The Business Edge - Protecting Business Assets From Loss

Volume 10, Issue 1

Making Your Business More Energy Efficient

Over the last few decades, low energy prices have permitted U.S. companies to put energy efficiency near the bottom of their priority lists. Poorly insulated buildings have been allowed to leak heat, computers and other equipment have been left on when not in use, and sales representatives have been allocated gas-guzzling company cars. While these inefficiencies may have had relatively little impact on the bottom line while energy was inexpensive, they have been cutting into profits significantly since the recent surge in oil and natural gas prices.

Taking the necessary steps to ensure your facilities, vehicles, and equipment are energy efficient is an investment that can yield substantial dividends. By upgrading to energy-efficient equipment and improving energy management practices, businesses can reduce their energy costs.

Conducting an Energy Audit

If you have not recently conducted an energy audit of your business, consider doing so. Contact your energy utility company to find out if they offer on-site visits from technical consultants, who can inspect your facilities and equipment and recommend ways to reduce your energy use.

You may find that your utility company, and often your state and local government, offers incentives and rebates to businesses that upgrade to more energy-efficient equipment. Many utility and energy service companies have performance contracting or shared savings programs, which enable businesses to buy energy-efficient machinery and systems without investing capital upfront. Instead, the new equipment is paid for over a number of years out of the energy savings generated.

In addition, you may be eligible to take advantage of specialized services, such as the U.S. Department of Energy's Industrial Assessment Centers program, which performs industrial assessments and energy audits for small and medium-sized manufacturers at no cost to the business owner. Government agencies or nonprofits may also provide professional expertise to smaller companies.

Implementing Energy-Saving Measures

Before you bring in the experts, conduct your own informal audit, which may expose areas where you can start saving energy immediately. You can use online tools provided by your utility company or visit www.energyguide.com for an energy use analysis.

Strolling through your building after hours, for example, will demonstrate whether computers and other equipment are left on overnight. Allowing a single monitor to run overnight and on weekends may not seem like a big waste, but costs can add up over time given the volume of equipment your business uses. Instruct your employees to turn equipment off or put computers into sleep mode when they leave work. You may also find that lights are left on, or heating and cooling systems are left running, after hours or in areas of the building that are infrequently used. This can be resolved by educating employees or installing motion sensors or timers. Check, too, for malfunctions in equipment that can cause machines to run inefficiently.

If you have a fleet of company vehicles, consider trading some or all of them in for more fuel-efficient models. Regular maintenance can also help keep gas costs down and your fleet safer. To discourage inappropriate and wasteful use of vehicles, ask employees to log their mileage.

After you have conducted your analysis, you may find that adjusting habits and making even minor improvements to systems that use a lot of energy, such as heating, cooling, or lighting, can produce substantial cost savings.

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