NORTHWEST HOUSTON — Often referred to as the energy capital of the world, Houston may not first come to mind as an area of the country where sustainable and green business practices are put to use.
In an effort to educate the public and make connections with local businesses, two sustainability committees operate in Cy-Fair.
The Lone Star College–CyFair sustainability committee was formed for two reasons: a campus-wide interest in the environment, and to preserve the history of the area’s land, said Tim Sebesta, committee chairman.
The LSC–CyFair campus sits on the Katy Prairie. When the campus was opened in 2003, 80 percent of the land was restored to natural prairie, which cut down on the need for mowing.
“People would call and ask why we weren’t mowing the grass,” Sebesta said. “That was the running joke, and it’s a great opportunity to educate the public.”
The LSC–CyFair committee has several subcommittees whose members address issues ranging from alternative energy to planting a community garden.
A newer committee, the Cy-Fair Houston Chamber of Commerce sustainability committee formed in March after chamber president Mary Evans attended a sustainability conference in downtown Houston.
Members of the committee promote preservation of the environment, and they want residents to think about preserving energy when possible. However, while going green can pay off in the long run when comparing energy costs, it can be tough for developers to do initially, Evans said.
“We just want to talk to businesses in the area to get them to think about it,” she said.
Texas incentives for renewables and efficiency
City of Houston Energy
Efficiency Incentive Program
Applicants must participate in the Houston Green Office Challenge, own a 7,500-square-foot office area and conduct an energy audit, which must identify energy savings of at least 15 percent. The maximum incentive for a project is $200,000.
CenterPoint Energy programs
CenterPoint Energy offers utility rebate programs for Houston-area residents and business owners. The residential and small commercial standard offer program gives builders monetary incentives ranging from $8,000 to $32,000 for installing energy efficiency measures.
LoanSTAR Revolving Loan Program
This program supplies low-interest loans to public entities, including schools, for installing Energy Cost Reduction Measures, which could include lighting and insulation. The maximum incentive is $5 million, and loans are repaid through energy cost savings.
Solar and Wind Energy Business Franchise Tax Exemption
Businesses that manufacture, sell or install solar energy devices are exempt from the state’s franchise tax, the equivalent of a corporate tax. There is no limit on the exemption amount.
Source: Database of State Incentives for Renewables and Efficiency
However, a study released in July by the Brookings Institution revealed the size of greater Houston’s clean economy ranks ninth out of the country’s 100 largest metro areas.
There are nearly 40,000 green jobs in the greater Houston area, constituting 1.6 percent of the area’s total jobs. More than 12,000 of those green jobs were added between 2003 and 2010, according to the study.
In Cy-Fair, businesses ranging from a landscape design firm to a local hardware store are utilizing and adding sustainable and green technologies to lessen their impact on the environment.
There are two dedicated green personnel at the Northwest Houston corporate office of NCI Building Systems, Inc., a company which manufactures metal building products. Numerous other employees help sell, manufacture and promote the company’s green building products throughout the city and country, said Robert A. Zabcik, LEED accredited professional and director of research and development and green building initiatives for NCI, in an email. The green personnel track green construction trends, stay ahead of requirements and push their knowledge through the company’s organizational structure, ultimately heading up NCI’s green initiative.
“To some extent, we have always been working with green building components,” Zabcik said. “The products we manufacture are made of steel and have a high recycled content…Using our materials can reduce landfill waste over time, which provides a significant environmental benefit.”
Kathy Vosburg’s business, LandEscape Designs, also benefits the environment due to her sustainable gardening practices. Vosburg opened her Cy-Fair landscape design firm four years ago, and her employees use sustainable practices to bring soil around the Houston area back to life, ultimately making yards and plants stronger and healthier.
“From a landscape perspective, we don’t practice or do anything that will adversely impact the soil, because all life comes from the soil,” Vosburg said. “In this region, there is dead dirt, and we want to restore the dead dirt that has no living biology in it back to living soil.”
When soil is alive, it has a greater water holding capacity. Therefore, plants, trees and flowers are more easily able to absorb nutrients and withstand drought conditions, Vosburg said.
Aside from the green jobs created at LandEscape Designs and NCI, one business owner in Cypress recently added a green component to his business.
Cypress Ace Hardware owner Bill Murff had a wind generator installed on the building in July, which kicks in at two-tenths of a mph of wind and charges batteries, which turn on lights in the store. Murff found the wind generator when he attended a home and garden show, he said.
“I thought it would be a neat item to have, and one more thing to take off the grid,” Murff said.
At their Northwest Houston location and around the country, NCI develops products that can be used by local businesses, ranging from cool roof panels to insulated metal panels, the latter of which makes the most environmental impact due to its energy efficiency, Zabcik said.
“IMPs are comprised of two metal skins bonded to an insulating core,” he said. “They hold the same benefits of other metal roof and wall panels while gaining thermal efficiency from a rigid foam core.”
Green, nonchemical practices are the backbone of Vosburg’s work at LandEscape Designs, where she uses worm castings and compost tea for the physical maintenance of restoring soil and landscapes. The worm castings are from essentially vegan worms, which only ate lettuce and leaves during their lifetime, not sludge, Vosburg said. The compost tea is made from aged compost brewed with water for 24 hours.
“You can pour it on plants and spray leaves with it, and it reestablishes the [natural] biology,” Vosburg said.
A greener future
Around the country and in Houston, NCI has been introducing and expanding positions.
“Most importantly, we have increased our employee training to include information specific to green construction so all of our employees are able to understand and embrace the importance of this concept and the role we play,” Zabcik said.
Two sustainability committees in Cy-Fair, organized by Lone Star College–CyFair and the Cy-Fair Houston Chamber of Commerce, both have members working to educate the public and local business owners about green and sustainable practices.
However, the current economic conditions can make it harder for companies to go green, said Tim Sebesta, chairmain of the LSC–CyFair sustainability committee.
“They may not be able to make significant steps, but they can make steps in that direction,” he said.
Members of the chamber’s committee, created in March, have been working on initiatives, said Mary Evans, chamber president.
“We hope over the next year we can move forward with a huge objective and have an impact in the community,” she said.