Jessica Tremayne

Thursday, 26 March 2009 20:00

Debunking diversity

The million-dollar question about making an investment in diversity is: Will it pay back?

While experts say diversity in the work force is a business imperative, defining diversity by employees’ physical attributes won’t foster a functional or profitable environment.

In fact, the definition of diversity is always evolving. Twenty years ago, the word spurred thoughts of gender issues since men held a high majority in the work force, while today the gender gap is narrowed and is less of a concern. Diversity’s definition has expanded, and diversity of thought, education, socioeconomics, religion and life goals are only a few of the seemingly endless list of terms people use when defining the term for themselves. These differences in your employees can make or break your business. If you foster an inclusive environment, where all employees can contribute thoughts and plans to improve your product or service in confidence, you will improve your bottom line.

A February 2009 Groundbreakers report by Ernst & Young defines diversity as an equation for success and notes that research has proven diverse groups outperform homogenous groups even in cases where the nondiverse groups have heightened abilities. Scott Page, a professor of complex systems at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, created the diversity prediction theorem, which says the collective ability of any crowd is equal to the average ability of its members plus the diversity of the group, claiming diversity is a sure way to attain a strategic advantage.

“By 2016, two-thirds of the civilian work force will be women and minorities,” says Billie Williamson, senior partner and Americas inclusiveness officer, Ernst & Young LLP. “You need an appropriate balance of employees that represent your clients. Having diversity also helps each employee fulfill their true potential in the company — but you need to know how to leverage the mix.”

Still, the return on investment is the hard evidence you want to justify devotion of time and money. Some say it’s difficult to quantify diversity ROI, but metrics are attainable. If you start with a plan that establishes your company goals and maps out a strategy, you can document the benefits and obstacles of a diverse team’s functionality that will best benefit your business.

Why it’s important

Since the country’s demographics are continually changing, a failure to branch out and move past your comfort zone when hiring and communicating with employees will ultimately result in financial punishment for the business.

“We all come away with different perceptions, even if we’ve all sat in on the same conference,” Williamson says. “The way we focus, think about issues and our frame of reference is all different, so having these differences on the same team can provide insights that benefit the customer — in your services and products.”

U.S. Census Bureau reports show Hispanics are the fastest-growing population, with an increase of 121 percent since 1999. The Asian population nearly doubled since 1990 and the African-American population is predicted to increase to 65.7 million strong by 2050, an increase of 15 percent since 2008.

“When leadership relates the importance of diversity to the company, employees tend to pay it a little more attention,” says Carla Castro-Ciau, director of operations and diversity initiatives, American Cancer Society. “If you help implement affinity networks you can provide better service to those demographics or any customer. For me, these groups mean helping me reach those who may need help but do not have health insurance or access to care for early detection of cancer. For other businesses, it may mean creating a product or service that is more appealing to their customers.”

Affinity networks — employer-recognized employee groups who share a common race, gender, national origin or sexual orientation — are a great way to attract and retain diverse employees. Networking by affinity groups reduces turnover and gives companies insights to consumers they otherwise may have never understood.

General Motors Corp.’s People with Disabilities Affinity Group has been a consistent resource for providing input and support relative to accessibility of products and services. The group played a role in helping OnStar develop the addition of TTY capability, the text telephone for the hearing impaired, for OnStar-equipped vehicles. Another example of diversity was witnessed in PepsiCo Inc.’s Hispanic professional organization called Adelante. Its Hispanic employee network provided insights that resulted in the development of the guacamole chip. In the first year of distribution, PepsiCo’s Frito-Lay division sold $100 million in Lay’s guacamole chips.

“If you provide the environment for the diverse group of employees to thrive, their contributions will be endless,” says DeAnne Aussem, director market diversity leader, Southern California, Phoenix and Las Vegas, PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP. “You may help form affinity groups or create a network of partners — local support structures that will lead you to a hire. You don’t set out to hire a specific gender or race — but you do want to have options. These networks put the word out there for a diverse group to apply. Post position at job fairs, colleges, Web sites and newspapers.”

What you need to know

Diversity isn’t about being politically correct; it’s about keeping your business competitive.

“To be truly successful, you need to reflect your commitment to diversity and make sure the company welcomes and supports differences,” Castro-Ciau says. “These are the environments in which employees will feel secure enough to speak out. If your employees reflect the communities you work in, your employees’ feedback will allow you to gain credit with those people. Affinity groups can be invaluable for these reasons. These groups can be (composed) of a specific gender, race, sexual orientation or group of workers with the same interests.”

Keep in mind the customers who you want to attract and then investigate opportunities in markets in which you want to expand or improve business. If you’re interest is in attracting a broader customer base, employees should mirror the communities in which you want to expand. Forge relationships with diverse community organizations and let them know about opportunities in your organization. Sponsoring events that interest diverse groups makes your company more attractive to diverse candidates. For example, host events in coordination with Cinco de Mayo, Chinese New Year or Disability Awareness Month, and make your business’s diversity interests and job openings known.

If you’ve established affinity groups within your company, they can also help with recruiting. They may be able to give you suggestions that will help your business attract more diverse candidates and offer ideas of where to post positions.

Starting an affinity group is easy.

“You should be intrigued with the positive impact diversity can have on a business,” Williamson says. “In order to capture our hearts and minds, there must be a business case for diversity, and there is. A diverse and inclusive environment promotes useful ideas, and suddenly, you’re not just complying with diversity requirements; you want to do more. Allow for affinity groups or employee resource groups to make contributions — there may be some finances necessary for these gatherings, but in general, they take place at the facility and during the employees’ regular work day.”

Hiring managers also need to keep in mind how to motivate and manage their staff as part of a recruiting plan. Experts encourage incentives for staff contributions to a diverse work force, considering employees’ job satisfaction can be your best advertising.

“The same things that make people unique will make your company stand out,” Aussem says. “Taking action to create a work force that can reach your diverse range of clients will make you more attractive and put processes in place that if absent may deter customers.”

Thursday, 26 March 2009 20:00

Debunking diversity

The million-dollar question about making an investment in diversity is: Will it pay back?

While experts say diversity in the work force is a business imperative, defining diversity by employees’ physical attributes won’t foster a functional or profitable environment.

