Green Building: Funding Options for Renewable Energy Projects

Few business owners would argue that green building practices are ethically the right step and will prove to be cost effective in the coming years. However, funding a green building project up-front can prove to be a challenge for many entrepreneurs and small to mid-size companies.  energy-efficiency

Consider the following funding options for your green building project:

  1. Research grant opportunities.  Grants for green projects are available at both the state and federal levels.  The Department of Energy, Department of Housing and Urban Development, Veteran’s Affairs and the Department of Agriculture’s Rural Development branch make funds available to both business owners and homeowners. The Environmental Protection Agency also has a list of funding sources for homeowners, industry and non-profit organizations. Grants.gov and mrsc.org are additional grant-finding resources.
  2. Rebates from the local utility company.  Utility companies often offer rebates on energy conservation and green building projects.  There is also a host of rebate programs available through Xcel Energy that can defray costs for energy conservation efforts.
  1. Energy Efficient Mortgages.  If you are taking out a mortgage on your business property, ask about an energy improvement mortgage. This special lending arrangement allows you to borrow a larger amount of money to fund green improvements, without having to increase your down payment.
  2. Federal Tax Credits. Similar to homeowners, business owners can get tax credit for qualifying energy-saving purchases, including air conditioners, furnaces or construction materials. The Business Energy Investment Tax Credit, is the corporate tax credit enacted in 2013 and provides up to 30% tax rebate for solar and wind and PTC renewable technologies.
  3. State and Local Tax Credits.  States and local municipalities often provide incentives for business owners to build green. In Colorado there are many opportunities with the Governor’s Office of Energy Management as well as other organizations.

Don’t let cost of renewable energy prevent you from building green.  Investing in renewable energy will save your business money over time and leave less of an environmental footprint.

Keep the Office Clean Using Green Cleaning Products

Green business operations is a growing trend in commercial businesses, this includes the products used to keep the office clean. Utilizing green products and equipment can reduce the number of health problems from fumes, allergies, and rashes in employees who work in the office. It is important to understand what chemicals to look for so they can be avoided. Only purchase products that have a complete list of ingredients. Here are some tips to help in choosing the best green cleaning products for a business environment.

Read the Label

This may sound pretty obvious, but not all cleaning supplies that are supposed to be green even list all of the ingredients. It is important to read the label and understand what it means. Avoid cleaners that have ammonia, chlorine or any other caustic chemicals. These create fumes that can irritate eyes and throat. The fumes linger so the people who work in the office are also being exposed. Green products should be PH neutral. All-purpose cleaners should be plant based solvents instead of chemical based solvents. When reading the label if there is a word or name that looks unusual be sure to ask what it is and why it is in the product

green-seal-350Look for Green Seal Certification

Look for the Green Seal certification on labels. This certification means the product has been tested and evaluated by a laboratory that is not connected to the manufacturer or seller, similar to a Consumer Reports style testing lab. To earn this seal the product must meet specific environmental standards, undergo rigorous testing and a visit to the plant where the product is manufactured. Once earned this certification can be displayed on the packaging, in promotional material and in advertising. These products have proven they are environmentally better than the competition.seventh-generation

Purchase from Reputable Companies

Only purchase green products from reputable companies, such as Seventh Generation and Simple Green, and make sure they can provide a complete list of the ingredients for the product. Just because the packaging says “green” doesn’t mean the product doesn’t contain any harmful chemicals. Be sure to check.

These are just a few tips to help choose green cleaning products. For more information contact us.

Consider Renewable Energy for Your Small Business

solar-power-generatorWith the cost of fuel rising higher each year, many companies have started to look towards renewable energy to reduce expenses. However, many of the smaller enterprises are often lagging behind in adapting to greener energy resources because of the associated costs to invest in renewable energy.

Cheaper Than You Think

One of the most common let-offs for many small businesses when trying to switch to renewable energy sources is the purported high cost. Technological innovations in recent years have resulted in reduction of the cost of renewable energy systems. Also, more investment and partnership opportunities for small businesses. Clean Energy Collective, a community-owned solar program, is one of those organizations making renewable energy cost effective for small businesses.

Small businesses can buy wind energy to support renewable energy programs without the cost of building the infrastructure. There is also a host of rebate programs available through Xcel Energy that can defray costs for energy conservation efforts.

