Over the past year, we have been promoting the Netgreen program. After compiling results from two rounds of testing, we are excited to move forward with a fully developed design. Among improvements to the program, the most notable change is that we will be dropping the name “Netgreen” altogether. To better serve our clients, the program will be seamlessly integrated into DECO’s Sustainability Planning services.

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We would like to use this post to explain the history of Netgreen, what we learned, and how DECO will continue developing tools to help improve sustainability for organizations in the Steel City. We want to thank all of our partners, supporters, and organizations who participated in the Netgreen program.

A little more than a year ago on November 6th, 2014, DECO launched the Alpha test of the Netgreen program, which was intended to establish a baseline for sustainability among local small businesses and help communicate greener actions to their customer base. Chatham University’s environmental blog quotes Cherian & Jacob to explain that a  “lack of communication is considered to be a major reason for commercial failures of environmentally sustainable products.”

The Netgreen Team

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To launch the program, we first reached out to two non-profit groups promoting environmental sustainability for businesses. The Green Building Alliance manages Pittsburgh’s 2030 challenge for buildings located Downtown, in the Northside, and Oakland. This program focuses on attention to physical structures, like the building and large mechanical systems. One challenge we identified for small businesses is that many rent their space and do not have much influence over their building. The second program is the Green Workplace Challenge, lead by Sustainable Pittsburgh. This program, which gives points to organizations that successfully implement actions that improve sustainability, focuses on how people interact in their space. Although the Challenge offers straight-forward steps to enable behavioral changes, it can take a significant amount of time to implement, which some small businesses can’t afford.

We wanted to streamline applicable parts of each program to best serve small businesses that might not have the time or money to engage with both programs. Even though their are no direct costs for either program, it can take time away from the business to participate. With expertise and guidance from Andrea Lavin Kossis of the Green Building Alliance and Matt Mehalik of Sustainable Pittsburgh, we identified parts from each program to best benefit smaller organizations and simplified the process for them.

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2014 Green Workplace Challenge Award Ceremony

With this information, we worked with Southside-based Einhorn Media Group to design a model to capture and promote sustainable businesses. Finally, we teamed up with GreenerPittsburgh.com, who provides the most comprehensive directory of greener products and services in Western Pennsylvania. Pioneered by long-time environmental advocate Greg DiMedio, GreenerPittsburgh.com provides a platform to promote sustainable products and services while highlighting some of the efforts that businesses are taking to be environmentally conscious.

Results

With a small team consisting of DECO founders Anthony Stewart and Mary Sullivan and no budget or funding other than revenue brought in by the program, DECO began reaching out to local organizations. One of our goals was to test commercial interest for sustainability planning. We decided that the for-profit route would best fit with our wider business goals. We charged participants for the service of collecting data and sharing it with eco-minded consumers to drive new sales for their products or services. We launched our Beta test in January of 2015 and started promoting the Netgreen program. In ten months, we had signed up 19 companies to participate in the program. Companies that signed up ranged in size from sole proprietors to organizations with 225 employees.

One of our goals was to test commercial interest for sustainability planning

During the process of meeting and evaluating local organizations, we were able to identify gaps in existing services for small businesses, locate resources within the community to fill their needs, and developed a variety of tools to improve business performance and address sustainability. However, we found one major problem with the project: the process was confusing for many of our clients. With so many programs and names involved, it was hard to distinguish Netgreen from the rest of our services at DECO. The solution we agreed upon was to eliminate the Netgreen name and integrate the program within our wider Sustainability Planning services.

In addition to presenting a clearer message, we found that the DECO team would be better prepared to explain and promote the program. This would, in turn, provide a more efficient and cost-effective service for our clients. Few structural changes are being made to the program, aside from small improvements to various processes. Essentially, we determined that Netgreen would be much more effective by dropping the program name.

Next Steps

“Best business practices” are a set of actions that vary from one industry to another and are constantly evolving. “Business sustainability” is a subset of those actions that will improve exponentially as technology improves and we gain access to better data. It can be very difficult to evaluate the “return on investment” in sustainable processes because the impact is so widespread. For example, paying employees a better wage might be a difficult choice for a company up front, but it will certainly improve the health of the local economy in the long term. There are countless applications of sustainability that will have a more or less direct return on investment and some actions may not display results for years to come. However, we are working hard to find cost-effective measures that will provide tangible results that will improve operations for small businesses in Pittsburgh.

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Pittsburgh – A city that has fought over the decades to clean its air and water

Over the past year and a half, our team has met with local business owners, leaders in sustainability, and other service providers. We noticed a common thread among all of the diverse people we met: They each displayed a genuine commitment to their local community and environment. Many of the businesses we worked with had already made some type of investment into sustainability. We could then help them make informed decisions that would build on their existing business model.