Green Building

Reduce your Consumption, Reduce your Costs: The Business Case for a Green Workplace

Making your workplace environmentally friendly is socially responsible, and it’s good for public relations—but could a green workplace also be good for your bottom line? Absolutely! The things that save you energy can also save you money and enable your workplace to run more efficiently.

green buildingsHere are some strategies that other employers have implemented that have helped save the environment, as well as energy expenses.

Reducing Consumption

Reducing consumption is one way to improve your business’s environmental footprint, while reducing operational expenses. You can reduce your consumption of:

Electricity. In an office building, as much as half of your electricity usage may be for lighting; much of the rest is connected to air-handling systems and office equipment. You can reduce energy consumption related to lighting—and its associated costs—by:

  • Installing motion detectors. In rooms where lighting is not required all of the time, like conference rooms and restrooms, motion sensors can be used to turn lighting on and off as needed.
  • Installing timers and dimmers. In areas where lighting is always required, like hallways and entrances, timers and dimmers can reduce artificial lighting either when natural lighting is available (for example, at entrances or in parking decks during daylight hours) or when brighter lighting is not needed (for example, hallway lights could be dimmer during overnight hours).
  • Changing out your bulbs. Changing out incandescent bulbs for energy-saving fluorescent or LED lighting can reduce both energy consumption and the need to replace bulbs, since these types of lighting last longer.
  • Changing your lamps and ballasts. If your workplace uses a lot of T-12 tubular fluorescent lighting, you can save energy by switching to T-8 electronic ballasts and lamps. These bulbs reduce energy usage—typically, trading the standard T-12, 40-watt lamp for a T-8, 32-watt bulb for the same illumination and better light quality.
  • Installing variable-frequency drives on AC motors. Ifyou have equipment that is controlled by an AC motor, consider equipping it with a variable-frequency drive. Variable-frequency drives reduce the cost of equipment by allowing process-dependent control of the motor’s speed and torque. In addition to reducing overall energy consumption, variable frequency drives also reduce the need for maintenance by enabling smoother operation that creates less wear and tear.

Heating and cooling. The most straightforward way to reduce heating and cooling costs is to adjust your thermostat—keep things a little cooler in the winter and a little warmer in the summer. But there are ways to fine-tune your temperature control so that you can keep workers comfortable while still saving money.

  • Use a programmable thermostat. Overnight, and on holidays and weekends, you can notch the temperature even further up or down to reduce building heating and cooling costs—and a programmable thermostat will enable you to make the process automatic.
  • Install heat reclaim chillers. It is possible to reclaim waste heat from your air-conditioning system for use in other applications, including heating water (for hot water taps, showers, laundry, dishwashing, and other uses) and in building heat. This “waste” heat recovery can result in a substantial energy savings. There are several different types of heat reclaim systems that have different applications; you’ll want to work with a professional to determine what type is the best for your building.
  • Use more boilers. A building with one or two large boilers has a limited ability to fine-tune its heating. Replacing a large boiler with two smaller boilers enables you to use less boiler capacity—and less natural gas—when needed, reducing overall heating costs.

Obviously, electricity and heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) are the areas with the greatest potential return—but that doesn’t mean they’re the only areas you should consider when thinking of your environmental impact.

Reducing Solid Waste

Solid waste disposal can create significant costs to business. Reducing the amount of solid waste you dispose of can help to control those costs, as well as reducing the amount of waste that ends up in landfills. Here are some strategies that can be implemented in the workplace:

Composting. For small amounts of organic waste—cafeteria food wastes, for example—you can create a self-contained workplace program to separate and compost wastes. The types of waste you can compost will depend on the type of system you choose. A vermicomposting system will work for small amounts of vegetable organic waste (red wriggler worms are vegetarians) and requires minimal maintenance. An outdoor compost bin can accept larger amounts of materials, including yard wastes, but still cannot accept meats, dairy products, or waste grease.

Large amounts of organic waste; meat, grease, and dairy waste; and waste paper cups, plates, napkins, and similar materials can be collected and disposed of in a specific composting bin that is periodically emptied and taken to a commercial composting facility. This type of waste reduction program can enable you to greatly reduce the amount of waste that you send to a landfill, especially if you transition to compostable food service materials (for example, plates, cups, and utensils), but you will want to do a careful cost comparison: If commercial composting operations are available in your area, composting may indeed be less expensive than landfilling.

Waste prevention. Waste prevention measures involve reducing the amount of materials you buy in the first place. Generally, paper products are the first target. Moving documents to electronic format as much as possible and using double-sided printing to further reduce paper usage are the first steps to take. Packaging materials are another possible target: Consider whether you could reduce packaging waste by ordering materials in bulk or in concentrated form and by working with suppliers to minimize packaging and increase the use of reusable packaging materials.

Recycling. Recycling can reduce waste disposal costs, especially if recyclers in your area will pay for materials rather than charging for their disposal. Whether this method will be cost-effective for your facility will depend on the types and quantities of recyclable materials that are disposed of in your workplace. Do you have significant quantities of waste glass, plastic, or paper? What about unusual recyclable materials like metals, electronics waste, and tires? It will also depend on available recyclers in your area and whether they require materials to be compacted or baled.

Reducing Water Use

Water usage is another area where you can decrease costs and reduce environmental impacts at the same time. Strategies for reducing water use include:

  • Environmentally friendly landscaping. Landscaping that suits your climate well that is chosen with an eye to its water needs will require less watering than landscaping chosen solely for its appearance or other function (for example, shrubs chosen to disguise unsightly outdoor installations or grass chosen because it’s hardy when walked on).
  • Low-flow fixtures. You can reduce water usage in all sinks and showers by installing low-flow fixtures, aerators, and motion sensors. Toilets and urinals can also be replaced with low-flow or waterless models.
  • Stop doing dishes. If you use a commercial composting program, switching to biodegradable, disposable plates, cups, and utensils in the company cafeteria can eliminate the need to wash dishes.
  • Keep up with maintenance. Make sure that taps don’t leak, and take care of any other water leaks quickly.
  • Recycle water. Water from some building uses may be reclaimed and recycled for use in outdoor watering.
  • Collect rainwater. If it’s legal in your area, you may be able to reduce water usage by collecting rainwater for use in outdoor watering. Be sure to check state and local regulations.