This academic year I have been working with the $mart Business Partner program to help businesses in Walla Walla improve their sustainable business practices. This program is a free service of the Sustainable Living Center, a local grassroots nonprofit with several programs including energy audits for homes and office buildings. The $mart Business Partner program works with a wide variety of businesses in Walla Walla including restaurants, construction companies, municipal agencies, and even Whitman and Bon Appétit. Each year we set new goals with our partner businesses in four categories: waste reduction, water use reduction, energy reduction, and materials purchasing reduction. We help our partners meet these goals in a variety of ways, usually through tracking their utilities or advising their purchasing and service contracting. The program also includes an element of publicity, as all members receive storefront decals and are included in the list of member businesses.
Additionally, the Walla Walla Chamber of Commerce presents the annual $mart Business Partner award to the large and small businesses which achieve the greatest reductions over the course of the year. (Evan, to the left, presented the award to one of the businesses here in town).
Last semester most of my work was focused on working with businesses that were already a part of the program from the previous year. I would go to partner meetings with my internship supervisor, Sandra Cannon, and I quickly learned the ins and outs of goal setting and following up with businesses. It took most of fall semester to meet with all of the businesses who remained in the program from the previous year, and this spring my primary focus has shifted to recruiting new businesses to become $mart Business Partners. This process has been surprisingly difficult, and it often takes several months to get in touch with a business’ owner just to see if they are interested in meeting with me. As evidenced by the difficulty in just getting in touch with these owners, often they are too busy to participate in the program at all. This difficult experience has greatly improved my networking experience, and has also opened my eyes to the daily challenges of being a small business owner. I have also been attending the meetings with businesses on my own this semester, which has required quick thinking and strategic prior planning without Sandra’s encyclopedic knowledge of energy reduction strategies to back me up.
I am extremely grateful to the Student Engagement Center for giving me the opportunity to continue this internship through the entire academic year. In addition to the professional growth I have undergone during these two semesters, I have gained a new-found understanding and appreciation for the Walla Walla community, and I am certain this experience will positively impact my career aspirations.