Why Does Your Business Need an Energy Strategy?

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Think of all the things you do to make your organization successful. You go the extra mile to deliver quality products or services, good customer service, and an effective marketing strategy.

Have you ever thought about energy management as a component of your business strategy? All organizations can benefit from reducing energy costs — regardless of your industry or size, from small mom-and-pop stores to multinational conglomerates.

How Much Energy Do Businesses Use?

There are almost 6 million commercial buildings and industrial plants in the United States.

These facilities spend a combined $400 billion per year on energy, and as much as ⅓ of that is wasted on inefficient or unnecessary energy usage.

If all commercial buildings and industrial plants improved their efficiency by just 10%, that would save $40 billion per year — enough energy to power almost ⅕ of all registered vehicles in the United States! It’s also money that could be reinvested in core business activities that provide greater value to customers.

What Makes Energy Efficiency a Great Investment?

Organizations of all sizes recognize the value of investing in energy efficiency:

  • More than half of the Fortune 100 firms work with ENERGY STAR to improve energy performance
  • 8 out of the 10 largest healthcare organizations
  • Major league sports teams
  • Colleges and universities
  • Small businesses
  • Even entire cities!

Since its launch in 1992, more than 25,000 commercial buildings have earned ENERGY STAR certification. These buildings represent 3.7 billion square feet of space and have achieved cumulative savings of $3.4 billion on electricity consumption — enough to power 2.3 million homes annually. ENERGY STAR buildings use 35% less energy. One school district slashed its energy bills by 60%!

Energy-efficient buildings have other benefits:

  • Higher occupancy rates
  • Increased asset value
  • Tenants get lower utility bills
  • More prospective tenants are seeking out energy efficiency as a key requirement in their decision to lease a particular office or retail space
  • More consumers and prospective employees want to be affiliated with organizations that value energy efficiency

How to Cut Your Organization’s Energy Costs

The EPA outlines a simple, seven-step process for reducing energy consumption that will help any organization enjoy lower utility bills.

Step 1: Make a Commitment

A commitment to energy efficiency starts at the top and gets everyone involved. CEOs, building managers, and other decision makers must embrace an energy conservation program. Once the energy policy is in place, leadership must give all employees the tools they need to seamlessly incorporate energy savings into their daily routines.

Steps 2 and 3: Assess Your Performance and Set Goals

According to EPA data, commercial buildings that regularly benchmarked their energy performance cut costs by 7% over three years — for savings of 2.4% per year.

It’s important to track energy consumption over time — just like you track other expenses along with revenue — and compare your performance across divisions or facilities. You can also compare results to other businesses in your city, state, or region, or to competitors and other organizations of a similar size.

Once your energy assessment is complete, establish some realistic energy conservation goals for individual departments, buildings, and geographic locations, as well as for the company as a whole.

Steps 4 and 5: Create and Implement an Action Plan

The Small Business Administration suggests focusing on three areas when implementing your energy plan: lighting, heating and cooling, and office equipment. While there may be other issues unique to your business, these “Big Three” represent major sources of energy consumption for all companies, and therefore a great opportunity for savings.

Lighting

Lighting alone eats up about 25% to 30% of the energy consumption in most commercial buildings. Did you also know that too much light has other harmful effects? If the lights are too bright, workers are more likely to experience eyestrain and headaches.

There are several easy ways to cut lighting expenses and conserve electricity. Probably the most important thing is to turn off the lights in all unoccupied rooms. Here are some other simple steps that help:

  • Use ENERGY STAR lighting products and energy-efficient bulbs. Yes, they cost more at purchase, but save money on your utility bill, and their longer life means you buy them less frequently.
  • Bi-level switching lets you control lighting systems in groups. That makes it easy to turn off unnecessary lights and only use the ones needed for a particular task.
  • Dimmer switches let you adjust the level of light using a knob, slider, or button. Look for models that are compatible with energy-efficient bulbs such as CFLs or LEDs.
  • Take advantage of natural daylight coming through windows — and turn off any unnecessary lights. Some dimmer switches will automatically turn down the lights depending on the amount of natural daylight available.
  • Use occupancy sensors to automatically turn off lights when no one is in the room.
  • Use daylight sensors to automatically turn off exterior lights during daylight hours so they only come on after sunset.

Heating and Cooling

HVAC systems are another significant source of energy expenses. Here are some ways to reduce heating and cooling costs and improve system performance:

  • Change filters regularly — every three months at a bare minimum, and more if needed. Dirty filters work harder and waste energy. Filters only cost a few dollars, and the money you save on lower energy costs and reduced wear and tear far outstrips the money you spend to replace them.
  • Schedule an annual inspection and maintenance of your HVAC system. If any problems are identified, make all necessary tune-ups as quickly as possible. It is also a good idea for your contractor to do semi-annual pre-season tune ups to prepare your system for hot and cold weather. This will conserve energy and reduce replacement costs.
  • Install a programmable thermostat. You can preset your system to automatically turn off when the building is unoccupied. This saves hundreds of dollars or more a year.
  • Make sure all heating and cooling ducts are properly sealed. This will improve efficiency by as much as 20%. Use weather stripping and caulking to eliminate leaks, so that your ventilation systems work better, lowering utility costs and extending the life of your equipment.
  • Manage the amount of sunlight reaching your building. Curtains and drapes can help, but you need to reduce the amount of sunlight hitting the building in the first place. During warm weather, consider solar screens, solar films, awnings, trees, and other vegetation as possible methods. Trees provide shade, clean the air, and reduce HVAC costs. During cold weather, unobstructed windows will allow the sun to heat your building naturally and lower heating costs.

Office Equipment

To reduce the cost of running office equipment, start with the equipment itself. Look for energy saving equipment with the ENERGY STAR rating:

  • Computers
  • Printers
  • Copiers
  • Refrigerators
  • Televisions
  • Windows
  • Thermostats
  • Ceiling fans
  • And more

If all computers sold in the U.S. were ENERGY STAR compliant, it would save more than $1 billion in energy costs and reduce carbon pollution by 1.5 billion pounds. You’ll also save energy if you choose laptops over desktops.

Take advantage of power management features such as “sleep mode” on most computer models. Screen savers really don’t offer any meaningful energy saving benefit. It’s much better to use the sleep mode or turn the device completely off when not in use.

Minimize waste from so-called “phantom loads.” Much of the electricity used to power electronics is wasted when devices are turned off but still plugged into the wall outlet.

Unplug devices when not using them to combat this problem. One easy way is to use power strips for plugging in multiple appliances, so it’s more convenient to turn them all off at once when the workday ends.

Steps 6 and 7: Evaluate Progress and Recognize Your Achievements

Use your annual energy assessment, seasonal tune-ups, and regular maintenance to evaluate whether you’re reaching your company’s energy goals.

Contact a certified electrician to assist you with installation of energy-saving products or other aspects of your energy conservation program.

When you reach your goals, do a little bragging! Promote your energy savings to employees, customers, the community, and within your industry. You’ll benefit from the goodwill that comes with being an energy-efficient organization, and you’ll educate others on ways to improve their own energy consumption — and that helps all of us!

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