With another Earth Day coming up, there are plenty of stories about saving the planet, not to mention ourselves. Unfortunately, when you hear about creative cities and companies working to improve the environment as well as the health of their workers, Tampa doesn't make any of those lists unless there are blanks to fill in near the bottom. About the only time we think green around here is when the mayor turns the Hillsborough River green for St. Patrick's Day. So I was more than a little overwhelmed to hear what some companies here are actually doing.
It was at the 2013 Sustainable Business Awards held this week at the Vaughn Center on the University of Tampa campus. I remember talking to Jan Roberts a decade ago when the founder of Earth Charter US couldn't fill up a table at the old Valencia Garden restaurant. This week there was an entire ballroom packed with CEOs and business people from around the area for the event. Just listen to some of the achievements among a few of the 13 winning companies. Think about where you work. Or if you happen to run your own company, compare it to what is happening elsewhere around here. First there is Norwood BIC Graphic…yeah the lighter and shaver people. At their Clearwater plant, where they employ 635 workers amid hazardous waste plastics and other materials, the rule is “if it is coming in here and it is flammable or toxic, we must substitute with a different chemical or engineer a change to its process to allow us to use it.'' Trammell Crow won for its sustainable energy-efficient buildings and for its use of “brownfield'' areas, such as an old tank farm in Port Ybor where they took out liquid gas. One of my favorites was a new company called “The Green Can.'' You may have already seen the large green containers around town. To date they have recycled more than 630,000 aluminum cans and other materials. This Tampa-based company donates all of its profits from recycling to local charities. Their profits come from advertising on the cans. The workplace also figured into the awards. Tampa Bay Trane, an air conditioning company, provides full benefits, including a 100 percent 401k match. They offer free LA Fitness memberships, and employees receive paid time off to participate in groups such as Women Engineers Society. “eBridge,'' an online document system, offers health benefits all paid for by the company. They match the 401k, and on-site is a fitness center with a recreation room with a big-screen TV and pool table. The have adopted a number of local charities, including the Children's Home where they adopt children every Christmas. At PDR Accounting, part-time workers get the same benefits as those working full time. The list continues, but there were some other things that went with all this greenness. If you looked at all the winning organizations, what you noticed was their profits were all substantially higher, employees apparently better off and the community better served. Seems like the rest of us could learn a little from our neighbors.