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United Helpers saves the environment — and some cash — with sustainability efforts

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OGDENSBURG — Sustainability isn’t just about saving the Earth; it’s also about saving a buck.

Though the United Helpers Management Co. implemented its energy savings and waste reduction measures to lessen its environmental impact, it also became a more efficient workplace, said David S. Wurzburg, chief information officer for the company.

“Ultimately, it really does come down to doing what is best for us, our kids and the future — but one added benefit is you can enjoy significant cost savings,” he said.

The company started by forming a sustainability committee to lead its efforts.

United Helpers received energy audits from the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority and National Grid, which found areas where the company could cut back energy consumption, Mr. Wurzburg said.

“We have participated in grants that had a third party come in and do energy audits,” he said. “We are pursuing several more through NYSERDA. They come in and look at our appliances and tell us what we can replace to save electricity.”

The practices, originally implemented on the Maplewood campus in Canton, led to savings of $93,000 in the first year. The practices have been expanded throughout the company since then, United Helpers Chief Executive Officer Stephen E. Knight said.

“Last year we saved $250,000 out of our energy budget,” he said.

Mr. Wurzburg said the United Helpers also is enacting common-sense, energy-saving measures.

“It is little things, too, like changing settings on a television,” he said. “Most TVs are set for best picture when they come from a store, but that is not necessarily the best setting to save energy. It might not seem like much, but when you consider 50 to100 TVs, it adds up.”

The company also innovates to cut energy use, including the installation of a photo-thermal water heating system in Ogdensburg, which uses three solar panels to concentrate the sun’s energy, heating water off the grid.

United Helpers also has investigated biomass heating and an anaerobic solid-waste digester to help supplement its energy use.

Recycling and composting have reduced the amount of trash produced on each campus, lowering their costs for garbage removal.

“Zero-sort helps that cause immensely,” Mr. Wurzburg said. “If people really started to recycle properly, then their trash would be a quarter full versus a recycle bin of the same size.”

Composted material is used on the grounds of the company’s campuses.

Through employee education, United Helpers also has reduced the amount of trash it produces, spokeswoman Cinnamon M. Alberto said.

“I can’t even tell you how much education took place,” she said. “I don’t think there was any person who was not touched by massive amounts of information about recycling, how to recycle and what can be recycled.”

Mr. Wurzburg said employees were receptive to the education efforts but were egged on by the creative thinking of the company’s administrators.

“We’ve had different competitions among our 35 locations,” he said. “One of them was ‘who can reduce their energy use the most,’ and we measured kilowatt-hours.”

The competitions fostered an atmosphere of teamwork, one where employees at each campus made sustainability a collective priority.

“I can’t emphasize the employees’ involvement,” he said. “It is a contagious thing. Once somebody gets the sustainability bite and gets what it is about, it kind of snowballs from there. Folks get excited and, by association, more conscientious about it and want to educate their neighbors.”

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