Going Green

By Ginny Frizzi

March 25, 2011 6 min read

According to Kermit the Frog, it's not easy being green, but the process is becoming less complex for corporate America. Those companies looking to become more environmentally friendly have many options, from the relatively simple to the more complex.

Isabelle Fredborg, a corporate responsibility consultant, says that reducing water and reducing electricity consumption are two things companies of all sizes are doing to cut costs and save the environment.

"I meet companies of all sizes that are working to go green on a daily basis. One of the common mistakes when starting out is to forget that it is important to see both quick wins and big wins," she says. "For example, fixing water leaks is a good way of cutting water bills. This is a quick fix that shows immediate results, saving water and money. You can see the results and move into long-term changes."

According to the Green Business Bureau, a 10-person company could save about $3,000 per person by implementing 15 green practices. This includes an energy audit, which could result in major savings because energy and utilities costs constitute nearly one-third of commercial building operations expenses, with the average American worker using $568 in energy per year.

A commercial energy audit, available from a private contractor or an energy provider, includes a site walk-through in which everything is examined, from office equipment to processes to suppliers to consumption. According to the Green Business Bureau, commercial energy audits save companies an average of 30 percent on their energy costs.

Other ideas include reducing the amount of paper used in the office. If a paper reduction policy is implemented and consumption is cut by 50 percent, that translates into a savings of $166 per employee for the average company, according to the bureau.

Installing water coolers also can save resources and money. The bureau reports that the average cost of a pint of bottled water is $1.23, or $9.85 per gallon. And the average employee drinks about 45 gallons a year, which is $443 in bottled water. A typical delivery service for 5-gallon jugs of water costs $3.81 per jug, which means each employee drinks $34 worth of water a year, resulting in an annual savings of $409 per employee.

St. Luke's Magic Valley Medical Center is an example of a facility headed in a green direction. Its planners utilized not only design and construction teams but also regional energy consultants to ensure it would incorporate the newest high-efficiency technology available to the project -- a 700,000-square-foot patient-oriented facility required to run 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

The team took great care in providing an efficient facility, but it also looked to the community for waste recycling solutions and how to reuse natural resources, even partnering with a college to solve a landscaping issue that arose.

Highlights include rooftop gardens, photo cells that adjust interior lighting to balance natural light from the outside, and heating, ventilation and air conditioning fans that will reduce electrical costs while meeting high requirements regarding fresh air circulation.

Recycling was a priority for St. Luke's, which hired a consultant to implement a plan with a local recycling company that allowed the construction site to utilize on-site compactors and recycling allotments to reduce the amount of waste headed to landfills.

Reuse of materials was also important, according to the director of construction, Jeff Hull. When the excavation crew blasted through a layer of solid basalt while preparing the hospital site, the decision was made to reuse it. Large boulders were incorporated into the landscaping, and the rest was crushed and used in the parking lot and as backfill.

Hull says there has been a conscientious effort to reuse and recycle during construction. "We looked for opportunities to recycle, everything from wooden crates to scrap metal," he says. "It becomes a mindset."

Other steps taken by St. Luke's include the use of recirculated water for heating and cooling, as well as brick and stone from a regional supplier that make the hospital's exterior easier to maintain. The medical center partnered with a local college's horticultural program to nurture 10,000 small trees for the landscaping.

Good corporate citizenship aside, companies can profit from the changes they are making in other ways, according to Fredborg. "For example, a real estate agent may provide advice to clients on how a property can be made greener, or you might talk with a supplier about reducing packaging," she says. "Researching and showing how you can help make their products and services greener can affect their business decisions and results in good will."

There are many good sources of information for companies looking to become more environmentally friendly, according to Fredborg. Among those she recommends is http://www.EnergySavers.gov. "This website gives practical advice to businesses of all types and sizes, as well as for homes." The tips section is particularly good, she says.

"What you do does matter," Fredborg reminds us. "Look at your corporate and social responsibility."

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