|EDINBURG, May 15 - Although the City of McAllen has shown a strong commitment to the preservation of a healthy environment, it still needs to support the small businesses that make up the core of its economic vitality in the effort to become a more sustainable city.
McAllen has implemented a variety of environmental events and programs including the Vida Verde Earth Day Festival at Quinta Mazatlan, the McAllen Recycling Center, the Keep McAllen Beautiful non-profit organization, and has even unified these efforts by designing a website to tie them all together.
To have a truly sustainable city, however, our business sector must be incorporated into these efforts; we need to introduce sustainable innovations to our small business owners and encourage their contribution towards a sustainable McAllen.
Through a sustainability-oriented business organization, such as the Green Chamber of Commerce, our business owners can expand their knowledge on renewable energy and energy efficient technologies and become informed of federal grants or loans that will allow them to implement these practices. Success of these enterprises would be apparent through the promotion of their innovative ideas and the publicity of their ecofriendly business strategies.
In 2008, a Green Chamber of Commerce was founded to foster a strong and sustainable business community in San Francisco. Through education in sustainable business practices, advocacy, and citywide networking, the organization worked to empower its businesses and create a sustainable foundation for the City’s economy. Since then, green chambers have been established in many other communities and are now revolutionizing businesses across the nation.
Such an organization could create the framework that McAllen needs to lift its economy to new heights. McAllen would be known as the city that supports its local businesses and helps them embrace innovation, a characteristic favored by starting entrepreneurs.
At this time, however, the small businesses of McAllen run primarily on fossil fuels. We need a unified effort to move our business community beyond these finite energy sources to clean, renewable ones. In the United States, small businesses spend more than $60 billion a year on energy costs. Making this shift will allow businesses to decrease their operating costs, while reducing greenhouse gas emissions to our atmosphere.
According to a study done for the United Nations, Texas has the highest potential to develop renewable energy. In fact, wind, solar and biomass potentials in Texas are about 400 times the amount of energy our state uses per year. With renewable energy structures like solar panels and wind turbines, Texas can power all of our homes and businesses and still have more energy to offer to neighboring states.
Although in McAllen there is limited space for renewable energy infrastructure, solar panels require little space, making them the ideal alternative for small business owners with high energy bills. They can be installed on rooftops, and the average solar panel can save the average household from 30% to 50% of the electricity bill. This number may vary depending on location; however, down here in the Rio Grande Valley, a small business paying $800 a month could save from $350 to $500 a month.
Unfortunately, many small business owners are financially unable to invest in solar panels, but with the help of an organization who can identify grants, loans, or accommodating programs such as the USDA’s Rural Energy for America Program, solar panels can be erected throughout the city. The REAP provides business owners with grants covering up to 25% of project costs, potentially $250,000 for energy efficient innovation and $500,000 for renewable energy-creating projects. Last year alone, $70 million were provided to this program. Offering incentive to have an organization that can also generate financial aid programs for the businesses of McAllen. The help that McAllen’s business owners need is available, we just need an organization to make it accessible.
The organization will not only help businesses in listening for announcements of financial support but also establish a voice for them. Advocacy can range from lobbying state and local governments to establish more sustainable business regulations, the formation of eco-friendly coalitions, to promoting responsible decisions by marketing to consumers.
If customers are informed of the changes that are being made such as a reduction of carbon emissions, renewable energy being produced, energy conservation, and how much farther these businesses have moved McAllen away from fossil fuels, they will seek out these businesses on their own.
McAllen’s citizens have shown compassion towards the preservation of their environment, and its businesses have developed into productive enterprises in our modern economy. But will McAllen combine these two strengths to create a city that is both economically and environmentally sustainable into the future?
Reymundo Monjaraz is a sophomore at the University of Texas Pan-American, studying environmental responsibilities while pursuing a degree in Business Management.
The above guest column is part of a series on environmental issues the Rio Grande Guardian is running in association with UTPA.