21 Ways to Save the Earth and Make More Money
Move Over Tree Huggers, Business is Getting its Green On
It’s hard to say exactly when it happened.
The success of Al Gore’s documentary “An Inconvenient Truth,” was certainly momentous in the shift of public opinion on climate change. Then there were events like Hurricane Katrina. The tsunami in Southeast Asia. The Democrats winning Congress.
Somewhere, somehow, talk about what our addiction to fossil fuels is doing to Mother Earth turned commonplace, from our news outlets to our dinner tables.Somewhere, somehow, the debate on climate change became less about whether it is happening and more about how bad it is.
Businesses are talking about it, too. Though the growing discussion in company boardrooms is perhaps driven more by old school economics than social consciousness. Technology is getting better, resources such as oil are scarcer and more expensive, and green business practices, like energy-efficiency measures, save money.
Take the Waikiki Beach Marriott Resort & Spa, one of the state’s 2007 Green Awards winners. The hotel upgraded its air-conditioning system and installed energy-efficient fixtures. The Marriott’s investment of more than $1 million now saves the hotel $350,000 a year, and with $220,000 in tax rebates, will nearly pay for itself in two years. So in year three, the Marriott will start saving $350,000 annually in operating costs.
Then there are small businesses like Young Laundry & Drycleaning. With minor modifications, Mike Drace, the company president, now runs his boilers on recycled cooking oil. “We save $1,500 a week,” says Drace. (His profile is at the bottom of the page.)
That’s why, for example, top commercial real estate investors invited a panel of experts to a meeting in April to talk about greening their industry. A commercial real estate investor association is not exactly a sister organization of Greenpeace. Operating costs are an important factor in a building’s worth and Hawaii has the highest energy cost in the country.
Consider, too, that case studies show the many green policies and practices can reduce absenteeism and turnover. Explains Kevin Vaccarrello, of the nonprofit Sustain Hawaii, green building design improves air quality and general atmosphere so workers are healthier and more productive. Vaccarrello says it can raise morale, too, particularly with Gen X and Y, employees who are markedly more sensitive to environmental issues and “don’t want to work for the bad guy.”
Vaccarrello adds that selling a green product is an increasingly powerful competitive advantage. Some people really will choose one product or company over another if the product or company is more environmentally friendly.
All of which is not to say that some businesses aren’t going green for the environmental and social value, as well. Architect Joe Ferraro, who builds green buildings, used to worry about the environment his grandchildren would inherit. Then he started worrying about his kids. “Now I will see the impacts in my lifetime,” says Ferraro. (His profile is on page 32.) Then there is Lena Gan, of Merrill Lynch, who is cultivating clients who want to leave a legacy, as well as make money. Gan is pointing investors toward increasingly profitable green companies. (Her profile is at the bottom of the page.)
With all that in mind, we assembled 21 ways to get you started on the road to a green business. Many will save you money. Many will make your company more productive. All of them will help the aina and sustain our way of life in Hawaii.
So let’s get our green on.
1. See the Light
What if someone offered to retrofit your office with energy-efficient lights, and said it would save on your energy bills, cause fewer emissions and wouldn’t cost you one green cent? Miles Kubo, president of Energy Industries Inc., says most chief financial officers hear that pledge and their defenses go up. “They think it’s too good to be true,” Kubo says. It’s not. Of all the green cost saving measures, this might be the easiest one. If you pay for the retrofitting up front, the cost is often recouped in a few years through power bill savings. But if a company leases the equipment or takes out a loan for the improvements, the cost-savings on the energy bills covers the lease and loan payments, eliminating upfront costs.
Check out Hawaiian Electric Co.’s business energy program online to get started.
2. Stop the Paper Chase
The average office uses an estimated 350 pounds of paper per employee per year. Depending on the size of the company, that adds up to anywhere from hundreds to thousands of pounds of paper used every year. So go paperless. Send reports, memos and newsletters digitally. Keep easily searchable digital files instead of bulky paper files. You can also set your printers to print double-sided, print draft documents on the blank backside of used paper and buy recycled paper. All of these measures save you money because you are using less.
Then make sure you recycle what you do use. By recycling 1 ton of paper, you save 17 trees, almost 7,000 gallons of water, and more than 3 cubic yards of landfill space, according to Office Depot. You can call your county office today and tap into programs that help companies start recycling. The biggest hurdle is desire.
