March 31st, 2015
Taking the first step in the green movement may seem difficult, but it actually is very simple and is something you can implement into your everyday life. Think about the three keys rules: reduce, reuse, and recycle, and see how they can fit into your routine.
Here are ten ways you can go green that are simple to do each day:
1. Go paperless on monthly bills – Companies are making it so much easier to pay online these days, that this transition is extremely easy. Go online to request that your statements be sent to you electronically.
2. Thrifting – Instead of buying something new, such as clothing or dishware, visit your local thrift store to see what they have in stock. More often than not, you will be able to find something at a fraction of the cost of what it is priced at a department store.
3. Donate used items – Instead of allowing items to pile up in landfills, donate used items — perhaps while visiting a thrift store. Many thrift stores give out coupons to people who donate.
4. Unplug charged devices – Unplugging cellphones, laptops, tablets, or any chargeable device once they are full will help cut back on energy — and save the battery life.
5. Turn off the light – Such a simple idea, but it’s not always implemented. Take a look around the house right now and see if there are any lights you can switch off.
6. Open or shut the window – Depending on if you want to cool or heat your home, open/close windows. This also lets in fresh air.
7. Upcycle old tshirts – Turn old tshirts into stylish grocery bags. This stop also helps cut down on plastic bags at the store.
8. Reuse water – Heating up the water for your shower? Use a bucket to gather the cold water and use it to water plants. Another thing you may not know about is that potato water is rich in nutrients for plants. The next time you are boiling potatoes for dinner, save the water once you take the potatoes out of the pot, let it cool, and use it for house plants. It’s much better than fertilizers.
9. Visit the Library – Save a tree and borrow your next book instead of buying a new one. Libraries are great resources for other items, such as DVDs and audiobooks.
10. Educate yourself – It’s so easy to ignore the environment, but making it a habit to be more aware of the world we live in benefits everyone. Read up on ways you can impact the world around you.
December 8th, 2014
Photo by Bill Klotz
Are you a small business searching for ways to cut energy costs? EnerChange can help you do so. Finance Commerce put together a story detailing the trials and costs that many small businesses run into.
The owners of Los Hornos del Rey bakery in Minneapolis are studying bids for new lighting and occupancy sensors that will cost less than $100 after the rebates and produce $143 in annual energy savings.
The 1,000-square-foot bakery, at 1703 E. Lake St., is co-owned by Cecilia Pelaez and her mother. Pelaez discovered the rebates after the Lake Street Council, a neighborhood business group, approached her about opportunities to save energy and money.
“It’s a win-win,” said Pelaez of the $366 project, of which the bakery will pay just $98 of the cost. “I get to pay less money for lighting and only pay one-third of the cost of the project. And it’s the environmentally responsible thing to do.”
The Lake Street Council is one of 10 neighborhood business groups in the Twin Cities’ region participating in a new energy coach training program sponsored by the Minneapolis-based Great Plains Institute.
Fifteen members of the nonprofit groups received training this fall in the various energy-related programs available to small businesses and have begun canvassing businesses in their neighborhoods to push them to consider spending a little for a potentially large impact on their utility bills.
Trevor Drake, the Great Plains Institute’s coordinator for the project, explained that a barrier exists when energy experts talk to small business owners about changes they can make to improve efficiency and reduce energy. The small business owner may have little idea of what he is being sold and have no knowledge of the nonprofit behind the sales call, Drake said.
Most business owners have little time available for anything other than the task at hand, Drake noted, and they have little knowledge of various programs to cut energy costs.
The Sustainability Review summed up the fragmented market, based on its own market research: “The business owners we spoke with overwhelmingly want to reduce energy costs. However, most of them simply do not know where to find information on how to do so.”
Add in another challenge – the sheer number of organizations involved in energy conservation efforts. Drake counts 10 energy audit organizations alone in the area, everybody from the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce’s St. Paul-based Energy Smart program to Enerchange, a Shorewood-based organization serving nonprofits.
The Great Plains Institute developed the concept of training “energy coaches” after receiving a $50,000 grant from Wells Fargo. The coaches work in neighborhood business organizations that are much more familiar faces than a stranger on the phone or a utility representative stopping by the shop to sell services.
