Is one of your 2015 business resolutions to “go green” (or greener)? Good for you. But being environmentally friendly in your business can go far beyond printing on both sides of paper, recycling soda cans and buying Energy Star-rated computers and other equipment. By developing a smart energy management strategy, you can not only save energy but also save money and protect your business against sudden surges in energy costs.
Here are six steps to help any small-business owner create an energy management strategy for 2015 and beyond:
1. Start small. “Every time you turn on lights, heat or water, energy dollars are being spent—which equates to a lot of money,” says Nate Kessman, vice president of business development at Brooklyn, New York-based Great Eastern Energy. “The least expensive energy is the energy [you] don’t use.”
But don’t give up before you even start by assuming you need to slash energy use drastically to see savings. Kessman says cutting energy consumption by as much as 10 percent is attainable and will have a noticeable impact on your bottom line.
2. Get help. Do you gripe as you pay your utility bills every month but never wonder what you could to lower them? “The biggest mistake [small businesses make] is not working with an energy advisor,” Kessman says. Consulting with an energy advisor enables you to better understand how much energy your business is consuming, where it's being used and how you can better manage your energy use. Most utility companies offer energy advisor services to businesses; if yours doesn’t, or if you’re not satisfied with the service they provide, investigate alternative energy suppliers in your area.
When seeking an energy advisor, Kessman advises you look for someone who is proactive, can help with both short- and long-term planning, and has knowledge of both your industry and your needs. “Remember, different types of businesses have different needs, hours of operation and financial goals," Kessman says, "which makes plan customization extremely important.”
3. Know where you’re starting out. “Always start by benchmarking your current usage so there's a clear baseline for comparison as you make adjustments to your usage and expenditures,” Kessman advises. Once you’ve got a benchmark for comparison, begin with low-cost, high-ROI upgrades such as setting thermostats, fixing water leaks, switching to LED light bulbs or installing wall-mounted light sensors instead of light switches. “It makes no sense to install the latest or most expensive equipment," Kessman points out, "if other areas aren’t operating as efficiently as possible.”
4. Investigate rebates and financing options. “Many low-cost energy-reduction items carry substantial rebates that lower their overall cost and help shorten payback periods,” Kessman notes. To find out about rebates, look at your energy bill. “If your bill reflects a ‘system benefit charge’ on a monthly basis, chances are that money is being set aside in a fund by your local utility and given back to the end user for making energy efficient upgrades,” he says.
Check your local utility websites for information about which types of upgrades are eligible for rebates. This can include everything from lighting to new equipment, boilers and building envelope upgrades such as window film or insulation, Kessman says.
You may also be able to use the money you save by upgrading to pay off those upgrades gradually. “Many [utility] companies offer bill-funding options with no upfront cost to the [business owner],” Kessman says. “These products utilize capital and resources from the energy supplier to help with the planning and upfront cost of upgrades, then bill them back over time.”
5. Think long term. Don’t get too caught up in immediate costs or immediate savings, or let high-pressure tactics from an energy advisor rush you into making a decision. Instead, Kessman advises, “Challenge your energy advisor to think long-term and provide a strategy that’s geared toward [your business’s] usage patterns.”
6. Create an energy-efficient culture. For your energy management strategy to succeed, you need to get your employees on board with your plan. “Have a staff meeting to communicate the importance of your business’s decision to become more sustainable, and appoint an energy captain or team that will help carry out the plan,” Kessman recommends. “This will engage your employees and let them know there's a commitment to make positive changes.
“Next, set attainable and measurable goals for your team," Kessman suggests, "[such as] reducing water consumption by 5 percent this year. Finally, post these goals where everyone can see them, and hold regular meetings to check your progress.”
If you think energy management plans are just for big businesses, manufacturers or other energy-intensive businesses, think again. “Any business that can make a commitment to a simple plan will benefit,” Kessman says, “not to mention the positive impact a collective sustainable effort to reduce energy consumption will provide to our environment and future generations.”
If you're thinking about lowering your energy usage this year, the following resources may provide key information to help you achieve your green goals:
- Energy Star offers guidelines, tools and resources to help companies create strategic energy management programs.
- The SBA website provides articles and links to help you learn the basics of energy management.
- Kessman recommends the U.S. Energy Information Administration as a great place to read case studies and white papers, and learn more about what specific industries are doing to reduce energy usage.
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