3. Green Your Commute
Some companies are going as far as replacing company cars with hybrids. But another, easier way to reduce car emissions is to drive less. There are a few ways for a company to encourage this. One is carpooling. Set up a system for your employees to catch rides with each other. They save money on gas and parking. Or create a bus pass incentive and find a place to store bicycles and change clothes at work. Another way to aid in the reduction of traffic and emissions is by letting employees work from home. These initiatives might not create direct savings for the company, but they can for your employees. They also provide the flexibility workers are looking for today, and that means less turnover.
4. Skip the Flight
Cars are not the only mode of transportation kicking up bad emissions. Even the short flights to Neighbor Islands contribute markedly to greenhouse gases as takeoffs produce much more emissions for airlines than flight at altitude. To reduce your business’ contribution to bad emissions, encourage teleconferencing. Clearly, some deals need to be made in person, and we are not suggesting you lose a contract because your competition is giving more personal attention, but there are many tasks that can be effectively done with technology. You will also save on travel costs.
5. Go Toxic-Free
Hate the piercing smell of a freshly painted office? There is good reason. It’s likely not very good for you. Nor are some of the caustic cleaning fluids used to scrub your workplace. The good news is that an ever-increasing number of products, such as cleaning fluids, printing inks, paints and even carpet glues, are free of caustic chemicals. Some of these products could potentially cost a little more, while some run about the same as conventional products. But the cumulative effect of the improved indoor air quality can be a big boost for morale and can lower absenteeism and increase productivity of employees.
6. Stem the Water Flow
When Punahou School first proposed waterless urinals for the new Case Middle School, physical plant manager Steve Piper says they weren’t even mentioned in the building code. But Punahou pushed to get them installed and they save about 2,568 gallons of water a day for the school. So, while they might run a little more than conventional urinals up front, they save quite a bit of water and are odorless. If waterless urinals are too much for you, even sensor-activated sinks can save on water usage and bills. The general idea is to evaluate your system, find any leaks and make sure that you are using the most efficient technology.
The U.S. Green Building Council reports you can save upward of 50 percent on water bills by going green.
7. Green Your Roof
This is exactly what it sounds like: Put plants on your roof. The effort can range from laying soil down end to end (and reinforcing the roof supports) or just putting potted plants on the roof. This shades the roof and reduces the amount of work your air conditioners have to do. Green roofs also absorb rainwater and play a small part in absorbing carbon emissions. If done right, which includes using plants that can live on the natural rainfall, a green roof can even be used as an architectural element and enhance the look of the building.
8. White Your Roof Instead
OK, maybe mowing the roof is over the top for you. You can also lay down a coat of white paint and reduce your power bill. It’s that simple. Roofs are usually black and act as heat magnets. Perhaps in a cold climate that might help in the winter, but in paradise, no need. You can also consider using materials that absorb less heat if you are building from scratch or putting on a new roof.
9. Flip the Switch
So you don’t want to make any capital improvements to lower your power bill. Well, you can take a good hack at your bill just by turning off the lights, computers and other office equipment when they are not in use, either overnight or when they are not needed for any significant duration. For example, in the home, 75 percent of electricity is used by products in standby mode. Sustainability expert Stephen Meder, of the University of Hawaii, says if everyone practiced flipping the switch, we would need five or six fewer nuclear power plants in the United States. To make this easy, group equipment on central power strips.
10. Build (or renovate) green
The idea here is to design in both environmentally friendly and energy-efficient ways, and the building methods encompass a lot of the green practices on the list. But the key here is to understand that green building does not have to be difficult or costly. One of the simplest and most successful green building techniques is daylighting, which means usually natural lighting to light a building. This can be done with skylights or even putting up window shelves so they reflect additional light into the room and minimize the need for artificial light.
For a full list of the many techniques to improve a building’s efficiency and minimize its impact, check out the U.S. Green Building Council Web site, www.usgbc.org. The USGBC has developed a set of green standards to help guide both new construction and renovations, called Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, or LEED.
11. Carbon Credit Your Account
OK, you’ve done everything you can think of to green your business. You’ve upgraded everything, your lighting fixtures, your air-conditioning units. You recycle everything. You even offer a financial benefit for people who bike to work and you’ve planted grass on your roof. But your company is far from carbon neutral. Companies worldwide will sell you carbon credits that go toward such things as reforestation projects in South America and offset your emissions. And now, a local startup, called Eco2balance will sell you credits for projects in Hawaii. For $12 you can support forestry projects and renewable energy research in Hawaii. That offsets 1 ton of emissions. To put it into context, the average car creates nearly 5 tons of emissions per year.
