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Bentley University Students Team Up with Environmental and Energy Study Institute to Explore Energy Issues for Small Businesses
A group of Bentley University students teamed up with nonprofit Environmental and Energy Study Institute (EESI) in Washington, D.C., to survey the attitudes of approximately 20 New England small business owners on issues of energy consumption, energy efficiency, and long-term energy planning for their businesses. On December 6 and 7, the students traveled to Capitol Hill to present their research findings to key decision makers and groups in Washington, including staffers from the offices of Senator John Kerry (MA), Senator Jeanne Shaheen (NH), Senator Scott Brown (MA) and the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, as well as Senator Jon Tester (MT) himself.
(L to R) Greg Bucci, Will Markow (gesturing), Dan Green (Amherst native) and Victoria Adams speaking with Sen. Jon Tester (D-MT) in his office.
The project was part of a fourth-credit service-learning option for a Federal Environmental and Natural Resource Policy course taught by Assistant Professor of Natural Sciences David Szymanski, a former congressional fellow and science policy advisor to US Senator Jon Tester (D-MT). The four participating students included junior Gregory Bucci (Andover, Connecticut); and sophomores Victoria Adams (Leominster, Massachusetts); Daniel Green (Amherst, New Hampshire); and William Markow (Allenstown, New Hampshire). Three are pursuing the Liberal Studies Major with a concentration in Earth, Environment and Global Sustainability, in addition to their primary business major (Adams, Bucci and Green).
"The fact that small businesses generate over half of the nonfarm private GDP in the United States and spend over $100 billion every year on energy-related costs makes them major players in terms of both the economy and the environment," Szymanski notes. "The goal of the project is to get the students involved in national policy by performing non-partisan, civic service and learning how science policy is made."
The students researched and developed an interview questionnaire for small-business owners across various sectors with the goal of exploring beyond statistics to assess how small businesses plan for future energy use and price fluctuations. They aimed to gauge how policymakers can help serve the needs of these small businesses by establishing, maintaining and promoting energy-efficiency initiatives. Key findings included:
- Business owners interviewed take primarily reactive approaches to energy efficiency; i.e. businesses will reduce their energy consumption after their energy costs rise rather than proactively increasing their energy efficiency.
- Immediate cost-savings is the primary motivator for small-business owners; if increased efficiency will lower costs, small businesses will become more energy efficient.
- Businesses feel tax incentives geared towards small businesses specifically will be most beneficial to them.
- Businesses feel it is difficult to receive relevant and accurate information about energy and energy efficiency; only 8 businesses out of the 20 interviewed were aware of programs that incentivize greater energy efficiency.
- Regarding tax incentives, businesses know more about what they do not qualify for than what they do qualify for.
- Businesses rely on their electricity and fuel providers to receive information about energy efficiency.
- Seventy percent of small businesses interviewed do not believe they need to portray themselves as "green" to attract more business. However, businesses are seeing increased customer interest in "green" products.
- Eighty-five percent of small businesses interviewed do not think that climate change will have a significant impact on their operations.
Among the recommendations to policy makers:
- Consider the needs of small businesses by supporting tax credits and other programs that incentivize energy efficiency.
- Implement programs that would increase the availability and accessibility of information about the benefits of increased energy efficiency for small businesses.
The Yawkey Foundations have recognized Bentley University’s longstanding commitment to service-learning and awarded the university $500,000 to educate students to effectively lead nonprofit organizations and expand student efforts to help community groups.