Energy is often the first thing people think of when they consider greening their business. Energy affords some of the easiest and least expensive ways to cut costs, improve efficiency and reduce environmental impact. Most businesses can reduce their energy costs by 25% or more by following simple steps that often pay for themselves in a relatively short time.
The most common recommendations involve replacing materials and equipment, such as lights and furnaces, with more efficient products. However, significant energy savings can often be realized simply through increased awareness and easy behavioral changes like remembering to close windows and turn off lights.
Information and recommendations for saving energy are grouped into several categories:
Lighting traditionally comprises 20% to 50% of small business electricity use. Efficient new lighting technologies can often provide higher quality light for your workspace with fewer fixtures, all while reducing consumption and ultimately, saving you money.
Lighting is often the most cost-effective place to start because it’s easy to install and usually less expensive than other investments, leading to rapid payback times.
- Replace incandescent bulbs with ENERGY STAR compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs) wherever appropriate. They last up to 10 times longer and use about 75% less energy than standard incandescent bulbs.
- Replace incandescent or fluorescent exit signs with ultra high-efficiency LED signs. More information is available at the LED Center.
- Replace T12 fluorescent bulbs with new, higher-efficiency T8 bulbs and electronic ballasts.
- Use occupancy sensors that automatically turn off lights in occasional-use areas (Or post prominent signs asking people to turn off lights when they’re leaving a room!)
- Take advantage of free, natural daylight where possible.
- Examine your lighting requirements: don’t use more lighting than is necessary and don’t light areas that don’t need to be lit.
- Dispose of fluorescent lamps properly. Details are available at EPA's lamp waste management page.
- Recycle lamps where possible. Find recycling firms at lamprecycle.org or EPA's bulb recycling page.
Heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems often consume the largest portion of energy at a small business. Simple steps to maintain equipment and reduce waste can really pay off, until it’s time to replace the system.
- Have your heating system tuned up, replacing filters and checking belts and calibration.
- Install programmable thermostats to automatically reduce usage when buildings are unoccupied.
- Make sure that air vents are not blocked by furniture.
- Upgrade to the most energy efficient new systems you can afford; ask for ENERGY STAR-rated equipment. While ENERGY STAR can cost more upfront, the energy savings more than pay it back over the life of the equipment.
Check out EPA's Heat & Cool Efficiently page.
Consisting of walls, floors, ceiling, roof, windows and doors, the building envelope is what separates you from winter cold and summer heat. Effective steps to save energy by properly maintaining the building envelope can range in cost from zero (closing windows and doors) to thousands of dollars (upgrading windows, doors and insulation).
- Keep exterior windows and doors closed while HVAC systems are running.
- Seal cracks and seams between floor and walls, around window and door frames, and around air conditioners and pipes that penetrate walls; weatherstrip windows and doors.
- Make sure that walls, attics and roofs are properly insulated and/or increase the level of insulation.
- Consider upgrading to ENERGY STAR windows and doors.
For information on green products and technologies for the building envelope, visit Build It Green.org.
For comprehensive information, visit the Department of Energy's Building Technologies website.
As energy costs continue to rise, more and more businesses are asking about solar, wind, and geothermal power and other renewable sources of energy. Buying or generating power from renewable sources reduces pollution, conserves resources, and helps reduce the nation’s dependence on fossil fuels.
Most business owners are concerned about the expense of installing an alternative energy system. Many systems still have long payback time horizons, but equipment prices are falling and financial incentives are growing. The federal government offers tax incentives to businesses for installing certain alternative energy systems, and many states, including Pennsylvania, offer loans, grants, and tax credits as well.
- Contact your electric provider and inquire about purchasing green power, generated from renewable sources such as wind, hydroelectric and solar. Most PA utilities offer this option for a small premium.
- Consider a ground-source heat pump (often called “geothermal”) if you need to replace your HVAC equipment. This equipment can be expensive, but provides surprisingly quick payback times due to greatly increased energy efficiency. Visit the Department of Energy's Geothermal Heat Pumps page for more information.
- Installing solar photovoltaic panels (PV) is a significant investment with a longer payback time, but may make sense for businesses with the right location and exposure.