(photo by Brandon Wise)

PICO BLVD — While the Oscars had comedian Steve Martin and actor Alec Baldwin, those who attended the 15th annual Sustainable Quality Awards Wednesday had local attorney Tom Larmore and his guitar.

The Santa Monica Chamber of Commerce chair led the crowd in a song about garbage. While not a common theme for most award ceremonies, the song “Good Garbage,” which bashed products that are not biodegradable, was very apropos given that those in attendance were on hand to celebrate local businesses that are doing their part to protect the environment and build a green community.

The Sustainable Quality Awards at the Sheraton Delfina hotel recognized nine companies — ranging from a grocery store to an amusement park — who have successfully blended traditional business practices and environmentalism, whether it be installing a new Ferris wheel with thousands of energy-saving LED lights or educating employees about the pervasiveness of plastic debris in the Pacific Ocean.

Hosted by the chamber, City Hall and the nonprofit Sustainable Works, which helps residents and businesses go green, the event itself was also sustainable, from the awards — made from 100 percent recycled glass — to the food, which was bought from regional farmers and later composted. Carbon credits were also purchased to help offset the impact on air quality created by those who drove to the event.

The awards were founded as a way to recognize green businesses, launched a year after the City Council adopted the Sustainable City Plan, a time when there were no Toyota Prius hybrids or CFLs.

Shannon Parry, City Hall’s Sustainable City coordinator, said the event has evolved dramatically over the years, attracting more traditional businesses that were not founded with a green focus and then decided to incorporate other aspects required to be nominated.

“We now have taxi companies, grocery stores and hospitals — mainstream businesses,” Parry said.

“For businesses in Santa Monica who aren’t necessarily green or incorporate sustainable business practices see that we are recognizing those who have and that these businesses are succeeding and that commitment to sustainability is getting them publicity, getting them notoriety and in some ways giving them additional market share because of that, which is really important,” Parry added.

The number of green businesses has grown in Santa Monica since that first awards show, the city now having the highest concentration in the United States with more than 250.

Among the winners were two businesses that received the grand prize — Co-Opportunity market and the Natural Resources Defense Council. To qualify, the companies had to meet challenging targets in the areas of economic development, social responsibility and stewardship of the natural environment. That includes programs that reduce waste as well as treat employees fairly while offering job training or employment opportunities to local youth.

Many of the award recipients have a Green Business Certification and/or have undergone the Business Greening Program at Sustainable Works.

“This is not an easy award to receive,” said chamber President Laurel Rosen. “These companies really worked hard for this. It’s not just, ‘Hey, let’s pick somebody.’”

Applications are carefully scrutinized by a panel of nine volunteers, three from the chamber, three from the community at large and three from City Hall.

Co-opportunity was chosen for its commitment to offering customers, who are also owners, natural and organic foods. The company has been around since 1974 and was the first grocery store on the Westside to install a two-kilowatt solar power system in 1999.

During staff meetings, the market educates employees about environmental issues and its recycling program has increased by 40 percent, according to city officials. The company provides 100 percent paid medical, dental, life and vision insurance for employees, satisfying the social responsibility component of the awards. The company has been recognized at the awards several times.

“One of our ends policies is to have a net positive environmental impact,” said Bruce Palma, Co-op’s general manager. “We are always striving for that. We want to move closer and closer to being more sustainable.”

Palma said the market’s business model helps in reaching that goal, helping the company balance the needs of the staff, customers and the community.

“We try to make it so everyone benefits,” he said.

The NRDC seems to be a natural fit for the grand prize. A national nonprofit dedicated to preserving the nation’s natural resources, the NRDC in Santa Monica is housed in a LEED-certified building that has a sophisticated water recycling system that captures water from showers, sinks and rainwater that is treated and reused for irrigation and flushing toilets.

The NRDC also has a built-in Environmental Action Center to increase awareness of the threats to the environment and public health and to empower individuals to get involved.

“There are many pieces that make up the complete picture of sustainability and the business community is a major element in that,” said Santa Monica City Councilman Richard Bloom. “To have a business community that is excited about going green and to partner with the city and residents is just incredible.”

Bloom said Santa Monica’s reputation for striving for sustainability attracts companies that want to “do the right thing.”

While doing the right thing can give employers that warm and fuzzy feeling, it can also translate into savings.

Pacific Park at the Santa Monica Pier has seen its energy bill drop by roughly 20 percent after installing its new Ferris wheel, which features thousands of LED lights that use less electricity but offer a more vibrant experience for riders, said CEO Mary Ann Powell.

Pacific Park received an award for excellence in stewardship of the natural environment mainly for the Ferris wheel, which is also solar powered. The company also stopped distributing bottled water to employees, encouraging them to drink from reusable bottles and mugs. Most cleaning products are environmentally friendly also, Powell said.

While living a sustainable lifestyle may be familiar to Santa Monicans given City Hall’s many efforts to promote going green, keynote speaker Terry Tamminen, the former secretary of the California Environmental Protection agency under Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, said there are millions in America who are oblivious.

The challenge, he said, is to continue to educate the masses about the need to make a change to protect Mother Earth for future generations. This includes those who make public policy.

For a list of SQA winners and more information on City Hall’s efforts to be more sustainable, go to www.smsqa.com.

kevinh@www.smdp.com

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