Greening Your Company to Improve the Bottom Line

January 24, 2010

Greening your business is quickly becoming a popular label many firms are pursuing to capitalize on the popular trend and positive press.  For some companies, it is a necessity out of consumer demand or the need to remain competitive, but it also provides an opportunity for you to not only survive in the current economy, but even thrive.  Greening your company is not only about putting up solar panels and rain barrels, but can be a wise strategy that protects your bottom line with wise investments choices. 

Making your company green can be about doing ‘the right thing’ but should also be addressed as any other business decision.  For many companies, over a third of their non-payroll costs are associated with their building operations and maintenance.  Incorporating sustainability into your business practice is a strategy that will not only help minimize those costs, but allow you to promote your efforts to the public and present yourself as a green or at least greener company.   Instead of being viewed as a burden imposed by customer demand or imposed by regulatory agencies, green can make sense and provide a benefit to your company when done wisely.

 If it is green then it must be good for you, or so the popular press would have us believe.  Well, the hype around being green certainly is founded on some amount of truth, but that does not mean that a company should rush into greening its operations or business without some planning.  As with any business decision, the many options should be investigated and considered on what makes sense for your company and your return on investment.  If you pursue green strategies that do not work for you, then you not only waste money but discourage yourself and others from pursuing future green alternatives that may be beneficial.  There are many resources available to assist your company in becoming green and generating a savings on those efforts.  The savings can be utilized to reinvest in your company or in additional green technologies that may not be as immediately cost effective.

Large companies may consider utilizing an energy performance contract that has a third party analyze their facilities and make cost saving suggestions.  The outside group will implement and pay for those changes or upgrades.  You then pay for those upgrades out of your savings and if the savings are not met than the third party covers the cost until they are met.  It is a great way to make building upgrades without any up front investment.  Medium sized groups may consider utilizing an energy auditor, commissioning agent or very good electrician or engineer to make those suggestions and you can then prioritize the improvements based on their impact and return for your future budget.  Small businesses can work with their traditional vendors or easily educate themselves via the internet to make do it yourself improvements. A good first step for any company in the Midlands is to pursue certification as a green business through the City of Columbia’s Green Business Program, and Lexington County has recently started its own certification program to assist businesses.

The green building movement has been very successful over the past decade and its impact can certainly be seen in the number of buildings pursuing LEED (Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design) certification across the state.  LEED certification is intended to address the top 20% of efficient buildings in the country, but many states, cities and agencies are making it their standard in an effort to reduce energy consumption and ultimately save money.  The long term operating costs of a building are tens of times more than the initial investment; reducing those ongoing operating costs can be viewed as a significant return on the initial investment. On average, a LEED certified building only increases initial costs by 1-3% but can reduce future energy and water consumption by 20-40% each.  Pursuing LEED certification is a wise choice to ensure lower operating costs in the future. 

Like many green strategies, LEED can be a business strategy.  For large facilities and full renovations, it is an option that can produce a significant return and its structure allows you to pursue the specific credits that make sense to your specific building and operation.  For small projects and minor renovations, certification may not be the best choice but you can still pursue many energy and water efficiency strategies that LEED promotes as part of your project that will produce savings.  One of the most significant benefits of LEED certification is that it ensures your building performs as designed as it acts as a quality assurance system.  Many firms have promoted their buildings as meeting LEED standards without actually pursuing certification, but studies and experience has shown that without the third party certification those buildings are not as efficient as they promote themselves to be or could be if they had obtained LEED certification.

Future legislation around carbon emissions, air quality and water issues on a federal level and in South Carolina will certainly have an impact on how businesses operate and even in future companies’ decisions to locate in the Midlands.  Current air quality issues have the Columbia area on the borderline already to face additional regulations to address ozone issues and pollution.  If air quality issues do not improve, many companies will be required to implement additional pollution controls that will have new costs that can only be recovered by increasing pricing or reducing costs elsewhere such as employees or expansion plans.  Additionally, vehicles may be required to meet regular testing and stricter emissions standards that will impact your operating costs without any hope of a financial return on the investment.  These additional requirements and costs are also actions that can discourage future companies from opening in the Midlands.  Charleston, with its cleaner air, will remain a more financially appealing area to open shop for companies like Boeing and others in order to avoid stricter and costlier regulations. Reducing your energy consumption is a more appealing option that can not only produce a financial return, but also help address local air quality issues. 

