Grants turn small businesses eco-friendly

On April 28, staff from the L.E.S. Ecology Center gave out “EcobizNYC” grants at Chow for Now café on E. 12th St.

East Village businesses are changing their light bulbs, cutting down on power consumption and taking other eco-friendly measures thanks to an environmental incentive program run by the Lower East Side Ecology Center.

The program, named “EcobizNYC,” matches sustainability staff members with East Village business owners to step up the companies’ environmental pratices with the goal of improving the overall air quality of the Lower East Side.

“We have daily interaction with the small businesses,” according to EcobizNYC manager Angie Cho, that entail assessing the businesses’ day-to-day operations and then offering recommendations. “We try to take on as much work as possible to make it easier for the small business owners, ‘cause they have very little time.”

Once the participating businesses have implemented three out of 10 of the managers’ suggestions, they’re eligible to apply for an EcobizNYC grant of between $150 and $1,000. The ecology center has received $63,000 in funds from Con Edison and another $15,000 from H.S.B.C. Bank for the grant program since last fall.

Since working with EcobizNYC, the staff at B-side bar, on Ave. B. between 12th and 13th Sts., has installed compact flourescent light bulbs and made a habit of turning off the bar’s power supply when it’s closed. B-side’s owner Sivan Harlap has also lowered the venue’s electricity use by keeping the beer cooled on ice rather than refrigerating it.

Harlap, who has received $1,000 in EcobizNYC grant money, said she has already saved on operational costs since partaking in the program. “I was pleasantly surprised over the last few month,” she said. “I was expecting [the electricity bill] to be higher than it was.”

Harlap has also signed up for trash services with Action Carting Environmental Services, known for its reliable recycling methods; and has switched to eco-friendly cleaning products used to clean the venue’s bar tops and glasses.

The bar also allows anyone from the street to come into the bar and and have their water bottles refilled with filtered tap water.

Ost Café, at 12th St. and Ave. A, has been awarded between $300 and $400 that it plans to use towards the installation of light-emitting diode (L.E.D.) light bulbs and the purchase of nozzles to clean its milk-steaming pitchers.

The café’s owner, Alex Clark, has already made notable strides to make operations more environmentally friendly by lessening the water supply in its toilets, for example, and considerably cutting down on air conditioning and artificial lighting in the venue.

Though he is glad to be part of the EcobizNYC program, Clark said, unlike Harlap, he hasn’t yet reaped the financial benefits of his eco-conscious efforts. “Unfortunately, there is money you have to sink in first in terms of work and product before seeing the result,” he said. The grant program, Clark said, helps “to defray some of that and make it more affordable.”

The ecology center is cognizant of the small businesses’ budgets when making recommendations and assigning grants, according to Christine Datz-Romero, the organization’s executive director.

The businesses, according to Datz-Romero, will soon see the economic rewards of their actions if they haven’t already.

“When it comes down to it, there are day-to-day decisions [the businesses] have to make based on financial realities,” said Datz-Romero. “If you show people that they can actually save money, and do the right thing by the environment, they realize it’s really a win-win situation.”

Eighteen of the participating East Village businesses have collectively saved $19,385 from lighting upgrades alone, according to L.E.S.E.C. data. The environmental results have been equally promising – 128 tons of carbon dioxide have been eliminated in the last 12 months, the equivalent of 24 fewer cars on the road in a year.

The number of EcobizNYC participants has doubled since January of this year, from 20 to 40, according to Program Manager Rebecca Kraus, attributing the program’s success in part to the increase in face-to-face meetings with the business owners. “By meeting onsite, EcobizNYC representatives can intuit more information about the business, leading to more sensible recommendations,” she said.

Moving forward, the L.E.S.E.C. hopes to partner with the L.E.S. Business Improvement District to get an even broader geographic range of businesses involved in the program. “We want to expand to the south [below Houston Street] to spread the momentum and the sustainability even more,” she said.

“Their passion for the program is definitely inspiring to do these reasonable and small changes that can make a big difference when everyone does them together,” said Jared Boxx, part owner of Big City Records, a second-hand vinyl music shop located at E. 12th St. between Aves. A and B. A grant recipient, Boxx will use the money to purchase recyclable bags and an energy-saving cover for the store’s air conditioning unit for his store.

Assemblymember Brian Kavanagh, who serves on the Assembly’s Environmental Committee, said in a statement that he applauds the businesses for their commitment to achieving environmental sustainability.

“I hope that their example will help others see that green business practices are not only good for our communities and the environment; they’re also good for business,” he said.

The ecology enter received an additional $30,000 from Con Edison last week for its electronic waste recycling program, which encourages L.E.S. residents to discard unwanted electronics in environmentally friendly ways.

BY Aline Reynolds

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