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.

Fifty-two percent of readers surveyed by Smart Business say they do not expect energy costs to increase over the next 12 to 18 months, but a full dedication to efficiency is necessary to maximize savings, as energy authorities say halfhearted efforts get similar results.

“Getting control of your data is an important factor in energy efficiency,” says Matthew Berke, president and CEO, LPB Energy. “Companies don’t review their utility bills thoroughly; they may be paying their neighbor’s bill or missing bill errors. You can also save 30 percent of your energy bill by shopping through competitive supply. Another area to save is through demand response utilities, where you agree to shut off your power during an emergency blackout. You will likely rarely need to use this, but regardless of use, you’ll receive a percent rebate for agreeing to close in an emergency.”

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.

“New laws say that any new building 10,000 square feet or larger will have to be energy efficient in compliance with LEED,” says Scott Harrison, director of product management, TXU Energy. “This means all new construction will automatically look more attractive to rent or buy because it meets codes. Older buildings will need to upgrade to be attractive when going on the market, especially in today’s economy.”

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.

“Energy costs aren’t fixed,” Harrison says. “Good maintenance practices, lighting retrofit changes and a conservative attitude go a long way to alter a typical bill.”

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.

“After you’ve gathered data on what you pay monthly, you can get feedback from your utility provider and ENERGY STAR as to ways to reduce your energy use,” says Rob Schasel, director of energy and resource conservation, PepsiCo.

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

“You’ll get the best results when you are working toward a goal,” Schasel says. “Set goals such as use 50 percent less water, 30 percent less fuel and 25 percent less electricity, and assign a date to accomplish those goals.”

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.

“CEO involvement in an energy-efficiency plan is a must,” Berke says. “Corporate America lets low-level employees make energy decisions, and they don’t care about the outcomes at the same level that upper management does.

When upper management becomes involved, everything seems to work more efficiently.”

The key to success is energizing everyone on your staff to help you save energy.

“Some believe taking small steps works well,” Schasel says. “But at least announcing your goals helps get attention of employees and creates enthusiasm. People on the front line know where the energy problems are and have great ideas. Combine that with the financial team and energy efficiency will come sooner.”

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.

“Culture inside a company must focus on energy efficiency,” Harrison says. “There will be many internal views of why you should be energy efficient, but the one that takes priority today is the savings.”