Nonprofit focuses on sustainability

By Todd Cohen

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — Based on an analysis of 25 homes, the city of Winston-Salem contracted with a handful of companies to do $250 worth of weatherization work at each of those homes, plus another 250 homes, all of them in low-income neighborhoods.

That work has helped reduce those households’ energy costs by 8 percent to 10 percent.The study of those savings was performed by three student interns at The Winston-Salem Sustainability Resource Center, a nonprofit that provides programs and educational services to raise awareness and foster sustainability.

Formed in March 2010, the organization operates with an annual budget of less than $100,000, a staff of one person and a contract worker, a core of 20 volunteers, and typically five summer interns who are college or graduate students. The agency works in space donated by the city of Winston-Salem in the Bryce A. Stuart Municipal Building.

The Resource Center has served a total of 2,000 to 3,000 businesses, schools, local cities and other clients, says Rita Gale Cruise, who joined the Center in October 2012 after working as energy efficiency program coordinator in the West Virginia office of the Natural Capital Investment Fund. The Fund, a community development financial institution certified by the U.S. Treasury, is an arm of The Conservation Fund.

In another pilot project, for example, the Resource Center worked with employees at the Caterpillar plant in Winston-Salem to develop a “sustainability action plan” they could use to get involved in sustainability work involving such issues as energy, water, air, waste, recycling and health.

Based on a recommendation from the Resource Center, Caterpillar is looking at teaming with Herbal Life, which this year will open a distribution center nearby, and Piedmont Area Regional Transportation, which will provide dedicated vans the two companies’ employees can use to get to work and save energy and money.

Instrumental in developing that plan, Cruise says, has been Matthew Johnson, chair of the Resource Center’s board and manager of the Caterpillar plant.

The Resource Center also has worked with Caterpillar employees to create a community garden at its manufacturing plant, located off I-40 in southeast Winston-Salem near the Level Cross neighborhood.

The employees want to grow fruits and vegetables for their own use and to donate to Second Harvest Food Bank of Northwest North Carolina.

The Resource Center also serves as fiscal agent for Forsyth County’s Community Food System Consortium, a collaborative effort spearheaded by Forsyth Futures to connect consumers, producers and distributors of local food, such as farmers, restaurants, groceries and schools in a five-county region.

In a partnership last year with the Forsyth County Health Department, an intern at the Resource Center conducted a survey to identify “food deserts,” or local communities that lack access to fresh food.

The Health Department, in turn, is using the information to try to find ways to get fresh food into communities.

In a pilot project in East Winston-Salem, for example, the Health Department is teaming with Rebecca’s Community Store to get fresh food from local farmers, as well as information about nutrition, to local residents.

The Resource Center, which last fall raised $5,000 through an annual appeal, also received a $25,000 grant from The Winston-Salem Foundation to support operations and to follow up a 2008 project that developed sustainability indicators for the community.

It also has received a $2,500 grant from Piedmont Natural Gas to support sustainability education.

And this fall it will host an event to present community awards for sustainability and raise money.

A key goal for the Resource Center, Cruise says, is to help people “learn about how they can become more sustainable.”

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