Probably the easiest, quickest, and most practical tactic for going green is to look at your energy consumption as a source for potential savings. Most small businesses consume more energy than necessary. Reducing your energy bill is not only a form of going green, but it makes good financial sense.
U.S. businesses consume energy in a variety of forms: petroleum (including gasoline, heating oil, propane, and jet fuel), natural gas, electricity, coal, renewable fuels (including solar, wind, and ethanol), and nuclear. For most small businesses, electricity is typically the energy most commonly consumed.
Energy costs are expected to rise significantly in the coming years. At the same time, new and innovative means for using energy more efficiently are being developed. Commercial non-renewable energy expenditures in the U.S. are expected to be about $175.5 billion in 2008, a significant increase over the $159.3 billion spent in 2005, according to the Energy Information Administration. Industrial energy expenditures accounted for another $222.8 billion, up from just over $203 billion in 2005. The EIA predicts that commercial and industrial expenditures will peak in 2009, then begin coming down as renewable sources become more popular. Those numbers could, of course, be affected by worldwide economic conditions.
Take Two Simple Steps
The two simplest pieces of advice for conserving energy are to turn off the lights and to turn off your computer (or computers) at night. It sounds simple, but many small business owners fail to do even those simple tasks. According to a study commissioned by Sun Microsystems, Inc., only 42 percent of workers turn off the lights and only 34 percent turn off their computers when the work is done. If they did, according to Go Green, Live Rich: 50 Simple Ways to Save the Earth and Get Rich Trying by David Bach and Hilary Rosner, $43 billion in energy costs would be saved and CO2 emissions would be reduced by 32 million tons!
As a result, adopting those two simple steps can result in cost savings and can constitute the beginning of a green policy, and without ever having to hug a single tree. For the small business owner interested in building on those simple first steps, consider adopting the following additional steps involving electrical use:
- Replace your incandescent light bulbs with compact fluorescent light bulbs. A 25-watt compact fluorescent bulb produces about as much light as a 100-watt conventional bulb but uses only one-quarter of the electricity, which means that the average 25-watt compact fluorescent bulb will save the equivalent of 100 pounds of carbon dioxide per year, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. Once quite expensive, prices for compact fluorescent bulbs have gotten so low that some compact fluorescents pay for themselves in energy savings the first month.
- Turn off your lights, not just at the end of every day, but also at any time during the day when you aren't using them for 15 minutes or more.
- Set your computer to go to sleep automatically during breaks.
- If you charge electronic devices (cell phones, MP3 players, electronic book readers, etc.), unplug the adapters when you're not charging the device.
- In a home office, you can run all your electronic products through a power strip and then turn off the power strip when you're not using the products.
Additional Energy Savings
Another good piece of advice applies equally to home and to office: set your thermostat lower by a few degrees in the winter and higher by a few degrees in the summer. Even small changes can make a difference. For example, for every 1 degree Fahrenheit reduction you make in the winter, you can save 3 percent in total energy use.
In addition, consider purchasing an adjustable thermostat, if you don't already have one, so that you can program your thermostat to reduce energy output overnight. Use as much natural light for warmth in the winter by keeping your blinds open. Conversely, keep the blinds shut during especially warm days in the summer to reduce the load on your cooling system. Simple advice, yes, but it will help you reduce your energy costs.
Buildings and Offices
For those who own their own building, there is much that can be done in addition to turning off lights and computers. For more on how to reduce energy costs in a building, see Operating an Office or Building.
Gasoline for cars is another common expenditure for small business owners. For suggestions on how to save on gasoline and other transportation-related costs, see Getting From Place to Place.