When a survey commissioned by the national Association of Small Business Development Centers asked small business owners to identify obstacles to growth, it was a surprise when regulation compliance (particularly environmental, taxes, and worker health and safety) turned up as the number two obstacle. The common questions for these busy small business owners were: What regulations apply? How do they apply? What’s my best strategy for achieving and maintaining compliance?
In 1997, the Pennsylvania SBDC Environmental Management Assistance Program was launched to help answer those questions, at no-cost to clients, and completely confidentially. With seed funding from the US EPA to test the concept of providing environmental assistance through an economic development organization, the Environmental Management Assistance Program began offering small business owners help with regulatory compliance and permitting information as well as energy efficiency.
The SBDC made perfect sense for offering such assistance because of its statewide network, deep understanding of the unique challenges and issues that confront small firms, and ability to educate business owners on the need to proactively address environmental and energy concerns just as they would any other significant business management issue.
After three successful years assisting business owners and proving that owners of small firms were most comfortable going to a neutral third party for unbiased information and technical assistance, through efforts spearheaded by Representative Ron Raymond and Senator Terry Punt in the Pennsylvania General Assembly, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania stepped in with a strong investment to significantly expand the statewide presence of the program.
Buoyed by that investment, the program flourished and began assisting hundreds of small businesses statewide – helping new businesses start off on the right track and helping existing businesses achieve new efficiencies and minimize environmental impacts. Based on the program’s extensive reach and success, in 2003, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection approached the SBDCs with a partnership proposal through which the Environmental Management Assistance Program would again expand services as the Commonwealth’s Small Business Environmental Assistance Program. That partnership was finalized in 2004 and the Environmental Management Assistance Program enhanced its staffing expertise to provide in-depth air quality compliance assistance, added a toll-free environmental help desk, 877.ask.emap, and established an easy to find website at www.askemap.org.
Over the years, the program has continued to achieve great results for its clients in key areas of environmental compliance and permitting, adoption of energy efficiency technologies and renewable energy, and environmental entrepreneurship. Much of the assistance work is saving businesses money and helping reduce the footprint on the environment. For example, clients have implemented 189 different energy efficiency projects with funding assistance through the Pennsylvania DEP’s Small Business Advantage Grant program. Not only are the businesses saving energy and reducing greenhouse gas emissions, they are also improving their business by saving significant amounts of money. At current electricity rates, it is anticipated that by 2020 these small businesses will save over $10 million in energy costs on these 189 projects alone. For their efforts, a number of clients have received state and national award recognition, particular in the areas of energy efficiency and resource conservation.
As the interest grows in taking businesses green, reducing energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions, ensuring environmental compliance, and embracing environmental sustainability, the Environmental Management Assistance Program remains poised to help Pennsylvania small businesses start, grow, and prosper.