By Jessica Borders
Times West Virginian
Local businesses recently brainstormed about ways to help the community become more sustainable.
On Sept. 20, the Region VI Workforce Investment Board and the Marion County Chamber of Commerce sponsored a free, four-hour sustainability-awareness training at the Marion County Water Filtration Plant in Fairmont. The Sustainability Institute at Bridgemont Community & Technical College led the program for about a dozen participants.
This training through the GREEN-UP Project was provided as part of a $6 million grant that WorkForce West Virginia received from the U.S. Department of Labor. WorkForce West Virginia works with the West Virginia Community and Technical College System, which is running the grant, said Barbara DeMary, executive director of the Region VI Workforce Investment Board.
“We tried to tap into as many of the classes in this area as we can,” she said. “Each of the community colleges seems to have a different specialty.”
Because this is a Department of Labor grant, Region VI WIB’s role is to make sure all the people attending the trainings are West Virginia residents and U.S. citizens over 18 years old, DeMary said. The participants receive a certificate.
She said Pierpont Community & Technical College is involved in the GREEN-UP training and is holding a class with contractors, and West Virginia University is offering training related to safety.
Bridgemont Community & Technical College’s training called Sustainability 101 is a general class that focuses on making the workplace greener. It gives participants ideas to take back to their employers and other employees, DeMary said.
“It really raises awareness,” she said.
The Region VI WIB and the Marion County Chamber of Commerce worked together to bring this sustainability class to Fairmont last week. The event was for chamber members and their employees.
“It just became part of some of the seminars and educational events that we try to do throughout the year for members,” said Tina Shaw, president of the chamber.
She said the chamber also invited all the municipalities to attend because they could also benefit from hearing about the topic of sustainability.
Because the chamber met its goal for the number of participants, Region VI WIB will provide two scholarships for students in the chamber’s leadership program in the spring from the grant funding.
“That's pretty exciting,” Shaw said. “We partnered with them (Region VI WIB), and they are very good to work with."
She said the class really opened participant’s eyes. Some of the activities during the training showed everyone that although they may think they are conserving and living a life of sustainability, there is much more that they can do.
"From a business standpoint, we found out businesses could save a lot of money by just making a few changes,” Shaw said.
Kelly Jo Drey, director of the Sustainability Institute at Bridgemont, said the Sustainability 101 class can be offered to pretty much anyone. The institute has been coordinating the program for three or four years for a variety of community groups and workplace settings.
In Fairmont, Drey presented the training along with Luke Elser from the Northern West Virginia Brownfields Assistance Center and trainer Carl Thompson.
Drey explained that workshop is very interactive, and the first half is general but also comprehensive. It gives people a sense of what sustainability is and provides an introduction to all of the key concepts of sustainability.
In the second half of the class, the participants go through the nine opportunities of sustainability, which is a framework for solutions, she said.
“We get people brainstorming specific ideas of things they can do either at home or at work or in their community to promote sustainability,” Drey said.
She said reducing waste, recycling and practicing energy efficiency are big ways to become more sustainable. Other opportunities include social components like personal health and wellness, volunteering and doing other things to help create a sense of community, and being a good neighbor.
"We just kind of want them to change their perspective and maybe look at some of the things they do on a day-to-day basis a little bit differently and start identifying just simple changes that they can make,” she said.
The goal is to encourage people to take some personally responsibility and inspire them to action, Drey said.
She said the Bridgemont Sustainability Institute has been able to do a number of these trainings over the past year because of the funding through the GREEN-UP program, which is federal stimulus money from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act to promote green jobs training.
"The idea is to link these concepts to skills that people can use to either get a job or advance their career — that's the purpose of the GREEN-UP program,” Drey said.
Bridgemont works closely with local Workforce Investment Boards in different regions to hold workshops, she said.
Mary Spellman, office manager for WorkForce West Virginia’s Fairmont office, participated in last week’s local training.
"It gave a great overview and some really good statistics of why it’s important to be environmentally green,” she said.
Spellman said she really loved the inclusion of the four Rs — reduce, reuse, recycle and redesign. She enjoyed the group’s discussion about mindsets and redesigning the community’s attitudes, and also the dialogue from different areas of industry.
“It was a really great training,” she said. “It expanded my understanding of what the value is of this."
Following the training, Fairmont WorkForce West Virginia talked about what it could do to make a difference, Spellman said.
The 10-person office is looking into potentially setting up some kind of aluminum can recycling, taking those cans to the recycling center, and using the money it gains to set up a water cooler to cut down on the waste of water bottles, she said. They also agreed to take away styrofoam cups and instead wash their own cups.
It’s all about doing little, simple things to make a change, Spellman said.
George Levitsky, general manager of the Fairmont Marion County Transit Authority, was also among those who took advantage of the training. He was particularly interested in the discussion about making transportation efficient.
Levitsky said it was nice to hear that public transportation is seen as somewhat of an answer to those efficiency issues. When the price of fuel goes up, the Fairmont Marion County Transit Authority tends to experience a spike in its ridership numbers.
“I think we all strive to be a little more green,” he said.
While many businesses would like to have their cars or trucks run on natural gas, there’s a high expense to retrofitting those vehicles, and the infrastructure isn’t yet in place for natural gas filling stations in the area. So while public transit would really like to be more green, sometimes cost prohibits it, Levitsky said.
“As an individual, I’d really like to do more,” he said. “It was a good class.”
DeMary said the Department of Labor grant ends in December, and there’s still money left to hold more training. She has been trying to contact chambers of commerce and cities and towns in the area to see who wants to bring some of these courses into their communities.
If representatives from towns, municipalities or businesses would like to hold a training, they can contact DeMary at 304-368-9530, and she will organize a class through Bridgemont.
Email Jessica Borders at email@example.com or follow her on Twitter @JBordersTWV.