The Greening of the Pioneer Valley

It’s called ‘going green.’ That’s the simple term attached to the sometimes-complex process of incorporating environmentally sensitive thinking to a company’s operations, policies, and even office design.

In this issue of BusinessWest, we talked to a number of area businesses about what they’re doing to ‘go green.’ The answers were so varied and expansive that the stories took on lives of their own, and could very well lead to even more news in our pages about environmental efforts across Western Mass.

Several area businesses have a wide array of initiatives in place. At Baystate Medical Center, for example, antimicrobial mops are seen as just as important a part of the green process as obtaining LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification on new construction projects. Similarly, at Big Y, reusable grocery bags reduce plastic consumption, while energy-saving computer systems on coolers, freezers, and lights save enough electricity in a year to power 90 homes.

The breadth of those projects shows why Springfield was recently named the fourth-greenest community out of 200 in the U.S. by Country Home magazine, and among larger cities, the magazine rated the city number one. They also show that going green can be an incremental undertaking for businesses of all sizes, perhaps starting with smaller, more manageable initiatives and gradually expanding with a company’s knowledge and resources.

Going green isn’t an easy feat for any business. Putting new plans in place requires a substantial amount of knowledge of a given organization’s own energy and resource consumption and how it can be curtailed, and an understanding of federal and state regulations, especially if green initiatives are being implemented with the hope of garnering tax credits. Cost analyses must be completed to ensure that any program makes sense in the long run for a company, and won’t decimate the bottom line.

Laws surrounding green business are also constantly changing. A greater number of states are drafting more specific laws to conform with the changing face — and energy demands — of industry and commerce.

Many companies in the Bay State are taking a proactive approach to green initiatives regardless of formal rules or regulations. It’s likely that, in the coming years, these companies could avoid some costly and time-consuming regulatory hassles, while others play catch-up.

At the very least, every company should seriously consider going green. As our own research found, many business owners can identify some practices just by taking a look around. It could be that a cost-saving measure put in place last year also had a positive effect on the environment — things like long-lasting light bulbs, for instance, or the recycled paper in the copier.

The strong ranking in Country Home is not merely another feather in the region’s cap. Green cities also attract new blood and new jobs. More than ever, young professionals list a region’s environmental friendliness as one of the top deciding factors when relocating.

We admit to being surprised to find such enthusiasm for going green across Western Mass., but encouraged. It creates an excellent base from which to build, and will allow us to create and support further initiatives that could not only reduce the area’s impact on the environment, but save much-needed resources as it moves forward in challenging economic times.

Going green isn’t just about doing good anymore, though that should remain a primary driver behind the trend. Now, it’s another way this region can thrive, and position itself as a prime destination in which to live, play, and work.

Looking back 10, 20, or 50 years from now, we’d like to say we watched the Western Mass. business community rally together as part of the region’s rebirth, and to reach an objective that just made sense.-