Thanks to environmental, social and business trends, sustainability is becoming much more of a priority for businesses. It not only affects companies’ cost structures, but it is increasingly a crucial differentiator for investors, consumers and B2B customers. What’s the best way to approach integrating sustainable practices in business operations?
Here are seven ideas:
1. Create a sustainability action plan
Commitment to sustainability should begin with the organization’s top executives and become integrated into the company’s vision and operations. As many senior-level executives are unaware of their firm’s energy usage and cost structure, as they are not usually monitored and included in facilities details, a good first step could be a company-wide resource audit that analyzes potential cost savings.1
Performing a company-wide audit of energy usage, water usage and waste/materials management should include the advantages of incorporating renewable, clean energy technologies, like solar, wind turbines, biofuels, microhydropower systems, advanced batteries, LED lighting, etc. The audit should also include a look at local code requirements for a thorough understanding of the technology options for your site.2
Programs like Southface Institute’s Sustainability Services can help an organization or municipality sift through their options for improving operations--—like forming renewable energy plans, designing and/or implementing energy tariff policies or working with fleet managers to assess and enhance fleets—therefore providing teams with the information necessary to help their executives or leaders make informed decisions.
Once a company’s executives have an in-depth understanding of energy needs and costs of potential improvements, it is much easier to formulate a sustainability action plan that prioritizes initiatives.
2. Check your HVAC system
An energy audit may reveal that heating and cooling spaces and heating water are some of your biggest energy expenses. There may be system modifications that can save you money and reduce your company’s impact on the environment. For example:
- Assess your HVAC system to determine if it’s due for an upgrade. Today’s systems are smaller, quieter and produce more heating and cooling with less energy use than systems from a decade or more ago. An upgrade could pay for itself in reduced costs in a very short time.
- Switch to programmable thermostats if applicable.
- Prevent energy losses in ducts by sealing them and improving their insulation effectiveness, or R-value.
- Keep filters changed out on a 6-month (maximum) schedule.3
3. Upgrade lighting
Changing out old fixtures and bulbs for newer, energy-efficient lighting is one of the quickest ways to reduce your energy bills. Even though LEDs are initially more costly than traditional incandescent and fluorescent bulbs, payback from energy savings is now usually between three months and one year, depending on usage and electricity rates. The use of timers, occupancy sensors and photocells that dim and control lights when they’re not in use will also help to reduce costs. Exterior lighting fixture and control system efficiencies should be considered as well.4
4. Improve fleet energy efficiency
If your company operates a fleet, consider transitioning to alternative fuels or electric. Improvements can be made with alternative fuels, as well as switching to hybrid or all-electric vehicles. Alternative fuel vehicles, especially EVs coming off lease, are reaching price-parity with internal combustion vehicles. That, coupled with the fact that operations and maintenance are greatly reduced, makes a strong business case for electrification of fleets. Most local utilities, including Georgia Power, offer rebates and reduced billing rates to purchase, install and use electric charging equipment, plus on-bill financing to some business customers to make the infrastructure affordable.
5. Reduce water waste
Water is becoming an increasingly scarce resource, and all businesses—regardless of size—must begin using it more responsibly. A careful examination of pipes, toilets and faucets could reveal areas where water is leaking. Small drips may seem insignificant, but they add up over time. Sealing or replacing leaky pipes, toilet valves and faucets will help conserve water and lower your costs. Many companies are turning to sensor-operated, touchless faucets and toilets to reduce water consumption while improving hygiene.
6. Practice sustainable landscaping
A sustainable, water-conscious landscape is another way to conserve water and energy, as well as reduce waste and decrease runoff. Some tips to help achieve a sustainable landscape include:
- Select native and drought-tolerant plants.
- Reduce or eliminate turf around buildings.
- Install green infrastructure, like rain gardens or bioretention areas.
- Use efficient irrigation, like drip irrigation systems, rainwater harvesting and technologies that include moisture sensors and weather station controllers to end unnecessary watering.5
7. Divert waste
Establish a recycling program or make your current one more robust. This includes addressing food waste by composting and working with local agencies that collect leftover food and redistribute it. Such practices will help address the problem of having 52 million tons of food Americans sent to landfills each year, as well as help feed the one in every seven people in the U.S. who is food insecure.6
So which steps are you and your business ready to take? Whether large or small, well-established or new, any business can find a path toward better building and operations health and a more sustainable future. Contact Southface Institute’s Sustainability Services to find out more.