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ColoradoBiz Spotlight: Gleam Carwash

This article was originally featured in ColoradoBiz magazine. Click here to read the full feature. 

In this ongoing series, ColoradoBiz magazine sits down with a Best for Colorado company to learn all about the impact they have in our state. We sat down with manager Pat Lynch and owner Emily Baratta for this interview.

Best for Colorado: Present your company; a quick overview of who you are, what the organization does, how long the organization has been around and what differentiates you in the marketplace.

Gleam Car Wash: Gleam Car Wash is reimagining how a car wash can impact an entire ecosystem, from water use to employment opportunities to investor return to community engagement. Our goal is to change the standard for car washes. A genuine impact investment, Gleam is a mini-water-treatment plant, a power generator, a job creator and an extremely smart investment, with cash on cash returns in excess of 20 percent. Gleam has been open for two and a half years and in that time has saved over 20 million gallons of potable water while washing over 230,000 cars. It’s not just about washing cars, it’s not just about providing a quality product, it’s also about changing the way this industry operates.

25 percent of our staff is autistic. 90 percent of autistic people are considered to be unhirable, but in this industry, they are great employees. We want to implement these programs to not only change the way car washes hire people but the way all of Denver hires people. We want to bring attention to these types of special needs employees. In September we’re having a showcase here and various companies are coming out to see how we operate our program. We’re very much proud of our own success, but we are also into the success of our own communities and I don’t think a lot of car washes can say that.

BFC: What is the value for your business to start this journey?  What areas are you concentrating most on right now and why?

GCW: Gleam fills a community need: at some point, everyone washes their car, and there is no tunnel car wash within three miles of Gleam’s 38th Avenue location. The fundamental economics of car washing are sound. If executed properly, they are a highly profitable business.

Everyone should wash their car regularly because doing so is best for the environment. Cars pick up dirt and heavy metals as they drive around Denver to and from the mountains. At a car wash like Gleam, those chemicals are washed into our filtration system. If you wait for a rain or snow event to “rinse” your car, those toxins go straight into our stormwater system.

Building the business was an opportunity for us to make a big difference in terms of job creation, the types of jobs we were creating and the type of work environment we provide. Because car washing as an industry hasn’t seen a tremendous amount of change, ever, it presented a unique opportunity to catalyze an industry-wide change that would have real impact in terms of water use, energy reduction and awareness at the same time. Our corporate responsibility areas of emphasis are on our hiring practices and our environmental stewardship.

BFC: How did corporate responsibility emerge – was there a specific event or individual that inspired this action?

GCW: Gleam’s founders, Emilie Baratta and Rob Madrid, live in the same neighborhood as the Gleam flagship flex serve car wash and both agreed that a car wash lends itself to all sorts of corporate social responsibility initiatives and that those initiatives, if properly designed and implemented, could help improve the bottom line for their investors.

BFC: You reclaim 90 percent of your water and treat it all of it onsite, can you tell me more about this? How were you able to make this possible?

GCW: As a mini-water treatment plant, Gleam captures and treats 90 to 95 percent of the water used in the wash tunnel. We do this through a gravity-driven filtration system (four 1,500-gallon tanks, two micro-filtration tanks and  UV treatment) that filter the water used in the tunnel and recycle it for reuse. The system is so good that we do not have particulates that are greater than 5 microns in our recycled water, because ensuring that we do not scratch cars is paramount to our business model.  .

In two years, Gleam has washed over 230,000 cars and saved over 20 million gallons of potable water. A regular car wash – or you, with your hose, in your driveway -– uses around 100 gallons of potable water per wash. At Gleam we use around 120 gallons per car, but most of those are recycled. This results in very clean cars that use very little drinkable water. We have $200,000 in water and sewer discharge savings to date.

BFC: You’re also very energy efficient in the car wash tunnel. You have LED Lighting and Solar Panels. For a lot of businesses trying to take a step towards becoming more eco-friendly and energy efficient, the cost of such a transition can be intimidating. What would you say to a company or business owner who is interested to take this leap but hesitant about the initial investment?