Choosing the Right Renewable Energy Systemwindturbines2

Of course, all of these would be useless if you don’t choose the right energy system for your particular needs. Here, knowing the kinds of renewable energy resources available in your given area will definitely help a lot in selecting the actual system. The Colorado Renewable Energy Society provides a clear and short overview of the types of energy resources available for small business enterprises.

Contact us and learn more on how you can effectively use renewable energy for your business needs.

Three Common Hurdles to Greening your Business

Planning and implementing a sustainability program for your business is a lot harder than it may initially seem. There’s no shortage of little snares and pitfalls that can hinder your plans for environmental friendliness. Here are 3 of the most common hurdles small and medium sized businesses face when trying to implement sustainability efforts:

  1. Lack of Information: One of the most commonly cited issues with small and medium Hurdlesbusiness sustainability is lack of information. Employees may not have enough information on how to implement green programs, or may not be properly informed that such a program is in place to begin with. Trying to make heads or tails of local and federal incentives and subsidies also makes it hard to know exactly what the most efficient path to take may be. Make sure to plan research time to understand the benefits and challenges of various sustainability initiatives.
  2. Too Much too Tackle: Many small businesses attempt to tackle sustainability initiatives with too large a scope or scale. And while the enthusiasm is helpful, failing to get a project off the ground can be a big morale killer. Most importantly, especially with new project managers, the experience needed to implement larger and more complex plans isn’t there yet. Instead, businesses should focus on building a sustainable foundation of smaller, easier to implement initiatives that can be built on into larger programs in the future.
  3. Lack of Leadership Support: When switching to sustainable business practices, it is vital that leadership, both the CEO and the executive team, support the initiatives. If employees don’t see the leadership on board, they often will sidetrack the efforts. Leadership should support initiatives by talking about them in staff meetings and be a visual example to sustainability initiatives that require behavior change.

Implementing a successful sustainability program takes time and experience. eco-officiency helps business owners throughout Colorado and nationwide plan and implement sustainability initiatives and train and educate staff on the best ways to implement these new practices to both improve office sustainability.

Sustainable Product Design: Designing for Abundance

The business world is driven by competition: to produce more for less, to sell more than your competitors, to make more money, to sell to more countries, and then there is a slightly different type of competition – to come up with the best idea or design a new way of doing something.

UpcycleCover_webEarlier this year, William McDonough and Michael Braungart, sustainability product design consultants,  published a book with an interesting challenge to the future of industry. Titled “The Upcycle: Beyond Sustainability – Designing for Abundance”, the focus of the book is a discussion of how businesses might become part of a regeneration cycle in which there is no waste or cost for ecological measures.

This book builds on their book “Cradle to Cradle: remaking the way we make things” published in 2002, calling for industry to completely let go of the production of non-recyclable productions in favor of ones that are completely non-polluting. The authors are not just idea men, they both have been working on making their ideas realities, one idea at a time.

Businesses need to find ways to eliminate dependence on non-renewable products or byproducts containing pollutants that increase costs through special handling and disposal requirements. Eco-consultants can be part of the solution to help companies think about how they manufacturer, package and dispose of product.

Creating a Sustainable Business: Hiring a Sustainability Consultant vs. Forming an Internal Green Team

By now it is well known that corporate social responsibility is important–both to consumers and for the businesses themselves. Creating sustainable business provides short and long term benefits, in everything from attracting a wide base of socially conscious customers and earning their loyalty through green practices to minimizing operation costs and producing higher revenues. The question facing business owners now is how to become more socially responsible and sustainable. What is the most effective method to transition to sustainable business practices without disrupting the basic, essential flow of business?

Many businesses will choose either to create an internal team responsible for making the transition or higher an outside consultant. There are advantages and disadvantages to each, so let’s explore which method would be best for your business.

Happy team. Isolated.Creating An Internal Green Team

Change comes from within, and one of the best ways to inculcate the necessary culture of sustainable practice and keep employees consistently aware of its importance is to have the employees do it themselves. Having the opportunity to directly effect change is inspiring and will not only give employees more value in their work, it will lead to inspired effort and the cultural spread of this inspiration. An internal green team can provide a steady structure for change over a long period of time and maintain focus as the initiative grows and evolves.

