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The mission of Local First Arizona (LFA) is to build equitable systems for Arizona’s local businesses and communities that create a vibrant, inclusive and sustainable Arizona economy by strengthening, supporting and celebrating entrepreneurship, rural and urban community development, racial equity, environmental action and food access. 

Over its history, LFA has responded to the needs of local small business owners and the whole community in collectively identifying gaps and barriers in the path to building a vibrant, inclusive economy. Last year the pandemic revealed the many significant existing disparities for small, local businesses and organizations, including access to funding, investment, capacity and sustainability. There is a major needs gap that leaves small local businesses and nonprofits more vulnerable to immediate and long-term effects of economic and green energy disparities, including water and energy availability and costs, as well as future natural and other emergencies.  

LFA’s SCALE UP is an award-winning, Arizona-focused program for environmental sustainability project planning, leading to cost savings and community impact. Businesses progress from project planning to development, access low-interest lending and work collaboratively to implement projects during the program. Through the program, a seven-week workshop series focuses on business resiliency, climate action, and community benefits, specifically on essential strategies for energy, water, waste, transportation, green teams and social impact for sustainability that enhance customer and employee engagement. LFA supports participants to more directly address and better prepare for the climate crisis and related challenges such as extreme heat, rising energy costs, and water shortages. During COVID-19, the entire program has been conducted remotely and over 40 businesses and organizations have gone through the program in the last year. Each participant is developing a unique project plan to reduce energy and water usage, waste, and/or transportation, along with planning for other green strategies.  

An example of an exciting new SCALE UP project is Harris Fletcher Enterprises. Herman Harris Jr. and Randiesia Fletcher are disabled veterans who experienced long-term poverty as children and are now creating solutions for those experiencing financial, housing and food insecurities. They completed the first 2020 cohort of SCALE UP and continue to develop their plan with the support of LFA and a University of Arizona College of Architecture, Planning and Landscape Architecture (CAPLA) team. These community leaders decided to commit to a holistic project representing all of the areas of SCALE UP and emphasizing social equity throughout the process. They have been working to make important improvements to their property and site to reduce carbon emissions and to meet and exceed the minimum SCALE UP goal of 20% percent reductions while also incorporating equity, resiliency, and community engagement into their plan with the larger goal to create a green space and living lab for community learning.

The Harris Fletcher Enterprises team is building an affordable housing project for those experiencing situational poverty, more specifically for American Descendants of Slaves (ADOS), refugees and veterans. Their goal here is for this building to be a model environmental sustainability project emphasizing natural building methods, including embodied carbon, and connected to the work of local business Natural Building Works. The long-term goal of this project is to provide sustainable low-income housing, and they wanted to learn more about how to do this work through SCALE UP to be a community model. 

Ultimately, they want this affordable green housing to bring hope to communities and people in need. They plan to only use ENERGY STAR and WaterSense appliances and plant edible fruit trees to create an urban food forest. This comprehensive plan will result in a projected 25%-50% energy savings, which is also a significant cost savings. The edible fruit trees as part of the urban food forest will also reduce the heat island effect. They launched by working with Watershed Management Group to develop a conceptual design of their property and now plan to install bike racks and eventually solar and an electric vehicle charging station. This project site will serve as an environmentally sustainable living lab for hands-on project learning for SCALE UP participants and the community. They are currently seeking additional support on the visionary project, including expertise and in-kind donations, and can be contacted at harrisfletcherenterprises@gmail.com. 

Partners on the SCALE UP program include the State of Arizona, Community Investment Corporation, Growth Partners Arizona, Ecoblue, Watershed Management Group, Mrs. Green’s World, University of Arizona CAPLA, and the Southern Arizona Green Business Alliance. 

Learn more about Harris Fletcher Enterprises at harrisfletcher.com. 

Learn about the SCALE UP program at localfirstaz.com/scale-up.

Learn more about Local First Arizona’s sustainability programs at

 localfirstaz.com/environmental-action. 

Learn more about Local First Arizona at localfirstaz.com. 

Michael Peel is statewide sustainability director for Local First Arizona. He can be contacted at mike@localfirstaz.com.