The Top 10 Sustainable Practices for Your Business: Setting Goals for 2013

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As an Architect for over 20 years, I have always approached my business with sustainability in mind.  I enjoy the challenge of striving for the ultimate goal of zero-waste output, finding the most efficient and cost effective ways to reduce energy and water use, and maintaining a healthy indoor environment. This work is a creative process that requires partnering with fellow employees and vendors to identify the products and strategies that will best achieve the desired results. Commentary by RJ Johnson of RJ Johnson Architecture

If you are just starting this journey, take small steps, and for those of you that are already light-years ahead, don’t lose hope!  This is a journey that is much more powerful and enjoyable when taken with others. I’m on this road with you, offering suggestions from what I have learned along the way.

Start by setting goals for your organization, or analyze existing goals and entertain setting the bar as high as you can for you and your company in 2013 and beyond. Here are my Top 10 Practices, any one of which will start you down a more sustainable road.

1.  Energy Efficiency

Commercial buildings account for 35 percent of US electricity consumption, so significant savings can be achieved by conservation, eliminating unnecessary equipment, smart maintenance, installing an energy monitoring system, or all of the above.

The largest energy user that people are in control of is plug-loads, which is any piece of equipment or device that can be plugged into a wall receptacle.  The usual suspects also hold the largest opportunity- computers/monitors, copiers, personal printers, fax and scanners and all have power management settings that can be optimized for substantial savings. As an example, efficient power management on a single computer may net up to a 57 percent savings over the course of a year¹.

Smart plug strips automatically turn off plug loads when not in use, reducing standby power or phantom/vampire loads. Smart plug strips with integral occupancy sensors are great at individual computer stations where task lighting, monitor’s and other plug loads may be automatically shut off after the user leaves.

Additional measures worth incorporating into your business are adjusting the refrigerator temperature set point to not less than 40° F, routinely cleaning your refrigerator coils every six months, and connecting your water cooler or hot water tap to a timer for night-time shut off.

2. Efficient Equipment

When purchasing new office equipment, invest the time to research the best energy efficient Energy Star® equipment for long-term savings.  The difference in energy use between a traditional desktop computer and a new mini-computer could be as much as 84% savings¹.  I cannot express this enough, as plug loads are the fastest growing energy use in the residential and commercial sectors, accounting for average increases of 2.2 percent per year.

3. Lighting

An additional investment towards efficiency is replacing your incandescent light bulbs with Compact Fluorescent Lamps [CFL’s] at the proper wattage.  CFL’s use about 75% less energy than a traditional incandescent bulb and last approximately 6 times longer; they also produce about 75% less heat, reducing cooling energy costs.

The newer but more costly Light Emitting Diodes [LED] have a lifetime of 25,000 hours compared to 10,000 hours for CFL’s and a mere 1,000 hours for incandescent.  Another LED advantage is that they do not contain mercury, which is safer for the environment and easier to dispose.

Use task lighting instead of full overhead light where possible and install motion sensors to lighting systems in rooms not regularly occupied, for example- conference, copy/coffee, restroom, restroom exhaust, storage, or janitor closets.  Or simply eliminate un-necessary lighting fixtures altogether.

4. Thermostat Regulation

You might have an employee or two that has the wintertime heater under their desk, and that is OK.  Entertain finding a compromise that will off-set that use, or encourage employees to dress appropriately for the season, and recommend bringing in extra articles of clothing to offset cold snaps.

As a rule of thumb, energy savings are 2 to 4 percent for every one degree difference in thermostat setting for either raising the cooling set point or lowering the heating set point in a 24 hour period³.  Adjust the heating temperature to 68°F a cooling temperature to 78°F and setback temperatures by 10 to 14 degrees when scheduling your system for nighttime and weekends.

5. Waste Reduction and Recycling

Create a central location for co-mingled recycling collection in the kitchen or near centralized printers/copiers and if you happen to work for a large company, consider creating multiple collection sites for employee convenience.  Clearly post what can and cannot be recycled adjacent your recycling stations and incorporate a discussion about recycling practices into your staff meetings.  Check out www.rethinkwasteproject.org for an incredible business, home or school recycling resource.

6. Go Paperless

It seems literally impossible, as many businesses by nature have to produce paper to operate and often, they have to save that paper for future reference or tax purposes; which leads to cumbersome boxes of documents that must be stored.

First, eliminate the fax machine!  Next, I recommend having a No Print Day.  Be creative and have fun exploring ways your company can eliminate or reduce paper use.  Develop a comprehensive electronic filing system, create files that can be sent and filed electronically, review and make revisions to documents on your computer, distribute meeting minutes or perform presentations digitally and scan files which must be archived and file them in your new electronic filing system, thus eliminating costly storage space.

Eliminate unwanted mail at www.catalogchoice.org which is a free service to opt out of catalogs, coupons, credit card offers, phone books, circulars and more.  There is a ‘mailstop shield’ upgrade which costs money, but I have never found a need for it, so log on and start reducing!

7. Indoor Air Quality

There are many things to consider when evaluating the indoor environment of your business.  Some opportunities include exhausting the harmful emissions of copiers, purchasing green cleaning supplies, hiring a green certified janitorial service and eliminating aerosol type air fresheners.

8. Water Conservation

Confirm that your restroom faucet aerators are .5 gallons per minute [GPM] maximum and that your kitchen faucet aerator is 1.5 GPM maximum for effective savings. Aerators are designed to mix air with the water stream producing a more efficient stream of water. They are located at the tip of the faucet with the GPM rating clearly marked.  Retrofitting restroom flush valves is an additional way to save hundreds of gallons of water each year.

9. Composting

Composting in arid Central Oregon can be done in your business!  For most businesses, it might mean taking it to your home composter or Vermicomposting [composting with worms]is a fun way to achieve this onsite.

Deschutes Recycling has developed a commercial composting program, and Bend Recycling and Cascade Disposal have partnered with local businesses which generate large volumes of commercial grade food waste.  They pick it up and incorporate it into the multi-staged composting program at Knott Landfill. The finished product is ReGrow, which can be purchased in bulk at Knott or in bag at participating businesses.  Perhaps you operate a restaurant, commercial kitchen or grocery store that could join this program and entertain partnering with and accepting the compost from nearby small businesses in support of a larger effort.

10. Alternate Commuting Options

Take advantage of the insight offered by our local non-profit Commute Options.  Visit www.commuteoptions.org and learn all about their programs, incentives and ways to meet the challenge of smart commuting.  Encourage your employees to take alternative methods when commuting to work; and if applicable, offer telecommuting options to eliminate the commute altogether.

These are general sustainable measures that can be incorporated into your business, and by no means do they represent a comprehensive list. In my next article, I will be exploring sustainability from the standpoint of building design and building operations. In the meantime, consider creating a ‘green team’ within your business to investigate these and other sustainability opportunities.

RJ Johnson of RJ Johnson Architecture has been balancing his architectural chi for 20+ years, overseeing super-cool, large-scale projects on one side, with intimate projects on the other, and most everything else between.  He has a great head for the details, an eye for the aesthetic, and a passion for a sustained built environment.  For him, a well managed sustainable business is a beautiful thing.  RJ assists businesses in obtaining their sustainable goals, and can be reached at 541-419-6183 or www.rjjohnsonarchitecture.com

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