Saving Money by Going Green
Rob Rafson, P.E., is V.P. Engineering of Full Circle, a Chicago-based sustainability management solutions firm. He is also co-author, with Harold J. Rafson, of Brownfields: Redeveloping Environmentally Distressed Properties (1999). Blue Planet Green Living (BPGL) spoke with Rafson from his Chicago office. What follows is Part 4 of a four-part interview. — Julia Wasson, Publisher
BPGL: Give an example of a design-positive economic driver to going green.
RAFSON: There’s one light in every building that’s on 24 hours a day: the exit sign. It’s the least paid-attention-to light in every building, and probably the most expensive.
There are two 30-Watt light bulbs in an exit sign. Replace those with two 1.2 Watt light-emitting diode [LED] bulbs. Now, you replace the LED bulbs every 10 years instead of every year, which has a financial impact on its own. Incandescent light bulbs cost about $2 each, and LEDS are down to $7.50 each now. The energy savings per exit sign is around $60 year. So, the ROI is three months, if you look at simple payback of the energy savings.
You can save in other ways, too. In rough numbers, the air conditioning cost to cool the energy created by the light bulbs is about 20 percent [of your air conditioning bill]. You will pay for the LEDs in 1 1/2 years just by saving air conditioning costs — and that’s on top of the electrical savings.
If you add together the electrical energy savings, reduced labor savings of having a 10-year bulb, and reduced air condition cost, the total payback is in about two months.
This is a great example of people focusing on the business they’re in. In a building managed by an outside firm, they pay attention to things like exit signs, because that’s their job. It’s their job to make the building more profitable. But, if the building owner is in the business of manufacturing an item, they’re very unlikely to focus on a little thing like an exit sign. They need to pay attention to things outside and inside their business that affect their economic opportunities. There are real opportunities to save and, therefore, to make money by going green.
The key thing is that you have to look around at the things that are both inside and outside of your business that affect the economic viability of your business. If you focus only on your product or service, you miss the large-scale opportunities and the most important parts of a sustainable strategy. Looking at your supply chain and other factors… you really have to look at your core business. And when you have a solid understanding of your core impact, look outside your business at ancillary impact points. The results can be enlightening and create opportunity.
BPGL: What other green strategies will you be implementing in projects by Full Circle?
RAFSON: We are really covering a wide berth in Full Circle’s customers. In some cases we’re combining solar PV and lighting programs, in others we’re doing a wholesale re-engineering of a national waste program. Ultimately, after we complete a sustainability analysis, we offer a customer a range of projects from simple and immediate ROI to long-term changes that take investment and patience to realize return. All of these are worthwhile, but sometimes you have to walk before you run.
Look at green roofs, as an example. I’m not a fan of green roofs; they’re not economical. I believe it’s a great strategy in some situations, but not as a general rule. Now, if you’re growing vegetables on your roof, that might be worth doing. In Chicago, there’s a health food store that makes its own spices and grows them on a green roof. A coffee shop grows produce for their sandwiches on their roof. Both are great uses of space and make economic sense.
But to do it to offset carbon is ridiculous. Economically, the costs of doing that — as opposed to putting trees on the sidewalk or parkways — are skewed terribly. You have to build a building that supports the extra weight, then provide the maintenance and the infrastructure. It doesn’t balance out. But to my earlier point about doing the strategies with the best payback, you could have the opportunity to look at a green roof as a strategy, if you look at the things that make economic sense first.
BPGL: Give an example of a strategy that would make economic sense for most businesses.
RAFSON: Anyone who hasn’t done extensive energy efficiency work can save — from day one — 30% on their electricity bill. At one building recently, they had nearly 40% too much light, and employees were getting headaches and complaining because it was too bright. We calculated the proper light density for all the offices and warehouse space. — You could do surgery in the washroom. — They saved 38% on lighting alone. All they did was de-lamp.
That was one savings, but that wasn’t the big thing. They already had very efficient lighting fixtures, just too many of them for [a building use that required] less light density than originally planned. The problem was partly too much design, but they also left too many lights on.
Now they’ve got motion sensors in the individual offices. It’s more convenient once you get used to it, to walk into an office, and the light turns on. They have motion-sensor power strips that turn the monitor and stereo on, things that actually would annoy the person next door if they were running with no one in that space.
BPGL: So, you’re saying that pretty much everyone can realize savings with a little self-examination.
RAFSON: If the general population, property owners, and business managers would just grasp the opportunity, they could change the way they look at everything. Opportunities to make a cultural change can also have a positive economic and environmental impact.
Blue Planet Green Living (Home Page)
Part 2: Tax Incentives Boost Green ROI
Part 4: Saving Money By Going Green (Top of Page)