Energy efficiency isn’t always at the top of the priority list for small businesses. They have so much going on as part of the day-to-day that the concept of being more sustainable or energy efficient can be on the back burner.
There are important reasons for small businesses to be more energy efficient, however. There are also reasons for a business to embrace sustainability that can have a positive impact on the entire organization and its competitiveness.
Sustainability isn’t just about the environment—there’s a business case for it as well.
The Challenges of Being Energy Efficient and Environmentally-Conscious
Some of the challenges frequently cited by small businesses as far as energy efficiency and sustainability include:
Small business owners may feel that they don’t have the money or resources to put into sustainability and energy efficiency practices.
Small business owners have limited time to invest in sustainability.
Owners of SMBs may not see the value in sustainability and energy efficiency.
Small businesses may be interested in increasing their sustainability and energy efficiency, but they may be unsure of how to begin. It can feel overwhelming and seem like there are many barriers to entry.
These barriers aren’t the reality, however, and when small business owners realize the benefits of improving efficiency and sustainability, it’s something they’re often extremely dedicated to, as are their employees.
Why Should a Small Business Care About Sustainability?
The following are some of the many reasons all small businesses should care about sustainability and improved efficiency.
There is public pressure on businesses of all sizes to do their part when it comes to being environmentally responsible. Customers tend to favor businesses that have practices in line with their own beliefs, morals, and priorities. Sustainability can be a big part of that. Many big businesses already feel the pressure from consumers and the public at large to be sustainable, reduce their carbon footprint, and ensure they’re energy efficient. Many large companies, whether due to government regulations or because of public pressure, are releasing in-depth, transparent reports that show their environmental practices.
Focusing on sustainability and energy efficiency can give you a unique competitive advantage when it comes to branding and marketing, especially since it’s not something all small businesses are yet focusing on. You can be a leader in your industry in this way.
You save money when you’re energy efficient. Energy prices are likely to continue to go up in the coming years, and the Environment Protection Agency Energy Star for Small Business says that companies can increase their energy efficiency by as much as 30% through the use of certain cost-effective technologies.
There is a serious talent shortage that many small businesses face right now, but being a sustainable and environmentally-conscious company can help your employer brand. You’ll be more likely to attract and retain top talent if you have company values that employees find appealing.
Being an energy efficient and sustainable company shows that you’re modern and innovative to potential employees and your customers. It shows you’re flexible and willing to look to the future, rather than remaining stuck in the past, and innovation is important for businesses of all sizes.
Creating an Efficiency and Sustainability Plan
The first step for any small business is to create a general plan and strategy for how they’ll be more efficient and sustainable.
This should include immediate and perhaps low or no-cost things that can be implemented, as well as longer-term and larger strategies. For example, in the short-term, maybe the goal is to lower energy costs each month, but in the long-term, you could have set percentages that you’d like to reduce your costs by year-over-year.
Along with creating a plan, integrate ways that you’ll get employee buy-in. Employees are your most important resource when it comes to sustainability and efficiency. Little changes they make, such as remembering to turn the lights out in the break room when it’s not in use can go a long way.
Let them know not only what your sustainability plan is, but how they specifically fit into it. Make them champions of your energy efficiency plans and get them excited.
Set goals for employees to meet, and reward them with recognition or small prizes for doing so.
To truly be a sustainable company, it needs to be an enduring part of your culture, and getting employee buy-in from the start can help with that.
You should also integrate energy efficiency and sustainability into your overall corporate values and mission statement, to ensure that everyone knows it’s integral to what you do as a business.
As you’re creating a plan for sustainability, do an energy audit. Since you want to make improvements and encourage employees to do the same, you need to have a baseline where you begin.
An energy audit will help you see how much energy you’re currently using, and also allow you to spot specific places where you can make changes.
During an energy audit, a professional will point out areas where you may have air leaks or places where you could replace your current lighting with energy-efficient bulbs and fixtures.
Lastly, research small business energy incentives and rebates that you may be eligible for. In the lighting and electrical industry, many manufacturers, utility companies, and government entities offer rebate programs that encourage consumers to embrace high-efficiency technologies.
Lighting Efficiency Tips
Lighting is one of the largest consumers of electricity for businesses. As a small business, you can have a lighting audit conducted which will, not only help identify current lighting issues but will also guide you through the process of identifying the proper lighting and lumens output for your space.
“According to the most recent Commercial Buildings Energy Consumption Survey (CBECS), 17% of all electricity consumed in U.S. commercial buildings is for lighting, making it the largest end use of electricity.”Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration
In a lighting audit, the lighting expert will typically conduct a lighting snapshot. From this lighting snapshot, they will determine what type of lighting you currently have, how many you have of each type and what the energy savings can be when you retrofit to LED lighting.
This is important because there are foot candle requirements and color rendering considerations that and expert can help you with. For example, in a warehouse lighting retrofit, the high bay lights require lift equipment to change out the lights. Oftentimes companies can reduce the number of lights in a warehouse or gym setting while increasing the quantity and quality of light in the space.