GCW:There are two key metrics a small business has to take into consideration: 1. The initial up front equipment and installation costs and how to finance/afford those costs, and 2. the payback analysis, or how long it takes you to recoup your investment. Any solar installer will help to optimize the design of your array and the payback analysis, including tax credits if they apply. For other energy-optimization techniques like LEDs and VFDs, it helps to reach out to Xcel directly, as they have an entire design and rebate program to help small businesses decrease their overall energy consumption and, particularly, their peak energy consumption. Also, many local banks will help offset initial first costs by offering loans. Sometimes this makes the difference, economically, for a small business.

BFC: Can you talk about Environmental Leadership Program Silver Certification?

GCW: The State’s Environmental Leadership Program is incredibly well-run and some of the very best Colorado businesses participate, so for Gleam, it’s great company to be in. It helps establish us as a leader, state-wide because we are the only car wash we know of that is participating in the ELP Program. Since it is our stated goal to help Colorado shift its legislation on how car washes deal with water issues, I think it’s nice positioning. But most importantly, from a business perspective, especially as we look to grow, they have a nice amount of peer-to-peer coaching and it’s helping us set up and Environmental Management System which is much easier to set up when you are small and grow as you grow then to retroactively fit. In short and long-term it is strategically a very good fit.

BFC: And can you talk about winning the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce Green Business of the Year 2018?

GCW: We were so honored even to be a finalist – and then shocked and delighted that we were selected as the winner! The Denver Metro Chamber runs an incredible process to select their Business of the Year winners; they really help get businesses out there, they support networking, they offer amazing courses and sponsor impressive events. It’s been very validating to have recognition by such a well-run and influential group. We are small entrepreneurs, so votes of confidence are greatly appreciated personally, and to receive such a high-profile honor was impactful to our business as a whole. For the companies we were up against, we thought, “how are we supposed to compete? These are nationwide companies!” but it felt good, like all of the work we did has paid off. It was incredibly validating for the owners and for the staff.

BFC: Do you try to improve upon your impact year after year? How?

GCW: We had what we thought would be enough to brand us but we are now elaborating and expanding on that and seeking certifications that are going to credit our actions as well as show us where we need to improve. That’s what has us most excited about Best for Colorado, we can present this to our investors and say this is the standard, this is where we are and these are the tools we need to reach our goals. These certifications will guide us to being the best we can be as a company. Year after year, we’re positioning ourselves to set new standards

BFC: Shifting gears, why did you join Best for Colorado? What are you hoping to gain from this partnership?

GCW: Gleam has benefited by being a part of Colorado’s most influential networks, such as the Chamber of Commerce and the ELP program.  We believe that the company you keep, as a business, reflects on how you do business, and we always want to strive to be best in class.  We see the Best for Colorado program as a key partner in this endeavor.  Also, we like to work with other industry-leading businesses, and programs like Best for Colorado tend to attract some of the most strategically forward-thinking business owners. Gleam hopes to inspire long-term change in the car washing business, and it’s likely that a combination of legislation and state-sponsored financing mechanisms will be the vehicle for transforming all car washes from water hogs, using primarily potable water, to water treatment facilities, which preserve one of our greatest natural resources while continuing to do great business.  For this sort of industry-wide change, a program like Best for Colorado could provide resources.

Denver’s Upcoming Mayoral Election

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Whose voice do YOU want to hear on the train at DIA?

In many ways, Denver is a thriving city. US News and World Report lists Denver as the #3 Best Place to Live in the US. Our unemployment rate sits at 2.6 percent, which is 1.8 percent lower than the national average. We were recently announced as one of the winners of the Bloomberg American Cities Climate Challenge for our work to fight climate change at the local level.

However, Denver is dealing with some pretty significant challenges. For one thing, our air quality is terrible. The harsh reality for many Front Range residents is that Colorado not only flunked the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) standard set in 2015, but the state never met the older, less-strict standard from 2008. Our growing population, and the cars that come with it, are making it harder and harder to meet the EPA standards. Poor air quality affects not only people with asthma and respiratory illnesses, but also children, whose lungs are still developing. Our poor air quality is just one of a variety of challenges that the next mayor will face in their position.

