New program helps businesses lower energy costs

Save the energy, save the world.

A new program is teaching local businesses how to lower costs while being more sustainable as well as connecting them with grants and low-interest loans to make eco-friendly improvements.

SCALE UP, which stands for Sustainable Communities Accessing Lending and Expertise Upon Performance, is a six-week program with Local First Arizona for local businesses and building owners. Participants learn how to develop and implement a sustainability plan, access funds to achieve the plan, and complete a financial analysis to calculate how much they'll save by investing in sustainability upgrades.

Tucson Mayor Jonathan Rothschild presented 11 local businesses who completed the program with certificates on June 25. The owners and representatives of each business completed six three-hour sessions at the University of Arizona's Environment and Natural Resources 2 building where they learned about achieving a minimum 10 percent reduction in energy or water use, transportation emissions or waste reduction.

"If they reduce all four by 10 percent, even for a small business, that easily adds up to tens of thousands of dollars in cost savings," Rothschild says. "For a small business, that is a substantial savings that can be put back in to the business. It can be put back into employee salaries, adding employees, whatever's needed for that small business. And that's why this program is so important."

Olga Borquez, sustainability manager for Wholesum Harvest, which works with free-trade and organic farms in the U.S. and Mexico with an 18-acre headquarters in Amado, Arizona, completed the program with an action item list for sustainability recommendations that could be implemented in all their farms and offices.

A representative with SCALE UP and a partner organization, sustainability advocate Tucson Emerging 2030 District, did a walk-through of the greenhouses and office at Wholesum Harvest headquarters and gave the farm recommendations, including weather stripping greenhouses and windows, energy efficient tools for the greenhouse and tips on AC usage.

"A small change will have huge results," Borquez says.

Borquez says that by implementing the recommendations in their three Amado greenhouses, covering 18 acres, they hope to save more than $63,000 a year. Wholesum Harvest is still reviewing if all the recommendations are feasible for their business.

SCALE UP is supported by funding from the Arizona Department of Administration, so participants don't have to pay to use the program. The state funding pays local experts who teach participants on water and energy efficiency upgrades.

Local business consultant Bostonia Business Solutions developed a financial analysis tool for the program. Participating businesses can use it to calculate the return on investment of their sustainability upgrade projects for their buildings. This data can then help them qualify for loans to realize the projects.

If all 11 businesses who participated in the program were to reduce their electric and water usage by only 10 percent, the cohort would collectively save around $50,000 a year, according to SCALE UP Program Manager C.J. Agbannawag. By changing from halogen light bulbs to LEDs, a business can save hundreds or even thousands of dollars a year in electricity costs.

As an incentive to participating businesses to make the initial investment in sustainability plans, one of the SCALE UP partners, Community Investments Corporation, is offering $500 to $10,000 loans, with interest rates at 3 to 5 percent. Along with the loans, Community Investments will also pair a total of $10,000 in grants for up to 10 percent of what participating businesses need for their plan.

Community Investments is currently looking for funding to continue the offer for the next round of START UP participants. And they're looking for a match grant to be able to offer up to 20 percent in grants.

Participants also have access to other incentives through community partners invested in the program, such as Tugo bike share and the Tucson Water Department.

The businesses that participated in the pilot program are Borderlands Brewing Co., Community Food Bank of Southern Arizona, Delectables Venue and Catering, Gloo Factory, LeadLocal, Merit Foods, PopCycle, Sonoran Glass School, Surly Wench Pub, Tucson Thrift Shop and Wholesum Harvest.

"Having gotten so far so quickly, it's encouraging to me that at Local First Arizona, we're going to be able to keep going with this program, get more businesses involved, and save more money for these businesses and help the environment in a major way," says Local First Southern Arizona Director Michael Peel. "And that's what SCALE UP is all about."

SCALE UP is currently compiling a list of business owners for its next round of classes. There's no firm date, but it is tentatively planned for August or September. To find out about participating in the program or to get more info call or email C.J. Agbannawag at 230-5383 or, or check out the website at

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