Better Business: Going Green Is Good for Business

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By Jane Albritton

News flash: The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 provides $3.2 billion for the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant Program. Under the Act, $2.8 billion will be distributed by formula, and $400 million will be distributed through competitive grants.

compact fluorescent bulb

Going green is a foot-stool balanced on the "legs" of three principles: being green is a responsible thing to do, it saves money, and, when combined with existing marketing strategies, being green can make money for your business. Businesses that are ready to step up will stand above the crowd and get noticed.

Leg #1: Being Responsible

O&P begins with an inherent advantage. Any health-related industry grows from roots fixed in compassion and the belief that when something goes awry with the human organism, there are ways to care for it and possibly repair it. Therefore, it is no stretch for the O&P profession generally to embrace a variety of green initiatives because such practices involve good stewardship and a positive outlook toward solving environmental problems.

Bill Jeracki, CP, partner in Orthotic Prosthetic Solutions, Fort Collins, Colorado, said his company has been "embracing green" in a number of ways. "We converted to compact fluorescent light bulbs when they became available, and when the first safe resins appeared a few years ago, we began using them," Jeracki says. "We're just now seeing adhesives that are safe."

Jeracki adds that when he first started his business in 2000, there were no opportunities to recycle the waste products associated with the manufacturing process.

"But the city of Fort Collins has expanded the recycling opportunities and encouraged us to use them by making it easy," he says. "Plastic laminate can't be recycled, but [now] scraps of olefin plastic can."

Much of what makes that first leg of the three-legged stool possible is commitment-the commitment of local governments to sound environmental practices and the commitment of private business to stay alert to eco-friendly opportunities. Those conditions both contribute to the next leg, the potential for significant savings, particularly in energy.

Leg #2: Saving Money

In the green world, saving money is a little like learning how to play the guitar. It is easy to make a little bit of music, and it is easy to save some money-simply by following a path lit with compact fluorescent (CF) lighting. CF bulbs can brighten up an office or work area in attractive ways and save money at the same time. McCabe Callahan, owner of Mugs Coffee Lounge, Fort Collins, stands to save $2,000 per year in energy costs just because he switched to CFs.

"We went from using 2200 watts to light the business down to 411 watts," he says.

Replacing a burned out incandescent bulb with a compact fluorescent bulb starts a process that winds its way to incentives for saving even more money. For comprehensive retrofits that require some time to recover the initial investment, some governmental entities-city, state, and federal-will pitch in and support the effort both financially and with public recognition. A company interested in making small changes might first look to other local businesses to see what is possible and then look to the city for help in executing a plan.

For example, a specialty light-fixture business can assess your needs and then set you up with basic "going-green" items like CF bulbs, an easy step that changes the wattage without changing the look. Other options exist as well. Lisa Guerriero with The Light Center, a specialty lighting showroom in Fort Collins, says, "You can replace 65 watts [worth of incandescent lighting] with 9-12 watts of light from LEDs." LEDs are more expensive, though-one fixture costs about $120-so the next step is a call to city agencies to find out if subsidies for your potential investment exist.

 Creating Energy Teams

According to Energy Star, energy management as an adjunct to overall organizational management is increasingly recognized by financial analysts. An Energy Team is essential to environmental transformation. Even a small business can benefit from having an energy team made up of employees who then become "special envoys" to the client base and to the community at large. So many little things, like controls on light and HVAC systems, are small improvements that can reduce energy costs and leave money for long-term capital improvements. Savings in water use can also be identified using local, state, and federal information. On the marketing side, green initiatives can be folded into all promotional materials, where they become a part of moral branding.

In the last year, cities large and small have moved aggressively to promote green practices. Miami, Florida, has an Office of Sustainable Initiatives; Boston, Massachusetts, has launched its Climate Action Initiative; Los Angeles, California, has a Clean Energy Plan. On a small scale, the voluntary, city-run Climate Wise program (www.ci.fort-collins.co.us/climatewise) in Fort Collins is dedicated to reducing greenhouse gas emissions by promoting waste reduction, energy savings, alternative transportation, water conservation, and pollution prevention. The program is wide-ranging and ambitious, and includes LightenUp, a lighting program that provides cash incentives for lighting retrofits in existing buildings. Its incentives are based on the wattage reduction from the old to the new lighting equipment (Editor's note: See the savings calculator under energy savings at www.seagulllighting.com/energy-star-savings.htm). When Callahan switched out his lights, the city covered the difference between his cost and what he would recover in a year from the savings. Had he been doing a total retrofit, the program could have covered 25-50 percent of the project cost.

"Not all cities of our size or even bigger are going to have the kind of programs we do here," Guerriero says. "But this is a good one and makes a good model for energy and water savings."