In fact, the definition of diversity is always evolving. Twenty years ago, the word spurred thoughts of gender issues since men held a high majority in the work force, while today the gender gap is narrowed and is less of a concern. Diversity’s definition has expanded, and diversity of thought, education, socioeconomics, religion and life goals are only a few of the seemingly endless list of terms people use when defining the term for themselves. These differences in your employees can make or break your business. If you foster an inclusive environment, where all employees can contribute thoughts and plans to improve your product or service in confidence, you will improve your bottom line.

A February 2009 Groundbreakers report by Ernst & Young defines diversity as an equation for success and notes that research has proven diverse groups outperform homogenous groups even in cases where the nondiverse groups have heightened abilities. Scott Page, a professor of complex systems at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, created the diversity prediction theorem, which says the collective ability of any crowd is equal to the average ability of its members plus the diversity of the group, claiming diversity is a sure way to attain a strategic advantage.

“Any business will be a richer organization with a variety of diverse perspectives,” says Randi Menkin, director of global work force diversity for UPS. “It’s a business imperative to tell people that you believe in what you do or customers won’t want to do business with you. If you add diversity throughout your business, you will have a better shot at understanding all of your customers’ needs and predict what they want.”

Still, the return on investment is the hard evidence you want to justify devotion of time and money. Some say it’s difficult to quantify diversity ROI, but metrics are attainable. If you start with a plan that establishes your company goals and maps out a strategy, you can document the benefits and obstacles of a diverse team’s functionality that will best benefit your business.

Why it’s important

Since the country’s demographics are continually changing, a failure to branch out and move past your comfort zone when hiring and communicating with employees will ultimately result in financial punishment for the business.

“It can be difficult for a 50-year-old to be managed by a 30-year-old boss,” says Donna M. Klein, president and founder, Corporate Voices for Working Families, a national business membership organization representing the private sector on public policy issues. “Training to maximize the benefits of these differences instead of allowing them to divide workers is essential. Business benefits are the same as mixing age, race and gender outside of business. It makes for a more interesting conversation at a dinner party.”

U.S. Census Bureau reports show Hispanics are the fastest-growing population, with an increase of 121 percent since 1999. The Asian population nearly doubled since 1990 and the African-American population is predicted to increase to 65.7 million strong by 2050, an increase of 15 percent since 2008.

“Any homogenous group will provide predictable results in problem-solving,” Klein says. “But a diverse group comes up with ideas and problem-solving techniques that would otherwise have never been thought of. Allowing knee-jerk reactions of stereotypes to get in the way of hiring and working with a diverse group is really limiting your potential.”

Affinity networks — employer-recognized employee groups who share a common race, gender, national origin or sexual orientation — are a great way to attract and retain diverse employees. Networking by affinity groups reduces turnover and gives companies insights to consumers they otherwise may have never understood.

General Motors Corp.’s People with Disabilities Affinity Group has been a consistent resource for providing input and support relative to accessibility of products and services. The group played a role in helping OnStar develop the addition of TTY capability, the text telephone for the hearing impaired, for OnStar-equipped vehicles. Another example of diversity was witnessed in PepsiCo Inc.’s Hispanic professional organization called Adelante. Its Hispanic employee network provided insights that resulted in the development of the guacamole chip. In the first year of distribution, PepsiCo’s Frito-Lay division sold $100 million in Lay’s guacamole chips.

“If you provide the environment for the diverse group of employees to thrive, their contributions will be endless,” says DeAnne Aussem, director, market diversity leader, Southern California, Phoenix and Las Vegas, PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP. “You may help form affinity groups or create a network of partners — local support structures that will lead you to a hire. You don’t set out to hire a specific gender or race—– but you do want to have options. These networks put the word out there for a diverse group to apply. Post positions at job fairs, colleges, Web sites and newspapers.”

What you need to know

Diversity isn’t about being politically correct; it’s about keeping your business competitive.

“Effective diversity isn’t about meeting quotas; it’s about functionality and making your business better through understanding, taking action and creation of a desirable product,” says Jennifer Melton, EEOC/diversity management consultant for F&H Solutions Group. “You must do this tactfully. Recruit for core competencies with consideration to all of the candidate’s abilities. Think about how they can make you stronger.”

Keep in mind the customers who you want to attract and then investigate opportunities in markets in which you want to expand or improve business. If you’re interest is in attracting a broader customer base, employees should mirror the communities in which you want to expand. Forge relationships with diverse community organizations and let them know about opportunities in your organization. Sponsoring events that interest diverse groups makes your company more attractive to diverse candidates. For example, host events in coordination with Cinco de Mayo, Chinese New Year or Disability Awareness Month, and make your business’s diversity interests and job openings known.

If you’ve established affinity groups within your company, they can also help with recruiting. They may be able to give you suggestions that will help your business attract more diverse candidates and offer ideas of where to post positions.

Starting an affinity group is easy.

“Initiate employee resource groups by providing the resources, such as the facility or work hours, in which they can meet,” Melton says. “Employee resource groups can give a better idea to employers as to where women, for example, or Latinos may look when seeking employment. If you are posting job openings in one newspaper or on one Web site, those might not be sources in which diverse groups are seeking employment. Job fairs are an excellent place to recruit. Post new openings on local Web sites (and at) colleges historically known to have minority or diverse students.”

Hiring managers also need to keep in mind how to motivate and manage their staff as part of a recruiting plan. Experts encourage incentives for staff contributions to a diverse work force, considering employees’ job satisfaction can be your best advertising.

“There are some costs associated with having diversity,” Klein says. “The benefits far outweigh time and financials. Mentoring employees to ensure that you attract the best diverse talent is an important step. Retaining the right employees takes a little more effort however. You need to make sure diverse employees don’t feel like they’re sidelined, uninvited or unwelcome. This is in part achieved through a policy or mission statement but must be lived to be convincing.”

Address diversity in your business by evaluating your current actions. Think about what you should do the same or change with your current products or services. Keep in mind the change in demographics — the customers who you want to attract. Pinpoint who your users are — including age ranges. Then, investigate opportunities in markets in which you want to expand or improve business. This is an area in which insight from you affinity groups will be beneficial.