“The energy coaches already have relationships with business owners,” Drake said. “They are known and trusted.”
The energy coaches will recommend which vendors would work best for individual businesses, Drake said, beginning with the suggestion they get an energy audit and assessment. After the audit the coach and business owner will develop a strategy to improve efficiency.
The coaches will address financing and rebate options that can help reduce the cost, as well as any incentives available through the neighborhood business organizations, Drake said. The advantage for small business owners is that they can see the cost, the financial assistance and the annual savings before committing to new lighting or a new heating and cooling system.
IN THE NEIGHBORHOODS
The Lake Street Council has been particularly active in speaking to local businesses. Allison Sharkey, the executive director, said the council has overseen 18 energy assessments of local businesses by Energy Smart. Of those, seven business owners received bids for projects the last week of November.
The majority of businesses involved are in retail, she said. Not all the businesses have a personal Xcel representative helping them reduce energy costs, she said, so the council saw an opening to help.
“We’ve developed strong relationships over the years with these folks and often worked with them on other problems they had,” Sharkey said. For example, the council has a city-sponsored façade improvement program that was discussed as part of a conversation on energy efficiency measures.
The cost of the proposed projects has been fairly modest, with most falling under $1,000, she said. The largest potential project, for a gas station, would cost $3,390, but the owner would pay just $1,130 for an estimated energy savings of $1,661.
The suggestions from coaches usually include new lighting, a programmable thermostat, new heating and air conditioning systems (or repairs of existing ones) and window replacements, she said.
On occasion a coach may see an opportunity for a simple behavioral change. For example, the council suggested a liquor store pay closer attention to opening and closing doors in its refrigerated section, Sharkey added.
The Hub Bike Co-op, at 3020 Minnehaha Ave., also has worked with the council but hasn’t committed to upgrades yet. Development coordinator Benjamin Tsai said energy coaching “is a great idea” and that the council has been a good partner in “helping facilitate the process of finding out what options are out there” for reducing energy costs.
Despite significant energy savings that accrue over a number of years, small business owners can still be a tough crowd, Sharkey concedes. It remains to be seen how many of the seven will pull the trigger and pay for an upgrade after they receive project bids, she said.
In the case of the Los Hornos del Rey bakery, the owner favored the council’s approach because it had no ties to larger interests. Pelaez said she knew Xcel had staff assigned to small businesses but she preferred using the council because of its independence and familiarity.
Coaches also can find themselves bewildered – even after all the training they receive — by the array of energy efficiency organizations and information available, said Kathryn Nelson, a coach who volunteers with the Longfellow Business Association.
Many nonprofits offer energy audits, she explained, leaving her wondering which works for a particular business. The energy coaching manual is rich in content. “It’s confusing because there is so much information and so many routes to go with a business,” said Nelson. “I’m really leery of giving people the wrong starting point.”
For her population on Minnehaha Avenue and East Lake Street, around 10 percent of business owners “are comfortable grabbing hold and going with” an investment in energy efficiency, she said. The rest see the process as too time-consuming.
“When you have to stop what you do to look at energy programs, that means you’re not doing all you’re supposed to be doing,” Nelson said. “It’s a tough sell.”
October 29th, 2014
Do you have a free weekend for a project? Have you thought of ways to give things that have been sitting around your house have a second life? Household items often go to waste fills and take years to decompose. We put together a list of items for an easy weekend project to reuse these items — it even helps you to get organized.
1. Towels Into a Rug – Recycle those old towels into something that is perfect for the bathroom. The video gives you a quick tutorial on how to create the most absorbent rug.
2. Windows Into a Greenhouse – Do you have any old windows lying around waiting for the right craft project? Turn them into a stylish greenhouse.
3. Wine Bottles Into Candle Holders/Shelf Holders – Soak the labels off of your old wine bottles and turn them into a boho chic candle holder. Looking for something more challenging? Use some wood panels and hooks to make yourself a new shelf.
4. Tissue Box as Bag Storage – Don’t throw out those old tissue box. Use them to corral and manage shopping plastic bags.
5. Drawers Into Hideaway Storage – Are you running out of storage space? Use old drawers from dressers as storage. Pay a visit to the hardware store for some casters and some paint or varnish (if it needs it), and voila, you have something to roll underneath your bed for easy storage.
