RossTarrant Architects didn’t think twice about keeping coffee-makers going all day every day. If your office does the same thing you know what that means: gallons of scorched coffee get poured down the drain every day. With each brewer consuming almost 2 kilowatts of electricity daily, the firm was spending $1,024 a year to waste an office supply. Since employees suggested buying thermal carafes, though, the firm’s paying $700 less annually on electricity related to coffee consumption.

This is just one example of the office- and manufacturing-procedure tweaks made by 28 schools, businesses, and public buildings in Lexington during a yearlong conservation competition hosted by the central Kentucky city and a long-time public education partner. As the “Live Green Lexington” Games competition heads into its second year, Department of Environmental Quality and Public Works Environmental Initiatives Senior Program Manager Tom Webb expects the community to recycle even more and waste even fewer resources in the ultimate win-win scenario for the two stakeholders.

Public works landfills less waste and makes businesses key partners in managing stormwater and other challenges. Businesses pay less on overhead while building camaraderie among employees and receiving positive PR.

“Every dollar companies don’t spend on energy they can spend on their business,” he says. “That adds up to a fairly significant amount.”

So does the recognition.

“The general public doesn’t know what we do, so this was a way to get our name out and to get more involved in the community,” says Lori McIlvaine, a project engineer in the Lexington office of Tetra Tech Inc., a global consulting, engineering, and construction firm that was named the competition’s overall winner in July 2012.

Use what you already have

Finding the resources to administer a public outreach program is doubly difficult during an economic downturn. In this regard, Kentucky’s second-largest city had two advantages in 2009 when the U.S. Department of Energy announced stimulus-package allocations to the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant (EECBG) program:

  • A successful similar program in Louisville’s Kilowatt Crackdown in which building owners compete to see who can lower energy costs the most within one year.
  • A collaborative relationship with a local environmental nonprofit organization. Founded in 2001, Bluegrass PRIDE (Personal Responsibility in a Desirable Environment) partners with public agencies to promote waste reduction and better water quality. The organization, for example, manages a Lexington-Fayette Urban County Government partnership program that’s fostered recycling and water quality initiatives in 300 businesses, 70 schools, and 50 apartment complexes.

“Bluegrass PRIDE was already doing energy outreach, so the games were pretty inexpensive,” says Webb. Hoping to attract more participants, he and Bluegrass PRIDE Program Manager Joanna Isaacs expanded Lexington’s version of Kilowatt Crackdown to water and recycling as well as energy. “Those three primary parts have been a good fit,” he says. “That’s another piece of the puzzle.”

Louisville uses EPA’s free Portfolio Manager software. Lexington chose GreenQuest, Web-based energy-management software for households and single-building owners introduced in 2009 by EnergyCAP Inc. of State College, Pa., which has been an Energy Star Partner of the Year for two consecutive years. The city applied $8,100 of a $2.7 million EECBG toward a three-year license.

“The most time you’re going to spend is in the initial stage, setting up the scorecard,” Isaacs says. “Then there’s the monthly training and work at the end. In between I didn’t have much to do except answer questions.” She spent a week, working most of each day, to create and fine-tune the scorecard using Excel, but now easily makes changes.

One change happened shortly after the competition began in June 2011. Originally points were allowed only if all facility light bulbs were changed to CFL. Inkjet manufacturer Lexmark was already changing its lighting but wouldn’t be finished before the Games ended. Energy Manager Paul Ackerman asked that partial credit be allowed for this category and Isaacs agreed.

“One thing we’ve learned is that we need several contacts at each company,” Webb says. “With people changing jobs, program information may not be given to a replacement.”

High-impact, low-cost training

Bluegrass PRIDE convened free monthly training sessions from June 2011 through June 2012. Participants brought their lunches to sessions held at Chamber of Commerce headquarters on the third Tuesday of each month from noon to 1 p.m.

