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Now is the perfect time for businesses to invest in energy efficiency

The regular dose of doom and gloom these days is enough to make business owners and executives sit tight and do nothing but try to survive the uncertain economic times. And yet, this slowdown is a perfect time to become poised for the economic recovery. Taking small steps now will help businesses gain a competitive edge in the future.

Energy efficiency is one area where relatively small investments can result in significant long-term savings for businesses. The state’s largest business advocacy organization, the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce, launched a statewide Energy Smart initiative designed to help businesses take advantage of these savings.

At its foundation, Energy Smart is a clearinghouse to help provide information and connect business utility customers with existing energy efficiency programs specifically offered to commercial and industrial centers. Energy Smart is especially useful to small and medium-size businesses that often lack the ability to hire staff or consultants to tackle the job.

A May 2009 study released by energy efficiency giant Johnson Controls found that businesses across the country are aware of the importance of energy efficiency, but are hesitant to invest capital due to the uncertain economy. Of 1,400 business leaders surveyed, 71 percent reported paying more attention to energy efficiency than they did just one year ago. The International Facilities Management Association forecasts that as the economy recovers, greater investments will be made in energy reduction and sustainable initiatives.

Several low- and no-cost strategies are available to help businesses control energy costs right away. For example:

• Install new LED exit signs. The sign costs about $57 to install, but saves $43 a year in electricity versus a standard incandescent exit sign.

• Negotiate with a vending-machine contractor to install an Energy Star qualified beverage machine. The machines keep the beverages cool around the clock, and the lights are activated only when individuals are making a selection. As a result, a vending machine’s annual electricity costs of about $225 can be halved.

• Turn a thermostat down 10 degrees overnight and reduce heating and cooling costs by 10 percent.

These examples underscore how a little extra attention paid to energy efficiency can go a long way. Other opportunities to reduce energy and save money range from rebates for improving refrigeration and air-conditioning systems to installing high-efficiency motors in farm equipment and industrial processes.

Business may have slowed for many companies, but money is flowing for energy-efficiency projects. Energy-utility rebate programs can reduce installation costs and help a business recoup costs and generate additional savings even faster. Many funding opportunities are available for energy-efficiency projects across the state, and Energy Smart staff can help steer Minnesota businesses to these utility rebate programs and other resources. It is indeed smart to get started now.

Mark Blaiser is executive director of Minnesota Waste Wise, an affiliate program of the Minnesota Chamber that operates Energy Smart. For more information, visit the Energy Smart website.

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