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Coffee distributor saves $4,000 annually in lighting costs

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Upgraded lighting & other efficiencies to save Van Houtte $100,000 a year

Can a lighting upgrade save money even if your lighting is only eight years old? And is it worth upgrading even if you operate from a leased space?

The answers, based on the experience of coffee roaster and distributor Van Houtte Coffee Services Inc. are yes, and yes. And lighting is just one part of the company's developing sustainability (and savings) story.

It started with Climate Smart

Between December 2009 and February 2010, two representatives from Van Houtte's Lower Mainland branch attended training offered by Climate Smart. During three half-day sessions, the organization helps companies figure out how to reduce their carbon footprint and strengthen their business.

"I wasn't sure how time consuming the training would be, because we're always pressed for time," says Morten Schroder, Van Houtte's vice president of operations for B.C. "Now I tell everyone, if that's your concern, don't Google, don't pick up a book, just sign up with Climate Smart and show up for the first session.

"The training was bang-on, and after the first half-day session, we'd learned enough to take one action – we switched to a courier that uses hybrid vehicles."

The training led Van Houtte's staff to make a series of decisions aimed at reducing their environmental impact. Their fleet of high-mileage delivery vehicles is being converted from gas to propane – a switch that cuts their greenhouse gas emissions and will save $60,000 per year.

A focus on reducing paper saved enough money to shift to higher-cost (and lower carbon) 100% recycled paper with no pressure on the bottom line. Inviting customers to switch to e-statements saves on paper, postage, and emissions, cutting another $20,000 in cost per year. The company set a target of $100,000 of permanent annual savings in operating costs in B.C., and expects to achieve it this year.

"Prior to Climate Smart, somehow I figured it would cost money to do the right thing," says Schroder. "But you can save money and help the environment at the same time.

"It's kind of a humbling feeling; it's such common sense and it seems so easy, but it wasn't, prior to taking the training," he says. "I've been 28 years with this company, and now I think, 'Why didn't we do that before?'

"But you just operate the business day to day, and you don't necessarily reflect about whether you can take environmental initiatives and save money at the same time. Unless someone gets you to stop for half a day to think about it, you just don't."

Saved: 24% every month

Van Houtte's quest for efficiency and reduced environmental impact led to a lighting upgrade throughout their 30,000 square-foot Coquitlam facility, part warehouse, part office.

Even though the building and its lights are only eight years old, technology has improved enough that the combination of newer fluorescents, some upgraded ballasts, occupancy sensors and switching to LED exit signs made a significant difference. In addition, lighting levels were reduced in areas that were overlit, and staff have learned to switch off lights whenever they're not in use.

The upgrade cost $16,000 and qualified for a Power Smart rebate of $3,356. With annual savings of about $4,000 per year, the project has a three-year payback. Schroder says even in a leased space, the project was worth it.

"Even if we moved from this location, I think we still would do the upgrade," he says. "There are always reasons preventing us from getting started [on sustainability efforts], and we need to get going with some urgency. So we've kind of taken the stand that we're going to charge ahead while we're figuring this out."

The can-do attitude is paying off: since the upgrade was completed in November 2010, Schroder has seen a 24% reduction in electricity use every month.

The power of business

"Personally I think of this as a bigger purpose," reflects Schroder. "We live great lives here in beautiful British Columbia and we just can't ignore that operating a business does have an impact on the environment. As businesses, we're benefitting from that impact.

"The thing is, in business we can leverage more impact than an individual can. As a business we can be very visible with our initiatives – it's tough to do that as just one individual. Minimizing our impact on the environment has become a part of our company's culture."