After setting an appealing tone, you can shift focus to who will be responsible for converting the business plan into action. Recognize the needs of product improvement for example and assign employees’ roles and put a skilled diversity manager in charge. Incorporate ideas from your employees that allow alternative ways to oversee programs. When looking for new ideas, form a cross section of teams with different experience levels to brainstorm.

“You can give monetary and other recognition incentives for adopted plans,” Melton says. “If you create scorecards and performance management tools that access progress, you can continue to evolve best methods. The employees and management must ‘own’ the idea of a functional diverse team.”

Tangible benefits of diversity can be determined through these methods, as well. Keeping track of the benefits diversity has brought, such as a reduction of employee turnover, an increase of innovative products or the annual sales figures since you began to incorporate diversity into your corporate culture, will help you decide if you have effectively recruited, trained, created an environment for and maintained the culture that will allow your company to be sustainable at the global level.

When handling hurdles to the mission of a welcoming diverse work force, managers need to keep in mind how to motivate and manage their staff. Penalties for those who are resistant to promoting your diversity plan are frowned on by the experts and instead encourage incentives for those excelling.

“Diversity didn’t come along until long after the civil rights movement,” Klein says. “It has been a 25-year-old effort in business, and we aren’t quite there yet — where we can say we’re operating at a level where diversity is fully functional. This is a business imperative that is beneficial to any industry, but the challenge is that everyone values the differences.”

To boost diversity competence, you can invest in team development programs, leadership development programs and rotate employees’ duties.

“If you’re vanilla, you can only sell your company to a vanilla consumer,” Menkin says. “It can be difficult to relate to others if you don’t have experience with other types of people, and working with a diverse group helps you do that. Diversity in the workplace represents the three pillars of success, which include growth, talent management and reputation management. With growth, your diverse work force will help you market to a wide range of customers. Talent management benefits the company by recruiting and effectively managing employees, and with a diverse work force, you can maintain your reputation by working in the community to reflect an image of how you want to be perceived as a company.”

Monday, 23 February 2009 19:00

The science of service

If you’re looking at your budget and considering cutting back on support for customer service, you might want to reconsider. About 96 percent of unhappy customers don’t take the initiative to tell you they’re unhappy with your service, but they will tell nine other people and not return.

Customer service should be as important to you as it is to your customer, and customer service is second in importance only to product quality when it comes to satisfying customers.

The difference in today’s market is that brand loyalty isn’t what it used to be. Businesses are making a new promise every day without credible reasons for the consumer to believe the promise. Customers make purchases because they believe you’re selling something they need, but they also know they have many options. A single bad experience with you can result in your customers making purchases from the guy down the street next week. The products may be similar, but the quality of your customer service can be why they prefer to make purchases with you.

“Customer service must be a priority,” says Mike Howard, president of Midstream Operations for Energy Transfer Co. “You have to be selling something your customers want, so you listen to what your customers want and you provide them with that. You are providing them with something that no one else can sell to them at your level.”

If customers have a good experience with your business, they’re more likely to return and spend money again. Positive word-of-mouth is one of the cheapest and most effective means of growing your business. It’s also much less expensive to retain a customer you already have than to attract new ones.

Customer service in today’s market entails doing business where and when your customers want to. The trick is to cut costs while being flexible with your ways of improving customer service quality across all avenues, including online and by phone.

There’s an easy formula for this, yet it’s not utilized. It starts with paying better wages. Then you have to invest in your employees’ ability to perform through education and train them to respond to customer needs.

Why a customer service program is important
Your customer service representatives have unlimited access to your customers, products and equipment, yet they’re largely considered dispensable and are treated as such. This is the wrong approach. You can’t personally know who your regular customers are or what their preferences entail, but your employees do, so it’s important to retain them. Investing in customer training and rewarding them with a pay increase upon completion of the course or offering another benefit, such as time off, makes for a more enthusiastic employee.

Although many customer service positions are considered entry level, giving the employee the option to advance within the company will be an incentive for the employee to stay and can help you reduce employee turnover, which on average costs businesses 20 percent of the employee’s annual salary to replace.

“Some companies give customers the impression that they’re thinking, ‘If it weren’t for those dang customers, we could get our work done,’” says Dennis Simmons, president and CEO, SWACHA, a trade association that serves as a resource on electronic payments and payment systems risks. “But that is such a bad attitude because 75 percent of new business comes from existing customers. So if you’re concerned about revenue, you need to take care of the people who are currently buying from you.”

You may see investing in customer service training as a luxury in today’s economy, but experts warn that not doing so could lead to your company’s demise.

What you can do
The biggest error you can make is getting too caught up in cutting costs and other internal workings to see your business from the customer’s point of view. Customer service is what keeps the lifeblood of your business — the customers — coming back. Even when inevitable mistakes are made, customers return if the error is handled properly.

Another mistake is investing money in loyalty programs focusing on drawing in new customers, while losing focus on appeasing your current customers. If you don’t ask customers about their experience with your business, they’ll likely not tell you — but they will go home and tell others. If you stay flexible and listen to what they say by acting on their feedback, you can best design a customer service program that works for you.

“Customer service is a direct reflection of the whole company,” says Robert Granado, president and owner of On the Run Inc., a 10-year-old errand company. “Good listening skills and motivation to assist the customer along with following up is necessary. Say what you mean; mean what you say. If you tell a customer you will contact them at 3 o’clock with an answer, you try your hardest to provide them with that. No matter what, that customer needs to be contacted at the designated time with a follow up.”

What many companies don’t understand is that good customer service is rare. If you already have brand recognition, you can further your competitive advantage by listening to customers’ concerns and acting on them. You need to define what good customer service means to your specific set of customers before you can best meet their expectations. This can be achieved by polling them in a variety of ways, including comment cards, e-mail or an online form.

“Shaping your services to meet the needs of customers is a unique way of performing customer service,” Howard says. “Try to accommodate them in any way you can, even when it’s not your typical protocol.”

Even with well-trained employees and a list of customer recommendations, you still need your managers to be an integral part of your program. They should point

out positive behavior and not just the negatives. Successes should be noted to encourage employees to do more than the bare minimum, and negative incidents should be handled immediately instead of waiting for an evaluation.

