Riding revolution

Local green businesses walk the walk when it comes to offering incentives to employees who bike to work

Ross Simmons, an associate engineer at NorthStar Engineering, advises that it takes just one dedicated bicyclist to get others on board.

Ross Simmons, an associate engineer at NorthStar Engineering, advises that it takes just one dedicated bicyclist to get others on board.

Photo By kyle delmar

Challenge yourself:
Get your company involved by joining the Chico Bike Challenge! Just log onto www.chicobikechallenge.org and click on “Registration” to create a workplace team.

These days, it’s hip to be green. That’s especially true for businesses, which often rely on their public image to keep them thriving. But how many companies put as much emphasis on walking the walk as talking the talk? As it turns out, through incentive programs for employees biking to work, quite a few Chico firms do just that.

Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. has made a name for itself not only locally, but also globally as a company whose roots run deep in the sustainability movement. As an avid cyclist, owner Ken Grossman rides his bike from his home in Forest Ranch to the brewery in Chico a couple times a month, says sustainability coordinator Mandi McKay. That commitment to bicycling, along with incentives like prizes for those who ride often, has easily spread to the rest of the staff.

“Cycling for him is fun, it’s great exercise, an awesome alternative mode of transportation,” McKay said of Grossman. “Obviously he’s willing to put a lot of money into incentives. It’s pretty awesome to have the owner [of your company] involved as much as he is.”

Employees at Sierra Nevada—there are more than 300 based in Chico—have the opportunity to make a pledge based on either biking to work, biking to run errands or biking for fun. Then, each quarter McKay sends out an e-mail to everyone who pledged to see who met their marks. Those who did get entered into a drawing for gift certificates to local bike shops.

“At the end of the year, if you met your pledge for the entire year, you get a new bike, or $500 toward a new bike,” McKay said.

The program, dubbed Green Machine, has about 40 percent staff participation, meaning a huge number of Sierra Nevada employees are actively working to bike more and drive less.

“I have been bike commuting to the brewery for more than 25 years because it is the right thing to do,” said Steve Dresler, brew master at Sierra Nevada. “One of the many great things about Sierra Nevada is that it raises its employees’ awareness about sustainable and healthy practices and then backs it up by supporting programs such as Green Machine with staff and resources. This is truly a special place to be.”

Sierra Nevada took first place in the large-business category last year in the city of Chico’s annual Bike Challenge, and it’s looking to defend its title this year. The month-long challenge offers points based on how many miles employees log during May, and businesses also get ranked on their incentive programs for biking to work—like Sierra Nevada’s gift certificates, bike parking, showers and space for storing helmets and other gear.

But big businesses aren’t the only ones jumping on the biking bandwagon. Others, like Premier West Bank, ChicoBag and (surprise!) many of the local bike shops offer incentives such as food and snacks for challenge participants, starting the work day (that is, getting paid) when you pedal out of your driveway and prizes for active bikers. Medium-sized NorthStar Engineering ranked No. 1 last year in its division for being the most bike-friendly business, based on programs like having two bikes on site that any employee can borrow, monetary prizes for a year-long commitment, and barbecues and other special events during the challenge.

“Personally, I ride a bike every day rain or shine all year long,” said Ross Simmons, associate engineer at NorthStar. “That’s the little bit I can do toward saving resources and passing something better on to our kids.”

NorthStar, an engineering, surveying, planning and environmental firm with 29 employees, is committed to sustainability much in the way Sierra Nevada is, so it’s no surprise the employees are just as jazzed about biking to work as their brewing counterparts.

“We’ve generally been aiming toward a greener everything,” Simmons said. “Our offices were designed to LEED standards before it was cool. We try to promote sustainability in everything we do—from design to how we live our own lives.”

During the Chico Bike Challenge, Simmons estimates, NorthStar has 80 percent participation. Employees make a chart board to encourage competition within their ranks, and offer barbecues and prizes for the person who rides the farthest or logs the most miles. Year-round, however, there are always two communal bikes on the premises for people who want to bike during lunch, and there’s a $50 bonus for anyone who bikes to work more than 50 days in a calendar year.

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“I’ve found that it really just takes one very active person in the office to spearhead a movement,” Simmons said. “Incentives are a great way of getting people involved, and bike month is a great trial period, to realize that you can do it—it’s not that bad and it’s fun.”