Energy-Saving Techniques for SMBs: Buildings

There are many ways to improve the efficiency of your business's building environment, and Uncle Sam is stepping in to help small business owners figure it all out.

Cutting down your energy expenses doesn't mean replacing every appliance in the office, employing a fleet of hybrid cars or moving into a LEED-certified office building. There is, however, much more you can do than just making sure the lights are off at the end of the day. As it turns out, a little diligence can save you a lot of green.

Today is the third part of our series dedicated to energy-saving practices you can integrate into your business. Your building probably has room for low-cost energy efficiency improvements you hadn't even thought of. Besides saving you money, these improvements lead to greater comfort for staff and customers. Above all, it's good for the environment: Energy use in commercial buildings and manufacturing plants accounts for nearly half of the total U.S. greenhouse gas emissions and nearly 50 percent of energy consumption nationwide.
Another reason to invest in energy efficiency measures is increased asset value. For every $1 invested in energy efficiency, asset value increases by an estimated $3. Energy efficiency can be used as a low-risk, high-return investment for the savvy business manager. Small business owners are also coming to appreciate the idea that boosting energy efficiency is an excellent means to attract the most buyers if the time comes to sell. For now, let's focus on ways to make your building more energy efficient.
Office Space
When you evaluate how your building is using energy, you can probably find many opportunities for efficiency improvements. First off, isolate unused spaces. Often, your building contains space that is not used by people and likely does not require space conditioning. You can easily isolate these areas by closing heating and cooling vents and covering exterior windows. In addition to reducing wasted energy, sealing unused exterior windows and doors also may provide an extra security benefit.
One of the easiest and quickest dollar-saving techniques is caulking leaks in your building. Heat always flows from a warmer environment to a cooler one-when it's cold outside, heat tends to leak outward. Eliminating leaks in your building exterior (like walls, windows, doors, ceilings and floors) works to your advantage for both heating and cooling. When it's windy outside, your ears or sense of touch may guide you to substantial leaks.
Another simple way to stop energy leakage is by assessing your windows and doors. There are a few simple measures to take which can really help prevent leakage. For example, replace any broken or cracked glass in windows and glass doors. How many times has a customer or employee come into the office or store and forgotten to close the door behind them? By employing automatic door closers, you'll be able to keep the cold out and the heat in during the winter.
Improperly sealed spaces lead to excessive energy leakage and drive up your heating costs during the winter. Use an exterior insulating cover on window-mounted or above-door air conditioners during the winter, and make sure the space around your air conditioner is tightly sealed.
When tackling the challenge of improving energy efficiency in your building, it is important to reach out to other tenants, if they exist, and to your own staff. They may have suggestions of their own, or experience boosting energy efficiency in their own homes or in previous offices. With careful analysis, you can determine where to make the best investments and eliminate the waste that costs you so much money.
Energize Your Staff
Like with any part of your business, you want a well-organized plan to follow. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) provides small businesses with a seven-step plan that will help you prepare a strategy for reducing energy expenditures. No matter the size or type of organization, the common element of successful energy management is commitment. Appoint someone in the office as the energy director, who sets goals, tracks progress and promotes the overall energy management program. Appoint a team to ensure the integration of best practices and spread the message to the entire office.
Either through email or a company meeting, state an energy objective. Have a clear, measurable objective that reflects the organization's commitment, culture and priorities. Ensure participation from the whole team by promoting goals. You will have a much higher success rate if you provide a context for setting performance goals by linking energy goals to overall financial and environmental goals of the organization.

Identify opportunities to reduce energy use by employing technical assessments and audits of poorer performing systems in the building, be they heating or ventilating systems or infrastructure improvements like better-insulated windows and doors. It can help to compare your efficiency goals to those of similar organizations-these may serve to inspire you and your team, as well as be the basis for new energy-saving ideas and policies. In the same manner, by reviewing performance goals of other organizations, you can help determine the potential for your own organization.
Building Support
For many small business owners who are overworked and understaffed as it is, the idea of taking on energy efficiency can be overwhelming. But the government is increasingly stepping in to help out SMBs. Just this week, the U.S. Small Business Administration awarded four Small Business Development Centers, one each in Idaho, Nebraska, Nevada and New York, Small Business Sustainability Initiative grants totaling $500,000 to fund projects offering energy efficiency assistance to small businesses.
The grants were awarded on the basis of these small business development centers proposed programs for providing education, training, energy efficiency audits, information about adoption of energy efficiency and energy conservation practices, as well as help with purchasing and installing energy efficient building fixtures and equipment.
Nebraska's Small Business Development Center, for instance, will provide energy efficiency screening, help businesses find financing opportunities for energy efficiency improvements and quantify the return on investment (ROI) of those projects. Their proposal also includes creating a roadmap to guide counselors and small business owners through the use of the best tools and information resources currently available about energy efficiency and waste reduction.
As more small business owners recognize the benefits of working in and maintaining energy-efficient office spaces, the more resources will become available to coordinate a community effort to reduce unnecessary energy expenses. While most SMBs still have a long way to go, a committed small business community is the first step toward fostering a more energy-efficient workplace.