The energy efficiency tenant Featured

10:00am EDT July 22, 2002
Part 1 of 2

Most small businesses spend too much money on energy. Naturally, they’re more concerned about operating their businesses and making profits than they are about their energy costs. Many small business owners assume there is not much they can do about these costs, so they ignore them. But keeping an eye on those costs can have a positive influence on the bottom line.

Almost 70 percent of small businesses are tenants. Some pay their own utility bills, others have the cost included in their rent. One way or another, they are all responsible for their utilities, and all can profit from energy-efficiency upgrades.

One way to curtail costs is to invest in the EPA’s Energy Star Small Business program, which helps small business owners upgrade their energy efficiency. Savings from these upgrades average about 30 percent per year. Each month small business owners operate inefficient equipment, they lose savings they never regain. They could use these savings as the down payment on new energy-efficient equipment.

Here are some additional easy, inexpensive—and in some cases free—ways to make money on energy efficiency efforts.

Marketing adds profits by increasing sales

If you advertise your business as energy efficient, you may increase your sales. Some customers would rather buy from a business that uses energy efficiently and improves the environment. Several national surveys indicate about 76 percent of respondents would purchase goods and services from firms working to improve the environment. Also, 65 percent said they would switch if a comparable brand were better for the environment. In your advertising, stress that decreasing energy consumption prevents pollution and helps prevent global warming by reducing emissions of greenhouse gases from power generation plants.

Not all upgrades are expensive

Contrary to what you may have heard, energy-efficiency upgrades do not have to be expensive. Several low-cost solutions—and some that cost nothing—can generate significant savings for a small business.

Low-cost upgrade options:

  • Caulk and weather-strip windows and doors;

  • Install programmable thermostats;

  • Install occupancy sensors in conference rooms or other areas not continuously occupied;

  • Replace incandescent light bulbs with more efficient ones, such as compact fluorescents;

  • Install awnings, window shades, or window films to keep out summer sun and reduce air-conditioning costs;

  • Fix leaky faucets and toilets to conserve water.

No-cost upgrade options:

  • Purchase Energy Star-labeled office equipment that uses less electricity and doesn’t cost any more than other office equipment;

  • Adjust thermostats when space is unoccupied;

  • Turn off lights in unoccupied rooms;

  • Take advantage of winter daylight by leaving window blinds open;

  • Disconnect unnecessary or unused equipment.

Environmental benefit

Reducing energy used by small businesses reduces pollutants released into the air. Reducing electricity use decreases hours of operation of electric generation plants. Many plants produce large quantities of carbon dioxide, one of a group of greenhouse gases that are the primary cause of global climate change.

Other emissions from electric power plants contribute to both acid rain and smog. During the summer, emergency rooms in the larger metropolitan areas are often filled with people with respiratory complaints.

According to the EPA, about 50 percent of the U.S. population breathes polluted air at least part of the year. EPA data indicates that approximately $45 billion is spent each year on health care as a direct result of air pollution. Therefore, using energy more efficiently not only improves air quality, but it can also reduce health care costs.

Robert J. Smith is senior project engineer with Aspen Systems Corp. in Rockville, Md.