Last year, the towns of Silverthorne, Frisco and Breckenridge teamed up with the High Country Conservation Center to offer energy audits to a number of small local businesses and support to make the changes to make their businesses more environmentally friendly and sustainable.
Lynne Greene, energy programs manager at HC3, spearheaded the project, which originally started with a grant through the Colorado energy office. HC3 already offered energy audits for residential buildings through its expert energy team.
"We'd never offered anything energy-wise to the business community, so we knew it was a gap in our services," Greene said. "We knew it was something that needed to be done and wasn't being done before this program."
Each year, interested businesses sign up for the audits, which look at anything from a facility's recycling and compost program to type of lights and insulation used. Frisco and Silverthorne grant each business a small stipend to assist in making the necessary changes.
Spots in the program are limited and it's not just a matter of signing up. Businesses must fill out an application and have a plan to accomplish at least one aspect that improves their environmental impact.
"There is almost always something that is easy for them to improve," Greene said. "No one's perfect on any of those things."
Frisco's version of the program, called Clean Tracks, started in 2011 and has already been implemented on more than 10 local businesses. Last year, for example, the Stork and Bear Company and The Barnyard upgraded their lighting to a more efficient model, each saving nearly $200 annually, while several businesses added or improved recycling and composting practices.
The 2012 "Green Champion" prize for the most energy, waste and carbon reduced went to the Shoe Inn Boutique, which replaced all its lights with energy-efficient LEDs and T8 fluorescents, saving more than $600 a year.
After seeing the success in Frisco, Silverthorne saw the potential and decided to start its own version, called Energy Smart, incorporating it into its economic development incentive package.
"We've had really good feedback," said Ryan Hyland, Silverthorne assistant town manager. "It's a really good partnership, and they're the experts in that field, so partnering up with them in the program has been really great for us."
Red Buffalo Coffee and Tea was one of the Silverthorne businesses that participated last year.
"Being committed to sustainable effort is something that's been of personal interest to me," said owner Erin Young. "I think we have responsibility as business leaders to set good examples."
Red Buffalo changed its halogen lights to LED lights, which have higher efficiency and a longer life. Young said that one of the main uses of the HC3 audit was being able to combine sustainability and environmental plans into one effort.
"It was definitely a way to get all the assistance for the projects that we wanted to do in one place," she said. "A lot of businesses have the to-do lists ... and they just never get around to it."
Aside from saving some money and decreasing the environmental impact of her cafe, Young said that doing the audit has also helped spread the idea of environmentally friendly and sustainable businesses practices to others, both within and outside of Summit County. People who have stopped in for a visit often ask questions about the cafe's composting and expressed interest in bringing something similar to their own hometowns.
"It's all just educating people and you get a greater good out of it," Young said.
Greene also agreed that there's more benefit to the results of the energy audits beyond money and safer, sustainable practices.
"By showing that they are socially and environmentally responsible, they're making their customers happier. They're expanding their customer base," she said. "Summit County cares about this kind of thing and it's something that makes the difference for small local stores that still rely on a local base."
Frisco, Silverthorne and Breckenridge are currently accepting applications for the 2013 round of energy audits with HC3. More information can be found online at www.highcountryconservation.org.