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“Everybody Can Do Something”: Sustainability Summit Recap

On November 18 the Trail Town Outreach Corps and the Trail Town Program hosted a Sustainability Summit to kick-off the GAP SBN. With a packed agenda the Summit offered business owners information on joining the network, how to get a free sustainability assessment and real-world practical advice and anecdotes from fellow business owners who have successfully implemented sustainable practices and seen the benefits of doing so. Over the course of the day, an unofficial theme emerged from our three speakers: Whether changes are big or small, zero-cost to higher-reach, everybody can do something for sustainability.

After a warm welcome from Cathy McCollom, director of the Trail Town Program (and fair-trade coffee from Reilly’s Best in Ohiopyle) Eric Martin of Wilderness Voyageurs in Ohiopyle started things off with a compelling and candid presentation about the challenges and successes his operations have experienced. Being in the business of “eco-travel,” over the past nine years he has been incorporating sustainable practices at his rafting company, retail store, Falls City Pub, and the Trillium Lodge as much as possible. As he sees it, sustainability is “not just for hippies anymore.” While encouraging, Eric was also realistic about the hurdles he and his employees have faced (ineffective local recycling options, an abundance of rafting equipment made from petroleum products, etc.). He stressed that sustainability does not mean a lower level of service, in fact, it’s about making smart business decisions that don’t cost a lot and often even save  money. Specifically, sourcing materials locally for building, lighting a bath house with passive solar methods (not a single lightbulb was used!), reusing scrap materials, recycling and making bio-diesel saves resources and money. For other initiatives like using “Greenware” biodegradable cups, the extra investment is worth it for the customer engagement, interest and appreciation. By getting a little creative, “rethinking the process” and engaging his employees and customers in the process he continues to expand his sustainable practices and create a unique brand identity for his businesses and experience for his customers.

Up next was Mike Dreisbach (a self-proclaimed hippie) of the Savage River Lodge in Frostburg, MD. Since opening the Lodge with his wife Jan over 10 years ago, working with nature has always been a guiding principle behind all of their business decisions. From building with the contours of the land (and in the process cutting down fewer trees, which in turn shades the cabins, negating the need to spend money on air conditioning), to repurposing a huge array of materials on the property (a military bridge as an exciting entrance to the Lodge, discarded wooden docks became bridges for trails, fryer grease finds new utility as biodiesel), resource conservation (cloth hand towels and napkins, optional freshening service, rain barrels for watering plants, water in ziploc bags above doors to deter flies) and sourcing food for the restaurant locally (from Amish farmers and home-grown herbs) and much more… Mike estimates that his practices, which admittedly take a little bit more elbow grease, saves him over $45,000 annually. Mike echoes Eric’s sentiments about customer satisfaction and engagement saying that his practices create new business opportunities and new markets; people come to the Lodge again and again because of its commitment to sustainability and are willing to pay for it. While the accomplishments of the SRL may seem intimidating, Mike reminds us to start small. The impressive achievements at the Savage River Lodge have taken over 10 years to implement.

Before lunch we discussed the Great Allegheny Passage Sustainable Business Network and how to join. Explore this site more for details on the GAP SBN or contact us (mwyman@progressfund.org) for an application.

Midday we were nourished by a fresh, local lunch from the Lucky Dog Cafe who also implements sustainable practices like using local produce, antiobiotic/hormone-free/free-range meat and making biodiesel.

After lunch we heard from the Trail Town Outreach Corps about the FREE sustainability assessments they offer to businesses. The assessments are conducted in six categories (waste, water, appliances and office equipment, HVAC, lighting and beyond the building)  and are designed to help you identify ways to reduce energy and resource consumption and save money. The assessments can be tailored to suit the needs and concerns of individual businesses. Contact Elisa Mayes, Trail Town Outreach Corps Project Leader for more information or to schedule an assessment at emayes@thesca.org.

Simultaneously, Brad Smith, owner of the Confluence Cyclery offered tours of his bike shop, a historic building on the town green which he has renovated with utmost attention to environmental sensitivity and energy efficiency. Starting from the ground up he and his wife Maureen revamped an energy nightmare into a sunny, warm and attractive storefront. They installed radiant floor heating, an extremely efficient system complete with a double furnace. They worked with a local plumber with little knowledge of this type of renovation to design the system, increasing community connections and valuable skills for this young plumber. They uncovered the transom windows for better circulation with the added benefit of daylighting in their retail space, eliminating the need for air conditioning and excessive lighting costs. For insulation of this older brick structure, they used blow-in foam insulation. In the bathrooms they installed an on-demand hot water heater and a waterless urinal in the men’s room. While the costs were initially expensive, Brad and Maureen believe that their investments will pay off in the long run.

At the day’s end Elisa  left us with these inspiring thoughts from Albert Einstein: “Setting an example is not the main means of influencing others; it is the only means.” Thanks to all the businesses who attended for leading the way in creating a new story and a sustainable future along the Great Allegheny Passage. Remember that there is incredible knowledge among your fellow business owners and look to them as a resource when you have questions about sustainability, from eco-friendly insulation to local produce to green cleaning supplies, “the wisdom is in the room,” so to speak. The summit provided a great day of information sharing and networking, but it shouldn’t stop there. Keep the inspiration and conversation flowing. That is what the GAP SBN is all about! You can start by posting your comments below!

