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-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.”