October 27th, 2014
Nonprofit organizations often find themselves operating on limited budgets. Even handling monthly bills can be challenging at times, especially during times of the year when cash flow is limited. Resources are available to help nonprofits, but if they don’t know about them, they might be missing important opportunities to save money. Read our energy saving grants for nonprofits.
EnerChange works directly with nonprofits in all fields to find ways to help them save money on energy bills. As an added benefit, these energy audits help organizations become more environmentally friendly. The cost of making equipment and structural changes can sometimes be offset by state and federal grants. Here are a few energy-saving grants available to nonprofits in eligible areas.
U.S. Department of Energy
Through its Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE), the U.S. Department of Energy offers financial assistance to help organizations increase the use of renewable energy and energy-efficient technologies. Applicants will be required to obtain a Dun and Bradstreet Data Universal Numbering System (DUNS) number and register with the appropriate databases.
Made in Minnesota Solar Incentive Program
Funds are available on a first come, first served basis for Minnesota business, nonprofit, and residential customers who install certified solar thermal systems that were made in Minnesota. Systems must be grid-connected and less than 40 kW-DC.
Xcel Energy Solar*Rewards
Xcel Energy offers incentives to its Minnesota customers who install photovoltaic (PV) solar panels. Each year, customers will receive a credit of $0.08 cents per kWh of energy that is produced over a ten-year period. Applicants must first determine if they are eligible and then complete an application through the program’s application website.
Xcel Energy Community Solar Gardens
Under legislation passed in 2013, Xcel Energy will oversee grants for the development of community solar gardens in Minnesota. Under the program, applicants with solar gardens will be given a credit for the amount of electricity generated from the garden. To be eligible, a solar garden can be up to 1,000 kW in size.
Energy Star Federal Tax Credits
Federal tax credits are available for the installation of geothermal heat pumps and solar energy systems as long as the installations generate sufficient activity on the property. The tax credits apply not only to the purchase of the system but to the installation cost, as well. The forms will be submitted when you file your taxes.
Lake Region Ag and Commercial Energy Grants
The Lake Region Electric Cooperative (LREC) offers grants to customers who make improvements to new or existing construction that result in an increased energy efficiency. These grants can be used to make improvements in HVAC systems, new lighting, and more. LREC invites organizations to contact one of their energy service specialists to find out if their project qualifies for a grant.
A thorough audit from EnerChange can determine where improvements can be made that will qualify for grants, rebates, or tax credits. In addition to the amount your nonprofit will save on its monthly utility bill, you’ll also enjoy savings that will offset the cost of installing more energy-efficient systems.
September 24th, 2014
EnerChange Aids Congregations in Their Energy Efficiency Efforts
We – each of us – come to the place of now from different perspectives and unique evolutions of experience and knowledge. This week may indeed count importantly in the belated but much needed coalescence of agreement about the critical need for action to address the issues of Climate Change. Whether we participated as one of the 400,000+ People’s Climate March in NYC on Sunday, September 21, speak at the United Nations climate summit or with much lower a profile, work daily to improve our planet’s wellness, it seems that we may be awakening to the greatest challenge of our time.
We at EnerChange posted a new video today at EnerChange.org because it captures so many of the themes flowing into this important effort to improve the quality of life now and for future generations. The 10 minute video clip is part of a longer feature film produced by Climate Reality, the organization from which in 2006, I was privileged to be trained by Al Gore to present the issues of global warming and its myriad ramifications. In the segment we posted (which includes some of EnerChange’s activity in the Twin Cities), Climate Reality wanted to present the gathering momentum coming from Interfaith houses of worship that have committed to this important cause.
The focus of all our efforts at EnerChange is to help nonprofit organizations save money by saving energy. We are proud of the growing number of nonprofits – of all kinds – that we have guided toward the implementation of a wide range of conservation and efficiency improvements. We have evolved in our development, through the deployment of a Sector Strategy, that effects implementation in larger numbers of buildings within select community segments – senior living, healthcare and worship houses – churches, synagogues, mosques – to name a few. The worship sector is what caught the attention of Climate Reality and is the grass roots subject of this impressive video capture.
