Guest Blog by Matt Kazinka, Latino Economic Development Center’s Green Initiatives Coordinator
Energy efficiency might not be on the menu, but Latino-owned restaurants like Taqueria Los Ocampo are getting greener. (photo: Bruce Johansen, Twin Cities Daily Planet)
Every day, more businesses in Minnesota are incorporating environmental values into their products and services to satisfy a growing consumer demand for sustainability. However, even if business owners value sustainability, they may not always know how to make their business more sustainable; particularly, if they are a small start-up or have had less exposure to green trends. The Latino Economic Development Center (LEDC) in Minnesota recognized a need to help Latino-owned businesses implement sustainable practices, and works to empower business owners to become leaders in the green economy.
LEDC began in the early 1990s when a small group of Mexican immigrants began to address the poverty they saw in the growing Minneapolis Latino community. They identified economic development and asset-building as a key strategy for fostering community stability. With assistance from local business development organizations, they created Mercado Central, a marketplace of 45 businesses on Lake Street in Minneapolis. In the years since, LEDC has trained more than 600 Latino business owners, creating successful and responsible Latino business communities throughout Minnesota.
Now, with the shift towards sustainability in local businesses, LEDC seeks to make sure Latino entrepreneurs are early-adopters of green business practices. Current economic trends indicate that green micro-enterprises are going to be the success stories in the coming decade. However, when LEDC surveyed 40 Latino business owners about sustainable business practices, they found that most had not yet implemented any because they didn’t know how to make those changes. Yet, business owners showed significant interest in sustainability: 75% of those surveyed reported being either “highly” or “somewhat” interested in learning more.
Now, LEDC offers a green toolkit for business owners to use. In Minneapolis, many free or low-cost services exist to help cut waste in businesses. However, 85% of the Latino business owners surveyed were not aware of those services, so LEDC is connecting businesses with those services.
Armando Ocampo, who owns Taqueria Los Ocampo with his wife, Lilia, has been seeking new opportunities for efficiency since early 2012. “[We] decided to do an energy light audit because we wanted to see how much money Los Ocampo was spending on lights and how we could reduce our energy use,” says Ocampo. ” After doing the energy audit, we found that we were needlessly
wasting energy and money. [We] decided to change the lighting in two stores.”
Carl Samuelson from the Food Service Energy Leadership Program helped provide the initial energy audit, and continues to work with the Ocampos as they navigate decisions about new efficiency-equipment and operations. “Armando has been motivated to make his business more efficient, changing out lighting, replacing an HVAC unit and talking to his employees about energy use. He sees the win-win situation of improving his bottom line while reducing his environmental footprint,” said Samuelson.
As Latino business owners, like the Ocampos, begin to explore opportunities for energy efficiency and waste reduction, LEDC hopes some will go further than others and challenge themselves to become green leaders. LEDC has created a green business certification program to help those businesses gain recognition for their efforts. The certification offers three levels designed to lead a business towards significant change, but the first level is primarily designed to help businesses start on the pathway toward sustainability.By conducting audits on their energy, water, and waste, businesses learn specific opportunities for behavior and equipment changes to improve their operations. They gain Level 1 certification by taking some of the easier actions that see immediate results, such as replacing outdated lights with more energy-efficient options.
Green-certified businesses also become places of environmental education for customers. Through a partnership with the Hennepin County Environmental Services Department, Latino businesses host shelves of free, bilingual materials for residents seeking to introduce green
practices in their home. LEDC hopes that providing access to environmental education will create stronger demand for green practices in local businesses, and thus compel further green leadership.
Although the efforts of Latino business owners to “go green” have a positive environmental impact, they are also good business strategy. “We see this as an investment for the long run and, at the same time, we’re helping save energy,” said Ocampo of his efforts to make energy upgrades.
LEDC expects to see the first Level 1 green business certifications to be announced in early 2013. Keep your eyes open for the certification at your favorite Latino restaurants and businesses!