As businesses continue to trim their sails in response to the poor economy, the coming months can be a perfect time to increase efficiency by going green (or greener), according to green business advocates. “I look at these times as an opportunity to make shifts if you’re operating at a lower level,” explains Kimberly Phipps-Nichol, president and designer at Blue Water Studio in Reno. “It’s time to look at a strategic plan and to at least ask questions.” With fewer employees and a slower operational pace, many managers may have the luxury of stepping back from day-to-day pressures in order to explore the advantages of sustainability from a long range point of view. “There’s a huge opportunity for business to take advantage of efficiencies, which can be a game changer,” says Steve Rypka, president and green living consultant of Las Vegas-based Green Dream Enterprises.
Although most ancient civilizations practiced sustainable living, the world’s leading industrialized nations have put the environment on the back burner some years ago in their zeal to expand their economies. In recent years, however, recognition of climate changes, pollution and population growth has pushed environmental issues from the plans of an innovative minority to the mainstream of best business practices. “It’s really taking action,” says Rob Dorinson, president of Evergreen Recycling. “It really boils down to sustainability. ‘Green’ is the Madision Ave. word for that. But really, it’s living in a way that is sustainable and looking ahead,” he adds.
“The magic of what is going on here is that people and companies are now realizing that everything they do has an impact,” said Chris Klehm, LEED Faculty, a principal with Energy and Environmental Solutions. “We have many decisions to make in short term and long term planning and in every day management that have an impact on the economic benefits of the company and the environment of the company,” he continues.
Cost is less important
Until recently, opposition to going green focused on the initial costs, but as industries dedicated to selling sustainability matured with the development of improved products, materials and construction practices, falling prices have caused costs to be less of an issue.
“Green has been shown to be extremely cost effective,” Rypka says. Of equal importance is the ability of business leaders to look past next quarter’s profits to assess the long term benefits of going green. “People have looked at it from the cost side in the past. I ask them to look at if from the investment side,” Phipps-Nichol says. In order to realize the full impact of sustainable business practices, it’s essential to get past the first-cost mentality, according to John Sagebiel, environmental affairs manager for the University of Nevada, Reno. Sagebiel is also a board member of the Nevada Chapter of the U.S. Green Building Council.
Despite the fact that sustainable practices were thought by some to be bad for the bottom line, in actuality it has been shown that they are very compatible with profits. “A business exists to make a profit and ultimately that’s what sustainability is all about,” Rypka says. “Greening actually is aimed at creating a sustainable society.”
“We call it the triple bottom line,” said Klehm. “We look at a balance between people, planet and profit and we realize that the three are inextricably linked. By balancing the three we discover that we are able to create very strategic, integrated long term solutions. If it hurts, you’re doing it wrong,” he adds.
Although some benefits of greening may take longer than others to be fully realized, some can be enjoyed immediately, such as the lower cost of energy through the use of green lighting, heating and air conditioning. “Just by re-lamping our office we knocked 20 percent off our power bill,” says Craig Galati, president of the architectural firm, Lucchessi Galati, in Las Vegas. Energy savings in new green construction usually ranges from 30 to 40 percent, he adds.
Aside from the efficiency point of view, however, is the increasing desire by business to do the “right” thing for society and the environment. As major institutions crumble under the weight of scandal and greed all around the world, many business leaders feel the need for social responsibility, which can be satisfied through sustainable business practices. Matt Heaton, general manager of Evergreen Recycling in Las Vegas, explains that his business sells itself. Customers not only enjoy savings of 15 to 20 percent by having materials recycled rather than land filled, but they can also have positive feelings about the process. “You’re doing the right thing. Our method of landfilling creates greenhouse gas. Our air quality is directly impacted,” he says.
Galati also emphasizes the importance of cleaning up the environment. “It’s not just about reducing energy, but about creating a better environment,” he explains. The better environment refers to not only the world in general, but also to the immediate physical surroundings of the business itself. Green buildings are healthier and more pleasant places to work, which gives rise to greater productivity and higher retention of employees. Going green isn’t just about “saving” the planet, but also about improving your own backyard.
As going green becomes ever more mainstream, its value has entered the marketing arena. “People need to be able to cut to the chase on this because green has become a marketing tool now,” Galati explains. Marketing extends to potential employees, who will likely be more favorably impressed by a green business environment and to customers and clients who will think more highly of a socially responsible business. “People are starting to make purchasing decisions on the commitment of the company,” Phipps-Nichol says. Sagebiel says the expansive green program at UNR is an important recruiting tool for attracting the best and brightest students. “It helps them decide where to go to college,” he says.
