Solutions for more sustainable workplaces

The Times Review welcomes new columnist Chantal Keerak, a Revelstoke-based engineer and energy management consultant. The Thermal-stat! series will explore how you can create better, more efficient homes and workplaces, while also saving money. The series lets you in on government grants and supplements, and is specifically tailored to address the challenges of our unique mountain climate in Revelstoke. This is the first of an eight-part series that will be published approximately every third week.

  • Jan. 13, 2011 11:00 a.m.

Editor’s note: The Times Review welcomes new columnist Chantal Keerak, a Revelstoke-based engineer and energy management consultant. The Thermal-stat! series will explore how you can create better, more efficient homes and workplaces, while also saving money. The series lets you in on government grants and supplements, and is specifically tailored to address the challenges of our unique mountain climate in Revelstoke. This is the first of an eight-part series that will be published approximately every third week.

Thermal-stat! by Chantal Keerak

People are often motivated about saving resources and energy in their personal lives because they can see the direct relation to how much these things cost them. However, at work where the employee is often not responsible for these costs, it makes it more difficult for them to be motivated to conserve. If the business owner can find a way to engage the employees in creating a more sustainable workplace, it not only helps the environment, but the bottom line of the company as well. It also creates a lot of pride, boosts employee morale, and raises the public image of the company.

While working in Australia, I was part of a Green Office Innovation Team that was given the task of creating a more sustainable workplace for an office of over 700 employees. The team was successful in reducing annual energy consumption by 25 per cent, paper usage by 59 per cent and waste to the landfill by 79 per cent, while creating an annual savings of $175,000 per year! Even though this was a large office, none of the strategies that were implemented were large scale retrofits. Almost all the strategies that were implemented could be applied to offices of any size. The success of this project was a result of the cooperation, acceptance, and involvement of everyone in the organization.

The most common resource that companies are trying to conserve is energy. However the steps for creating a successful energy conservation plan at work can be applied to any other resource that is consumed in the workplace. These steps are:

1. Create a sustainable workplace team. The size of your team most often depend on the size of your company. It should involve staff from all levels and include decision-makers.

2. Quantify the amount of energy and other resources that are being consumed.

3. Engage employees and professionals to help you come up with ideas on ways to reduce consumption. If the resource is a material, can it be reused and if not can it be recycled?

4. Create a detailed plan with goals and targets. In order for the plan to be successful it must be easy to follow, easy to remember and not create excess work for the employees.

5. Monitor your progress and celebrate success. People need to have feedback on their efforts to stay motivated.

The best way to identify energy saving opportunities in your business is to have an energy assessment done by someone who specializes in energy efficiency. The energy audit will help create a long-term energy savings plan for the business by quantifying the savings, estimating the project costs, and providing economic parameters for each energy saving opportunity identified. The most common energy savings opportunities are through employee education and engagement, lighting retrofits, implementing control strategies, improving equipment and HVAC (heating, ventilation and air condition) efficiencies and upgrading the building envelope.

Educating employees on the benefits of turning off lights and equipment when not in use has little to no cost and can have a very big impact when added up across the entire office or business. In order for the action to be sustained by the employees the benefits of these actions need to be tangible and something that they can relate to.

When people start adding up the number of lights in their workplace they are often surprised at how many there are. Upgrading to more energy efficient lighting, removing light bulbs in areas that are over lit, turning off lights when not needed and using natural lighting when available can have a very big impact on energy savings. For example, we recently donated an energy assessment to the Community Connections Revelstoke building. The light intensity was metered in each room and it was discovered that the majority of the rooms were over-lit compared to recommended standards. Simply by removing unnecessary light bulbs they could save over $600 per year.

With the advancement in technology implementing control strategies to reduce energy consumption is more common. Occupancy sensors, timers, photosensors, motion detectors, and a variety of other control systems are most commonly found on lighting and HVAC systems but they can be used to control anything from coffee makers and office equipment to specialized industrial equipment.

Whenever purchasing new equipment, look for more efficient models and ones that offer better energy control systems. This can be as simple as buying a computer monitor that is ENERGY STAR® approved or a lunch room fridge with a better EnerGuide rating.

Other energy saving solutions involve upgrading your HVAC system and building envelope (such as windows, doors or insulation). Even though these upgrades can sometimes be more costly, the economics of doing them are often very good. In many cases the retrofit will pay for itself within a few years.

According to research by the consulting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers, of all the provinces British Columbia has the longest list of incentives for businesses to “go green.” A list of these incentives and rebates can be found on the BC Hydro website at: www.bchydro.com/rebates_savings/bc_business_incentives.html

There are so many benefits to making your workplace more sustainable. What are you waiting for?

Chantal Keerak is a professional mechanical engineer. Her Revelstoke-based company, VerdaTech Energy Management and Consulting BC, provides heating and ventilating system design and energy efficiency assessments for residential and commercial buildings throughout B.C.