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.

Sixty-six 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.

“Energy efficiency is a mindset,” says Hal Snyder, vice president of customer programs, Southern California Gas Co. and San Diego Gas & Electric. “Being energy-efficient is important to the community you serve and helps your ‘triple bottom line,’ — people, infrastructure and company.”

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.

“Companies struggle with the return analogies,” says Scott Lyle, senior vice president of operations, Arden Realty Inc. “Get started with the low-hanging fruit, tackle the easy-to-fix energy issues and build from that.”

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.

“Perception of energy efficiency holds more businesses back from pursuing plans,” says Glen Mounts, certified engineering operations executive, Marriott Hotel. “In the early days of energy-use awareness, the use of compact fluorescents didn’t perform as well as expected. Compact fluorescents have come a long way since then and is having to prove its worth again.”

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.

“Everything that consumes power needs to be looked at for efficiency and is monitored by your utility provider,” Lyle says. “ENERGY STAR is accessible online and provides tips and can direct you to organizations that provide rebates.”

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

“Every two to three years, technology makes itself more efficient,” Lyle says. “Think about that and consider the age of the equipment you’re using. After you’re aware of all available finances and what requires capital to fix, start setting goals and benchmarks. Document progress and hurdles in your energy plan.”

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.

“Get as many people involved as possible,” Mounts says. “Educate them with energy-minded staffers or use online and utility provider tips to back ideas up with actionable steps.”

If you’ve ever thought about improving your company’s energy efficiency, now is a great time to get started.

“It’s a great time to jump aboard the energy-efficiency train,” Lyle says. “There’s money being offered for you to basically help yourself save more. Educating employees is a big part of the process. While every employee may not touch the process, they will need to be behind the 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.

“Social consciousness is greater now than ever,” Snyder says. “Wearing a tie-dye shirt doesn’t cut it. You’ve got to be more aggressive and be open to free information, which will save your business money, while making wise environmental decisions.”