LEED took the lead
The green building movement took off a few years ago in large part because of the federal ENERGY STAR program, which gives recognition to energy-efficient construction, and to the LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) program, that certifies projects as being sustainable construction. Developed and administered by the U.S. Green Building Council, LEED promotes construction that benefits the environment and the well-being of the occupants of buildings and surrounding space. Builders use products, technologies and practices to earn points toward certified, silver, gold and platinum levels. The rated categories include the site, water efficiency, energy and atmosphere, materials and resources and indoor environmental quality. Describing LEED as low hanging fruit, however, Galati says greening should be pushing past it to higher levels. “LEED is just a measuring system which shouldn’t limit us,” he says. “We need to look at buildings holistically.”
For business owners who may be overwhelmed by the pressure of going green, the entire process may be confusing and even frightening if they are unfamiliar with products, vendors, materials and even regulations. “They need to work with tried and true professionals and not just jump in,” Phipps-Nichol advises. “It’s important to know what you’re doing and to do research and homework.” A wealth of information is available on Internet sites devoted to the subject along with practical help from companies such as NV Energy who will help customers kick off a green program by analyzing their present energy use and providing suggestions on how to decrease it.
Although many green projects are all encompassing, such as a total retrofit of existing construction or a completely new design-build project, going green does not need to be that daunting a task. It can start by simply turning the lights off when not needed or cutting down on the amount of paper that is used. “Just reduce your consumption of material goods right away,” Galati suggests. “Stop buying bottled water,” Phipps-Nichol says.
One of the quickest and easiest ways for a business to go green is to simply sign up for a recycling program, which saves money, simplifies waste handling and gives customers the opportunity to be socially and environmentally responsible. With millions of tons of valuable commodities being buried in pollution-creating landfills every year, recycling is becoming an increasingly attractive alternative to just burning and burying waste. The advantage of recycling is twofold: it eliminates or drastically reduces air and ground water pollutants from waste and also enables materials to be used again. “We throw too much away,” Heaton says. We’ve invested in these materials just to throw them away.” He criticizes the practice of planned obsolescence which causes us to use products for a short period of time and then toss them away, only to buy something else. “I think it’s been proven that planned obsolescence is unsustainable,” he says.
Dorinson adds that recycling can save money as well as the environment. “We have customers that immediately save 35 percent and the longer they do it, the more they save,” he says.
Evergreen Recycling processes commercial/industrial materials such as cardboard, carpet pad, metals, paper, plastics, shrink film and pallets, with only about 10 percent of it ending up in a landfill and the remaining 90 percent being recycled. Thousands of tons of materials have been processed in its state-of-the-art material recovery facility since it opened in 2007. Shipping materials all over the world for re-fabrication and re-use, the company constantly seeks markets for its recycled waste. “Our business approach has always been to recycle as much as possible,” Heaton explains.
The future is education
A large part of the future success of going green rests on educating people about how and why to do it. UNR has embraced the role of educator with its multi-faceted campus sustainability program that encompasses both academic and non-academic programs. Students formally study greening in classrooms, but also practice and observe it all over campus with programs that include recycling, saving water, using alternative transportation and reducing energy consumption. The university is dedicated to being as sustainable as possible, with students leaving school as ambassadors for a green society. “The broader issue is educating people about their individual actions,” Sagebiel says.
With buildings in the U.S. gobbling up 30 percent of the country’s total energy budget, pressure on business to do its part to reduce this consumption is here to stay. Even though going green helps profits in the long run, green advocates hope that business leaders take action, at least in part, because of their sense of social responsibility. “The worst possible thing is to be green just to make a profit. Green washing means just using it as a marketing tool,” Rypka says. Galati is very optimistic about the future of greening, however, saying that it has finally become completely mainstream. “The tide has turned in this country. We’ve reached a point where we’re making things better,” he says.
“The key is really to align all your green, environmental and social goals with your business goals and tie all those together. Then it won’t cost any more money. The biggest thing we can do is create more awareness of how people can integrate this into their lives more effectively,” said Klehm.
“We’re all playing a part in this,” Dorinson adds.