3 Questions Featured

7:00pm EDT January 26, 2009

Cris Eugster is the chief officer for sustainable growth for the city of Houston. The mayor of Houston appointed Eugster to the Task Force on Electric Reliability in November 2008. He works to drive energy efficiency, optimize waste disposal capacity and address environmental challenges in an effort to save money while fostering continued growth for the city. He’s a former engineer and management consultant and has counseled senior executives, investment firms and entrepreneurs on strategic, organizational and operational transformation.

How can investing in sustainability benefit a business’s bottom line?

Sustainability reduces business costs period. As much as a third of the cost of business is energy. Investments made to lower these costs are essential. The cost structure of nonsustainable businesses is too high compared to their sustainable competitors. When costs get tight, businesses need to get lean and mean. Sustainability is the way to go.

How can businesses that are apprehensive about sustainability get past their concerns?

Knowledge of the benefits will eliminate any concern. The market is expanding and more businesses are available to provide insight and expertise on the topic. Ten years ago, you’d need to go out of state to find a company because there were a lot less, but now there’s a market for the industry. A large percentage of businesses are becoming sustainable for image reasons along with saving on operating expenses. When growth kicks back in, the companies that have braced themselves with sustainability will be prepared.

How can a business measure the return on their sustainability investment?

They can have an energy audit performed to better understand the information on their utility bill and understand where you can save money. Lighting efficiency doesn’t have a long ROI time. It’s an attractive investment that has about a three-year return. You need to determine what practices are most feasible and fitting for your specific industry — as long as you’re aware of benefits and have a plan to initiate those practices, you can be more prepared. The poor economy isn’t a reason to hesitate to begin sustainable practices — much of what it takes to be sustainable is simply changing habits and old practices.