“Employees may repeat a behavior they’re not aware is undesirable,” says Liz Tahir, an international marketing consultant and speaker. “Having the proper communication with employees is essential. If you treat them well on a regular basis, they won’t react negatively when a manager points out an area that needs improvement.

“Employees treat customers the way you treat them. Ask yourself if you greet employees enthusiastically, interact politely and try to accommodate them in their requests.”

Making sure employees have the correct set of tools to perform their jobs is another important step in ensuring good customer service. Proper training and empowering employees to handle customers’ concerns or problems will build employee confidence while expediting the customers’ requests.

“Always putting yourself in the customer’s shoes when determining how to best resolve issues or respond to a request is the best way to resolve issues,” Tahir says. “All of the great companies have incorporated customer service in their core business philosophy, helping to brand their business as one known for great customer service.”

Monday, 23 February 2009 19:00

Fifth Third Bank keeps service a priority

If you’re looking at your budget and considering cutting back

on support for customer service, you might want to reconsider. About 96 percent of unhappy customers don’t take the initiative to tell you they’re unhappy with your service, but they

will tell nine other people and not return.

Customer service should be as important to you as it is to

your customer, and customer service is second in importance

only to product quality when it comes to satisfying customers.

The difference in today’s market is that brand loyalty isn’t

what it used to be. Businesses are making a new promise every

day without credible reasons for the consumer to believe the

promise. Customers make purchases because they believe

you’re selling something they need, but they also know they

have many options. A single bad experience with you can

result in your customers making purchases from the guy down

the street next week. The products may be similar, but the

quality of your customer service can be why they prefer to

make purchases with you.

“Businesses often want to jump to the easiest solution, but

we need to stop and listen to the customer to understand

what’s important to them,” says Mike Menyhart, senior vice

president and director of customer experience, Fifth Third

Bancorp. “You can’t operate on what you think they should

want as a resolution, you need to ask.”

If customers have a good experience with your business,

they’re more likely to return and spend money again. Positive

word-of-mouth is one of the cheapest and most effective means

of growing your business. It’s also much less expensive to retain

a customer you already have than to attract new ones.

Customer service in today’s market entails doing business

where and when your customers want to. The trick is to cut

costs while being flexible with your ways of improving customer service quality across all avenues, including online and

by phone.

There’s an easy formula for this, yet it’s not utilized. It starts

with paying better wages. Then you have to invest in your

employees’ ability to perform through education and train

them to respond to customer needs.

Why a customer service

program is important

Your customer service representatives have unlimited access

to your customers, products and equipment, yet they’re largely considered dispensable and are often treated as such. This

is the wrong approach. You can’t personally know who your

regular customers are or what their preferences entail, but

your employees do, so it’s important to retain them. Investing

in customer training and rewarding them with a pay increase

upon completion of the course or offering another benefit,

such as time off, makes for a more enthusiastic employee.

Although many customer service positions are considered

entry level, giving the employee the option to advance within the company will be an incentive for the employee to stay and

can help you reduce employee turnover, which on average

costs businesses 20 percent of an employee’s annual salary to

replace that person.

“Invest in managers and make sure that customer service is

part of your core business strategy,” Menyhart says. “Make

sure you provide career paths for employees so strong performers have incentive to continue to develop and stay with

the company.”

You may see investing in customer service training as a luxury in today’s economy, but experts warn that not doing so

could lead to your company’s demise.

What you can do

The biggest error you can make is getting too caught up in

cutting costs and other internal workings to see your business

from the customer’s point of view. Customer service is what

keeps the lifeblood of your business — the customers — coming back. Even when inevitable mistakes are made, customers

return if the error is handled properly.

“You need to track data to make improvements and invest in

training so employees know how to handle customers’ questions,” says James Durkin, executive vice president of North

American sales for OfficeMax Inc. “Take advantage of communication opportunities with customers and execute good customer service consistently.”

Another mistake is investing money in loyalty programs

focusing on drawing in new customers, while losing focus on

appeasing your current customers. If you don’t ask customers

about their experience with your business, they’ll likely not tell

you — but they will go home and tell others. If you stay flexible and listen to what they say by acting on their feedback, you

can best design a customer service program that works for

you.

What many companies don’t understand is that good customer service is rare. If you already have brand recognition,

you can further your competitive advantage by listening to customers’ concerns and acting on them. You need to define what

good customer service means to your specific set of customers

before you can best meet their expectations. This can be

achieved by polling them in a variety of ways, including comment cards, e-mail or an online form.

“Having a way to poll customers to see where you may need

improvement is a smart move,” says Chuck Fink, founder and

principal of Ascent Leadership, a business consulting firm. “But just performing well is the best route. The most frustrating thing for

customers is to have to hold while an employee gets a supervisor. Good customer service includes empowering employees. Customers want to hear, ‘I can help you with that,’ not that

they have to wait or be transferred.”

Even with well-trained employees and a list of customer recommendations, you still need your managers to be an integral

part of your program. They should point out positive behavior

and not just the negatives. Successes should be noted to

encourage employees to do more than the bare minimum, and

negative incidents should be handled immediately instead of

waiting for an evaluation.

“Employees may repeat a behavior they’re not aware is undesirable,” says Liz Tahir, an international marketing consultant

and speaker. “Having the proper communication with employees is essential. If you treat them well on a regular basis, they

won’t react negatively when a manager points out an area that

needs improvement.

“Employees treat customers the way you treat them. Ask

yourself if you greet employees enthusiastically, interact

politely and try to accommodate them in their requests.”

Making sure employees have the correct set of tools to perform their jobs is another important step in ensuring good customer service. Proper training and empowering employees to

handle customers’ concerns or problems will build employee

confidence while expediting the customers’ requests.

“Always putting yourself in the customer’s shoes when determining how to best resolve issues or respond to a request is the

best way to resolve issues,” Tahir says. “All of the great companies have incorporated customer service in their core business philosophy, helping to brand their business as one known

for great customer service.”

Monday, 26 January 2009 19:00

Sustaining momentum

Sustainability isn’t about saving the planet. It’s about saving your business.

