By Anna Salinas, H-T Intern
PALMETTO - After a yearlong stream of eco-friendly changes, Southeastern Guide Dogs is running with the growing pack of businesses seeking out savings by embracing green energy alternatives.
And helping the planet is a nice bonus, too.
The Palmetto-based nonprofit began by buying organic dog food and soon followed up the switch with another one, opting to use only organic cleaning supplies.
There's even talk of shifting to dog dropping-powered energy within the next five years.
But the biggest change so far is attached to the roof of Southeastern's breeding facility. For $16,000, the organization installed a solar-powered water heating system to the building, where staff members wash 18 loads of towels, blankets and bedding each day.
"It's an attempt to be green, which is shorthand for doing the right thing," said Patsy French, the organization's director of development and communication.
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As one of 10 campuses in the country that trains guide dogs, Southeastern offers 10-year programs free of charge for blind and visually impaired individuals. The organization relied partly on charitable grants to pay for the water heater.
The new unit uses the sun's rays to pump water from a storage tank into three collectors, where it is then heated and returned to the tank. Southeastern's solar unit is three times bigger than those typically used by private homes, said Bains.
And Southeastern plans to go even greener in the next few years.
Once it raises enough money, the organization expects to install another set of collectors on its administrative building. Before that, Southeastern will invest in a set of eco-friendly light-emitting diode, or LED, bulbs to replace the less-efficient ones that currently light the 23-acre campus at night.
The organization's more ambitious plans include working with researchers from the University of Florida's College of Veterinary Medicine to explore the potential of bio-gas-powered energy -- or as French called it, "poop power."
French added that such a system was at least three or four years away from viability, but still worth looking out for.
"Obviously we have a lot of dog waste," she said, "and it would be wonderful if we could turn it to use."