12. Be an Energy Star
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has a program called Energy Star, which features energy-efficient electronics and appliances that are better for the environment and save consumerÕs money. The program has received a lot of attention for the home, but Energy Star has plenty of equipment for the office, too. So when you need a new printer or copy machine, consider upgrading to an environmental model. Check outwww.energystar.com for more information.
13. Involve Your Customer
There is no reason to go it alone. Your customers might appreciate being able to reduce their impact with less packaging and less resource usage. Perhaps people really don’t want paper or plastic. Hotels in Hawaii have made a huge impact by placing cards in rooms that allow guests to refuse a daily towel and linen change. The Hawaii Prince Hotel Waikiki experienced a 50 percent drop in linen changes and a 20 percent drop in towel changes. That of course saved quite a bit of money.
Such conservation-minded measures can also be the reasons customers pick your company over another.
14. Form a Green Team
To really institute green policies at a workplace, you need employee participation. This can also be a tremendous source of ideas as your younger employees are often more in tune with green practices. The guy in your marketing department probably already recycles at home and has already reduced the garbage he sends to the landfill each week to one bag. Let him help do that for your company and save you some money. It can also be a big morale boost for them to be involved in making the company more environmentally friendly.
15. Measure Your Footprint
In commercial buildings, roughly 30 percent of the operating cost is for energy. One of the first things you should do to get a handle on your usage is find out exactly where you stand in terms of efficiency. Do an energy audit. You can hire an expert to do this or there are free tools online that can walk you through it. The tools can also let you know what kind of payback you could get after upgrading your operations for better efficiency. The Web site EnergyStar.gov is highly recommended.
Similar methods can be used to examine your water usage and your waste stream to find better efficiencies.
16. Upgrade Your AC
Upward of 50 percent of a building’s power bill can go toward air conditioning. The money is often being spent on old models of air conditioning that are not anywhere near as efficient as the technologies today. One particular problem with older models is that they are always running full bore, making the office too cold and wasting energy. Says Dean Oshiro, program engineer, with Hawaiian Electric’s energy solutions for business program, you can save 10 percent to 20 percent on your air conditioning power use by upgrading. You may save even more depending upon the age of your air conditioner.
And don’t forget about the tax credits available.
17. Go Renewable
This is an area of opportunity that will only continue to grow as technology gets more and more cost effective. Dean Oshiro, of Hawaiian Electric, says alternative energies such as photovoltaic (sun-created power) are more feasible on the Neighbor Islands, where power is more expensive. Though with the current generous federal tax breaks, renewable is becoming more affordable for everyone. Technologies such as solar heaters can be very cost effective, Oshiro says, particularly in larger buildings.
All of these methods will be real boons for Mother Earth.
18. Foster Company Outreach
Perhaps the biggest obstacle to becoming environmentally friendly is awareness. There are so many small things that can be done once people start considering their impact. So make it a theme for your company and encourage volunteerism that gets people in touch with human impact on the environment. Maybe adopt a stream or get out and do a beach cleanup. It can raise morale and help protect the Earth.
19. Recycle Your Skyscraper
Mike Leary, owner of Island Demo, says just about everything in a demolition project, from a skyscraper to a minor renovation, can be recycled for new construction. Because it doesn’t make sense to burden our landfill with all that debris while in some far-off places people are using new resources to produce those same materials and then charging us high prices to buy and ship them here. Leary says a company like his also offers people a discount on the demolition bill for money Island Demo gets for recycling materials. In some cases, you can donate materials to nonprofit organizations and get a tax break. Leary says the only drawback is the process takes a little longer and some contractors are on tight schedules.
On the flip side, you can also use recycled materials in your new construction.
20. Green Your Coffee Hour
Going green is largely about changing perspective and habits. Nothing gets to that faster than bringing up coffee at work. According to nonprofit Kanu Hawaii, if you use a 16-ounce travel mug for your java fix 1,000 times, “you will eliminate 405.26 pounds of greenhouse gases, prevent 61.9 pounds of solid waste and save $642.50 worth of cups.” So why not give out reusable coffee mugs, maybe with the company logo on them and a green motto? This is inexpensive and a great symbolic gesture that will also do a lot for our Islands.
Plus, Starbucks gives discounts for recyclable cups.
