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Economic and Public Policy Research group’s small business survey informs new City of Boston sustainability initiative

Mayor Thomas M. Menino today released a new survey that finds that the majority of small businesses in Boston are struggling to cope with rising energy costs, are taking some steps to reduce their environmental impacts, and want to work with the City to do more. The survey was conducted to find the best ways that the City could help small businesses be more sustainable. The survey results follow the Mayor’s October 14, 2008 announcement to the Newmarket Business Association’s Annual Meeting, in which he launched a series of sustainable business initiatives to address business concerns over rising energy costs and transportation issues.

“Boston businesses are struggling with energy costs more than ever before and we’re answering their concerns with sustainability technical assistance, targeted energy and money saving workshops, and a new energy efficiency and renewable energy loan fund,” Mayor Menino said.

The City will host an energy saving workshop for Newmarket businesses on November 18, 2008. Additionally, the Boston Redevelopment Authority’s Green Tech Business Manager will hold business hours at the Hampton Inn & Suites at Crosstown Center on the third Thursday of each month to provide energy saving and sustainable business technical assistance to Newmarket businesses. In December, the City will host a workshop for Newmarket businesses focusing on renewable energy options for the commercial and industrial sector. Future workshops will help business owners evaluate renewable energy options for their businesses and reduce their solid waste management costs.

The survey of over 400 Boston based small businesses (firms with fewer than 250 employees) provides a broad look at business needs and current conservation strategies related to energy, clean technology, waste management and the purchasing of green products. The survey captured a diverse sample of Boston business owners; 41% percent of the respondents were woman or minority business owners. The survey was designed and conducted for the BRA’s GreenTech Program by the UMass Donahue Institute, in collaboration with the Lowell Center for Sustainable Production at the University of Massachusetts Lowell, as part of the Lowell Center's Clean Tech Initiative. The Clean Tech Initiative seeks to position Massachusetts as a center of innovative clean technologies that serve the world.

Specifically, the survey found that Boston based small businesses:

Face significant financial pressure related to cost of energy

A majority of small businesses (62 percent) report that the most significant challenge they face is the financial impact of rising energy costs. This rate ranks ten percent above the next most significant concern, rising health care costs. Also noteworthy, thirty-four percent of businesses ranked water and sewer costs as a significant issue.

Already engage in green practices related to energy use

Small businesses in Boston report that they already engage in numerous environmentally preferable practices. The vast majority of businesses (90 percent) already encourage employees to turn off lights and equipment when they are not in use. Furthermore, the majority of businesses report that they use recycled or waste minimizing products for office supplies and packaging; purchase energy efficient lighting; and purchase energy efficient equipment.

Engage in green practices related to recycling, but more could be done

The majority of small businesses recycle paper, cardboard, and plastics. Other materials, such as metal and glass, food and organic waste, shipping pallets and textiles are not recycled as frequently by Boston small businesses.

Are more interested in financial incentives over education and training programs to promote green practices

When comparing program types, businesses appear to be more receptive to programs which offer discounts, grants or other financial incentives. Depending on the type of incentive, between 38 and 56 percent of businesses are interested in such programs. Fewer but still a fair number of businesses (between 30 and 36 percent of surveyed businesses) are interested in a range of green training programs.

Are more receptive to adopting green practices if they own rather than rent property

In virtually every category, in both education- and incentive-based programs, those who own their commercial property are more interested in engaging in green practices than those that rent. The biggest differences between owners and renters relate to interest in incentives to use green building materials as well as interest in discounts for green building products. In general, these differences may be due to the fact that property owners have control over infrastructure decisions related to their property, while renters are much less likely to have this capacity.

Are willing to be contacted and further engage with the City on these issues

Many surveyed businesses were interested in further engagement with the City. Close to a majority of surveyed businesses (48 percent) expressed an interest in being contacted by the City of Boston for more information on sustainable business practices.

About the Survey Team

The survey was commissioned by The Lowell Center for Sustainable Production at the University of Massachusetts Lowell, and designed and conducted by the UMass Donahue Institute for the Boston Redevelopment Agency and to support the Lowell Center’s Clean Tech Initiative. The Initiative’s interim report, posted at, identifies the Commonwealth’s leadership and opportunities for growth in five clean tech areas—safer alternatives to toxic chemicals, green buildings, emerging materials, clean energy, and materials reuse.

Press Contact: Jessica Shumaker, BRA, 617.918.4446.

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