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How To Put Some Green Into Your Business

What began as a campaign to cut costs through energy conservation has become something of an obsession for Jose Duarte.

The owner and head chef of Taranta restaurant in Boston’s historic North End, who received the City of Boston’s 2008 Green Business Award, has implemented more than 30 eco-friendly upgrades to his restaurant over the last two years.

Among them: an in-house carbonation system that eliminates bottled waste, a recycling and composting program that reduced the restaurant’s garbage production to a fraction of what it once was and a diesel delivery truck that’s been retrofit to run on filtered grease from the kitchen.

(It saves so much on gas that Duarte traded in his own sports utility vehicle for an older model Mercedes Benz that’s been converted to run on grease as well.)

“We try to synchronize eco-friendliness into every business decision we make,” says Duarte. “We’re still finding ways to conserve. If you save energy, you save money.”

That, says Maria Vargas, spokesperson for the federal government’s Energy Star program, is what going green is all about.

“It’s about squeezing the waste out of these systems and using energy more efficiently,” she says, noting every penny saved on utility bills is money that can be used for new equipment, more staff or a bigger bottom line.

According to Energy Star, a joint program of the Environmental Protection Agency and the Energy Department, the average U.S. business can save 30 percent or more on their bills through money-saving investments in energy efficiency.

Take Marriott International . The hotel and resort company saved nearly $7.8 billion on energy bills in 2007 alone through its eco-friendly initiatives, equivalent to an increase in the company’s average daily room rate of 15 cents.

Beverage leader PepsiCoreports a $250 million savings since the inception of its corporate energy management program in 2000.

“If you want to go solar that’s great and we encourage it, but you don’t have to immediately jump to an investment in solar panels,” notes Vargas. “There are so many cost-effective things that businesses of any size can do to make a big difference that you don’t have to go from zero to 120.”

So, if you run your own business owner or are a decision maker at someone else's company, here’s how you can green your routine while fattening the bottom line.

Commuting

By far, one of the most effective ways to reduce your company’s carbon footprint is to introduce flexible employee commuter options.

AP

Many companies encourage staff to give up their cars a number of ways: subsidizing the cost of mass transit tickets, offering telecommuting where possible, providing preferred parking spots for car-poolers and bikers, organizing carpool boards to help co-workers find each other and offering parking cash-out incentives, which compensate employees who opt out of using a parking space.

Other companies provide incentives for employees to “live near their work,” offering down payment assistance on a home and rent subsides.

Notes Jessica Fullmer, founder of the Sustainable Business Institute in San Jose, Calif., such initiatives not only make it easier to recruit, but reduce costly turnover by keeping employees happy.

“Young people today are absolutely voting with their feet,” she says. “They care about the difference that their company makes in society and the environment and they won’t go to work for companies that are not values driven.”

For more information on cost-effective commuter programs, the Federal Highway Administration publishes its “Guide to Implementing Effective Commuter Choice Programs.”

Hit The Lights

It’s hard to miss this area of potential energy savings.

Be sure your lights get turned off every night, use natural light wherever possible and replace incandescent light bulbs with compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs).

CFLS cost about 75 percent less to operate, according to Energy Star, and last 10-times longer.

“The savings for a commercial office building can be 70 percent to 80 percent if workers make it a habit of turning off the lights when they’re gone for 15 minutes or more,” says Fullmer.

The Paper Trail

The average U.S. office worker goes through 12,000 sheets of paper a year, according to the Worldwatch Institute, an independent research group.

To reduce waste and save money, require all employees to use both sides of the paper at the printer and use all available white space on previously-printed paper for taking notes.

At the same time, invest in chlorine-free paper with a higher percentage of recycled materials and switch to lighter stock or alternatives made from bamboo, hemp or organic cotton.

Lastly, post all employee manuals online.

Green Your Routine
Green Your Routine

Water Heating

For many businesses, including hotels, restaurants and industrial sites, hot water is a significant component of their building’s total energy consumption. (Forty-two percent of energy use in the lodging industry, for instance, goes for water heating, according to the Energy Departments’ Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) division.)

Nearly every office building, however, spends more for the luxury of having hot water than they would have to.

That’s because traditional water heaters heat water continually within the storage tanks, using gas, oil or electricity, wasting energy even when the faucet is turned off.

Chris Kielich, a spokeswoman for the EERE, notes businesses can make a big dent in utility bills by reducing hot water use with water-saving fixtures and appliances.

They can save even more by replacing outdated water heaters with newer energy efficient models that heat water on demand.

Duarte, who purchased a tankless, on-demand water heater earlier this year, says he not only saved $4,000 on the purchase price (relative to an traditional water heater), but continues to save $150 to $200 per month on his utility bills.

Electronics

It’s expensive and wasteful to leave computers, printers and fax machines running all night, because even when inactive they still consume energy. Also, the heat they generate increases the amount of air conditioning needed to cool equipment and the building in general.

“Turn off your computers and the power strip it’s plugged into when you leave for the day,” says Fullmer, noting managers should consult their information technology department to ensure their computers don’t need to stay on to run backup maintenance. “Otherwise you’re burning energy even if you’re not burning the midnight oil.

Instructing your employees to set their computers to “sleep” mode (rather than using a screen saver) when not in use can also cut energy significantly.

Heating And Air Conditioning

AP

HVAC systems (heating, ventilating and air conditioning) account for 40 to 60 percent of the energy used in U.S. commercial and residential buildings.

Be sure to change or clean your HVAC filters monthly during peak cooling or heating seasons.

Dirty filters cost more to use, overwork the equipment and result in lower indoor air quality.

To optimize efficiency, also consider installing a programmable thermostat that tells your systems to kick in one hour before your staff arrives in the morning and shut down after normal business hours.

Check Your Shell

Even in newer buildings, the exterior of your office requires regular audits to determine whether insulation and weather stripping are doing their job.

Gaps around doors and window frames should be filled with caulk, spray foam or batting.

Weather stripping that is missing, hard or cracked should be replaced and door sweeps under exterior doors will keep the cold at bay.

To track and assess energy and water consumption in your office, and benchmark your performance relative to similar buildings nationwide, try Energy Star’s online portfolio manager tool.

Good Will

There’s no doubt that going green can save your company some serious cash, but there are other equally important perks to consider as well – namely the good will it garners among customers, business associates and employees alike.

As a business owner, Duarte says he doesn’t advertise his restaurant as eco-friendly but word definitely gets around.

“If someone asks why we have LED lights at the table instead of candles we tell them, but we don’t shove it down their throats,” he says. “Once the customer learns we’re benefiting the environment it creates loyalty and that has a great multiplier effect in terms of public relations. It’s a win-win situation.”

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