SmallBiz Energy Makeover

Going green results in major savings

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     Photo: David Croxford

Transforming your workplace from an electricity-sucking abyss to an energy-efficient operation offers tons of benefits – it’s good for the planet, could increase employee productivity and morale, and may even win you a few new customers.

But beyond the “soft” gains, experts say, going green can also produce a solid ROI, which means more money for you to invest back into the business. Simple projects such as installing motion sensors to turn off lights, fixing leaks and changing out old-fashioned light bulbs won’t break your bank and the benefits will be immediate.

The Blue Planet Foundation and Hawaii Business magazine teamed up to find local companies or nonprofits that recently completed or were in the process of making energy-efficiency and clean-energy upgrades. The following pages describe how Tori Richard and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, Local 1186 – the winners of the first-ever BPF/HB Energy Makeover – retrofitted their workspaces with sustainable elements to reduce their energy costs, maximize operations and decrease their carbon footprint.

When the IBEW, Local 1186, began planning for the renovation of its administrative offices two years ago at the height of the recession, it seemed like the worst time to start a big construction project. Damien Kim, the local’s business manager and financial secretary, saw it differently.

     “Hawaii is our home and renewable energy is our business,”
     says union leader Damien Kim. “We’re proud that we’re
     doing our part.”
     Photo: David Croxford

“We wanted to do our small part to create jobs and we knew we could get things done at a lower price because everybody was competing for work,” Kim says.

For the IBEW, alternative energy means more than just doing the right thing for the planet; it also means work for its members.

“We wanted to show that IBEW is at the forefront of training its members on the renewable energy side and this was the perfect opportunity,” Kim says, adding that union members handled all electrical installations for the project. “We want to embrace the changes that are happening and be a part of making our state more energy efficient and energy independent.”

The vision was to give the office space an industrial feel and to ensure it had a clean, open ambience. Bill Brizee, president and CEO of Architects Hawaii, which was hired to handle the interior design, says glass doors and walls were installed throughout so that employees can see straight through to the other end of the office from every angle.

Interior designer Beatrice Bergamaschi from Architects Hawaii says the IBEW project is a great example of how companies can completely renovate a space without spending too much money. She says if businesses can’t afford to do a major overhaul, they can take small components from the IBEW job and apply them to their workspaces. The project is expected to achieve LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Gold certification.

“A lot of people don’t know this, but you can achieve LEED certification or at least be up to those high standards with little or no extra cost,” Brizee says. The backend paperwork and application process is time consuming and can be costly, but the design and materials don’t have to be expensive, he adds.

Kim says the IBEW office hadn’t been renovated since 1976, so the upgrades were overdue. “We had duct tape holding down the carpet and the color scheme was brown so it made everything look dark and old. I think all of our employees and members are happy with the changes we’ve made.”

Simple adjustments such as changing paint color and allowing more natural light and ventilation in can make a huge impact on the feel of the work area. Designers installed big bay windows to utilize natural light and also give the cozy space the illusion that it’s bigger. The design team also opted for sliding doors, which are ideal for smaller spaces and give the area a more open feel, Brizee says.

The IBEW project won the Award of Merit in the 2010 Design Awards for the American Institute of Architects, Hawaii Chapter. Although Kim says it’s too soon to say exactly how much in savings the upgrades have generated, “I can tell you it’s been significant, so we’re really pleased about that,” he says.

Experts say one of the most important things to remember when devising an energy-efficiency plan is to reduce before you produce. Don’t even think about PV before you’ve taken steps to decrease your energy usage.

Kim says he was thrilled with the IBEW’s renovation and attributes the success of the project to three things: “We had a clear goal, we put together a great team of experts, and we made sure all the numbers worked before we started,” he says.

But Bergamaschi says sustainability is not just about measuring every dollar and seeing how you can save here and there if you make specific changes. “It’s about doing what’s right for the planet and your employees. The saving-money part is the added bonus.”

International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, Local 1186

Visionary: Damien Kim, business manager and financial secretary

Employees: 13 administrators and 3,500 members

Contractor: J. Kadowaki Inc.

Area renovated: 3,500 square feet

Total cost: $900,000 construction cost

Duration: 1.5 years; three months actual construction

Project Scope:

•Install daylight and occupancy sensors for each room and area.

•Apply lightly tinted glazing on windows to reduce heat from outside.

•Install water-efficient fixtures in restrooms and pantry.

•Use renewable/recycled and low-emitting VOC (volatile organic compound) materials whenever possible; purchase sustainably manufactured furniture.

•Replace old lighting with high-efficiency T5 and LED bulbs.

•Install high-efficiency HVAC (heating, ventilating and air conditioning) system.

•Install five solar tubes throughout the office to bring in natural light from outside.

•Purchase Energy-Star equipment and appliances.

•Put thermostat controls in every office.


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