While EnerChange specializes in efficiency and conservation, we are keenly aware of the growing interest in other significant solutions for the changing climate on planet Earth. To be sure, alternative energy resources – hydro, wind, solar, geothermal and others – are growing in importance and affordability. Financial resources are becoming more available for these initiatives which accelerate the ability to mitigate the problems. Whatever means, approaches and activities work toward the diminution of the impending consequences of denial and inattention to what is happening around the globe to our environment, we and millions of other applaud. Let us hope that our current place of now helps prepare the way for a viable tomorrow.
By Steve Seidl
Executive Director, EnerChange
September 3rd, 2014
Do you qualify for a rebate from CenterPoint Energy? We put together a chart to help you out. Hurry, rebate applications need to be received by December 31, 2014.
For more information, click on the chart below.
August 26th, 2014
Being a Minnesota nonprofit is a great thing to be. Minnesotans in general are excited to donate their time, energy and money to organizations that do good things for our communities and beyond.
Sometimes, nonprofits need a little help figuring things out, finding someone to fill an open position, or just getting started. There are some fantastic resources and websites for Minnesota nonprofits to take advantage of. Here are a couple of them:
The Minnesota Council of Nonprofits works to “inform, promote, connect and strengthen individual nonprofits and the nonprofit sector.” Becoming a member for a small yearly dues payment gives you access to all their resources, events, news, and more. You’ll also be able to post job openings on the site and view their research. They hold networking events, trainings on financial management, and more. Whether you’re a member or not, you can also view all of their best practices for nonprofits.
MAP for Nonprofits
MAP for Nonprofits has been around now for 30 years. Their mission is to “provide high-value management consulting and services, as well as board recruitment and training, to large, medium and small nonprofit organizations in the Twin Cities and beyond, helping nonprofit clients to more effectively achieve their missions.” So, when you’re a nonprofit and you need help with board recruitment, marketing, accounting or another aspect of your organization, MAP for Nonprofits is there to help. They list many of their fees right on their website service pages, so you can see immediately if their services are within your range of affordability.
Great Nonprofits is a site that connects users with nonprofits in their area. Nonprofits can create their searchable profile on the site, then get found by anyone browsing nonprofits in your area, including potential donors or volunteers. The site also has a spot for ratings, so users can leave ratings and reviews of your nonprofit. In an age where having a presence on the web is incredibly important, having a listing on this site may help with your organization’s overall web visibility.
National Council of Nonprofits
The National Council of Nonprofits has a very long list of resources for nonprofits. Follow their links for information and help on any topic from maintaining a tax-exempt status to help with and ideas about fundraising. They also report on any news happening in the nonprofit sector.
July 28th, 2014
You’d be surprised at how easy it is to start saving energy (and money) at the office! Just follow these 6 quick tips. If you’re a non-profit, let EnerChange help you save money by saving energy, all for free to you!
July 8th, 2014
How much energy are you wasting each month in your office? Are there areas where you could save hundreds of dollars each year by simply making a couple of changes? Many businesses aren’t operating as efficiently as they can, but building owners and renters have no idea what they can do to remedy the problem.
An energy audit can help. Since office buildings often house many tenants, even a small change can make a big difference when implemented across the board. Because of this, the small expense of an energy audit can quickly be recouped. Here are a few major areas that will be included in any energy audit.
Bills and Rebates
Even the most diligent person likely misses a thing or two in his bill each week. A thorough audit of a business’s bill can highlight areas of potential savings. This goes beyond the many possible errors to finding spots where a business can leverage lower rates to enjoy significant savings. By looking at a facility’s usage history, an audit can often highlight trends that a building owner may not see in an average month.
What many businesses don’t realize is that certain energy upgrades are eligible for rebates. An audit can point out areas where an office building can make the switch to a more energy-efficient, environmentally-friendly system affordably. Tax credits and rebates like the CenterPoint Energy’s Multi-Family Housing rebate can greatly offset the cost of new system implementation. An expert can find rebates and credits that a business like wouldn’t be able to find otherwise.
An energy auditor will do a thorough walk-through of your building and find areas where improvements can be made. One area that is often a target for energy savings is lighting. With small adjustments, a business can save big money on a business’s monthly electricity bill. Fluorescent lights produce less heat than incandescent lights, resulting in a significant cost savings in larger buildings. Businesses can also save money by setting lights on timers so that they shut off after hours, especially on weekends and holidays.