Local elections often get a lot less attention than those at the national level, but that doesn’t mean they’re any less important. Denver’s upcoming mayoral election will determine much more than whose voice plays on the airport train; it will determine how our city tackles issues such as climate change, air pollution and affordable housing.

How This Vote Works

Ok, now that we have laid out why to vote, we can discuss how to vote in the upcoming mayoral election. Denver is holding its general election for mayor on May 7, 2019. In Denver, all candidates are listed on the same ballot. In the event that a candidate does not receive over 50 percent of the votes, the top two vote-getters advance to a runoff election scheduled for June 4.

Voting in the general election is relatively simple. There are two ways to vote: 1) vote by mail – ballots will be mailed on April 15, or 2) vote in person at a voting center starting April 29.

Here are a list of important dates to keep in mind:

  • April 15: Ballots begin mailing to active voters
  • April 15: 22-day residency deadline
  • April 15: Drop-boxes open across the City
  • April 29: Vote Centers open
  • May 7: Election Day
    • Voting centers open 7 a.m. – 7 p.m.
    • Ballots must be received by 7pm
  • June 4: Run-Off Election (if necessary)
    • Voting centers open 7 a.m. – 7 p.m.
    • Ballots must be received by 7 p.m.

Here at The Alliance Center, we are deeply invested in the future of Denver. We believe that local government can be a powerful force in the fight against climate change and in creating an equitable and responsible economy. As a lead-up to the 2019 mayoral election, we are hosting a Mayoral Candidate Forum at The Alliance Center on March 21. Confirmed candidates include Michael Hancock, Lisa Calderón, Marcus Giavanni, Jamie Giellis, Ken Simpson and Penfield Tate. Our forum will focus specifically on sustainability-related issues, such as transportation, climate change, pollution and affordable housing. The event is already sold-out, but there are a limited number of scholarship tickets available, and we will be livestreaming the event. Click here to learn more.

Please get out and vote in the election on May 7. Our future is in our hands, and voting is one of the best ways to make your voice heard.

The Sustainable Development Goals: What are they?

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Have you heard of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)?

Created by the United Nations, these 17 interconnected global goals are designed to create a better and more sustainable future for all.

Why are the SDGs useful?

As you may know, sustainability is incredibly complex and sometimes quite messy – it can mean many different things to  different people. The SDGs layout 17 social, economic, and environmental components of sustainability, with goals associated with each of them (see the image above). The creators of these goals set an aggressive timeline to meet these goals – 2030 – which basically means that we have 10 years to tackle issues such as poverty, gender equity, climate change and more if we want to create a better future for our kids and our grandkids.

We realize these goals are broad and can be vague at times. Rest assured these are just the titles, the UN has created 169 sub indicators that identify key areas under each of these broad and ambitious goals to use as a tool to track and measure progress.

This is a big challenge. One that will take all of us. Don’t let this aggressive timeline overwhelm or discourage you, the SDGs lay out the road map to achieve this future, we just have to roll up our sleeves and dive in.

Why is The Alliance Center working toward these goals?

We recognize that there are many organizations, governments and businesses working toward these goals, and we aim to collaborate with these leaders to make the global goals more tangible, actionable, and local to Colorado. Here at The Alliance Center, we have begun to map our work and impact to these 17 goals. We are currently undergoing an in-depth process of determining which goals we are working on and how we can legitimately track our progress toward meeting them. So far, we have determined that our work aligns with seven of the 17 goals. These seven include:

7 – Affordable and Clean Energy
9 – Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure
10 – Reduced Inequalities
11 – Sustainable Cities
12 – Responsible Consumption and Production
13 – Climate Action
17 – Partnerships for the Goals

We recognize that even 7 of the 17 goals is A LOT for any one organization to work toward. Our mission and our vision are based on strategic collaboration – which means we understand that we can never achieve these goals alone. At our heart, The Alliance Center is a collaborative working space, home to many of the leading NGOs in Colorado. We have also begun to map our tenants’ (NGOs housed in the Alliance) work to the SDGs. We aren’t sure, yet, but we expect that with the 50 or so organizations working in our building, all 17 of these ambitious goals are being meaningfully addressed. We will share much more about this process as it unfolds in 2019, so stay tuned!