21. Share the Wealth
Companies worried about the state of the planet have taken the additional step of dedicating a portion of their revenues to organizations that combat things such as global warming. On a national scale, the most well-known program is 1% for the Planet, started by Yvon Chouinard, founder of Patagonia Inc., and Craig Mathews, owner of Blue Ribbon Flies. Eight companies from Hawaii participate in the program and arrangements can be made to funnel that money to local organizations.
This can do wonders for the aina, and as an added incentive, it also might lead to more revenues from green-minded customers.
Joe Ferraro, Ferraro – Choi
Joe Ferraro’s firm Ferraro-Choi designed the Hawaii Gateway Energy Center, the building covered with photovoltaic panels visible when landing in Kona. The structure produces more power than it uses. His firm also designed the Waipahu Intermediate School Cafeteria, a totally green building and is now part of a team designing a new green headquarters for the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration on Sand Island. The firm, too, is working on green laboratories for the University of Hawaii on Coconut Island.
He also led a group of architects that renovated the American Institute of Architect Hawaii downtown office. The office, pictured here, is nationally recognized for its green elements.
His firm even designed a research facility for the National Science Foundation at the South Pole.
But what has really gotten Ferraro excited about green building is that in the past six months, Ferraro has been invited by two different real estate groups to talk about green building. Ferraro says it has been easy to sell green building to institutions with long-term horizons, like government and nonprofits. But increasingly, he says, the private sector is recognizing that the value of building increases if you cut operating costs with green measures.
Ferraro says the energy efficiency saves companies money, but the improved atmosphere and air quality improves a company’s productivity. That’s his sales pitch. Though, he adds, what keeps him passionate is that green building is also very good for Mother Earth.
“I used to do this for my grandchildren,” Ferraro says. “Now I am going to be affected before I die.” -SR
Mike Drace, President, Young Laundry and Drycleaning
Mike Drace remembers how his neighbor, a staunch environmentalist, was always after him to recycle his metal hangers. “The dry-cleaning business is a very low-profit-margin business,” Drace would explain to his neighbor. But his neighbor wouldn’t give up. “He bugged me so much that one day I sat down and did the numbers,” Drace says.
Drace took it further than that. First, he calculated that his 13 stores went through 7,000 hangers a day and if they could recycle half that number they could save about $120 per day. Then he found inexpensive labor to sort the hangers so that modest savings would cover the recycling expense. “It took some out of the box thinking,” Drace says.
Drace then became involved in a county program where businesses helped businesses find ways to recycle. That led to an offer from Island Commodities to burn used vegetable oil in the boilers that powered his steamers. That move now saves him $1,500 a week. Over the years, he has also performed such green measures as installing energy-efficient lighting.
Does this mean he and his tree-hugging neighbor are now tight? “No, he is still out there hugging trees and I am still out there trying to make a living,” Drace says. “But it turns out, we can come together at times.” -SR
The Financial Advisor
Lena Gan, Merrill Lynch, Hawaii
Wall Street, says Lena Gan, loves green. Take Goldman Sachs. The investment firm placed $1 billion of private equity in environmentally friendly projects.
The estimated market capitalization for all renewable energy companies worldwide was approximately $30 billion in 2005, she says. That number, she continues, is projected to reach $625 billion by 2010 and $1.9 trillion by 2020. Through the third quarter of 2006, alternative energy received $612 million in venture capital funding, she says.
That’s what you call a growth sector.
But that’s not why Lena Gan loves green. Before coming to Hawaii, she was a financial advisor in Southeast Asia and learned firsthand what unsustainable commerce can do to places such as Indonesia. Covering emerging markets, she is also aware of the growth of India and China and that demand will one day outstrip supply and political and social instability could be byproducts. Then she worries about global warming.
The fact that a lot of money can be made in green investing just allows her to advise clients about the opportunity, says Gan, who has made herself an expert in green. Gan adds she doesn’t push it on anyone. But if clients want to leave a legacy as well as grow their nest egg, then she shows them the green Ð because you can make a difference just by tweaking your investment portfolio.
“This is an opportunity to do good and well,” Gan says. -SR
For More On Going Green, Go Online
U.S. Green Building Council www.usgbc.org
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Energy Star program www.energystar.gov
U.S. Department of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy www.eere.energy.gov
Hawaiian Electric Co. www.heco.com
City and County of Honolulu waste management program www.opala.org
State Green Business program www.hawaii.gov/dbedt