-time jobs, but the result of three years of work is an award-winning, live-action, musically oriented children’s program geared toward the preschool demographic — children roughly aged 2 through 6 — that is about to burst onto the kids’ entertainment scene.
But there’s more to the Berries’ story than that, for even though they reside in Berryland, their roots are planted firmly in Western Mass.
BPC is powered by Fred Pokryzwa of Chicopee, Eric Stevens of West Springfield, and Paul Yacovone of Agawam. The partners are long-time friends with children of varying ages, and their venture began with a conversation one evening about the TV shows and DVDs their children watched, and what was missing from them.
“The three of us, as fathers, thought there must be room for something better,” said Yacovone, BPC’s chief financial officer. “There’s a lack of positive role models out there.”
The partners had never worked in the entertainment or production arenas before, but said they had an idea they felt was strong, and the drive to see it through. Instead of taking on the massive task themselves, they pooled their own capital and began searching for professionals across New England to help them bring The Berries to fruition.
Talent by the Bushel
The search began with Bill Miller, an Emmy Award-winning video producer and director based in Sherborn, Mass., whose client list includes Disney Television, ESPN, Major League Baseball, and VH1, among other outlets. It was here that the partners got their first look at the road ahead — one that wasn’t always going to be brightly colored and cheerful.
“He actually tried to discourage us,” said Pokryzwa, BPC’s chief information officer. “He told us, ‘this is a tough business. You don’t want to be in this business.’”
But Yacovone noted that if he and his partners were ready to launch a new company based on handwritten notes from their first conversation, they were ready to take the leap into the unknown world of children’s entertainment.
“We just said, ‘let’s do it,’” said Yacovone. “We knew it was something we wanted to do — we were motivated, especially by our families, and wanted to strike while the iron was hot.”
Stevens, who serves as BPC’s president, said they eventually sold Miller on their concept through a blend of confidence and a little humor, by telling him they still wanted to take their shot.
“We wanted his expertise, and if the endeavor flopped, we told him we’d simply say our children owned the most expensive DVD ever,” he said. “He responded by telling us he couldn’t promise us success, but he could promise us quality, and that’s what we wanted to hear.”
With Miller at the helm, BPC moved forward with trademarking, copyrighting, and hiring, working to identify more children’s media moguls to join the Berries team.
Those who signed on include Ben Stellpflug, a songwriter, producer, and arranger who has worked in various capacities within the Disney Corp., among other credits; Jon Sellew, a script- and copywriter who has written for a number of corporate and media-based clients such as Discovery Channel, Animal Planet, and Children’s Television Workshop; and David Porter, Jim Sullivan, and Chris Anderson, managing partners of Mix One Studios in Boston, where the Berries’ nine-song CD was recorded. This affiliation puts the Berries and BPC on par with such clients as Aerosmith, HBO, and the Boston Pops.
“We’ve been involved at all levels, but we have some of the best people in the business working with us, and that has added a lot of leadership to our endeavor,” said Yacovone, who noted that every day in Berryland is a learning experience for the new ‘dadtrepreneurs.’ “We had a slow start — it was more than a year before we started filming. But since it’s all new to us, every step of the way has been a blast.”
That includes the partners’ first casting call, at which more than 150 young women responded to the search to cast the Berries.
“The ultimate goal was to find three women with whom kids could form an instant bond,” said Yacovone. “Picking three was difficult. We saw a lot of talent.”
In the end, Boston-area actresses Erin Leddy, Sheena Melwani, and Michelle DeLuca were cast as Straw, Blue, and Raz, while Joy Scott earned a spot as Cran, the Berries’ cousin, who appears in one of the three episodes filmed to date.
“The shows teach life lessons — things like the importance of friendship and how it’s OK to be different,” said Stevens, “and we look at the Berries as being positive role models. We thought that was one area where children’s shows could do better, so we were very sure early on what type of characters we wanted the Berries to be, and we worked closely with our team to make sure the vision stuck.”
The Berries lead viewers through a series of original songs with titles like “Outside the Lines” and “Something in Common,” and discuss topics appropriate to the preschool age group, such as colors, senses, and friendship.
But the BPC team believes that the Berries provide one of the more progressive offerings for children available today, as well.
“The music is strong,” said Yacovone. “It’s not childlike, and the rhythm is catchy. There are more difficult words than the norm to take in and memorize.
“But the biggest complaint we get from parents is that their kids are demanding the Berries’ CD be played constantly — at home, in the car — and they can’t get the songs out of their heads.”
“And some parents,” added Stevens, “say they keep the CD playing even after the kids get out of the car.”
Pie in the Sky
Beyond positive feedback, BPC has seen other signs of success, including an important national accolade. The Berries’ premiere DVD, featuring the act’s first three episodes, was recently awarded the National Parenting Center’s Seal of Approval, placing it in the company of such high-profile films and videos as The Chronicles of Narnia, High School Musical, and Pooh’s Grand Adventure, all produced by Disney.
The songs and shows have also been featured on Radio Disney and KidVideos.com, the children’s equivalent to YouTube.
As they make plans for the future, the business partners are hoping to locate additional venture capital; increase distribution of the Berries’ DVDs, CDs, and other merchandise; and produce a new set of episodes. They’re also in talks with a major Web-based firm to feature the Berries’ shows online, and hope to pursue a collaboration to syndicate the show on television.
Regionally, as proven by the Berries’ reception at the Basketball Hall of Fame, Raz, Straw, and Blue have a strong following. Big Y now carries their merchandise in all of their stores in Massachusetts and Connecticut, as does Pilgrim Candle in Westfield and South Hadley. Christmas sales helped BPC have its best quarter ever at the close of last year, and Pokryzwa said the local response has only bolstered his belief that the Berries are destined for great things.
“When you see every child react in the same great way to the Berries, you know you’ve got a product that’s good,” he said. “I used to say we wanted to go national with this, but I don’t say that anymore. We can go international.”
Yacovone and Stevens nod in agreement, but the partners’ collective definition of return on investment isn’t relegated to profits from CD, DVD, and T-shirt sales.
“We’d love to make the Berries a household name,” said Yacovone. “The growing brand recognition of the Berries is already allowing more children to get to know them.”
Jaclyn Stevenson can be reached at[email protected]