That said, taking this approach has its downfalls. Internal employees often do not have the necessary expertise to create and execute an effective sustainability plan, and adding this to their existing workload may leave them with little time to bring the focus that is necessary for such a change. And while their efforts may be noble, creating cultural change requires a certain level of expertise. What starts as an exciting initiative can turn into a dud if the team doesn’t have the knowledge to create a sustainable culture within the organization.

Hiring an Outside Consultant

Any company serious about becoming sustainable should consider this option. sustainability-consultant2Sustainability consultants have specialized knowledge and expertise about the functioning of a company as it relates to sustainability, and can create informed directives that will affect the most positive change. Working with a sustainability consultant provides the opportunity for swift and effective change. Comprehensive sustainability plans that can be clearly developed, put into practice and a consultant will provide the expertise and tools necessary to implement them.

The only drawback here is the additional cost. Some business owners are hesitant to spend the upfront cost of hiring a consultant. However, it can be costly with employee labor and investment costs of sustainability if not done correctly and strategically.

The Best of Both Worlds

Why not do both? In fact, many sustainability consultants are aware of the positive impact of an internal green team and assist in creating one as part of the package. This way, a truly effective plan can be put in place by an expert and then put into action by the employees themselves.

Whatever you determine is best for your company, pat yourself on the back–going green doesn’t just save you money or build a loyal customer base, it’s the right thing to do. Whatever approach you take to doing so, be proud of your good effort! Whether you are committed to making this next step or simply intrigued, please feel free to contact us for more information.

Five Recommended Articles on Sustainability from 2013

Recommended articles on sustainability include a broad range of topics, from global warming to leadership to ideas on creating a sustainable business.articles

The World’s Best Sustainability Ideas by Susan Adams

This article was published in Forbes Magazine and rewards businesses and organizations who are implementing the best ideas in sustainability. Among the businesses on the list include those who have learned to help others irrigate rain water, create building materials from local soils, and a medical company which created biodegradable injection needles.

The companies are inspirational, and many of them started with a simple idea. Many businesses who have a small idea can glean inspiration from those who blazed a path before them.

Adding a sustainability standpoint, the article argues, will give clients and contractors an idea of who the business is as an entity. The article does go on, however, to remind businesses that sustainability must be proven, and not just stated.

Sustainability Trends 2013 by Environmental Leader

The Logistics, Carbon and Business Data Book: Fall 2013 Sustainability Trends provides sustainability executives, decision-makers, and research teams a collection of charts presenting logistics, sustainability and sustainable business-driven data.

Sustainability and the C-Suite: Who’s Engaged, Who’s Not, and How to Gain More C-Level Support by University of Oregon

In partnership with the Sustainable Industries Magazine and University of Oregon Sustainability Leadership Program, this 2013 CXO Study reviews C-level management engagement in sustainability and survey findings with sustainable leadership.

Teaching Climate Change to Skeptics by Carmen Nobel

This article, originally published in Harvard Business School’s Working Knowledge, is an acceptable read to encourage all office personnel to improve their sustainability efforts. The article states the fact that many American businessmen either believe climate change is man-made but there is nothing we can do or businessmen believe climate change is man-made and we should take action now, with a small percentage citing not enough evidence over time to make an educated decision about climate change overall.

Carmen Nobel moves forward to present facts for those who feel there is a shortage of long-term evidence. There is strong evidence, gathered over five decades, which prove a correlation between CO2 levels and human activity. The writer also cites data collected from ice cores in Antartica over thousands of years. The data proves that most CO2 damage began soon after the Industrial Age.

The article continues to argue that businesses which address climate change can build stronger brands, erase negative press and possibly save money.

Global Warming Finally Reaches the Last Arctic Region by Kathleen Ruhland

This article, published on The Conversation and reprinted by Scientific American, will further push businessmen to understand why they need to be sustainable now. The article states that the Hudson Bay area of Canada referred to as the Lowlands is the last arctic region on Earth to experience global warming.

Many skeptics were pointing to this area as proof that global warming was false, but their frigid arguments are quickly melting. The Lowlands were able to maintain steady, cold temperatures until the middle of the 1990’s. The ice of the Hudson Bay provided a natural freezer to keep the Lowlands cold and the biological communities stable.