Water quality and volume is a similar consideration for companies.  As water volume continues to decrease in the area due to upstream demands, especially in Charlotte, water quality also continues to drop due to the increased number of dischargers and growing sewer plants upstream from Columbia.  Though we currently have relatively low water costs in the area, we can see from our neighbors in Georgia and North Carolina that those costs will continue to increase for us and water availability in the area will be a concern for current manufacturers and possibly a discouragement for future industry.

There are many options available to business to green their operations that can range from simple office recycling to incorporating renewable energy into their buildings or alternative fuels into their fleets.  The most cost effective strategy for any company though is to look at efficiency.  Addressing energy efficiency in their office spaces and buildings not only helps green your operations, but produce an immediate and visible savings.  Some choices are as simple as choosing appliances, office equipment and computers that are Energy Star certified, which ensure you are obtaining the most energy efficient model available.  Energy Star equipment is commonly available and does not cost extra compared to less efficient models. 

Water efficiency is often overlooked and is one of the easiest and most inexpensive ways to become green and produce an immediate savings.  Additionally, it takes a significant amount of energy to heat, move and pump water throughout a building so you have to opp
ortunity to save on your water and energy bill. The EPA has come out with a Water Sense certification for fixtures that makes selecting materials easy and ensures you are obtaining the most efficient product available.  Simply look or request Energy Star and Water Sense certified products from your vendors for all your future purchases.  You can also consider simple projects to make an immediate impact such as upgrading restrooms sinks and toilets or swapping out light bulbs.  Projects such as this can have a payback for your investment as fast as a few months to one year and then produce continually savings for years to come. 

Below are some examples from efficiency projects implemented at the University of South Carolina, and all were implemented based on the potential savings they would generate.  The water efficiency upgrades were replicated in 99 buildings across campus producing a 44% reduction in water usage and a $805,000 annual savings.

SINK FIXTURE UPGRADE – Upgraded 266 eight year old sink fixtures in one building

  • BEFORE: 3,172 Kgals/yr water  117 MMBTUs energy
  • AFTER:  1,156 Kgals/yr water   60 MMBTUs energy


  • 2,015 kgals water   57 MMBTUs    energy     $8,606/yr/water
  • $420/yr/energy

WASHING MACHINES – Converted 132 top load washers to front load Energy Star

  • $20,000 year (includes energy savings)
  • 2 million gallons/yr (30% reduction)
  • Payback = One year

SINK AERATOR INSTALLATION – Converted 210 aerators from 2.75 gpm to 0.5 gpm

 1.1 million gallons/yr
 Cost to implement =  $735 ($3.50 each)
 Payback =  < 2months 

LIGHTING CONVERSION – Converted T12 fixtures to T 8
A two bulb 4′ Lighting Fixture normally use 145 Watts, while the replacement uses 90 watts
 Savings from replacing just 2 light bulbs
   330 kWh/yr       $17.39/yr/energy        $3.11/yr/HVAC  
 $2.52/yr/maintenance Total = $23.03/yr

One additional suggestion for groups looking to green their companies and facilities is to consider conservation.  Being green is interactive; we and all of our co-workers must take an active part.  Employee education to utilize technology as designed and practice conservation can maximize the efficiency of the systems you install and actually produce additional savings.  Inexpensive signs and reminders can produce even greater savings than the best technology.  Well educated and participating building occupants have the potential to increase the energy and water savings of even the greenest building by as much as 20% percent.  Though this is the least expensive way to produce savings, it can be the most difficult as it relies on changing habits and constant reminders.  Ultimately, choosing to green your company is the right thing and deserves congratulations, but greening your company through a business approach will ensure a long term commitment that can reinforce your bottom line and promote a healthier business and living environment for the Midlands.

Links for additional information:
Energy Star
EPA Water Sense
SC Energy Office
City of Columbia Green Business Program
SC Chapter of the US Green Building Council (LEED)


Michael Koman is the Director for the University of South Carolina’s Office of Sustainability.  He has worked on sustainability issues such energy efficiency, climate change, recycling and education at the University for the past nine years and has over 18 years experience working in the environmental field with state and federal agencies as well as with Fortune 500 companies.  He regularly speaks to and assists universities in addressing sustainability issues and becoming green from a cost effective perspective.

Michael is a LEED Accredited Professional through the US Green Building Council and his education includes a BS in biology, BA in History/Philosophy from Millersville State University of South Carolina and a Masters Degree in Earth and Environmental Resource Management from the University of South Carolina.  He is currently completing his PHD in Education.  Mr. Koman is active with local and regional non-profits and agencies that work on green building and sustainability issues and currently serves in the SC National Guard, recently returning from a tour in Afghanistan.


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