The first few covered the competition’s three targets — recycling and waste reduction, lowering energy use, and saving water — and requirements for each type of competitor: school, house of worship, retail shop, office, and manufacturer. One session was devoted to the software being used. At the January 2012 halfway point, Isaacs explained how to create an implementation plan for applicable ideas and strategies. Expecting interest among even the most dedicated competitors to have waned by then, she offered new ideas — such as checking for phantom voltage on things like cell phone chargers — for earning points over for the remaining six months.

February: environmental grants. How to obtain funding from programs like the city’s Water Quality Management Fee Incentive Grant for stormwater projects, which since 2010 has given schools and businesses almost $4 million; and EcoART, which gives $5,000 to projects that educate residents about local environmental issues and responsibility.

March:Go Green, Save Green Workshop. Competitors that sent representatives to this day-long Bluegrass PRIDE program earned two points.

April: green purchasing. Setting standards for supply chains, product recyclability, and compostable products; and how to avoid being “greenwashed”; i.e., falling for unsubstantiated or misleading claims about the environmental benefits of a product, service, or technology.

May: Tips for making scorecards easier to fill out. “For the first one on the scorecard I tried to go through point by point, pointing out low-hanging fruit,” Isaacs says.

June: at competitors’ request. One last chance to review scorecards, ask questions, and learn about strategies that wouldn’t take long to implement.

Preparing the sessions didn’t take Isaacs long because Bluegrass PRIDE regularly makes environmental presentations to businesses and other local groups. Next time she may invite outside presenters, like a local landscape architect who had discussed environmentally friendly landscaping and native plants. “The city has its recycling specialist; Kentucky Utilities and Bluegrass Energy Cooperative have their own speakers,” she says. “There are always opportunities for partnerships.”

Like the first phase, the program’s final phase was time-consuming: verifying scorecards, talking to participant representatives, choosing and ordering awards, planning and arranging the awards ceremony, and getting information out to the public. In September, the top 10 winners received plaques made of recycled wood and glass during a Chamber of Commerce event that 100 residents and business representatives attended.

For the 2012/2013 competition, Isaacs added dumpster and food waste recycling to the waste category. Transportation will be added in 2013/2014, providing points for installing bike racks and encouraging carpooling.

“The first year, you’re figuring out how to make the program work,” says Webb. “It’s the nuts and bolts: the scorecard, how competitors use software to record information so we can compare it with other companies’ information.”

Isaacs agrees. “Once you have the first year done you know what to expect,” she says. “But a lot of planning has to go in at the end of the competition for the next year.”

Buranen is a freelance writer based in Lexington, Ky.

Five ways to save costs on public outreach

Since 2008 at least 300 businesses, 70 schools, and 50 apartment complexes have increased recycling and water-quality initiatives through Live Green Lexington, a joint effort of Lexington, Ky., and Fayette County. In June 2011, the two partners upped the ante by launching a communitywide competition to see what business, school, or other local organization could recycle the most waste and conserve the most water and energy within one year.

Department of Environmental Quality and Public Works Environmental Initiatives Senior Program Manager Tom Webb and Bluegrass PRIDE Program Manager Joanna Isaacs offer tips for launching a similar program.

Use local resources. “You don’t have to bring on staff if you can find a partner,” says Webb. “For example, Keep Lexington Beautiful works on preventing litter, so they helped us.”

Make savings available to everyone. Both businesses and homeowners have free access to the Web-based GreenQuest energy-management software program.

In addition, residents can check out an “energy audit kit” from the public library. In addition to a foot-candle light meter and manual, a laser thermometer identifies window and door leaks, a food thermometer is used to adjust water-heater temperature, and a Kill-A-Watt meter shows how much electricity appliances use when they’re not running. Residents have checked out the kits almost 100 times.

Keep the enthusiasm going. Attention wanes over a yearlong program. At six months, Isaacs offered new, easily implemented ideas for earning points over the remaining six months.

Get at least two employee contacts from each participating company. “With people changing jobs, program information may not be given to a replacement,” says Webb.

Hire an intern. With proper supervision, Webb says, a student can do a good job administering a project or program like the Games.