The SCALE UP program launched by Local First Arizona Foundation and Tucson Emerging 2030 District’s initial pilot program helped businesses save money while reducing their carbon footprint by implementing sustainable practices and retrofits.
By providing educational workshops, strong community partnerships, and highly leveraged incentives, the SCALE UP Program has supported the efforts of 11 local businesses to invest in their facilities and to ensure a more economically and environmentally sustainable future.
The goal of SCALE UP (Sustainable Communities Accessing Lending and Expertise Upon Performance) is to reduce utility costs for locally owned businesses with large energy-use intensity, and to increase their budgetary savings through decreasing their energy, water, and transportation costs. This ambitious goal is being accomplished by using the 2030 District model, which calls for businesses to reduce their energy use, water consumption and transportation emissions by 2030. The 2030 Districts succeed through private-sector-driven projects with support from public municipalities with a goal of creating high-energy-performance buildings. This program has already proven to be highly leveraged with municipality plans, resources, and tools in cities around the U.S.
Throughout Arizona, cities, towns and nonprofit groups have many resources available to provide information and financial help to businesses seeking to become more sustainable. However, many of these resources and programs address only one or two of the topics of sustainable business practices. The SCALE UP program works to create a “one-stop shop” of resources by bringing all of the already existing and successful programs together into one program, so that participating businesses can utilize community expertise, while developing a more holistic approach to their building’s efficiency and growing this significant coalition that includes over 20 community partners in Tucson.
Since the start of the pilot program in February 2018, Local First and the Tucson Emerging 2030 District have brought together over 20 partnering organizations. By bringing all of these groups together, the SCALE UP pilot was able to develop an all-in-one program for businesses that covered all the major components of sustainability. The partnerships started by curating content for a six-part workshop series that covered topics such as energy efficiency, water conservation and transportation efficiency. The partnering organizations provided their expertise and existing materials and resources to create content for each workshop.
Through the program, businesses developed their own unique sustainability plans with a focus on conservation and efficiency. In an effort to motivate participants to follow through on their sustainability plans, an exclusive incentive and benefits package was put together to offer discounts and additional support. For private-sector partners, the benefits and incentives package allowed them to offer free or discounted services for the SCALE UP participants.
The workshops, program workbook and benefits and incentive package are tools to help businesses make the necessary improvements to reach an initial goal of a 10 percent reduction of energy, water or transportation use.
At the end of the program, participants have a plan in place, identifying which areas they would like to improve, what their goals are, and how to reach them. Oftentimes, making just simple behavioral changes in the workplace can make a significant difference in water and energy use, such as turning off lights in empty rooms, turning off the A/C, and reducing water consumption. In order to reach larger savings, businesses need to eventually invest in their infrastructure and make capital improvements. Financing these larger projects can be a barrier to reaching efficiency goals for smaller businesses and nonprofits. The SCALE UP program understands these efficiency investments to be a means for a more sustainable financial future through costs savings, so the program was able to work with a new partner to help address the barriers and challenges of financing larger efficiency projects.
To help businesses meet their sustainability goals, participants may qualify for a short-term loan from program partner and non-profit lender Community Investment Corporation (CIC). Through the CIC’s Social Impact Lending Initiative, businesses have access to loans between $500 and $10,000 at below-market interest rates (from 3 to 5 percent) as part of a larger Sustainability Revolving Loan Fund. The CIC has also committed $10,000 in grant funding to incentivize SCALE UP participants to invest in their sustainability plans. The CIC pairs grants of up to 10 percent of the project costs with its low-interest loans. By providing loans for participants, they are then able to invest in their business and possibly hiring partnering businesses to perform project work with incentives and support from the public sector to ultimately generate savings while reducing their carbon footprint.
The SCALE UP program wants participants to recognize that being sustainable is not just about benefitting the environment. Sustainability is also about benefitting the bottom line. Through the implementation of sustainability plans, businesses can reduce operating costs, reduce their environmental impact, and even help educate employees and consumers in the process. This concept of considering profit, environment, and community is commonly referred to as the Triple Bottom Line and is a driving philosophy of the program. Participants and other businesses looking to be more sustainable should feel empowered to reach higher savings than their initial 10 percent reduction goal, but there can be a big difference made even by reaching 10 percent savings.
As SCALE UP moves past the inaugural pilot phase, there will be opportunities for other Tucson businesses to participate in the program, as well as room for more collaboration between the private sector and public sector. The program will continue to grow and expand each year as we continuously adapt to meet the educational and sustainability needs of Southern Arizona’s businesses and the community.
Michael Peel is the Southern Arizona director of Local First Arizona and Local First Arizona Foundation. This is a regular series of columns from Local First Arizona on local sustainable economy issues. Get involved as a member or volunteer of LFA by signing up at localfirstaz.com. For more information on SCALE UP, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.