As an organization, we have a lot of resources, passion, and partners to work with to achieve these goals. As an individual, you may be asking, what can I do to make a difference in the face of these ambitious targets? Don’t fret – there are tons of ways you can make a difference – right now, right here.

How can you get involved?

The SDGs are big. Really big. It can be daunting to think about how you as an individual, community member or employee can help push progress on any of these goals. Don’t fret – there is a lot you can do. The Good Life Goals are individual actions that everyone around the world can take to help meet the SDGs. The Good Life Goals are based on the idea that the power of the people matters as much as powerful people.

At The Alliance Center, we have aligned the Good Life Goals with our Act Now Initiative – creating a resource of (relatively) easy, personal actions that you can take right here, right now to contribute to a more sustainable future. This is a work in progress. If you have ideas for more actions or if you are working toward the SDGs yourself – please contact us! We look forward to building a better tomorrow with you.

Use Your Voice and Vote

Why is a sustainability-focused nonprofit weighing in on the ballot measures up for a vote in 2018? Because our democracy, our environment, and our economy are at risk, and now is the time for us to stand up and fight for them.

In 2014, the last time we held a midterm in our country, only 36 percent of eligible American voters turned out to vote. That means 64 percent of voting Americans willingly silenced themselves. Look where that got us. Fortunately, since the 2016 election, a record number of women and minorities are running for office in 2018, hoping to change the demographics of our elected positions across the country. They cannot win with without your vote.

The health of our global, national, and local environments are at stake. President Trump pulled us out of the Paris Accords. We are the only country in the world to refuse to sign the accord that is designed to tackle climate change. Our storms are getting stronger, our global temperatures are rising, and our federal leadership is attempting to revive the failing coal industry. No one thinks coal is a solution for the future. Hurricane Florence illustrated this point perfectly. The hurricane crippled electricity and coal – but solar and wind were back online the next day. Fortunately, climate action didn’t stop when Trump pulled us out of the Paris Accords. Local and regional governments are taking the lead on greenhouse gas reductions, implementing ambitious and strategic emission reduction goals. Initiatives like Proposition 110 aim to increase our ability to manage more traffic on our roads while also providing low-emission transportation options like expanded public transportation and bike lanes.

Finally, let’s talk about our economy – our president’s plan to escalate economic protectionism, heightening political and trade tensions, and waning popular support for global economic integration all point toward a softening in the world economy after 2019. Businesses and our economy can be a force for good in the world, but in irresponsible hands, they can also undermine many environmental and democratic gains. Here in Colorado, we have one of the highest concentrations of B Corps (certified socially-responsible businesses) anywhere in the world. These companies are leading the way integrating profits, people, and the planet.

Back to the ballot measures up for a vote in Colorado in 2018. Many of these measures affect the future health of our environment, our economy, and our communities. Below is a brief description of a selection of ballot measures up for a vote this year as well as our stance on each of these measures. To learn about all of the 2018 ballot measures, please click here.

The good news – it is not too late to turn this ship around. Our democracy is only as strong as its citizens. It’s time to step up, raise your voice, and be counted.

Amendment Y – Independent Commission for Congressional Redistricting Amendment – Vote YES

Amendment Y establishes an independent commission for congressional redistricting in the state.

  • By voting yes, you support this amendment to create a 12-member commission responsible for approving district maps for Colorado’s congressional districts.
  • We think you should vote yes this amendment because a fair and democratic districting process (as opposed to gerrymandering) is a core component to our sustainable democracy.

Learn more

Amendment Z – Independent Commission for State Legislative Redistricting Amendment – Vote YES

Amendment Z establishes an independent commission for state legislative redistricting.

  • By voting yes, you support this amendment to create a 12-member commission responsible for approving district maps for Colorado’s state House of Representatives and state Senate districts; establish qualifying criteria for members and restrictions on prior or current elected officials, candidates or lobbyists being members; and enact requirements for district maps.
  • We think you should vote yes on this amendment because the goal of redistricting should be to draw districts that fairly represent the interests of the communities in our state. Districts should not be drawn to advantage incumbents or to favor a political party. We argue that the best way to accomplish this goal in Colorado is through an independent commission process that is transparent, accessible to, and inclusive of, Colorado citizens.