For businesses that house data centers, an energy audit can save money while still keeping equipment safe. Information technology now uses more than ten percent of the world’s electricity consumption, posing an environmental issue and leading to high costs for the businesses that use their services. An energy audit can look at server rooms and data centers of all sizes to implement features like electrical demand peak control and compressed air to help improve efficiency.
With help from EnerChange, businesses and office complex owners can see significant cost savings over time. EnerChange offers energy audits to businesses at no charge whatsoever in the interests of environmental conservation, thanks to funding from the Conservation Improvement Program. A certified energy auditor will come into a business and do a thorough audit of the facilities and its billing to find areas in which savings can be enjoyed. In addition to a professional audit, EnerChange can help businesses find programs that will benefit it, including replacing water heaters, heaters, and more.
May 9th, 2014
Photo via Amazon Paints
Don’t know what to do with those cans of half-used paints that are sitting in your garage? Amazon Paints is the answer you’ve been looking for. The California-based company also has plants in Minnesota and Oklahoma and recycles paints and provides unique solutions for leftover paints — even paints that may have expended their useful life as a coating.
We spoke with the general manager of the Minnesota branch, Marty Bergstedt, to learn more on what they do, and how you can recycle your paints.
EnerChange: What reasons made you want to work for a company that deals with environmentally-friendly products?
Marty Bergstedt: I have been involved in the Environmental Services market on and off since 1988. Amazon was an opportunity to take service a step further, and actually supply a product as result of that service.
EnerChange: Can you explain to me what Amazon Paint does?
Marty Bergstedt: Amazon Environmental collects unwanted latex paints from Household Hazardous Waste (HHW) programs, businesses and contractors. We then open each container and sort the reusable paints into basic color feedstock drums of red, green, blue, yellow, brown, white, off-white and gray. These feed stocks are then mixed per a specified formula to make our 14 standard paints to color and consistency specifications, and packaged in 1 gallon cans and 5 gallon pails.
EnerChange: How did Amazon see the need to take recycled paints and make it into something new?
Marty Bergstedt: Lorraine Segala, the founder, saw the opportunity to create something of value from these unwanted paints instead of placing them in a landfill. She started Amazon over 20 years ago in California. The Minnesota operation has been recycling latex paints since 2000.
EnerChange: Can people donate paints? Are there any restrictions in what you take?
Marty Bergstedt: Homeowners and other residential community members can bring their unwanted paints to their county or regional HHW program free of charge. Those paints will then be brought to us for recycling. Businesses and contractors can bring their unwanted latex paints to us directly, and we will charge a process fee based upon the weight of paint plus container dropped off.
Amazon can only process latex (water-based) paints. Oil-based paints, solvents, mineral spirits, paint strippers, etc. cannot be processed or accepted.
Photo via Amazon Paints
EnerChange: If Amazon Paints didn’t reuse these paints, what usually happens to paints? Do they often end up in landfills?
Marty Bergstedt: Without a sanctioned collection program, paints and other household items that shouldn’t could very well end up in a landfill.
Totally dried up latex paints are acceptable to be disposed of in a landfill, and those solids can’t be remade into paints. However, liquid paint should not be placed in the landfill, and to intentionally dry the paint to dispose of in this way is legal, but not an beneficial reuse of the value still contained in the unwanted paint.
EnerChange: How do you feel what Amazon does has impacted the environment?
Marty Bergstedt: Since its beginnings here in Minnesota Amazon has recycled close to 2,000,000 gallons (20 million pounds or 10,000 tons) of latex paint back into reusable paints and coatings. Not only is this material that is kept from disposal, it also reduces the amount of new paints and coatings that needed to be made from new raw materials, saving both those materials and the energy needed to make and transport them.
EnerChange: Can you buy Amazon Paints in stores? If not, where can consumers buy it?
Marty Bergstedt: Amazon Select paints are available at our facility in Fridley (7180 Commerce Circle W in Fridley) and in restores and other locations across the Midwest and East Coast. Call 763-572-0800 for directions and hours of operation.
Our website www.amazonpaint.com has a page of “Where to Buy” for interested consumers. We can also arrange delivery of our paint (at the customer’s cost) across town, or across the state.