• Mandy Green

Your Two-Step Guide to Sustainability

Pressure from customers, board members, stakeholders, and employees are driving business owners to pursue more sustainable measures throughout their companies. These changes will help them become more efficient and shrink their environmental footprint, benefiting the company’s operational outlook and the nearby community. A healthy business promotes a clean environment, stable jobs, and long-term growth for the community. Sustainability seems like a big task (and it is) but the process of becoming more sustainable can be broken down into two major steps: reducing consumption and switching to sustainable resources.

These two actions are very easily implemented and bring immediate, tangible results to your sustainability plan. Commercial businesses and industrial facilities are heavy energy users and often create a lot of waste. Many of these facilities were built decades ago and still use the original lighting, machinery, and equipment which are now outdated and inefficient. Therefore, by first decreasing the amount of energy used with upgraded technology and equipment, then powering the remaining consumption with sustainable resources such as solar or wind, a company can significantly decrease their operating costs and environmental footprint.

1. Reduce Consumption

Decreasing consumption is always the first step in becoming sustainable. It is the easiest and most impactful action you can take to eliminate unnecessary waste and help your dollar stretch further. Efficiency is key – get the job done with less energy and resources. Without first reducing your consumption, you will continue to pay for needless power and negate any progress you have already made.

Upgrading to energy efficient lighting, appliances, and HVAC systems will cut a huge portion of a facility’s energy use. When choosing a new lighting fixture, you should consider LED; LEDs are currently the best lighting technology that will give you the most bang for your buck. They use about a third of the energy and provide better light output than older technologies. They are also rated for 50,000 operating hours compared to 10,000 hours for metal halide and 20,000 hours for fluorescent. In a standard manufacturing facility, LEDs would operate for 10 years before needing replacement.

Additionally, modern lighting fixtures can be equipped with motion, daylight, and occupancy sensors to dim or turn off lights that are not needed. A 2011 study by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory found that, on average, lighting controls save an estimated 24% of lighting energy use and the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory found that HVAC controls also save an estimated 24% of HVAC energy use on average. Automatic controls such as variable fan speed and ventilation for HVAC systems can drive down energy use and still keep the facility at an appropriate temperature. Newer appliances are incorporating these features as a standard offering, simultaneously becoming more powerful and efficient as the products improve.

To help determine the best products to use, look for the Energy Star label. The Energy Star program is a well-recognized label to help individuals and businesses identify energy efficient products. The EPA also helps larger commercial and industrial facilities overhaul their energy usage, providing an online tool to measure and track consumption throughout a building. They offer recognition and Energy Star certification for energy efficient buildings to further distinguish your company from competitors. While the label is not the sole criteria for evaluating energy efficiency, it is an easy way to ensure you’re getting quality products that will perform the way you expect them to.

2. Switch to Sustainable Resources

Once you have reduced your energy consumption as much as possible, it is time to look at your source of energy. Most commercial and industrial facilities use electricity for a majority of their operations, which is often powered by coal or natural gas from a utility. Coal and natural gas have heavy environmental footprints and many utilities are committing to phase these out for less carbon-intensive resources. IRENA analysis suggests that replacing existing 800GW capacity of coal-fired plants would "cut annual system costs by USD 32 billion per year and reduce annual CO2 emissions by around 3 Gigatonnes of CO2.”

Luckily, alternative clean energy sources like wind and solar are much more commonplace and are proving to be valuable elements of the energy mix. Electricity consumers around the world are recognizing the potential of wind and/or solar to produce a large amount of their daily electricity needs. Furthermore, they are substantially cheaper than a decade ago – solar PV prices have declined 82% and onshore wind prices have declined 40%. A wider understanding of the technology, favorable economics, and desire to switch to cleaner energy sources are driving a big shift towards renewable energy.

Renewable energy systems can be small, localized systems meant to provide energy to one or a few users or large-scale systems that provide energy to a whole utility grid. This flexibility allows people that desire more independence from the utility to install their own systems but also offers those that prefer the traditional utility setup to have cleaner energy options. Corporate consumers also have the option to join the EPA’s voluntary Green Power Partnership Program. The program helps businesses procure green energy and provides resources and assistance to encourage the continued use of green energy in order to achieve Clean Air Act requirements.

If switching to renewable energy is not a viable solution for your facility, there are other indirect methods of improving your sustainability portfolio. You can participate in community solar or wind farms to receive clean energy from a nearby system. It benefits your local community with access to more environmentally friendly energy and lowers individual cost burdens for the participants. Carbon offset credits are another popular option for businesses to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. Put very simply, it essentially allows you to purchase credits for carbon dioxide emissions reductions made by others and include that reduction in your sustainability portfolio. There are many different purchasing models and certifications for these credits that should be carefully considered before making your decision; it is important to know if the credits you purchase are going to meet your expectations.

With these two steps, your facility will be on the way to a significantly improved sustainability portfolio and a much lower energy bill. By first reducing consumption and then switching to sustainable resources, you can become more efficient and offer long-lasting value to your customers. Consumers are paying attention to the actions of their favorite brands – it would be shortsighted to ignore their influence in a competitive market. Investing in sustainability keeps you ahead of the competition and positioned for success while others scramble to keep up.