COMMISSION FOR ENVIRONMENTAL COOPERATION
THREE COUNTRIES WORKING TOGETHER TO PROTECT OUR SHARED ENVIRONMENT
Appalled by small stores blasting air-conditioners onto Toronto's hot summer streets, the environmental group, Greenest City, set out to convince owners to close their doors and open their minds to energy efficiency. More than five years later, the still-growing "Cool Shops" program is helping local retailers save money and the environment.
"Small businesses have been ignored by the environmental community and the energy management consultants and there are no government programs that help small business with their energy use," explains program coordinator Corey Diamond. "We fill that niche."
Diamond and his small team of volunteers, some of whom are engineers, educate businesses on how to reduce greenhouse gasses and improve air quality by making better use of their energy. The core of the program is their "energy audits," during which an expert goes over the premises finding ways to save through lighting retrofits, programmable thermostats, better insulation, high-efficiency furnaces and behavioral changes as simple as shutting doors and windows.
"We partner with Business Improvement Areas [BIA] and work with them to encourage retailers to green up and promote the benefits of reducing energy use. Then we market the businesses as being greener and better for the environment," he says. "It's much easier to walk door-to-door with the chair of the BIA, who is a respected business person in the area. It's a lot more legitimate for us."
But what really helps Cool Shops insinuate themselves within the small business community is that thanks to funding by CEC and other groups—Cool Shops was a beneficiary of CEC's North American Fund for Environmental Cooperation grant for C$40,000—their audits are completely free of charge.
Since this past summer's unprecedented blackout, Diamond says energy awareness and a desire to reduce the load on the electrical grid has sparked interest amongst retailers who, according to a 1998 study, produced 13 percent of the total greenhouse gas emissions in the unamalgamated city of Toronto.
"It's changing a little bit because of the blackout, people are starting to know about caulking around windows and compact fluorescent bulbs," he says. "But they still may be reluctant because they don't know much about it. So it's about dispelling their fears, and being a non-profit charity is good because we're not in it to sell them anything. I think they appreciate that."
Over the past three summers they've audited 85 shops, a dozen of which have earned official Cool Shop status for implementing the recommendations. This past year, the 32 audits undertaken could save a potential 176 tonnes of CO2 equivalent—and that's only taking lighting recommendations into account.
Though Cool Shops has, thus far, only hit a small segment of the retail community, Diamond says they are creating a demand and will soon be hiring a full-time auditor to increase their reach.
One of the businesses that committed to make changes is the Global Village Backpackers Hostel, located in an old downtown building, which underwent a four-week audit, the biggest yet.
|Alex Winch, shown with his son Gordon, is one of Cool Shops' most satisfied clients.|
"A lot of their lights are on 24 hours because it's a 24-hour hostel, so we came up with a lot of recommendations to change their lighting around, add sensors, put in some timers. They can save up to $2,500 a year just by working on their lighting." He adds the changes would also save nearly 33,000 kilowatt-hours and reduce greenhouse gasses by 29 tonnes.
However, the actual implementation was put off until this fall due to the impact of war, SARS and reduced tourism.
To offset the tight economic times affecting most small businesses, Cool Shop's latest endeavor is to create a financing system giving retailers access to low-interest loans which they can pay back through their energy savings.
One volunteer helping them achieve this goal is Alex Winch—who is also one of Cool Shops most satisfied clients. As owner of the Solar Beach Laundromat, which was already using solar panels for hot-water heating, Winch received an audit and completed a major light retrofit that has sent his consumption down a whopping 72 percent.
"The lighting alone will pay for itself in about two years and thereafter, I'll have a return on investment of about 50 percent per annum—I can't get that at the bank," he laughs. "It's a win-win for everybody."
Winch has since joined Cool Shops' steering committee to work on the financing program for mom-and-pop shops that are interested in efficiency but have little cash.
"If you can say, ‘we want to suggest these changes, here's a group that will finance it and the energy savings will not only carry the loan, but put cash in your jeans in month one’—then it becomes a really attractive proposition. That becomes the key to unlocking growth for this organization," Winch observes.
"Then we just have to clone Corey a few times."
Until that bioengineering feat is worked out, Diamond has another plan to be self-sustaining by 2005—working with big business. Since Cool Shops is already out there pushing efficiency products from Enbridge Gas and lighting companies like Sylvania and Phillips, Diamond thinks they should be compensated for their efforts.
"But meaningful partnerships," he notes carefully, "that aren't just corporate partnerships for the sake of green-washing so they can say they're partnered with an environmental organization. It has to be that both of us get something palpable out of it."
In the meantime, Cool Shops will continue their work to help small business make a big difference.
"Some people say you can get more gains looking at the bigger stores, but there are programs set up for large commercial and industrial buildings. For the small retailer there's nothing—so we want to be that voice."
About the contributor
is a Toronto resident and freelance writer who collects snow globes.