Local businesses tap into energy-saving sustainability.
By Phil Lindeman
Crazy Mountain Brewing Company is one of the fastest-growing small businesses in Eagle County. Just three short years after opening, they’ve added a massive canning operation at their Edwards brewery, and will launch in Florida and California this summer. Their beers are carried in beer-snob havens like the Falling Rock Taphouse in Denver, and their recognizable cans are a fixture in local liquor stores.
But as Crazy Mountain grew, founders Kevin Selvy and his wife, Marisa, realized the brewery was slowly seeping money. The cans require giant refrigeration units for storage, and the walk-in appliances they had installed were woefully inefficient. Despite the brewery’s burgeoning success, the Selvy’s couldn’t afford to waste energy.
Late last year, the Eagle Valley Alliance for Sustainability approached the owners with a proposition: save some green while going green. The Alliance (as it’s commonly known) had recently received a grant through the state, dubbed “Main Street Energy Efficiency,” to offer energy audits to local businesses. In return for taking steps to reduce waste and energy use, the organization would help businesses promote their earth-conscious ways in local media, giving them a noticeable economic boost for very little upfront cost.
“It’s something we always strove for from the beginning, but the Alliance pretty much approached us,” says Kevin Selvy, who worked with the Alliance to replace all the refrigerator fans with a more efficient system. “Not only do they now run better, but it saves us a ton of money and it was basically for free. Working with the alliance was a huge opportunity for us. It was a relatively painless, easy process.”
A community Alliance
Not every small business in Eagle County has been as fortunate as Crazy Mountain, particularly in recent years, as the local and national housing markets have nosedived. Yet something about living in the mountains pushes many to adopt green practices more readily than city-bound peers, from replacing outdated equipment to using waste-free chemicals, as with local dry cleaners National Velvet. As the brewery discovered, these changes affect not only public perception, but also a business’ bottom line. Selvy says it’s difficult to estimate how much the changes have saved the brewery so far – the installation was only completed in late January – but the community boost has been substantial.
“The way we look at it, by running a sustainable, responsible business, support from the community follows in turn,” Kevin Selvy says. “It really is a viable model for any local business.”
Alliance Executive Director Tracy Andersen agrees with Selvy, and believes changes need to start on the most basic level. The Alliance has been a presence in Eagle County since 1995, and before last year’s small-business grant, the organization focused largely on community activities: visiting schools, recycling and re-evaluating landfill use. According to Andersen, the grant helped the Alliance connect with businesses in a way it never had before. The organization reached out to 25 local companies, and roughly 12 decided to follow through on recommendations made during the energy audits.
“These businesses were all very different – we tailored programs directly to them, and the benefits they saw were incredible,” Andersen says, noting auditors created “menus” of energy advice that ranged from basic to a complete overhaul, all with final cost in mind. “The ultimate goal was to be more sustainable, but there are a lot of facets to green businesses. It’s not just their energy use – they can do it with different products or go paperless. It’s very much a nebulous term.”
John-Ryan Lockman, the waste and energy programs manager for the Alliance, worked closely with many of the business, including Crazy Mountain. He says the grant could give up to $3,000 per business for renovations on top of the marketing boost. Lockman often works with homeowners and contractors to make residential renovations more sustainable, but he enjoyed the chance to work with businesses.
“For me, it’s a way to coach these guys through the process,” says Lockman, who notes the grant was for one year only and is no longer available as of February. “Businesses don’t always want to spend money, but some of these changes are very low-hanging fruit, like lighting. It can be simple in some cases.”
Finding their own green path
Simplicity is at the core of many local sustainable businesses, and in most cases, it doesn’t include infrastructure overhauls as with Crazy Mountain. Ric Fields, a landscape architect with 20 years of experience designing for valley homeowners, champions a “low-impact” approach to designing outside areas. He works closely with owners to create the vibe they want without destroying the natural beauty of the land.
“You want to listen to the site and pick up clues from what’s going on in the landscape,” says Fields, who now operates the business, Fieldscape, out of an Avon office.
“You have to think about what’s actually happening, what it looks like. You can’t just bulldoze. It takes some steering to get people to think sustainably, but it ultimately leads to a better space.”
Fields has designed for homes in just about every major community, from Strawberry Park to Cordillera, and admits the valley has quickly run out of flat land. This forces him to get creative with terraces and natural stone, all in an effort to minimize his impact.
“Those hill properties have always been there, but nowadays, you have to work harder to make the space work,” Fields says. “Because there are so many examples of ‘OK’ out there, getting it right can be difficult. That’s the challenge.”
Similar to Fields, sustainability is built directly into Sol Hovey’s business plan. Partly in response to her growing child, Hovey opened the kids-only consignment shop, Global Child, in a small Eagle storefront in 2009. The consignment model is nothing new – she claims it’s one of the fastest-growing small businesses in the country – but her angle is unique. Along with buying and selling used toys, clothing, cribs and strollers, she targets tourists who visit for a week or two and want to save money. The visitors purchase ski clothing for their kids, put it to good use at Vail, and then sell the goods back when they leave.
“I wanted to do something that was at first economically friendly,” Hovey says. “This was the perfect way to introduce a green concept and save money on top of it.
Hovey’s model is unusually generous – the shop keeps 60 percent of most purchases, and splits evenly if sellers decide to use store credit – and has built a dedicated following from Vail to Gypsum. With 8,000 items, Hovey has been able to expand to an Edwards storefront while completing renovations in Eagle. The final twist in her model: a percentage of all sales go to the Amani Community, an orphanage in Nairobi, Kenya, through an organization co-founded by her mother in law, called the International Peace Initiative.
“I had a passion for children, thanks to my own child, and these ideas all grew from that,” Hovey says. “There are people out there addicted to consignment shops – finding these little treasures or discovering something unexpected. It’s very sustainable.”