Northwest News

Nonprofits get pointers on cutting energy expenses

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Little things can make a big difference.

Representatives of organizations that seek to make a difference in people's lives learned some little things at a workshop last week that can make a big difference in their energy expenses.

They also received information about how to apply for $2,500 grants to fund energy-efficient improvements.

Finally, a representative of the Ohio Development Services Agency's Office of Energy gave a brief presentation about low-cost loans that can also pay for upgrades that reduce energy use.

The workshop, entitled "Reduce Your Use for Good," was put on by Direct Energy, a Houston-based subsidiary of a multinational integrated energy company.

ThisWeek Community News served as the media sponsor for the program aimed at helping nonprofit agencies and organizations reduce their bottom line and, according to some of the panelists for the gathering, potentially make themselves more appealing to funders.

The panel for the event, held July 25 in the Buckeye Room of the Girl Scouts of Ohio's Heartland headquarters on Watermark Drive, included Erin Miller, Mayor Michael B. Coleman's environmental steward; Karen Ferris, founder of the green-promoting company Big Green Head; and attorney David M. Scott, board vice chairman for the Central Ohio Chapter of the Green Building Council.

"Buildings use over 70 percent of the energy we use," said Scott, a litigator with Luper, Neidenthal and Logan.

"We have a goal of reducing energy use in the city of Columbus by 40 percent by 2030," Miller told workshop participants.

"We want to bring that fun factor," Ferris said of recycling and other events Big Green Head puts on.

In response to a question read by Andrea Romo, an external relations specialist in the Pittsburgh office of Direct Energy, asking whether or not they thought being kinder to the environment and cutting down on energy use was a passing fad, all three said: No way.

"I would say no, definitely," Miller said.

"I think environmental solutions ... are the wave of the future," Ferris said.

"Get on the bandwagon before being forced to do it."

Scott spoke about changing light bulbs used at a nonprofit's headquarters and making certain the HVAC system is operating as efficiently as possible.

"This is low-hanging fruit that is easy to get," he said. "Who doesn't want to save money?"

Some employees of nonprofit organizations work from their homes, Ferris said, but that doesn't mean they are barred from getting in on energy efficiency.

Shut down electronics when not in use, she advised, unplug chargers when they're not charging anything.

Miller outlined the city's "Green Spot" program, in which individuals and businesses can, by pledging to cut back on energy use, reducing water consumption and other steps qualify for recognition with a sticker that can be displayed in windows.

For smaller operations, Scott said it is important someone "champion" the cause of going green.

It's easy to get ideas along these lines, he pointed out, but much more difficult to see them through to execution.

"It's like a diet: little changes add up," Ferris said.

"Change is hard," Miller said. "We've been doing things one way for years, and it's hard to make a different habit."

Romo explained to workshop attendees how, by making a video of no more than two minutes outlining the mission of the organization, uploading it to reduceyourusefor good.com and then encouraging supporters to "like" that video on the Facebook page of Direct Energy, nonprofits can be in the running for the $2,500 grants.

"That's literally all you have to do," she said.

Direct Energy has pledged $100,000 toward the program.

April Kasun, outreach coordinator for the state's Office of Energy, said the Energy Loan Fund provides nonprofits with 90 percent of the cost of an energy-improvement project, whether it's insulation, lighting, HVAC improvement, window installations, up to $1 million.

These loans are below prime, Kasun said, and can generally be repaid over the course of the period in which the improvements save the agency that amount of money.

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