Below are three lighting snapshot worksheets that any small business owner can print and use to do some due diligence if you are considering upgrading the lighting in your office or facility. Whether you are thinking about doing the work yourself, or you’re planning to hire a commercial lighting contractor, these worksheets will help you manage the project more efficiently.
If your location is smaller and does not have a large variety of lights, this is the only worksheet that you will need. Simply list each lamp’s information along with the approximate hours they are used each month. You can use this to calculate how much energy your lighting consumes and how much energy your new LED lighting will save you. Download the printable worksheet here.
If you have a larger facility or if you have a wide variety of lamps and fixtures, use this worksheet along with Room Count worksheet to inventory your facility. Give each lamp type a reverence number that you will use in the Room Count to designate what type of lights are in each room. This saves you time by only having to write information about your lamps once and then refer back to it when you count. Download the printable worksheet here.
Use the Lamp Inventory to reference what types of lights are in each room, how many there are and how many hours per month, on average, they are used. Not only will this information be critical to decisions about what type of lights you will need, but it will also be a valuable help upon installation. Download the printable worksheet here.
And lastly, get even more lighting savings by swapping your traditional light switches for motion-sensing light switches. And add dimmers in rooms with windows so you don’t use as much electricity during daylight hours.
In addition, businesses that upgrade their parking lot lighting to the latest LED technology can reduce even more energy usage. A parking lot lighting contractor can help a business design the right lighting solution within municipal guidelines. Parking lot lights in need of repair can also use energy even when the lights are not on.
General Tips for a More Efficient Office
The following are great places to start working toward more efficiency and sustainability in your workplace, and many are free or low cost to implement.
Use energy efficient light bulbs. This is undoubtedly one of the simplest changes you can make. Remove your incandescent bulbs or fluorescent tubes, and replace them with efficient LED bulbs and fixtures. This will help you save a significant amount on your electricity costs, and the return on investment will be high. Changing old light fixtures can be helpful because old fixtures tend to trap light, whereas new ones will push light outward making for a brighter space with less energy usage.
Use natural light whenever possible. Natural light can reduce the electricity you’re using, and it has the added benefit of being uplifting to employees and helping improve productivity.
Encourage employees to turn off lights when they aren’t being used. You can also utilize lighting controls with sensors, so they automatically turn off when there’s no one using the space. Occupancy sensors are a great way to keep lights off in places like conference rooms or storage areas if no one is there.
Use fans to improve airflow and help reduce the energy used by your AC system.
Encourage casual dress whenever possible in your workplace, especially in the hot summer months. This will keep employees comfortable and cooler, so you can keep your thermostat on a higher setting.
Have employees turn off office equipment when they aren’t using it or at the end of the day. A lot of people don’t realize certain devices, such as computers, appliances, and office equipment all continue to use energy even when no one is actually using them. Turn them off and unplug them whenever possible. Unplugging is important because even if a device is turned off but is still plugged in, it may be using what’s called “phantom energy.” Smart controls can also be used to power down outlets after hours.
Consider installing a programmable thermostat to help reduce energy use when no one is at work. Additionally, if you set your thermostat just one degree higher in the summer months, it can reduce the power usage of an HVAC system by as much as 10%. Smart building controls can also be used to control your HVAC system, maintaining optimal comfort and energy year-round.
Make sure your heating and air equipment are regularly maintained. Faulty HVAC equipment and dirty air filters can easily cause your monthly energy bills to increase.
Other Sustainability Tips for Your Small Business
Some other tips to consider integrating into your small business that aren’t just for energy efficiency but general sustainability include:
If possible, encourage telecommuting at least sometimes. Employees tend to favor a flexible work environment, and it can reduce their carbon footprint, as well as your overhead costs. You’ll use less energy if you have fewer employees in the office when possible.
Monitor your office supplies and make sure you’re not over-ordering or being wasteful in how they’re used.
Stop printing so much if possible, and consider using something like GreenPrint, which is a software program that spots wastefulness in printing and eliminates it.
Rather than printing materials to hand out during meetings, is it possible to send them electronically? For example, if you’re meeting with someone, rather than giving them papers of your presentation, could you send them a slideshow or give them access to it during the meeting?
Do an audit of your hard copy mailing lists and make sure they only include people that you absolutely want to be sending mail to.
If you need new office equipment, think about buying second-hand. It will save you money, and you’re eliminating the waste that would be required to make a new product.
Use green cleaning products around the office.
Add greenery to your office space, which will absorb pollutants, and make the air healthier. It will also make for a more lively and aesthetically pleasing work environment for your employees and your customers.
Consider having your office building L.E.E.D. Certified. LEED certified buildings are safer, greener and save owners on maintenance costs over a building’s life cycle.
What many small business owners should know is that being energy efficient and sustainable is much easier to put into action than they might believe.
The business benefits far outweigh the possible costs of making moves to be more efficient. For example, it can attract more customers and employees, and save money in the long-run. Starting small can have a big impact.