At the state level, programs designed to encourage environmental performance above and beyond what is required by law can offer benefits and incentives to companies committed to green practices. The Database of State Incentives for Renewables & Efficiency (www.dsireusa.org) offers a comprehensive, state-by-state list of grants, loans, rebates, and code information. In Colorado, the Environmental Leadership Program (ELP) is a statewide environmental recognition and reward program administered by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment's Sustainability Program.

"This is a voluntary program that encourages businesses to create an environment management system," says Lynette Myers, ELP administrator. "In return, the state offers incentives such as reduced inspections and priority permitting."

Part of the challenge for ELP is to make it clear that meeting the criteria of the program is easy enough that it doesn't overshadow the benefits of participating. Businesses that have looked into seeking certification through the demanding Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) program, for example, might imagine that all programs are equally complicated and expensive. ELP, Myers says, is easy.

"A business that is being run in an environmentally sound way will have all the pieces in place [to qualify] already," she says. "The buy-in is not that expensive, and the recognition can have long-term economic benefits."

As Jeracki points out, most O&P operations are small and move into existing buildings, "but if you were going to design a whole new facility, why not be green about it?" he says.

Leg #3: Making Money

Actively participating in green initiatives is not just an exercise in altruism or frugality. It has larger consequences in the marketplace.

"There is research that suggests that there are long-term benefits to the bottom line for companies that people perceive to be doing good by their employees and by the environment," says Kate Browne, professor of anthropology and co-editor of the 2009 collection, Economics and Morality: Anthropological Approaches. "People will go out of their way to purchase goods and services from companies that they believe are conscientious and responsible actors in their own community."

For those in the health professions, going green broadens an already differentiated position in a market associated with compassion. Browne adds that especially in a time of relative austerity, people want to feel good about what they consume. Branding may help consumers choose, but "moral branding" adds a good feeling and is something that local, state, and national organizations are eager to assist with. One way a business can promote its good environmental stewardship and "moral" business practices is through the Energy Star Challenge. A creation of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Challenge is a national call-to-action to improve the energy efficiency of commercial and industrial buildings in the United States by 10 percent or more.

"The reality is that one third of energy used in the home, in a big business, or in a small business can be cost-effectively saved," says Maria Vargas, brand manager for Energy Star. "People want to save without having to sacrifice too much, and so we help them see opportunities. We offer guidance for small businesses and explain how they can get recognized for taking the challenge."

On the national level, Energy Star contributes to all three legs of the three-legged stool. First, it makes clear why it is good and responsible to care about the environment. Second, it offers guidance in reducing energy use and increasing energy efficiency in ways that are not capital intensive. Third, the program offers a service network that lets small businesses communicate with each other and share their experiences of lowering overhead and operating expenses.

"Taking an interest in green practices and then converting that interest into a market advantage takes some creativity and fresh thinking," Browne says. "For example, New Belgium Brewery [Fort Collins] has built its reputation not only on its excellent beer, but also on its green practices. There is nothing inherently green about brewing beer, but the owners decided that it mattered. They communicated their philosophy to their employees and then to their clients."

Indeed, in a market saturated with micro- and specialty beers (As of 2007, there were roughly 1,406 regional craft breweries, microbreweries, and brewpubs in the United States, according to The Association of Brewers.), New Belgium has used moral branding to good advantage. Since the company was founded in 1991, owners Jeff Lebesch and Kim Jordan have promoted a twin philosophy of producing world-class beer and being good environmental stewards: reduce, reuse, recycle.

 Resources for Further Investigation

In 2005, New Belgium kicked it up a notch and launched a national marketing strategy linking the quality of its products with the company's philosophy toward affecting the planet. The New Belgium website (www.newbelgium.com) features as many links to bikes, culture, and community as it does to beer. Three of the first four links that come up from a Google search of "New Belgium Brewery" have to do with sustainability. In just four years, then, a beer brewery-which first had to neutralize the apparent contradiction between healthy living and alcohol-has increased its market profile and its market share by positioning itself as a major player in making the world good and green. The genius of the position is that all along the way the company has saved itself money by investing in efficient technology.

Likewise, there is nothing inherently green about the variety of goods and services that make up the O&P industry. However, when it is easy to be green and when incentives abound, why not take advantage of them on an industry-wide basis? And if in the process the market comes to expect that all O&P materials and facilities offer environmental care as well as patient care, so much the better.

Jane Albritton is president of Tiger Enterprises, Writing Consultants. She is a contributing writer for the Northern Colorado Business Report and Edibles Front Range. She is also an editor for a 50th Anniversary collection of Peace Corps stories. She can be reached at www.peacecorpsat50.org