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 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, as energy experts say halfhearted efforts get halfhearted results.

“Energy savings are out there and are largely bypassed,” says Jeff Stones, energy management specialist, CenterPoint Energy. “It takes effort and expertise to make it work. Companies aren’t aware that energy efficiency is an economic nobrainer.”

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.

“It’s about 2.5 times more financially intelligent to make the change today (to be more energy efficient) than in the past,” says Delbert Reed, director of engineering and maintenance, Shriners Hospital for Children, a LEED and ENERGY STAR award-winning facility. “Once you initiate an energy plan, the visible savings will get you hooked on doing more to maximize that figure.”

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.

“CEOs and CFOs look at energy as a fixed cost you can’t do anything about; they just pay the bills,” says Rick Walker, vice president of sustainability services, Transwestern, a commercial real estate firm and an ENERGY STAR partner. “But there’s a whole strategy that will save so much while streamlining business operations, as well. Being energy-efficient is a natural extension of operational quality and progress.”

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.

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.

“Contact city hall, ENERGY STAR and your utility company to take advantage of incentives and grants available,” Reed says. “You can talk to your accountant about tax deductions, as well.”

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

“To maximize your success, you should use the information you’ve found from energy authorities to set goals, such as reducing energy use by 10 percent in three months,” Walker says. “Once you meet that goal, recognize the accomplishment verbally, identifying employees who offered energy-saving ideas, departments that reduced the most energy use and facilities that increased the most savings. Keep moving forward by discussing the next benchmark goal. ENERGY STAR or your utility provider will be able to show you how to convert the wattage figures into a dollar amount.”

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.

“Employee training can come from a spokesperson, your utility department, ENERGY STAR or your informed employee,” Stones says. “Education will assist in a change in attitude by detailing the savings found by purchasing ENERGY STAR products, making them aware of the need to turn off equipment when not in use and utilizing sunlight instead of automatically turning on a light.

“Start small and work up to more aggressive projects. Many companies have some

sort of energy-efficiency conscience, but they don’t implement a companywide standard or they do a little of something and stop there. Executives need to be involved to make it work, and it will build steam as it goes along. There are so many incentive and rebate programs available now, and since no one knows what the future holds, we should take advantage of them before it’s just a mandate.”

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.

“Saving the environment is a good attribute to saving money,” Reed says. “In this situation, the right thing to do is also the most cost effective for business.”