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A question that arose at the Great Allegheny Passage Sustainability Summit last week concerns biodiesel.  Eric Martin (owner, Wilderness Voyageurs and Falls City Pub) and Mike Dreisbach (owner, Savage River Lodge) both refine their used cooking oil into biodiesel for their vehicles.  The questions put forth were:

1. What vehicles can run on biodiesel?

2. Do the vehicles need to be modified for such use?

In order to run a vehicle on biodiesel the vehicle must have a diesel powered engine.  Diesel vehicles get great mileage (a modern VW Golf diesel gets upwards of 50 mpg). Diesels are generally the longest lasting reliable cars on the road with most engines lasting over 400,000 miles. Unfortunately in the US the diesel vehicle selection is limited as compared to the rest of the world.  However, this seems to be changing as the price of gas goes up and diesel hybrid technology is developed. Volkswagen sells all their models in diesel versions called TDI, which are excellent biodiesel vehicles. Jeep is just now coming out with a diesel version of their Liberty SUV.  Ford, Dodge, Chevy and GMC all currently sell diesel versions of their large pickups and Mercedes is about to come out with a new turbo diesel in the US. There are also a host of older vehicles such as Mercedes, Volvo, etc that can be found on the used market in diesel.  You can find a great list of all US diesel makes and models at:

Most vehicles do not require any prep to run biodiesel.  However for vehicles manufactured before 1985 the fuel line should be changed to a modern fluorinated plastic such as Viton as the biodiesel could cause swelling in some older plastic lines. If the vehicle has been running petro-diesel for a long time you should be prepared to change the fuel filter in the first few thousand miles of biodiesel use.  Biodiesel will flush all the petro-diesel residue from your system and it will end up in your fuel filter. As this happens you will feel a gradual loss of power over a few days, this is the signal to change the filter.

Both Eric and Mike mentioned future ideas to perhaps begin Biodiesel Co-ops.  So what does a biodiesel co-op entail?  A co-op is a community of people that committ to share ideas, skills, and in most cases goods.  For a membership fee, members of a co-op generally receive discounted products or goods.  A biodiesel co-op would therefore use this principle based around the manufacture and distribution of biodiesel.

To understand how it operates in reality, here are a few examples of successful Biodiesel Co-ops:




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The Savage River Lodge – A Sustainable Success Story

As one of the first members of the Great Allegheny Passage Sustainable Business Network, The Savage River Lodge in Frostburg, MD embodies the principles of the network at every turn. A self-proclaimed “old hippie,” owner Mike Dreisbach kindly showed the Trail Town Outreach Corps around the peaceful and unassumingly elegant premises of the Lodge, explaining along the way all of the ways he and his wife Jan make their ideals work for them at the SRL. When imagining the possibilities for an eco-tourism destination that emphasized “non-consumptive low impact recreation” they knew they wanted to integrate “green” practices into their business, long before it was trendy, because it makes sense.

A relaxing spot at the main Lodge

A relaxing spot at the main Lodge

The Savage River Lodge fully subscribes to the mantra of “Reduce, reuse, repurpose, recycle.” Wherever possible they decrease consumption and use creativity and ingenuity to maximize their savings while minimizing their harmful impacts on the environment. Much of the wood shelving throughout the premises has been recycled from old barns in the area. An old military bridge has been relocated to the SRL and serves as utilitarian and conversation piece! Even their used cooking oils find new functionality— first Mike converts it to bio-diesel and then uses the fuel in lamps at the main lodge.

Mike explains the process of making bio-diesel

Mike explains the process of making bio-diesel

From the beginning, explains Mike, it’s been about merging their personal philosophy of working with nature with the economic benefit of doing so. Even when beginning construction, Jan and Mike chose to work with nature, building with the natural contours of the landscape rather than leveling the land.  Among the exciting projects and practices of the Lodge are: growing their own herbs for the kitchen; buying produce locally from Amish farmers; eliminating the use of paper products, replacing them with reusable napkins and hand towels; installing rain barrels to capture stormwater and reuse to water plants; and reducing the need for chemical pesticides by using an inventive method that deters flies (hanging a ziploc bag full of water by the door— and believe it or not, it really works!). Mike and Jan estimate annual savings of about $45,000 attributed to their “eco-friendly” policies.

A simple way to deter flies.

A simple way to deter flies.

Whereas some business owners see the initial expenses of switching to more sustainable business practices as a hindrance, the SRL finds that they make it back in hard savings, but also that customers seek out the unique experience of their “eco-tourism” destination, and appreciate the efforts the Lodge makes for environmental and social responsibility thus increasing business overall. The Savage River Lodge was even recently named the Small Business of the Year by the Maryland State Chamber of Commerce, partially due to their sustainable practices!

While the accomplishments of the SRL are incredibly impressive, and possibly intimidating for businesses just beginning to make changes to the way they do business, Mike encourages, “Everyone can do something. Do things that don’t cost a lot, then add to what you’re doing. “

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