By Liyi Chen
Going green comes with a price tag. But contrary to popular belief, saving the Earth is no longer expensive heroism.
“As more and more of the larger companies switch, making green technologies more widespread, the costs for these technologies will decrease,” said Ms. Lily Shu, director of business development at architecture and construction firm The Bergman Companies. “SMEs can take advantage of many low-cost technologies already,” she added.
“It is something easy to do, and everyone can do it,” said Mr. Anderson Lee, business director of fibrefill producer HK Non-Woven. “Over the years, everything that you spend can be paid back in 3 to 5 years.”
Since expanding his office to its current 19000 square feet and renovating his premises with energy-saving lighting and air-conditioning systems in 2007, HK Non-Woven has seen its electricity consumption drop a consistent 40 percent from before.
“Electricity is a big bill,” Mr. Lee commented, which perhaps explains why the most popular advice given these days is to optimize energy usage.
Tip #1: Change your lightbulbs
Having an energy-efficient lighting system is the most obvious cost-cutting, earth-saving measure one could easily implement. Light Emitting Diode lighting, for instance, is gaining popularity despite its high cost.
“The cost of LED, although high, has reduced significantly since a couple of years ago,” said Mr. Tony Wines, director and CEO of Turnkey Consulting, a business consultancy that also gives advice on environmental best practices. “Returns can be seen between 12-18 months now. It was a lot longer before because the costs were much higher then.”
At over US$100 a piece, LED bulbs have a clear price disadvantage as compared to the traditional incandescent lamp and its popular green alternative, the energy-saving compact fluorescent lamps (CFL), which cost at most a few dollars a piece.
But variable costs of using electricity are smaller for LED lighting, which have been reported to be at least four times as energy-efficient as the 10-percent efficient incandescent light bulbs. Moreover, with a lamp life lasting five times longer than CFL bulbs and easily 50 times longer than incandescent bulbs, LED lamps hardly need to be changed, saving users the costs and inconvenience of maintenance.
As LED technology is only in its nascent stages, much research is being done on it now, which could translate into savings for end-users and widespread LED usage in future.
“As the technology gets better, LED will phase out fluorescent,” said Ms. Lily Shu architecture and construction firm The Bergman Companies, who recommends fluorescent lamps as the cost-effective green alternative for now.
The problem with fluorescent lamps is that they contain mercury, posing toxic and pollution risks in the case of careless disposal. Rapid technological improvements in the increasingly eco-conscious light-bulb industry have since reduced the amount of mercury needed in these bulbs, but the mercury content nonetheless remains.
This is why “LED lighting investment is crucial to the reduction of carbon and mercury emissions”, said Mr. Wines, especially in Asia where many industrial plants still use the more traditional lighting systems.
Tip #2: Use technology to help you control wastage.
It is common experience. We walk out of the room without switching off the lights and fans, and we leave our computers on all day whether or not we are using it. What are seemingly minor oversights accumulate to wasted energy consumption, which is why Ms. Shu suggests installing occupancy sensors for mechanical and lighting systems.
Occupancy sensors detect users and switch the systems on and off accordingly, helping to cut down on energy wasted on idle machines and unnecessary lights.
In the case for light sensors, which can cost between $50 to $150 per unit, research has found that most energy wasted occurs during weekdays, during operation times. Studies have also shown that these gadgets can help achieve energy savings between 3% and 45% in private office settings and 73% to 86% in restrooms.
Still, industrial savings can vary widely, depending on the initial manual usage practices and workspace occupancy. Also, energy savings do not translate directly into cost-savings.
In the case for HK Non-Woven, using a highly-reflective material to create the light wells and light boxes allow less bulbs to be used without compromising the lighting in the office.
Meanwhile, its air-conditioning unit has a modal system integrated into it such that it is not switched on all the time while allowing better control of the thermostat.
Coupled with a ventilation system that changes the air regularly and improves air circulation, Mr. Lee claims the number of sick leaves has been “completely reduced”.
Improving the health of employees is not only an act of corporate social responsibility, it leads to cost savings indirectly.
“Now we have a lot less people who are absent from work, we don’t need to get substitutes, we pay less insurance and premiums won’t go up. It’s a snowball effect,” he said.
Tip #3: Cut down on water
Changing to low-flow fixtures can reduce water usage by 50 percent, said Ms. Shu from The Bergman Companies, which opened its green construction arm called r3 Building Systems in 2007. Using its methodology of construction, water consumption in the green building can be reduced by 40 percent, she claimed.
Significant reductions in water consumption can be made, if only willing. A case in point is leather tannery ISA Tan Tec.
“Three years ago we increased production and people were saying we need a bigger water treatment plant,” said founder and CEO Mr. Thomas Schneider. “But instead of building a new water treatment, why are we not working hard to cut down water consumption?”
Putting funds into analyzing the factory’s water consumption and the necessary equipment instead, ISA Tan Tec has managed a 50 percent reduction in water consumption since.
According to a 2007-2008 Keen Inc Report Card, ISA Tan Tec uses 45 percent less water than an average “good” tannery as identified by the Leather Working Group of the British Leather Centre (BLC).
Apart from analyzing its daily water usage, the tannery also re-uses its water at several stages of its production process, allowing it to score full points on its October 2008 environmental audit by BLC.
“This shows you what happens if you work consciously on saving costs,” said Mr Schneider.
Think being green is all about costs?
“It’s actually the other way around,” he said. “It actually helps you make profits.”