Seeing Green

Posted on March 1, 2013 by

Making eco-friendly updates to your studio can help save money and the environment.

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While recycling and reducing waste are the most popular ways to create a green workplace around a dance studio, many owners are also focusing their sustainable efforts on installing energy-efficient systems, using recycled products in design and improving indoor air quality.

“Athletes need clean indoor air and a toxin-free practice space for optimum performance,” says Sarah Barnard, a green-expert designer and a LEED-accredited professional by the U.S. Green Building Council. “Investing in sustainable improvements not only demonstrates a commitment to the environment, but also to student dancers’ health.”

A recent report by the Office Depot Small Business Index shows that 61 percent of small businesses are actively trying to go greener, and 70 percent anticipate becoming more environmentally conscious in the next two years. But going green is more than a hip trend to latch onto. A dance studio that makes sustainability a priority can also save money, thanks to federal and state tax breaks or rebates from the government: For example, a federal tax deduction up to $1.80 per square foot is available for commercial buildings that save at least 50 percent of the heating and cooling energy of a building, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. (Check with your tax advisor and visit energystar.gov to learn more.)

It’s common to initiate going green by cutting down on paper products, putting schedules, handbooks and registration forms online. While that’s a great start and cost-effective, it’s just the beginning. Converting your current lighting to LED bulbs and installing motion-sensor bathroom or dressing room light switches can cut down on energy usage and costs, letting you put the savings into your business. But if a slightly larger renovation is in the cards for you, reducing energy use, improving access to natural light and enhancing indoor air quality can help you save significant money on utilities and keep your dancers healthier through the years.

Reduce Energy Use with Natural Light

Heather Harris purposely thought of ways to help the environment when she was building her studio, Rush Studio of Dance in Edwardsville, Illinois, last year—and that meant thinking big. “When we were looking for materials for the building, we found a hotel that was looking to throw away wooden pallets, so we were able to use those for the walls and it cut costs dramatically, saving us thousands of dollars,” Harris says.

One large-scale change that can help a studio go green, Barnard says, is to add skylights and/or solar tubes (roof-installed cylinders that channel daylight into rooms) to increase natural light without the distraction of street-facing windows. Solar tubes are often much cheaper than skylights, since they don’t require major renovations.

In the next five years, Harris is also hoping to implement solar panels and is finding ways to save for this improvement through smaller green measures. “We have reduced the amount of electricity we use with more efficient appliances, saving about $300 a year. We use iPads for our paperwork and communication and continue to keep our energy consumption low,” she says. “Our goal is to increase our use of recyclable materials to at least 90 percent in our infrastructure and materials, and we’re well on our way to reaching this standard.”

The amount of money the studio spends on paper has also dramatically dropped, going to $20 a quarter from $800, thanks to doing all registration online, conducting all credit card transactions in e-format and eliminating all paper, except for class cards. “It’s so much more efficient to go paperless,” she says. “Students and their families love the convenience and the commitment to green, so it’s been a great marketing strategy, too.”

Update Your Heating and Cooling Systems

Adding a bipolar ionization air-purification device in air-conditioning and heating systems results in significantly healthier indoor air quality in dance studios, says Tony Abate, a certified indoor environmentalist and vice president of operations at AtmosAir Solutions in Fairfield, Connecticut. “The average studio can be a breeding ground for mold, dust, odors, bacteria and airborne viruses due to poor air filtration and ventilation systems, which leads to dancers breathing poor air,” he says. “It can cause illness, from simple colds to the flu. Plus poor indoor air quality can create terrible smells and odors.”

AtmosAir Solutions has installed its clean indoor air devices in the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater facilities in Manhattan. It’s a change that The Ailey Studios facility manager Michael Canarozzi says has made a noticeable difference. “In addition to helping the studios and locker rooms stay fresh-smelling, it has noticeably eliminated visible dust,” he says.

The price for such a system is 80–90 cents per square foot, which can get expensive for larger spaces. But Jerry Lawson, national manager for small business and congregations network of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s ENERGY STAR, says there are less expensive ways to improve air quality without a total system overhaul. “First and foremost, during heating and cooling seasons, filters should be cleaned or replaced monthly. Not only will this save you money, it will also improve your air,” he says. You can also purchase portable air purifiers (roughly $50–$300)—and remember to buy extra air filters.

Encourage Students to Make Eco-Friendly Choices

Cynthia King of Cynthia King Dance Studio in Brooklyn, New York, expanded her space last year and is moving into 6,000 square feet later this spring. “We’re working with Build It Green! [a New York City–based nonprofit retail outlet for salvaged and surplus building materials] to use recycled, repurposed products. All our lockers, fixtures and lighting will be coming from there,” King says. (To find re-use centers or previously used building materials across the United States, visit loadingdock.org/redo or planetreuse.com.)

A dedicated animal rights activist, King maintains a vegan experience at her studio. “Livestock is the primary contributor to greenhouse gases,” she says, citing a 2006 United Nations report. “By moving to a plant-based diet and refraining from using animal products in our everyday lives, we can improve the world at large.” King offers vegan food at all studio events and recitals, and leather shoes cannot be worn in her studio. Instead, her students wear Cynthia King vegan ballet slippers made from canvas with a nonslip, nonleather sole, which King created and sells online, in her studio and through a few retailers internationally. Jazz and modern students dance barefoot or wear synthetic or canvas shoes, and tap and hip-hop students are required to wear synthetic, leather-free shoes or sneakers.
King also planted butterfly-friendly flowers in front of her studio, as part of the Brooklyn Butterfly Project, an initiative to support bird and butterfly travel between neighborhoods. Young students love the garden, and by cultivating it, King is educating dancers about the environment and the responsibility we all share to preserve it. DT

Keith Loria is a freelance business writer based in Virginia.

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