Every year on Earth Day, people take the time to celebrate our planet and everyone who works for its betterment.
Today, I’d like to share what we’re doing at Paragon to promote sustainability. We’ve quietly done a lot over the years and I’d like to share our story and efforts, not to toot our own horn, but to inspire other people and businesses and show what’s possible. Did you know we recently moved into a 150 year old church that sat vacant for a decade and its now a super energy efficient space with net zero energy usage? More on that later.
Why Do We Care So Much About Sustainability and the Environment?
We don’t do these things for attention or reputation, it’s not part of some big corporate social responsibility campaign. It’s one of our core values, Invested in People, Planet and Community. We do what we do because we believe it’s the right thing to do and it’s important to think about our impact on the community and the legacy we are leaving for our children and grandchildren. We see much of what we do as investments in our future, and a lot of the decisions we’ve made are not only good for the planet and the right thing to do but also just make good business and financial sense.
Our Awesome Community
I believe the first part of being sustainable is being involved in your community and supporting local businesses. A strong and resilient community that’s investing in the future is key to building a sustainable future.
There are so many great things going on in our community including sustainable transportation, amazing bike and walking paths, local farms and food, incredible local businesses doing their part and so much more.
Keene Sustainable Energy Plan
We’re lucky to live, work and play in a community that shares our passion for the environment. I’m a member of the City of Keene’s Energy and Climate Change Committee which is working towards a very ambitious goal to get 100% renewable energy by 2030 (that’s our office on the cover of the plan!)
What Are We Doing?
Composting and Recycling
With the help of the great people at Elm City Compost Initiative, we are recycling and composting most of our waste. Most weeks we send one small bag of trash to the landfill, everything else gets recycled or composted. With commercial compositing, pretty much any food waste, coffee grounds, food containers made of paper/cardboard and paper towels can be composted. We’ve even found compostable k-cups for that late afternoon cup of coffee when it doesn’t make sense to brew a whole pot of Prime Roast (<— they deliver their coffee on an e-bike in a compostable bag!) Our commercial composting service costs about the same as a standard garbage collection plan and they take our trash, recycling and compost.
Biking, Walking & Location
We decided to keep our office in downtown Keene with sustainability in mind. This promotes walking on breaks and keeps many options for lunch and errands within walking distance. Our fleet of office bikes expands our range, team members can grab a bike for a quick errand or a spin around town. We’re planning on adding a public bike station out front in the near future too.
We make our processes paperless whenever we can. Our invoicing and bookkeeping is almost entirely paperless, our record keeping and filing is done with PDFs. It’s never been easier to come up with online forms or digital signatures that eliminate paper and printing altogether. And it’s so much easier to search a folder for a PDF than to dig through a pile of paper. This saves time, money and trees.
In our small city, it’s not possible to buy a lot of what we need from local businesses but we find ways to support local businesses whenever we can. We buy coffee for the office that’s roasted locally, we have CSAs from local farms delivered to the office, order business lunches from local restaurants that share our passion for local and buy beer for the office from local breweries.
Not only are these goods produced locally, which helps create a strong and resilient community, they aren’t trucked in from the across the country and they are great products that we are so lucky to have produced in our community.
Our Energy Efficient Office Space
The story of our office space is a long one but I hope it shows that thinking outside the box a little and putting in some elbow grease can reap great benefits. In our case, we saved an 11,000 square foot historic church on the National Register of Historic Places and gave it a new energy efficient future and plenty of space for our business to grow. And we did it all for just a little more than we were paying in rent.
Solar Panels, 105 of them!
Our first step in reviving our future home was getting some good clean power. With the help of NH Community Development Finance Authority and the awesome people at Revision Energy, we covered our south facing roof with 105 solar panels. We have a 33.6 kWp solar array that harnesses the power of sun to produce more power than we need to heat, cool and power our operations. The extra power is fed back into the grid to supply our neighbors with clean renewal energy.
How much power does 105 solar panels produce? In March of 2021, we produced over 4.8Mwh of power. That’s almost enough to power 5 average American households for an entire year. In a year, we produce enough power to brew 2,229,866 cups of Prime Roast Coffee (yes, we are obsessed with Prime Roast).
A lot of resources and energy go into creating a new building and that creates a lot of waste. Before building a new building or tearing down an old one, look for creative ways to adapt an old building for a new use. Two large churches once stood across the street from ours, unfortunately, they were demolished in the 1960s. Can you imagine how much waste must of been hauled away from those demolition sites? We’ve saved this one and given it a new energy efficient and sustainable future, hopefully for another 150 years.
Air Source Heat Pumps
Our space is heated and cooled by air source heat pumps/mini splits. Our new energy efficient heat pumps work like air conditioners in reverse, pulling heat from the outside air and bringing it inside. It’s a lot more efficient to move heat in or out of the building than it is to create heat by burning fuel or using electric heat. These new heat pumps can pull heat from the outside air even when it’s -20 degrees outside! Your power company probably has some nice rebates on these systems. They were a bit tricky to install in our 150 year old building but totally worth it. We are comfortable year-round and don’t have a heating bill.
With the help of team members, friends, family and even some clients, we installed 500 bags of cellulose insulation. The insulation was made with recycled fiber and blow-in to make a great barrier from the cold NH winters and help stop cold air from infiltrating our cozy office space.
State of the Art Air Sealing
All the insulation in the world won’t do any good if you have cold air blowing through your space. We called up Zone 6 Energy in Vermont to help us with air sealing. They use a state of the art air sealing technology called Aerobarrier. It’s like fix-a-flat for a building. They pressurized the space with blower doors and used computer controlled sprayers that look like mini snow making guns to blow a latex mist into the air. When the mist finds a leak in the building it accelerates because the space is pressurized and sticks to the edges of the holes until it seals them up. We were able to get our space down to 1.03 ACH@50Pa or just over 1 air change per hour, that’s like passive house standards and pretty amazing for a 150+ year building that had the wind literally blowing through it when we started.
Lighting, Windows & Water
We installed energy efficient LED lighting, smart switches and automation to reduce electricity usage.
New energy efficient windows replaced the old drafty windows that were covered with yellowed plexiglass on the first floor.
Water saving faucets, dishwasher and toilets completed our project.
Conclusion – Smart Business, Good for Planet Earth
Overall, we have about $600,000 invested into an 11,000 square foot office. We could not have bought or built any other comparable space in Keene for anywhere near that amount, probably not even for double that amount. With the help of Savings Bank of Walpole, NH CDFA and NH Business Finance Authority we were able to accomplish this transformation financially. Our mortgage payments are only a little more than we were paying in rent and we have no heating bills. In about 8 years, we’ll have paid off the renovations and solar panels. That will leave us with maintenance and a small water bill.
It was a lot of work and a lot of people helped along the way but it was completely worth it. Our impact on the environment has been reduced significantly, we have a ton of space to grow, the only utility bill we have is a small water bill. I could not have asked for a better outcome financially or environmentally.