By Mark Robinson, March 26, 2013
Read original article: Green destination?
Black Rock Solar met with students at Pyramid Lake High School in Nixon, Nevada, to talk about renewable energy and the impact of choosing solar power. Pyramid Lake School is partially powered by a solar array installed by Black Rock Solar. Photography by Candice Nyando.
Mike Kazmierski has no doubts Northern Nevada is helped by businesses that go green.
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He’s president and CEO of the Economic Development Authority of Western Nevada, which works to get businesses to move here.
“Sustainability is very important for job attraction,” Kazmierski said. “Companies are looking for communities that embrace sustainability. It sets an image of an environmentally friendly community, it’s attractive to young professionals, and it speaks to clean air and water and to the quality of life.”
And being environmentally friendly speaks to a company’s bottom line.
“Employees like to work for businesses that are environmentally friendly, so you attract a different kind of employee,” Kazmierski said.
“Customers want to deal with businesses that are environmentally friendly so you might grow in a different way that you didn’t expect. … It’s not just fluff, it’s a decision businesses need to make to stay competitive in the years ahead.”
Many Northern Nevada businesses already go above and beyond in their green initiatives. Here is a look at a few.
Chloe Powelson, left, and Sophie Powelson show off Black Rock Mud, touted for its illite clay. (Provided by David Calvert/Calvert Photography)
Shelly Egbert and her business partner, Summer Powelson, started Black Rock Mud Co. in 2010 as a homeschool project with their kids — they have eight between them.
“People were crying about the bad economy and the kids said ‘What are we going to do about it?’ and we said ‘What resources do we have?’,” Egbert said.
The resource they have is mud. Her daughter has Black Rock Desert property with bubbling mud pots and hot springs. They’d been putting the mud on their skin and noticed how good it felt.
Cosmetic mud for face masks is popular so that was an easy business decision. The next step, not so much.
They decided they wanted to be green, organic, recyclable and made in the USA. It took two years to find a package that fit their standards.
But their diligence paid off, as they won the International Green Package of the Year last year at the Health and Beauty Association convention, beating out big names such as Estee Lauder and Sephora.
“Our facility on the Black Rock Desert is off the grid — the shop is heated with geothermal hot water,” Egbert said.
For electricity, it has solar and wind.
“Then all of our processes are 100 percent green,” she said. “We hand-harvest the mud. We don’t use machinery, we have a shovel and bucket. We take (the mud) into our green facility, where we shake it through a strainer to make sure there are no rocks, and then package it by hand.”
Not only can you compost the box that the jars of mud come in, you can plant the box and it’ll sprout wild flowers.
“We use all recyclable cardboard for shipping, minimal paper, minimal packaging, recycled paper,” she said.
“Burning Man has put us on the map to be green and we’re setting an example. If two moms and their kids can make it work, then I think that’s a great example to other companies to say hey we can do this too.”
Steam rises in the early morning from the Peppermill Resort Spa Casino’s geothermal-heated pool. (Provided photo)
Around the time the Peppermill Resort Spa Casino expanded to twice its former size, the economy tanked.
Discussions were held on how to save money, and it was determined that the geothermal energy lurking under the property wasn’t being used fully. A 4,400-foot-deep well was drilled for $6.5 million, and soon the casino’s natural gas boilers — which heated water for guest showers, hot tubs, the swimming pool and laundry room — were shut off.
That action saved more than $2 million a year. By the end of this year, director of facilities Dean Parker thinks the geothermal project will have paid for itself.
But that’s just the start of the Peppermill’s green initiatives. It installed more than 30,000 square feet of artificial grass, saving 5 million gallons of water a year and reducing chemical and pesticide use.
It reuses the water in its laundry system, saving about $246,000 a year. It composts food scraps from its kitchens. It’s switched to low-energy lights.
The Peppermill also partnered with Clean the World. The group sends containers to hotels, which fill them with used soap, shampoo and lotion.
“Every two weeks, I send nine of these big old bins,” said Dave Fuller, director of hotel operations. “People take one shower and most hotels just throw the soap away. We collect it, and each maid at the end of the day brings a big bag down and separates out everything into the bins and we ship them to Florida.
“We recycle 147,000 bars of soap a year and 109,000 bottles of other amenities. Another benefit is that’s 12 tons of waste product we don’t put into a landfill every year.”
The sanitized products are then sent mainly to third world countries but have also been sent to victims of Hurricane Katrina and Superstorm Sandy.
“The number I think is staggering is we supply over 1,200 children a year with enough soap to keep them from contracting bacteria-related diseases,” he said.
If you stay for less than three nights at the Peppermill, it won’t change the sheets unless requested “so we conserve energy, water, detergent and labor,” he said.
