Customers who visit the Bimbo Bakeries USA outlet in Gastonia will get an education in water harvesting when they buy baked goods. The outlet uses a cistern and rain garden to catch the rainfall that would otherwise wash across the parking lot.
Plant manager Jay Kuhn said the company contacted the Gaston County Cooperative Extension office to see about installing a rain garden after a company leader learned about them during a class offered by a N.C. State University agent.
“A big corporate intent is being good stewards of the environment,” Kuhn said. “Quite frankly, I didn’t realize that our No. 1 pollutant is storm water.”
The rain garden works by attaching a cistern to one of the gutters. The cistern collects water that can be used to water the rain garden, which is full of native plants that can handle both dry and soggy conditions. Gastonia workers dug out the expanse for the rain garden, which is about the size that homeowners would install in their own homes.
“This is the first step,” Kuhn said. “It’s been an amazing educational process for all of us here at the plant.”
The company is talking about some other ways to be more environmentally friendly, such as collecting water from the plant that can be used to wash trucks. He wants to be able to create a plan that would allow the company to do a different project each year.
Bimbo Bakeries plans to put up a sign that provides more details about the rain garden so customers can learn more about the environmental endeavor. Kuhn said he’d like to see school groups come by to take a look.
“Our company’s really excited,” Kuhn said. “This hasn’t happened at any of our other plants.”
Sixteen people from the Cleveland County master gardeners class installed the rain garden as a way to gain hours and become master gardeners. N.C. State University and the USDA National Institute for Food and Agriculture partnered with the Gaston County Cooperative Extension and Bimbo Bakeries on the installation.
Gaston County Cooperative Extension horticulture agent Julie Flowers said she hoped more businesses would think about installing rain gardens.
“It’s very easy, and it’s very cost efficient, about $5 per square foot to install,” Flowers said.
About 61 percent of small businesses are trying to go greener and 70 percent of small businesses anticipated becoming more environmentally conscious over the next two years, according to the Office Depot Small Business Index.
The most popular way to conserve was by recycling more. Reducing waste, buying energy-efficient products, buying recycled products, seeking non-toxic products and reducing water use were other ways that small businesses tried to be more eco-friendly.
“Many people think that going greener will cost more, but that’s not necessarily the case,” said Yalmaz Siddiqui, chief green advocate at Office Depot. “Customers can look at purchasing energy-efficient lights and computers, remanufactured printer cartridges and a wide range of greener supplies that cost less than less-green alternatives.”
Otis Whitehurst, co-owner of AO Alternative Energy in Bessemer City, has a business that installs energy producing systems based on solar, wind and water power. Companies can reduce their costs and be more environmentally friendly by making their business more energy efficient. Companies can install more efficient windows, caulk around windows and look for lights, fans and appliances that are more energy efficient.
“And then if somebody wants to make an investment longer term, there’s solar panels,” Whitehurst said.
Many of the ways to be more energy efficient build up over time, Whitehurst said. If a company saves $30 a month on a light or electric bill, it adds up to $360 a year and $1,800 over five years, resulting in big savings in the long run.