Conducting business in a sustainable manner means you can spend less and increase revenue.

While sustainability does help the planet, the incentive of reducing your business costs by half is a strong reason to pay attention. The buzz is that traditional energy and other resources will be in tight supply in the future, resulting in volatile prices. By investing in sustainable efforts now, you can help ensure your business’s long-term success.

Americans compose 5 percent of the world’s population, yet contribute almost 25 percent of the greenhouse gas pollution, which scientists believe causes global warming. If everyone used and wasted energy and other resources this way, we’d need four planet earths to keep up with the demand. Consumers are finally taking notice of this egregious waste and are looking to buy from sustainable businesses, while more and more businesses are looking to obtain products from other businesses using sustainable practices. This is a time when your business can not only streamline production but also increase revenue by drawing in new customers.

“Barack Obama was so specific about forming an energy plan, we’ll be seeing things change soon,” says T. Boone Pickens, founder and chairman of BP Capital Management. “This means businesses have to get going on where they’ll be standing when this comes in to play.”

Businesses are expected to play a big role in any changes.

“More than 50 percent of U.S. energy use is attributable to buildings,” says Clark Davis, vice chairman of HOK, a global architectural and engineering firm that has incorporated sustainability in its business plan. “This statistic proves that sustainable businesses will be leaders in turning things around with the environment. Businesses touch more places and people on the planet than anyone else.”

Ninety-seven percent of readers polled by Smart Business say being green is an important part of their corporate philosophy, yet 82 percent report that they’re willing to invest nothing or less than $5,000 in greener practices. Experts say spending money on green initiatives isn’t paying for an image; it’s a direct investment in a more economic way of running your business.

Why sustainability is important

Think of sustainability like the Internet. Fifteen years ago, when the Internet was emerging, it wasn’t pervasive, but now it’s everywhere. Eventually, sustainable business will just be called business and green building will just be known as building. Experts say that is the way it’s going to be and you have to adapt now.

If you want to know the value in sustainable management, think about the Dow Jones Sustainability Index. For almost a decade, Dow Jones has been providing sustainability indexes of businesses, which shows objective benchmarks for financial products linked to economic, environmental and social criteria. Sustainability indexes offer a performance baseline and an investment value for mutual funds, certificates, separate accounts and other investment vehicles based on the concept of sustainability. To date, the assets managed amount to approximately $6 billion.

“People sometimes assume sustainability is a cost, but it’s really about saving money,” Davis says. “Those who don’t take advantage of sustainability options today will be looking back at missed opportunities in the near future.”

The need for sustainability has already created thousands of jobs stemming from business consultants to waste managers. Experts say we’ve only scratched the surface of what sustainable practices can do for businesses. While solar and wind power commonly come to mind, sustainability includes using recycled products when building, collecting rain for watering purposes and designing your business’s landscape in a way that minimizes the need for upkeep and conserving resources.

“A business’ sustainable practices are attractive to potential hires and a great way to gain and retain the best talent while drawing the attention of new customers,” says Tim Center, vice president for sustainability initiatives, Collins Center for Public Policy and director of the Council for Sustainable Florida. “Sustainability is an economic opportunity in the marketplace that makes good financial sense for everyone. Being a sustainable business means you are quicker, faster and stronger than those who are not.”

While reducing waste has its obvious benefits, reduced insurance rates are another benefit to sustainable businesses. In fact, sustainability consultants predict business insurance will be more difficult to procure as nonsustainable practices are looked at as a risk.

In a 2008 report by SAB Miller, one of the world’s largest breweries, a survey of 4,000 senior executives showed 70 percent place corporate sustainability at the top of their priority list. That still leaves more than a quarter of businesses delaying action.

What you need to know

When initiating a sustainability plan, think about who your customers are and what they want. Consider how implementing sustainable practices can lead to more business.

The Global Reporting Initiative is an ally for businesses seeking a sustainable route. It’s an organization that provides a framework companies can follow to measure and report their economic sustainability performance and monitor the performance of other companies. The organization sets the principles and indicators that businesses can use to measure and report their sustainability performance.

“While more companies’ interests are piqued with sustainability savings, they’re not sure where to acquire them,” says Glen Hadwen, environmental programs manager, office of sustainable initiatives, city of Miami. “There are many resources available. If you visit your local EPA Web site (www.epa.gov), you’ll find information on what businesses are leaders and what they’re doing to be sustainable.”

Another source for information comes from the U.S. Business Council for Sustainable Development, which was established in 2002 as a member-led, nonprofit organization that presents projects to demonstrate the business value of sustainable development. Projects featured by the council create value through economic returns and environmental and social benefits.

A sustainability consultant can help you identify what sustainable methods are available. After an assessment, you, along with department managers or those hired for the assignment, can construct an operational analysis that details your plans with set goals and deadlines. This will include your estimated ROI time frame. Make sure your sustainability plan describes how sustainability topics relate to long-term organizational strategy, risks and opportunities, including supply chain topics.

Even if you don’t implement everything in your sustainability plan today, you can reevaluate and implement more sustainability methods in the future.

Make sure you are meeting all local and national protocols while setting some of your own standards. Define sustainability issues for your business based on your industry and the department. For example, if your business uses a lot of water, utilize rainwater recycling to minimize the amount of water you must purchase.

“We didn’t move out of the stone age because we ran out of stones,” Center says. “Business is about innovation and that’s what sustainability brings.”

Monday, 26 January 2009 19:00

Sustaining momentum

Sustainability isn’t about saving the planet. It’s about saving your business.

 

Conducting business in a sustainable manner means you can spend less and increase revenue.

While sustainability does help the planet, the incentive of reducing your business costs by half is a strong reason to pay attention. The buzz is that traditional energy and other resources will be in tight supply in the future, resulting in volatile prices. By investing in sustainable efforts now, you can help ensure your business’s long-term success.

“Companies that aren’t investing in sustainability run the risk of being behind the curve,” says Shelley Keller, vice president of strategic initiatives, Exelon, provider of energy services with the largest nuclear operator in the U.S. “The price of fuel has changed the economics of the situation. Sustainability is more of a good business move based on irrefutable scientific evidence than anything else.”

