Too Cool for School? HII’s Quest to Find Out Which Stores Will Close Their Doors

Any New Yorker walking down Broadway between Canal and Prince during the summer months will feel the gusts of frigid air conditioning blasting out of open shop doors. While admittedly, the cool air feels nice (especially during the most recent heat wave), it is not only a huge drain on electricity bills for stores (they can save 25 % on their Con Edison bill if they keep the doors shut — that’s roughly $1,000 in just one summer!), they can also reduce theirCO2 emissions by up to one ton in a single summer and decrease air pollution. Not to mention that it is illegal for businesses that are more than 4,000 square feet to leave shop doors open with the air conditioning on.

This prompted the Human Impacts Institute (HII) to ask, “Is there a single business that actually keeps its doors closed?” In search of an answer, as well as propelled by the goal of inspiring action, HII hit the pavement on a recent July evening. Most of the shopkeepers with whom we spoke, however, were not impressed with our reasoning. Their answers to why they feel the need to “cool the streets” ran the gamut (some were even downright strange), but they were all unified by a single theme: money. “We’ll lose customers because they’ll think the store is closed when the doors are closed,” one store manger explained. Many echoed this sentiment. One owner said that customers didn’t want to exert the effort to push the door open. This last one in particular perplexed us. HII suggested they put up a sign saying, “We’re open! Come on in and cool off!” Some of the staff considered this. But still, many did not want to budge on the issue, for fear of losing potential buyers — or were not in a position to make such a call. “You need to speak with corporate,” we were told repeatedly.

After a couple blocks of conversations with the people who worked in the stores, a pattern emerged – what HII realized was that it was more an issue of overcoming a mindset that had taken root and solidified among the individuals who ran these businesses; once one store left their doors open, others followed suit, feeling that they had to “keep up” with the competition. We explained that one brave, intrepid soul needed to step forward and take a stand. A few did. We were pleased with this outcome for our first day of outreach (and in only one hour!). We’re eager to sign up more “Cool Businesses” in Soho and beyond

Cool Biz is part of the larger HII pilot program, Ecopreneurs, whose aim is to incetivize local businesses to partake in more sustainable practices, such as installing bike racks and adopting the trees in front of their stores. (To date, HII has signed up twelve local businesses to adopt trees, in partnership with MillionTreesNYC!)

Look for shout-outs to the pledged stores coming up on HII’s website, facebook andtwitter!

By Julia Goldstein, Human Impacts Institute, NGO Management Intern, 2012

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