On a given weekend, if all 1,623 rooms are filled, Fuller said fewer than 20 will request new sheets between nights.
Its human resources department is mostly paperless. “We have almost 2,000 employees, so we could go through a ton of paper,” he said. “Evaluations, vacation requests, any paper trail — it all comes to me on my computer, and I can review and approve in the same format, and it gets stored and filed and not one piece of paper had to change hands.”
The efforts are paying off with more business, especially conventions that specifically picked the Peppermill for its geothermal and Clean the World efforts.
Fuller said, “It would be nothing but beneficial if we (in Northern Nevada) can get an eco-friendly reputation in the traveling world.”
Black Rock Solar is a nonprofit based in Reno that helps groups that normally wouldn’t have access to solar energy, often at no or little cost. Its partners include schools, churches, charities and tribes.
Black Rock also has programs for middle and high schools.
“We offer field trips so students can see solar arrays up close and in person — and they’re built for nonprofits or tribal partners so they learn about renewable energy but also get the neat benefit of learning about the organizations themselves, like the Pyramid Lake Museum and Visitors Center and the Food Bank of Northern Nevada,” said Black Rock Solar’s Marnee Benson.
It offers internships for students at the University of Nevada, Reno and Truckee Meadows Community College, as well as apprenticeships for tribal members.
And it gives grants for arts and community projects that incorporate solar, such as Urban Roots Garden Classrooms and the Reno Star, that object with the 40-foot-tall spikes near Meadowood Mall.
“In our own office, we use exclusively eco-friendly nontoxic products,” Benson said. “We recycle everything we can. The building we’re in has repurposed materials. We carpool to work sites. We try to do meetings by teleconference rather than traveling. We keep track of the restaurants around town that use sustainable to-go packages — we basically have a prohibition against Styrofoam and plastic.”
She said one reason for charities, schools, churches and tribes to be more energy efficient is that “it reduces an organization’s electricity bill so they can put that money back into programs and strengthen the community.”
Patagonia sells outdoor clothing and gear.
If one of its products needs repair, it will fix it at no charge no matter how old it is. If you aren’t using a product anymore, Patagonia will help you sell it on eBay so someone gets use out of it. If a product can’t be repaired, you can send it back and Patagonia will recycle the material back into new products, wall insulation or even felt for pool tables.
“We’re trying to take a cradle-to-cradle approach, rather than cradle-to-grave, where it ends up in a landfill,” said the company’s Dave Abeloe. “We want our products to stay in circulation as long as possible.”
He is director of Patagonia’s Reno distribution center.
Not only is the Reno building LEED certified gold — meaning it’s extremely environmentally friendly — “95 percent of our waste stream is recycled: paper, plastic, cardboard, metals,” Abeloe said.
Its lights have motion sensors or controls triggered by time of day or usage.
“When somebody throws away orange rinds or apple cores, we create compost and use it in an employee-managed garden on site,” he said.
Before the Reno building was constructed, local people were consulted to see how best to take advantage of the area’s unique features.
This led to a “night flush” system that uses vents and exhaust fans to utilize the high desert’s day-night temperature swings to cool the building.
“On the flipside, we use radiant heat to heat the building in winter time,” Abeloe said. “Water is heated in a boiler and sent through miles of copper wire that radiates heat.”
This is more efficient, has less dust, less noise and more even distribution of heat throughout the building.
All of these things combine to make a work environment that is more energy efficient, more comfortable to work in, safer and increases employee morale, he said: “It’s a win-win for everybody.”
The Reno-Sparks Green Business Chamber has a pledge that area businesses can commit to and then trumpet their achievements online.
Its executive director, Dave Asher, said being green can make a business money while helping the community.
“Our energy comes from somewhere else, so if we’re buying electricity — largely from Idaho — (being green) reduces that electricity bill, keeping money here,” he said. “And, we can’t have commercial businesses wasting resources that are of use to the community. We need to protect our air and water.”
The chamber’s headquarters, of course, does what it can.
It has motion sensor lights; filtered tap water (no plastic bottles allowed); recycling of paper, plastic and glass; repurposed office furniture and computers; printer cartridges refilled with ink rather than buying new ones; many live plants; local coffee; local Internet services; local print services; and a locally owned building. Future plans include a rooftop garden.
Such efforts can help keep a business open for the long term.
“Staying open is sustainable,” he said.
Contact info on businesses in this story
- Black Rock Mud: blackrockmud.com or 775-302-3599
- Black Rock Solar: blackrocksolar.org or 775-384-9025
- EDAWN: edawn.org or 775-829-3700
- Patagonia: patagonia.com or 775-746-6878
- Peppermill: peppermillreno.com or 866-821-9996
- Reno-Sparks Green Business Chamber: livelocalrenosparks.com or 775-224-2242