Americans compose 5 percent of the world’s population, yet contribute almost 25 percent of the greenhouse gas pollution, which scientists believe causes global warming. If everyone used and wasted energy and other resources this way, we’d need four planet earths to keep up with the demand. Consumers are finally taking notice of this egregious waste and are looking to buy from sustainable businesses, while more and more businesses are looking to obtain products from other businesses using sustainable practices. This is a time when your business can not only streamline production but also increase revenue by drawing in new customers.

“Barack Obama was so specific about forming an energy plan, we’ll be seeing things change soon,” says T. Boone Pickens, founder and chairman of BP Capital Management. “This means businesses have to get going on where they’ll be standing when this comes in to play.”

There’s a host of reasons businesses don’t operate sustainably.

“One is the complexity of the procedure — they look at the expense and say that’s more than we want to spend — although any cost will eventually be recouped,” Keller says.

All of the readers polled by Smart Business say being green is an important part of their corporate philosophy, yet 72 percent report they’re not willing to invest in greener practices. Experts say spending money on green initiatives isn’t paying for an image; it’s a direct investment in a more economic way of running your business.

Why sustainability is important

Think of sustainability like the Internet. Fifteen years ago, when the Internet was emerging, it wasn’t pervasive, but now it’s everywhere. Eventually, sustainable business will just be called business and green building will just be known as building. Experts say that is the way it’s going to be and you have to adapt now.

If you want to know the value in sustainable management, think about the Dow Jones Sustainability Index. For almost a decade, Dow Jones has been providing sustainability indexes of businesses, which shows objective benchmarks for financial products linked to economic, environmental and social criteria. Sustainability indexes offer a performance baseline and an investment value for mutual funds, certificates, separate accounts and other investment vehicles based on the concept of sustainability. To date, the assets managed amount to approximately $6 billion.

“Sustainability is recruitment and retention issue as well as an issue of a company’s relationship with the community,” says Patrick Starr, vice president, Pennsylvania Environmental Council. “Being sustainable means attracting the best employees and customers.”

The need for sustainability has already created thousands of jobs stemming from business consultants to waste managers. Experts say we’ve only scratched the surface of what sustainable practices can do for businesses. While solar and wind power commonly come to mind, sustainability includes using recycled products when building, collecting rain for watering purposes and designing your business’s landscape in a way that minimizes the need for upkeep and conserving resources.

“A company must assess risk and compliance,” says James Farrar, vice president of corporate citizenship, SAP, a business software company that promotes sustainability in business. “Some business models are less flexible than others, but all will have social and economic benefits from implementing sustainability.”

While reducing waste has its obvious benefits, reduced insurance rates are another benefit to sustainable businesses. In fact, sustainability consultants predict business insurance will be more difficult to procure as nonsustainable practices are looked at as a risk.

In a 2008 report by SAB Miller, one of the world’s largest breweries, a survey of 4,000 senior executives showed 70 percent place corporate sustainability at the top of their priority list. That still leaves more than a quarter of businesses delaying action.

What you need to know

When initiating a sustainability plan, think about who your customers are and what they want. Consider how implementing sustainable practices can lead to more business. The challenge is making decisions that are financially, socially and environmentally intelligent. While there isn’t a one-size-fits-all plan, having a sustainability expert evaluate your business is a jumping-off point.

“Senior leadership is important in implementing a plan,” Keller says. “Encourage employees to help develop your sustainability plan and be part of the process. This will help them understand the science and technical issues of your company while thinking about the different issues that touch your business.”

The Global Reporting Initiative is another ally for businesses seeking a sustainable route. It’s an organization that provides a framework companies can follow to measure and report their economic sustainability performance and monitor the performance of other companies. The organization sets the principles and indicators that businesses can use to measure and report their sustainability performance. GRI is growing as an international standard for corporate sustainability reporting.

Another source for information comes from the U.S. Business Council for Sustainable Development, which was established in 2002 as a member-led, nonprofit organization that presents projects to demonstrate the business value of sustainable development. Projects featured by the council create value through economic returns and environmental and social benefits.

A sustainability consultant can help you identify what sustainable methods are available. After an assessment, you, along with department managers or those hired for the assignment, can construct an operational analysis that details your plans with set goals and deadlines. This will include your estimated ROI time frame. Make sure your sustainability plan describes how sustainability topics relate to long-term organizational strategy, risks and opportunities, including supply chain topics.

Make sure you are meeting all local and national protocols while setting some of your own standards. Define sustainability issues for your business based on your industry and the department. For example, if your business uses a lot of water, utilize rainwater recycling to minimize the amount of water you must purchase.

Even if you don’t implement everything in your sustainability plan today, you can re-evaluate and implement more sustainability methods in the future.

Monday, 26 January 2009 19:00

Sustaining momentum

Sustainability isn’t about saving the planet. It’s about saving your business.

Conducting business in a sustainable manner means you can spend less and increase revenue.

While sustainability does help the planet, the incentive of reducing your business costs by half is a strong reason to pay attention. The buzz is that traditional energy and other resources will be in tight supply in the future, resulting in volatile prices. By investing in sustainable efforts now, you can help ensure your business’s long-term success.

“Revenue and cost are affected by sustainability,” says Steve Glenn, a board member of the Sustainable Business Council, Los Angeles, and CEO, Living Homes LLC, a sustainable home developer. “Customers are making purchasing decisions based on the way products are made and used. Sustainability practices will continue to increase as the demand for it grows.”

Americans compose 5 percent of the world’s population, yet contribute almost 25 percent of the greenhouse gas pollution, which scientists believe causes global warming. If everyone used and wasted energy and other resources this way, we’d need four planet earths to keep up with the demand. Consumers are finally taking notice of this egregious waste and are looking to buy from sustainable businesses, while more and more businesses are looking to obtain products from other businesses using sustainable practices. This is a time when your business can not only streamline production but also increase revenue by drawing in new customers.

“Barack Obama was so specific about forming an energy plan, we’ll be seeing things change soon,” says T. Boone Pickens, founder and chairman of BP Capital Management. “This means businesses have to get going on where they’ll be standing when this comes in to play.”