Over the last few decades, however, the area is warming up at alarming rates. The ecosystems, from the polar bears to the humans living in the area, are falling apart faster than ever before. If businessmen want to improve their image, they will gear their business toward the fact that the world is working on its very last arctic ice region.

Here are more resources on sustainable business from eco-officiency.

Sustainable Packaging: Innovative Solutions to Learn From

Sustainable packaging is a $150 billion industry that is expected to grow over the next three years as consumers gravitate toward businesses who consider the social and environmental impacts of their operations.

Here are a few well-known corporations who have made changes to their packaging:mcdonalds bag

  • McDonald’s and other fast food restaurants have switched from bleached napkins and bags to natural paper with water-based dyes. The new designs are easier to recycle and healthier for both young and elderly customers.
  • Starbucks, Dunkin’ Donuts, and Tim Hortons sell re-useable mugs and tumblers to their customers. These options not only reduce packaging costs, but also promote their brands and increase customer loyalty through discount programs. Starbucks has also committed by 2015 to have 100% of its cups made from recycled-content.plantbottle
  • Coca-Cola has been selling Dasani water in its trademarked PlantBottle packaging since 2011. PlantBottles are created with plant-based materials and require less petroleum to produce than traditional plastic bottles. (The company has also been in the news recently for their new commercial showcasing soda bottles made of ice.)
  • Dell has saved over $18 million dollars and eliminated 20 million pounds of packaging waste through reducing the size of their packaging by 12% and increasing its recyclable content. Dell is an innovator worth following when it comes to sustainable supply chains; they have committed to 100%-waste-free packaging by 2020.

Your business can learn from these global mega-corporations and leverage their innovations to save money, reduce waste, and turn packaging to be more environmentally-friendly. Consider hiring a sustainability consultant to help you with your packaging and purchasing practices.

Boxed water packaging – is it a better solution than plastic?

Here’s a statistic that you can’t water down: About 67 million plastic water bottles get tossed out each day, and, according to a piece by Dr. Joseph Mercola, “only 10 percent of these water bottles are ever recycled.”  The remaining 90 percent end up in landfills, and plastic takes thousands of years to decompose.

According to Dr. Mercola, drinking boxed waterwater from a plastic container “poses serious risks to you and your family.” Choosing plastic exposes you to chemicals like BPA and phthalates that have been linked to, among other things, to a wide range of developmental and reproductive problems.

What resources go into producing all that waste? According to treehugger.com, about “1.5 million barrels of oil – enough to run 100,000 cars for a whole year – are used to make plastic water bottles.” That does not include the fuel burnt in transporting the empty bottles to the water source and the filled bottles to the consumers.

One Grand Rapids, Mich., company, with the eponymous title, “Boxed Water Is Better LLC,” manufactures and sells boxed water containers.  Their claim is that their container is far more eco-friendly: “About 76% of the box is from a renewable resource, trees.”

They harvest their raw material from “certified, well-managed forests,” and their boxes are recyclable. The Carton Council, a group of carton manufactures, whose goal is to keep valuable carton empties from ending up in landfills, would welcome wider use of boxed water, because over 74 percent of most cartons are made from recyclable paperboard. Given these facts, boxed water is a more environmental friendly packaging material than plastic bottles.

Is Plant Based Packaging a Good Idea?

bio packagingAn emerging trend in the packaging world is to use plant-based packaging or ‘bio-based’ packaging. This material has sparked academic, industry, and philosophical debate about whether adding “packaging” to the many uses for food stuffs is a good idea.  Yes, plants are a renewable resource, but with the several competing uses of these resources (food for human consumption, feed for animals, ethanol, biodiesel, and traditional burning fuel), is packaging the best use for possible food or energy products? Most corn and soy in the U.S. is also of a genetically modified variety, leading to a whole other set of questions about what is a “sustainable” bio-material for packaging.

A good article “The Challenges of Using the Earth to Grow Energy” by sustainability consultant, Alan AtKisson talks in more depth about these packaging challenges with bio-based materials.

To learn about some of the companies that are using bio-based materials see this article by GreenBiz, “Five Global Companies to Push Plant Based Packaging”.