Learn more

Amendment 73 – Establish Income Tax Brackets and Raise Taxes for Education Initiative – Vote YES

Amendment 73 establishes income tax brackets and raises taxes for an education initiative.

  • By voting yes, you support the creation of a tax bracket system instead of a flat tax rate. Taxes would be raised for individuals making more than $150,000 per year, the corporate tax would also rise, and these taxes would go into the Quality Public Education Fund to fund public schools in Colorado.
  • We think you should vote yes on this amendment because it will raise $1.6 billion a year in additional revenue for Colorado’s public schools. Revenue will be deposited in the Quality Public Education Fund to increase the statewide base per-pupil funding for all students and increase spending for special education, preschool, English language proficiency, and gifted programs, among other things.

Learn more

Amendment 74 – Compensation to Owners for Decreased Property Value Due to State Regulation Initiative – Vote NO

Amendment 74 requires that property owners be compensated for any reduction in property value caused by state laws or regulations.

  • By voting no, you do not support a measure that would charge taxpayers to compensate private property owners for virtually any decrease in the fair market value of their property traceable to any government law or regulation. While expanding property rights may sound good, this measure is incredibly broad and would have sweeping negative implications on local governments and communities across the state.
  • We think you should vote no on this measure because under this amendment taxpayers would have to pay large corporations and special interests to have reasonable rules requiring clean water or clean air, properly zoning industrial activity, or any other regulation they think is beneficial for their neighborhoods or communities.

Learn more

Proposition 109 – “Fix Our Damn Roads” Transportation Bond Initiative- Vote NO

Proposition 109 authorizes bonds for transportation projects without raising taxes.

  • By voting yes, you support this initiative to authorize $3.5 billion in bonds to fund statewide transportation projects including bridge expansion, construction, maintenance, and repairs, and require that the state repay the debt from the general fund without raising taxes.
  • We think you should vote no on this measure because it does not identify where these funds will come from out of the current tax base and has the potential to take money away from public schools and other public services paid for by state tax dollars.

Learn more

Proposition 110 – “Let’s Go Colorado” Transportation Bond and Sales Tax Increase Initiative – Vote YES

Proposition 110 authorizes bonds to pay for transportation projects and raises taxes to repay the debt

  • By voting yes, you support this initiative to authorize $6 billion in bonds to fund transportation projects, establish the Transportation Revenue Anticipation Notes Citizen Oversight Committee, and raise the state sales tax rate by 0.62 percent from 2.9 percent (2018) to 3.52 percent for 20 years starting on January 1, 2019, through January 1, 2039.
  • We support voting yes on this measure because this it will provide a stable, on-going revenue source for transportation needs throughout the state and will reduce state-wide greenhouse gas reductions in the transportation sector through the inclusion of dedicated multimodal (walk, bike, public transit) dollars (the Multimodal Transportation Options Fund).

Learn more

Proposition 111 – Limits on Payday Loan Charges Initiative- Vote YES

Proposition 111 Restricts the charges on payday loans to a yearly rate of 36 percent and eliminate all other finance charges and fees associated with payday lending.

  • By voting yes, you support this initiative to reduce the annual interest rate on payday loans to a yearly rate of 36 percent and eliminate all other finance charges and fees associated with payday lending.
  • We support voting yes on this measure because payday lenders trap Coloradans in outrageously high-cost debt. Triple-digit rates and multiple fees strip millions of dollars annually from the pockets of people across the state. Voting yes on this measure provides basic guardrails for low income families from being preyed upon by predatory lenders.

Learn more

Proposition 112 – Minimum Distance Requirements for New Oil, Gas, and Fracking Projects Initiative- Vote YES

Proposition 112 Mandates that new oil and gas development projects, including fracking, be a minimum distance of 2,500 feet from occupied buildings and other areas designated as vulnerable.