Eighty-nine percent of readers polled by Smart Business say being green is an important part of their corporate philosophy, yet 70 percent report that they’re willing to invest nothing or less than $5,000 in greener practices. Experts say spending money on green initiatives isn’t paying for an image; it’s a direct investment in a more economic way of running your business.

Why sustainability is important

Think of sustainability like the Internet. Fifteen years ago, when the Internet was emerging, it wasn’t pervasive, but now it’s everywhere. Eventually, sustainable business will just be called business and green building will just be known as building. Experts say that is the way it’s going to be and you have to adapt now.

If you want to know the value in sustainable management, think about the Dow Jones Sustainability Index. For almost a decade, Dow Jones has been providing sustainability indexes of businesses, which shows objective benchmarks for financial products linked to economic, environmental and social criteria. Sustainability indexes offer a performance baseline and an investment value for mutual funds, certificates, separate accounts and other investment vehicles based on the concept of sustainability. To date, the assets managed amount to approximately $6 billion.

“We’re approaching a time when nonsustainable businesses will be penalized in sales,” says Chris Veronda, manager, corporate communications and sustainability spokesperson, Eastman Kodak Co., which incorporates sustainability in its core practices. “The more consumers are aware of sustainability and how pressing it is, the more it will be demanded.”

The need for sustainability has already created thousands of jobs stemming from business consultants to waste managers. Experts say we’ve only scratched the surface of what sustainable practices can do for businesses. While solar and wind power commonly come to mind, sustainability includes using recycled products when building, collecting rain for watering purposes and designing your business’s landscape in a way that minimizes the need for upkeep and conserving resources.

“Businesses are ignoring the sustainability issue at their own peril,” Veronda says. “Employees are eager to participate in sustainability efforts and mandates are increasing. It’s better to lead the way instead of simply being a compliant follower.”

While reducing waste has its obvious benefits, reduced insurance rates are another benefit to sustainable businesses. In fact, sustainability consultants predict business insurance will be more difficult to procure as nonsustainable practices are looked at as a risk.

In a 2008 report by SAB Miller, one of the world’s largest breweries, a survey of 4,000 senior executives showed 70 percent place corporate sustainability at the top of their priority list. That still leaves more than a quarter of businesses delaying action.

What you need to know

When initiating a sustainability plan, think about who your customers are and what they want. Consider how implementing sustainable practices can lead to more business. The challenge is making decisions that are financially, socially and environmentally intelligent. While there isn’t a one-size-fits-all plan, having a sustainability expert evaluate your business is a jumping-off point.

The Global Reporting Initiative is another ally for businesses seeking a sustainable route. It’s an organization that provides a framework companies can follow to measure and report their economic sustainability performance and monitor the performance of other companies. The organization sets the principles and indicators that businesses can use to measure and report their sustainability performance. GRI is growing as an international standard for corporate sustainability reporting.

“Many companies are in different stages of addressing sustainability,” says Aili Jokela, general manager, Fleishman-Hillard and global co-chair of the FH Sustainability Practice Group. “Sustainability will always be good for the bottom line, but the percentage of benefits will vary. Big benefits will come to any sustainable company. If you manage your use and minimize waste, you can improve your outcomes.”

Another source for information comes from the U.S. Business Council for Sustainable Development, which was established in 2002 as a member-led, nonprofit organization that presents projects to demonstrate the business value of sustainable development. Projects featured by the council create value through economic returns and environmental and social benefits.

A sustainability consultant can help you identify what sustainable methods are available. After an assessment, you, along with department managers or those hired for the assignment, can construct an operational analysis that details your plans with set goals and deadlines. This will include your estimated ROI time frame. Make sure your sustainability plan describes how sustainability topics relate to long-term organizational strategy, risks and opportunities, including supply chain topics.

Even if you don’t implement everything in your sustainability plan today, you can reevaluate and implement more sustainability methods in the future.

Make sure you are meeting all local and national protocols while setting some of your own standards. Define sustainability issues for your business based on your industry and the department. For example, if your business uses a lot of water, utilize rainwater recycling to minimize the amount of water you must purchase.

“The ability to bring more renewables into business will alter behaviors and perception of sustainable practices,” Jokela says. “If the process seems challenging, start small, measure everything, and understand why and what you’re paying for. Once you’ve done that, you can move onto bigger and better things.”

Monday, 26 January 2009 19:00

Sustaining momentum

Sustainability isn’t about saving the planet. It’s about saving your business.

Conducting business in a sustainable manner means you can spend less and increase revenue.

While sustainability does help the planet, the incentive of reducing your business costs by half is a strong reason to pay attention. The buzz is that traditional energy and other resources will be in tight supply in the future, resulting in volatile prices. By investing in sustainable efforts now, you can help ensure your business’s long-term success.

“Sustainability has been moving from the margins of societal acceptance to more mainstream,” says Jedediah Greenfield, environmental communications manager, mayor’s office, city of Houston. “Any company can cut costs of their operations when establishing a sustainability plan. For example, the city of Houston will save 20 percent of energy costs each year by retrofitting lights in 11 million square feet of city facilities.”

Americans compose 5 percent of the world’s population, yet contribute almost 25 percent of the greenhouse gas pollution, which scientists believe causes global warming. If everyone used and wasted energy and other resources this way, we’d need four planet earths to keep up with the demand. Consumers are finally taking notice of this egregious waste and are looking to buy from sustainable businesses, while more and more businesses are looking to obtain products from other businesses using sustainable practices. This is a time when your business can not only streamline production but also increase revenue by drawing in new customers.

“Barack Obama was so specific about forming an energy plan, we’ll be seeing things change soon,” says T. Boone Pickens, founder and chairman of BP Capital Management. “This means businesses have to get going on where they’ll be standing when this comes in to play.”

You need to take the initiative if you are going to survive.

“When businesses think they can’t do any better, they’ll die out,” says LaVerne A. Williams, founder and CEO, Environment Associates, Architects & Consultants.

“There’s a natural life and death to everything, but businesses that don’t implement sustainability will be sooner than later.”

Why sustainability is important

Think of sustainability like the Internet. Fifteen years ago, when the Internet was emerging, it wasn’t pervasive, but now it’s everywhere. Eventually, sustainable business will just be called business and green building will just be known as building. Experts say that is the way it’s going to be and you have to adapt now.

