Small environmental changes can save some green



Posted on Thu, Sep. 18, 2008

The Wichita Eagle

Being environmentally sensitive can make sense even for cost-conscious small-business owners and managers.

Conserving electricity can easily cut 30 percent off a power bill with some minor up-front spending — and more with a more serious investment, experts say.

It begins with small stuff, such as unplugging computers at night, using programmable thermostats and switching ballasts in fluorescent lights from mechanical to electronic. But many small-business owners and managers don’t see the return on investment on a lot of things green.

“It’s always an easy sell when it’s ‘This will pay for itself,’ ” said Dan Dokken, an architect with Law/Kingdon who has designed green buildings in Wichita.

“On things like green cleaning supplies, for instance, you’re probably paying a premium. That might be a harder sell.”

Small-business owners are often focused on running their businesses as cost-effectively as possible. For many of them, buying green for green’s-sake is a luxury they can’t afford.

Tim Witsman, president of the Wichita Independent Business Association, said environmental concerns are a low priority for his members compared to taxes, health care and other burning issues.

But cutting electricity use is just as green as a roof garden and makes a whole lot more sense, said Dan Sitarz, a professor at Southern Illinois University School of Law and an expert on energy use.

But many times, small-business owners or managers just don’t do it.

Mike Hutmacher/The Wichita Eagle :: Kris Schindler, owner of Start-Thinking, has taken steps to go "green," including bicycling to downtown businesses, using a two-sided paper copier and recycle bins in the office.

“They can tell you the price of gas and the miles per gallon their car gets, but they don’t know how much they are paying per kilowatt hour or how much electricity they use on a average day,” Sitarz said. “And they are paying far more to their power utility than they’re spending filling their gas tank.”

Cutting back
Sitarz just published “Greening Your Business: The Hands-On Guide to Creating a Successful and Sustainable Business” that gives many concrete ways to calculate the return of investment of saving energy.

He said some simple behavioral changes to cut back on electricity usage, backed by technology costing about $100, can save 30 percent on electricity bills.

Electrical appliances all draw electricity when they’re plugged in, even if turned off — particularly laser printers, he said, because they need to maintain heating elements.

Much of conservation is really just being more mindful of turning the electrical appliances off when they aren’t in use, he said.

The Building Owners and Managers Association is making conservation a priority this year, said Larry Weber, general manager of the Garvey Center. He can testify as to why. He has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars over the past decade to upgrade the center’s lighting, air conditioning and other systems.

He said the lighting improvements paid for themselves in two or three years. The pay back on more expensive improvements, such as more efficient chillers and ultraviolet blocking windows, were closer to 10 years.

Weber said he did a cost analysis before spending the money, but that he sometimes picked the greener option even if it didn’t pay off.

“If the number two choice is not that much less,” Weber said, “why not go with the green solution?”

Greener choices
For more ambitious business owners, there are a wide range of green activities that don’t pay off but are sound practices.

Kris Schindler and John Thompson, owners of Start-Thinking, a small public relations and technology firm, recycle, print on both sides of paper and even take a bicycle when doing chores downtown. Everyone pitches in.

“We even thought about a green policy, but it didn’t seem necessary,” Schindler said. “It’s part of our culture.”

For manufacturers, there has been a growing movement to earn ISO 14001 certification, a comprehensive process for reducing pollution and improving the company’s environmental impact.

Senior Aerospace Composites completed the arduous certification process in March and is in the midst of setting goals, said Frank Charles, the company’s environmental health and safety manager.

It helps aircraft subcontractors win more business, he said. Boeing, Airbus and others have said they prefer their suppliers to have the rating. The certification also requires the company to become more efficient in its operations, Charles said.

But it also makes a statement about the company beyond dollars and cents.

“It shows the community we’re being proactive in trying to protect the environment,” Charles said. “To me, it says a lot.”

Reach Dan Voorhis at 316-268-6577 or

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