For most companies, “going green” has to be synonymous with “saving money.” Luckily, there are a number of opportunities in most companies to reduce operating expenses significantly through a targeted, cost-effective sustainability program.
Step 1 – know your baseline.
Before developing a sustainability program, a company needs to understand its environmental impact across its operations. Without this environmental baseline (or footprint), a company cannot identify the most cost-effective ways to reduce its environmental impact or track its progress towards environmental goals. Without a baseline, a company also cannot calculate the payback and return on investment of an energy, water, or waste-reduction program.
Step 2 – focus on the “low-hanging fruit.”
For companies that have not yet started an environmental mitigation effort, there are often very cost-effective ways to reduce their energy consumption. Employee actions like turning off lights and computers and unplugging electronics at the end of the day costs a company $0, and can result in significant cost savings. Encouraging recycling, water conservation, and waste reduction can also be very expensive, although the ROI is often lower than energy reduction efforts (since for many companies water is essentially “free” and waste disposal is almost as inexpensive.)
Small technology upgrades can also have a tremendous payback in energy and environmental savings – a small office that installs a $30 programmable thermostat with automatic setback temperatures can save more than $120/yr – a one-year ROI of 400 percent. A $2 sink aerator can be installed in a bathroom sink, reducing water consumption by as much as 500 gallons a year – based on water costs, the payback for the aerator is between 3 and 6 months.
Step 3 – Engage facility managers, security staff, and cleaning staff in 24-hour energy management.
Small technology upgrades and employee engagement around environmental responsibility can make a big difference in driving a cost-effective environmental sustainability strategy. A truly cost-effective sustainability effort will also engage facility managers and cleaning and security staff – the people who really control the energy use of the building and have a significant impact on water and waste. Providing these key staff with environmental training, checklist, signage, and job aides will help them do their part to reduce the company’s overall environmental impact, often at no additional cost to the company.
Step 4 – Get to know your utility company and Uncle Sam.
Right now utility companies as well as federal, state, and local governments are offering significant incentives for companies to reduce their environmental impact. Utility companies in more than a dozen states offer free energy audits, free thermostats, and huge rebates on lighting upgrades, hot water heater replacements, and other energy-consuming building equipment. Federal, state, and local governments are also offering huge rebates and tax incentives for companies that invest in energy efficient mechanical systems and on-site renewable energy. Utility companies in many states also offer “demand side management” programs, where companies that reduce their peak energy on key days can receive significant rebates on their electric bills (for larger companies, these rebates are in the thousands of dollars!)
Step 5 – re-assess and repeat
To run a cost-effective multi-year environmental sustainability program, a company needs to reevaluate the success of its program on a regular basis. Using the environmental baseline and tracking environmental impacts (and associated cost savings) over time will help a company identify the projects that are most effective at helping them “go green” and save money, and can help to identify and drive more cost effective solutions in future years.
Written by William Grayson, ICF International
Tags: cost-effective sustainability program, energy consumption, energy management, environmental baseline, environmental savings, going green, ICF International, sustainability effort, utility companies, William Grayson