If you want to know the value in sustainable management, think about the Dow Jones Sustainability Index. For almost a decade, Dow Jones has been providing sustainability indexes of businesses, which shows objective benchmarks for financial products linked to economic, environmental and social criteria. Sustainability indexes offer a performance baseline and an investment value for mutual funds, certificates, separate accounts and other investment vehicles based on the concept of sustainability. To date, the assets managed amount to approximately $6 billion.

“It may have been cheaper to avoid at first, but in the long run, sustainability is the way to go; it will pay back 100 times over,” Greenfield says.

The need for sustainability has already created thousands of jobs stemming from business consultants to waste managers. Experts say we’ve only scratched the surface of what sustainable practices can do for businesses. While solar and wind power commonly come to mind, sustainability includes using recycled products when building, collecting rain for watering purposes and designing your business’s landscape in a way that minimizes the need for upkeep and conserving resources.

“Many companies are going sustainable for image reasons,” says Cris Eugster, chief officer for sustainable growth, city of Houston. “Businesses need to incorporate sustainable methods even if capital is involved.”

While reducing waste has its obvious benefits, reduced insurance rates are another benefit to sustainable businesses. In fact, sustainability consultants predict business insurance will be more difficult to procure as nonsustainable practices are looked at as a risk.

In a 2008 report by SAB Miller, one of the world’s largest breweries, a survey of 4,000 senior executives showed 70 percent place corporate sustainability at the top of their priority list. That still leaves more than a quarter of businesses delaying action.

What you need to know

When initiating a sustainability plan, think about who your customers are and what they want. Consider how implementing sustainable practices can lead to more business. The challenge is making decisions that are financially, socially and environmentally intelligent. While there isn’t a one-size-fits-all plan, having a sustainability expert evaluate your business is a jumping-off point.

The Global Reporting Initiative is another ally for businesses seeking a sustainable route. It’s an organization that provides a framework companies can follow to measure and report their economic sustainability performance and monitor the performance of other companies. The organization sets the principles and indicators that businesses can use to measure and report their sustainability performance. GRI is growing as an international standard for corporate sustainability reporting.

“Businesses can use government or private consulting resources to educate themselves on sustainability,” Greenfield says. “Government Web sites have resources specifically for businesses. Companies can also assign an employee to attend sustainability conferences to get a firsthand look at sustainability.”

Another source for information comes from the U.S. Business Council for Sustainable Development, which was established in 2002 as a member-led, nonprofit organization that presents projects to demonstrate the business value of sustainable development. Projects featured by the council create value through economic returns and environmental and social benefits.

A sustainability consultant can help you identify what sustainable methods are available. After an assessment, you, along with department managers or those hired for the assignment, can construct an operational analysis that details your plans with set goals and deadlines. This will include your estimated ROI time frame. Make sure your sustainability plan describes how sustainability topics relate to long-term organizational strategy, risks and opportunities, including supply chain topics.

Even if you don’t implement everything in your sustainability plan today, you can reevaluate and implement more sustainability methods in the future.

Make sure you are meeting all local and national protocols while setting some of your own standards. Define sustainability issues for your business based on your industry and the department. For example, if your business uses a lot of water, utilize rainwater recycling to minimize the amount of water you must purchase.

“Everyone needs to start somewhere, and looking at your operations is the best way to discover what plan will work for you,” Williams says. “Good economic times make businesses lose their sense of desperation for solutions, but your decisions are made with the best economic sense. There was no waste during the Great Depression; make a plan that works in those times and you’ll be set.”

Friday, 26 December 2008 19:00

The power within


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.

Sixty-five 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 authorities say halfhearted efforts get similar results.

“There’s a huge motivation and big opportunities in the Philadelphia area for businesses to become energy-efficient today,” says Liz Robinson, executive director, Energy Coordinating Agency. “In 2010, the electricity rates expire, and the estimated base utility rate is a 25 percent increase from today’s rates.”

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.

“The state’s economic profile is slowly inching up in the ranks,” says Commissioner Robert Powelson, Pennsylvania Public Utility Commissioners. “In the ’90s, the state was ranked 47th nationally as a place to own a successful business. Now we’ve become savvy to tools that make our businesses more successful, and energy efficiency is a top reason we’re climbing the ladder. We use smart metering throughout the state, which gives real-time pricing.”

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.

“When thinking about how much of your budget energy accounts for, you’ll see it can be as much as 30 percent, while in the past, it was much less,” says Carl Greene, executive director, Philadelphia Housing Authority. “That figure keeps going up. Conserving and being efficient today will make it less of a challenge if the prices really get out of hand.”

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.

“Energy efficiency is easier for larger companies,” Robinson says. “It’s midsized and smaller companies that don’t know what they’re charged, are unaware of options and just don’t have a focus on energy sophistication. Now, they’re making efforts to get on track to reap financial benefits. The Web site, www.energywisepa.org, will help you find a local energy engineer who can quantify areas of concern for your business.”

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

“Businesses are starting to see the market volatility and becoming more active for their business’s financial well-being,” Powelson says. “Keep that in mind when creating a budget for energy-efficiency projects and setting benchmark goals. Energy organizations are giving businesses the right tools in the form of incentives to pursue energy efficiency, and they should be taken advantage of.”

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 will help convert energy efficiency into cash,” Robinson says. “Employees will encourage each other to be more efficient and can even form competition between departments to be more successful. Training can come from an energy audit company, utility provider or ENERGY STAR.”

Energy projects do not have to be massive in scope to save you money.

“It’s OK to start energy efficiency with small projects,” Powelson says. “But you can’t end a program there. Energy efficiency may take awhile to adopt, but it’s a constant process and will have to remain part of employee training and remain an implemented companywide mandate to maximize benefits. It’s like going on a diet. You meet and discuss issues, get partners to help you and use simple tools that make you successful.”

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.

“The ’80s were used for implementing health and wellness at the workplace and the ’90s were dedicated to technology. Now, we must focus on energy efficiency,” Powelson says. “The sky is the limit for business energy-efficiency success.”

Friday, 26 December 2008 19:00

The power within

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.”