  • By voting yes, you support this initiative to set new oil and gas development, including fracking operations, to be set at least 2,500 feet away from homes, schools, hospitals, playgrounds, permanent sports fields, amphitheaters, public parks, public open space, public and community drinking water sources, irrigation canals, reservoirs, lakes, rivers, perennial or intermittent streams, and creeks, and any additional vulnerable areas designated by the state or a local government.
  • We support voting yes on this measure because it works toward safer neighborhoods, schools, and communities in Colorado. By setting oil and gas operations a safe distance away from these areas, we can reduce air pollution that affects some of our most vulnerable populations, especially children.

Learn more

Partner Post: Re:Vision

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The Alliance Center is proud to partner with organizations like Re:Vision to create a better future for all. As we prepare to break ground on our own sustainable urban garden next month, we are thrilled to share Re:Vision’s story of the incredible, life-changing impact urban gardens can have on communities.

 

At Re:Vision we believe access to healthy food is a right, not a privilege. Whether through teaching families to grow their own food with our Re:Farm program, or beginning to plant the seeds of community-owned wealth at the Westwood Food Co-Op with Re:Own, our purpose is to create a thriving, resilient community. We achieve that using a three main strategies; we cultivate community food systems (Re:Farm), develop local leaders with our Promotoras (Re:Unite), and grow community wealth by creating a locally owned economy (Re:Own). We believe by providing residents with tools, training, and inspiration, the community will come together to solve some of their most pressing issues.

In 2009, Re:Vision started working in the Westwood neighborhood of southwest Denver. Westwood is bordered by Federal to the east, Sheridan to the west, Alameda to the north and Jewell to the south. You might know the area for its amazing taquerias and Vietnamese food. What you might not know, is Westwood faces significant health and economic disparities because of decades of underinvestment and inadequate resources; 37% childhood obesity rate (compared to the state average of 27%), and while Westwood has the most residents under the age of 18, it also has the fewest open spaces and parks in Denver. The average household income is less than half the Denver average, and less than 4% of the population has a college degree. There are no supermarkets, schools are overcrowded, and it is dangerous for youth to walk through the neighborhood. Yet, despite decades of neglect, Westwood is one of Denver’s most vibrant and diverse neighborhoods, where 84% of residents are Latino, and approximately 60% of whom are first generation immigrants.

So, with all of these alarming statistics, why focus on food access and sustainability? Because that’s what the community wanted. When we spoke with residents, they mentioned a desire to be able to grow their own food as not only a means to save money on their grocery bills and improve access to and consumption of healthy foods, but also as a way to reconnect with the land. Many of our community members have agricultural backgrounds, and had to give those up in Denver’s more urban setting. They also gave up traditional ways of cooking because fresh produce, like chiles, and various herbs needed to cook certain dishes weren’t accessible, due to their price or actual availability. When budgets are limited, often times families are forced to make a choice between purchasing foods that will go a long way (think processed and shelf-stable foods) and produce. With the Re:Farm program, families don’t have to make that choice. Their gardens yield enough produce to feed the family and often times their neighbors as well. And if they have excess produce, they can take a variety of classes at our educational kitchen, La Cocina, to learn new culturally relevant farm-to-table recipes, or how to can and preserve so they can enjoy their produce year round. Families who participate in the Re:Farm program report continuing to eat more fruits and vegetables even in the off season.

What began with teaching seven families how to grow food in their own backyards, is now a thriving program changing food access in one community. To date, Re:Vision’s Re:Farm program has helped families throughout southwest Denver establish 1,765 annual gardens, collectively producing more than 500,000 pounds of fresh produce and saving those families over $1 million in grocery bills. In this current 2018 season, we have just over 260 families participating in the Re:Farm program.

 

Written by JoAnna Cintron, Re:Vision Director of Communications and Individual Giving

A Case for Optimism

I recently attended the Climate Leadership Conference in Denver and I had the opportunity to hear Carl Pope (former Executive Director of The Sierra Club) speak about his new book, Climate of Hope. Mr. Pope started his speech, and his book (written in collaboration with Mayor Michael Bloomberg), by noting that it is easy to […]