Got a green strategy yet? Top pitfalls to avoid

There are many different ways for an organisation to reduce its carbon footprint and ‘go green.’

July 1, 2013

By Neil Cameron, Area General Manager, Johnson Controls, Building Efficiency Africa

There are many different ways for an organisation to reduce its carbon footprint and ‘go green.’ However, few solutions will deliver the hoped-for results if you haven’t done your homework, read the fine print and put in place the foundations necessary to leverage your investments. If you are serious about embedding eco-principles into your business, there are a few pitfalls to avoid.

Get a strategy
The first and foremost mistake that most organisations make is to set a nebulous green goal; such as a percentage of energy savings that need to be achieved. This goal is often met by implementing quick wins – changing light bulbs switching off lights at night.

There’s nothing wrong with that except it is not a strategy, it’s a tactic. If the larger eco-challenges of the organisation are to be met, the leadership needs a clearer vision of what it wants to achieve and how to get there.

When management expresses a desire to go green it needs to back that up with funding that fits within the overall corporate budget. A green strategy needs to be determined and approved at the board level and an executive appointed to ensure proper execution. If it’s done right, significant savings are possible. Considering South Africa’s anticipated large increases in energy costs over the next three years, it’s an investment in the company’s future.

Awareness of the green challenges and opportunities for the company is key.

Work towards a consolidated energy audit rather than a fragmented one
An effective energy efficiency strategy has many facets that must be considered. A common failure is the appointment of a project manager that sub-contracts various aspects of the energy portfolio out to a variety of suppliers. This creates complexity and ultimately leads to little or no accountability of reaching the goal of delivering savings. It’s important to work towards a consolidated energy audit with an outsourced provider that takes on the risk of driving energy savings in all areas of the facility, providing the organisation with a guaranteed return.

Go slow – one step at a time
Many organisations get caught up in the excitement of an energy efficiency project and want to jump straight to installing renewable solutions such as solar panels for example. That’s admirable and in the near future it can play an important role in the overall project given that the use of renewable energy is likely to be more cost efficient for some (dependent on the tariff structure) than the national service. However, this exercise is pointless if the organisation has not first optimised its grid inefficiencies. Analyse energy utilisation, look at the equipment in place, as well as the processes and policies with regard to use of energy and then create a roadmap that will allow the company to achieve the desired sustainable benefits and improvements.

For example, installing a Variable Speed Drive on a chiller will significantly cut energy consumption provided the chiller is not operating at full load. Carbon dioxide (CO2) sensors will assist in getting the right balance between fresh and return air and enthalpy fans on vents will reuse hot exhaust air to meet heating demands. Improving efficiency needs to precede energy supplementation from renewable sources.

Take a holistic, not a product approach
So you bring in a lighting company, then a group that will install sensors and another organisation that’s an expert on heating, ventilation and air conditioning. Each has its own agenda and there’s often little cross-over expertise. The products may individually be best-in-class but if they don’t work together holistically, the company achieves little over the long-term.

You get what you pay for
Do you want the energy audit for free? No problem. The lighting expert will happily measure your lumens (brightness), tell you what the international standards are and how you can best achieve these with the most energy-efficient products. The sensor and HVAC people will do the same. Few will commit financially to achieving any energy efficiencies, however. For that you would need a credible organisation that can do an integrated audit, measure your organisational performance in terms of energy use against best practice benchmarks and provide you with a strategy and roadmap that would guarantee your outcomes. So if you are serious, make the investment in a comprehensive audit that will provide you with a sure roadmap to take you where you want to go.

Don’t forget to measure, refine
Once you have the strategy, the implementation plan is executed and the investments rolled out, do not forget to close the loop. To secure this investment, you have to monitor, measure and verify that the efficiencies are being achieved. All strategies invariably need to be refined in execution and processes typically can be continually optimised.

‘Going green’ may require a substantial investment for many organisations, but it is a route many will have to take given rising energy costs. By putting a solid strategy in place there is greater opportunity to realise a solid return on investment much more quickly.