MARSHALL - Making the community a better place doesn't have to take heroic efforts. Small changes and a little creativity can make a big difference.
"It's about doing the best you can," said Tom Hoff, coordinator of the Marshall GreenStep program. "We're about trying to make Marshall a clean, efficient place to live."
Formed last spring, Marshall GreenStep is dedicated to improving efficiency, saving money and improving the local environment. Organizers are also hoping to get the community involved, and they're kicking off their first big project: recognizing local businesses taking their own "green" steps.
"We really want to try and encourage local businesses to look at different areas," where they could become more efficient or help the environment, Hoff said. "Maybe using less fossil fuel, maybe recycling more, or using energy more efficiently." There are many different and creative ways to take part, he said.
The Marshall GreenStep Committee had its origins with a group of local citizens. The committee was officially formed in March, when the Marshall City Council approved a request for Marshall to become a GreenStep City.
GreenStep Cities is a statewide program that recognizes cities for environmentally- friendly actions and improved efficiency. GreenStep Cities are named based on participation in a list of best practices, ranging from planning for sustainable growth to installing energy-efficient lighting and encouraging recycling.
"Cities around the state of Minnesota have been doing a lot of creative things," said Hoff. Often, cities will save money in the process.
Since March, Marshall committee members have met to plan opportunities to help get more people involved and raise the city's GreenStep rating. The GreenStep Business program is the first major result of that work.
To become a GreenStep Business, Marshall businesses can submit a form tallying up their environmentally-friendly practices on a points system. For example, actions like recycling printer toner and inkjet cartridges, and replacing incandescent light bulbs with more efficient bulbs, are each worth two points. Using renewable energy sources at a business, or recycling used cooking oil, is worth three points. Businesses with a total of at least 15 points are eligible for recognition.
Committee member Erin Raveling said application forms are available to download on the Marshall GreenStep website, www.marshallgreenstep.org.
Several local organizations and businesses, including the American Legion club, Marshall Municipal Utilities, the Southwest/West Central Service Cooperative and the Marshall Area Chamber of Commerce are already participating in the program, committee members said.
One of the fun things about the points system is that it provides a challenge, committee members said. Participating businesses can keep trying to improve their scores.
And, Hoff said, "Part of the application is, we're asking for people's stories." Businesses taking part in the GreenStep program can suggest ways to help local businesses become "greener" or more efficient, or share their own strategies and successes. Eventually, committee members hope to share some of those stories on the Marshall GreenStep website.
"We want to make it an awareness thing," said committee member Sharon Root. In the future, group members also want to help with community education and outreach efforts.
Hoff said the Marshall GreenStep Committee is also happy to have additional members join the group. Current committee members include representatives from the city, the Marshall Area Chamber of Commerce, Southwest Minnesota State University, the Statewide Health Improvement Program, MMU and other organizations.
More information on the Minnesota GreenStep Cities program, including participating cities' action plans, is available online at greenstep.pca.state.mn.us.