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ST. LOUIS — From the St. Louis Cardinals to the Center of Creative Arts, businesses across St. Louis are greening up their daily operations.

“Green is a business advantage in today’s global marketplace,” said Jean Ponzi, program manager of the Green Business Challenge.

Sustainability is now considered an essential component of corporate responsibility. In addition to helping the environment, green practices can save companies money and create healthier workplaces for employees.

“This is 21st-century business strategy. It’s not going away, it’s growing, and it’s a set of skills that a business needs in order to remain competitive,” Ponzi said.

But acquiring these skills can be challenging. According to Ponzi, there are so many green possibilities that many businesses don’t know what they can do or where to start.

“It was a little overwhelming at first,” said Jan Weyrich, director of operations at Global Products Inc., a design and manufacturing company that creates products for Harley Davidson. Although Weyrich wanted to implement more sustainable practices at her workplace, she said, “I felt like I needed some advice on how to best approach this, and then I found the Green Business Challenge.”

The Green Business Challenge is designed to help businesses implement sustainable practices that align with their own goals and culture. Although green practices can be applied in every company regardless of specialization, businesses choose which measures they want to invest in and how they are adopted.

“That’s where the art of it comes in,” Ponzi said.

Choose your own adventure

Using a strategic approach, the Green Business Challenge helps businesses identify sustainable practices they are already performing and areas to target in the future. All participation is voluntary, and businesses can choose among four levels of engagement that differ in participation fees and services offered.

Companies that want to dip a toe into the green space can participate at the apprentice level. This program provides a one-page menu of basic sustainability practices, such as implementing no smoking and no idling policies.

Businesses interested in taking on a bigger challenge can enroll at the leader or champion level that uses a scorecard to track green accomplishments over an eight-month period. “The scorecard is very detailed, very thorough, and has a broad range of things that you can do to participate in the challenge,” said Amanda Snow, operations manager at the Center of Creative Arts (COCA).

Scorecard achievements are compared to a baseline established for each company at the start of the challenge, so businesses do not directly compete with one another.

Municipalities can participate at the Green Cities level, which was launched in 2015 to meet the needs of local governments.

Regardless of participation level, businesses can push themselves with a separate biodiversity scorecard, which evaluates current biodiversity on their property and strategies to enhance it.

“People like connecting to nature, and to be able to do that in our workplaces, as well as in our homes and schools and the parks around our communities, that’s really important,” Ponzi said.

Participation perks

Challengers also have access to a suite of green resources and networking opportunities.

Depending on the participation level, Ponzi makes site visits to meet employees and help them identify strategies that will best suit their company. “It’s just wonderful to have another set of eyes on the operation to see what have we done and what could we still be doing, because it never ends, there’s always going to be improvement,” Weyrich said.

Monthly seminars on specific topics, including energy, recycling and water conservation, provide opportunities for businesses to get together and learn from one another.

“You listen to what other people have done and you start getting ideas about what you could do,” Weyrich said. “Everyone is there to help each other.”

Successful sustainability

Since the Green Business Challenge was launched in 2010, 234 St. Louis-based companies have participated. Forty percent have enrolled for three or more years, and 13 companies, including the Cardinals, will celebrate their 10th anniversary with the challenge this year. “It was a no-brainer for us to get involved,” said Joe Abernathy, vice president of facility planning for the Cardinals.

The Cardinals have a long history with sustainability. Before joining the Green Business Challenge, they launched 4 A Greener Game, a program where volunteers collect recyclable items during the game.

Since joining the challenge, they built a rooftop garden to grow vegetables and herbs and changed the field lights to energy-efficient LEDs. Another big initiative was reducing waste. The Cardinals diverted almost 38 percent of trash out of landfills and composted more than 200 tons of material, according to Louis Dalton, facility coordinator for the Cardinals.

Along with greening up Busch Stadium, the Cardinals also engage in community outreach efforts. “We at the Cardinals look at ourselves as a great way to communicate to the public, to the 3 million fans in the ballpark every year, that sustainable practices aren’t as difficult as you might think and there’s all sorts of ways we can make a difference with the amount of energy we use, the amount of water we use, how we handle the waste stream, and doing those in a proper way to help conserve our resources and help the planet,” Abernathy said.

Implementing green practices also has economic benefits. “Graybar has saved more than $19.25 million and reduced energy consumption by more than 171 million kilowatt hours since 2006,” said John Quinn, corporate properties manager at Graybar.

Graybar, the presenting sponsor of the Green Business Challenge, even adapted elements of the program to start its own internal green challenge.

Since joining the challenge nine years ago, Global Products Inc. has removed all hazardous chemicals on site and reduced waste by roughly 50 percent, according to Weyrich. It also became a certified Sustainable Green Printer. “Now we have the proof that we actually live this every day,” said Weyrich.

Sustainability initiatives don’t always come in the form of new light bulbs and recycling. “We put our COCA spin on sustainability and mixed it with what we do best — art education,” Snow said.

As part of the challenge, COCA partnered with the Greencubator to perform a “spoken musical.” “Seedfolks” tells the story of a city lot that is transformed into a vibrant community garden. After the performance, audience members planted seeds in compostable pots and took them home.

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