Energy-Saving Techniques for SMBs: Lighting

Saving money on energy costs is easier than you think. Today we kick off a multi-part series dedicated to reducing your energy costs, starting with lighting. Sensors, timers and energy-efficient bulbs are just a few ways to help brighten your electricity savings.

With all the talk about "green IT" and vendors' "green initiatives" it is easy to get caught up in the notion that your business is not doing enough to save on energy costs. A recent KRC Research survey commissioned by Microsoft found nearly 70 percent of the 250 small businesses surveyed said environmentally friendly practices were important for their business.
Moreover, 63 percent of the IT decision-makers in those surveyed companies said they saved money using IT for green initiatives. More than half couldn't definitively say how much they saved, but for those that could, the savings rang in at nearly $20,000 on average.
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 start of a multi-part series dedicated to energy-saving practices you can integrate into your business. Since efficient lighting can save your company lots of money, let's explore some methods that all SMBs can impliment.
Like a Light Bulb Going Off...
Many businesses are lowering their lighting bills by installing energy-efficient equipment such as fluorescent and compact fluorescent lamps, task lighting and lighting controls. The use of energy-efficient equipment also reduces eyestrain and headaches among employees, which improves worker productivity.
Energy-efficient fluorescents save about 35 percent of the wattage used by standard fluorescents and last just as long. Although the energy-efficient lamps are more expensive than standard fluorescents, the energy savings more than compensates for the extra cost.
Another simple cost-saving measure is to practice task lighting-uniformly lighting the areas where you actually need it, rather than an entire area. In other words, use smaller, more efficient lights that bring the light source closer to the work area requiring illumination. Steven G. Atkinson, author of Technology Tips for Small Business, says companies can save lots of money by only lighting the areas that need to be lit. "I promote task lighting in workplaces and they make great savings on energy," he says.
Atkinson also recommends automatic light controls such as sensors and timers, which shut off lights in rooms when they aren't in use. Installing sensors and other controls in copier rooms, bathrooms and other spaces that aren't continually used can save your business up to 40 percent in lighting costs. "If you have a conference room that might be used a couple hours a day, install a motion sensor or a timer that turns the lights out after a two-hour period," he says. "Lighting is a critical thing, it uses up a lot energy."
Even Uncle Sam also wants to help SMBs save money on energy: The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) Green Lights program is a voluntary program which provides technical information, financing options, lighting software and other services.
Atkinson says the best way to quickly reduce your lighting costs is also the simplest; remember to turn lights off when you aren't using them. "It almost sounds like a simple thing, but turn off the lights when they're not in use," he says. By fostering a sense of active participation within your business, employees can keep lighting efficiency top-of-mind.
"Tell your company you want to save energy, and make a concerted effort to turn the lights off," he says. "One way would be to be making it part of an incentive plan, like offering an employee incentive for being the light czar, so to speak." Another way is to make it part of their performance review. "You have to make it a win-win for everybody. If the company wins, you have to make sure the employee wins in some factor."
Next week, we'll look at ways to invest heating, ventilating, and air conditioning (HVAC) that will reduce your energy costs. Remember, if you can keep the lights low, your electricity bill won't grow!