The power within Featured

7:00pm EDT December 26, 2008

The days are long past that energy was so cheap you could afford to waste it. Now, financial and environmental concerns have made saving energy a priority for every business. When done right, you can expect to achieve a savings of 20 to 30 percent off your current monthly utility bill, with minimal investment.

Getting started on saving can be as simple as making employees aware that energy efficiency is a priority for your company. Employees who regularly turn off lights and computers at home don’t bring that same mindset to work. By recruiting employees to help manage your company’s energy usage, you can start to save money.

Seventy-nine percent of readers surveyed by Smart Business say they expect energy costs to continually increase over the next 12 to 18 months. Full dedication to efficiency is necessary to maximize savings because energy experts say halfhearted efforts get similar results.

“At a time when most CEOs are thinking about how to keep their doors open because of the economy, they should consider energy efficiency to help with today’s problems and prevent some for tomorrow,” says Ron Casteel, executive vice president, Sovereign Homes.

Why managing energy use is important

Energy efficiency is a prime example of what you don’t know can hurt you. Few people are aware that energy-efficient business desktop computers are available that cost about $10 a year to operate and are about 75 percent more efficient than typical PCs. Installing certain models of smart thermostats allows you to program them wirelessly through the Internet, allowing for temperature adjustments without physically being at the facility. Also, new smart electric meters translate energy wattage use into dollars and allow you to track energy use online.

“Tough times are the mother of all invention,” Casteel says. “Appoint an energy czar, make every staff meeting include an energy-saving tip and share energy costs as widely as possible, making employees take ownership of their energy use. Take all necessary steps to take advantage of energy savings.”

ENERGY STAR, an Environmental Protection Agency and U.S. Department of Energy program, along with your utility provider and local city hall can help you reduce energy waste by providing regional energy-efficiency tips, financial incentives and energy audits of facilities. ENERGY STAR endorses more than 50 types of products, which are identifiable by a label that indicates the amount of energy it will require during average use and will tell you the savings you can expect by choosing that product over products that aren’t approved by the ENERGY STAR program. Purchasing the proper equipment and carrying out good habits will reduce your energy expenses exponentially. For example, you will use 30 to 35 percent less energy using an ENERGY STAR battery charger or power adapter over conventional products.

By changing purchasing habits and being more cautious of efficient equipment operation, you’ll immediately reduce your energy bill. By purchasing ENERGY STAR-qualified products, you’ll use about half the amount of electricity that would be used without the efficient product. For example, when a computer is placed in sleep mode, it uses 75 percent less energy and a copier uses 40 percent less energy.

Most businesses use 25 percent of their energy on lighting. Compact fluorescent bulbs last longer than traditional bulbs and use 75 percent less energy. Even if it means renovating your entire lighting system, you’ll see a return on your investment in anywhere from five months to three years.

“An Ohio bill recently passed that mandates new construction to be more energy-efficient,” says Ross Parkman, senior director of utilities, energy services and sustainability, The Ohio State University. “Politicians aren’t lightening up on their approach to energy conservation. It’s better to make the decision willingly and with incentives today than forcibly tomorrow.”

What you need to know

Performing an energy audit of your business is the first step. This is often performed for free or at a minimal cost through your utility provider. In this audit, you’ll learn what areas of your business are using the most energy. You’ll then be able to work on a strategy to reduce waste.

By visiting the ENERGY STAR Web site at www.energystar.gov, you can compare your company’s energy use to similarly sized companies within your industry and region.

“Put resources such as your utility provider and ENERGY STAR in place to get beyond behaviors to drive your program,” Parkman says. “Communicating facts to employees and focusing on goals while promoting incentives will progress energy efficiency.”

After your energy audit, you’ll need to strategize a plan of action and goals, and then formally deliver the message to employees.

“It becomes more of a priority to employees when upper management sends out the energy-efficiency message as opposed to those in lower positions,” Parkman says. “You also can’t handle every detail, and assigning duties to promote the plan will make your efforts excel.”

Assigning an employee to manage energy initiatives and communicate them to the staff will help keep everyone involved and informed about the process. You may want to take things a step further and provide training to employees that can explain operating methods and procedures to reduce energy use, along with ways to monitor and report collected data. ENERGY STAR provides free online training sessions for employees and is a good place to start.

“Ease into an energy plan by forming small projects,” says Mac Roberts, president, P&D Builders Ltd. “Start by reducing energy use by 10 percent and assigning a timeline to meet that goal. Setting goals and timelines will set the tone for the mission and make employees more ambitious about the plan.”

When establishing a project timeline, consider attainable energy grants, rebates and tax breaks weighed against necessary operational changes to accomplish goals. Once you know what you need to change to be more efficient and what finances you have available, you’ll be able to better chart progress and predict the time frame for the return on your investment.

“There is a reluctance to investing in something that doesn’t show a profit in two or three years,” Casteel says. “But you don’t have to make massive investments to see energy-saving improvements. If you start a basic program, more aggressive measures will fall into place when finances permit.”