Energy Challenge proves any small business can save energy

Contractor installing new T8s
AIM Electric employee installing energy-efficient T8s in Back in Motion.

The overarching lesson from the Small Business Energy Challenge is that any business can save energy — even in a leased space.

The Energy Challenge pitted The Pear Tree Restaurant against Back in Motion (a rehabilitation and disability prevention company), in a competition to achieve the highest percent reduction in energy use during July and August, compared to the same months in 2011 and 2012.

Both the Pear Tree and Back in Motion value sustainability and both companies had already taken steps to reduce their energy use, leaving each of them doubtful about how much more they could save.

But by the end of the challenge, both challengers learned that a combination of technical upgrades and behavioural changes can lead to big energy savings.

Engage staff to shift energy behaviours

As part of the challenge, each of the businesses had the opportunity to work with a LiveSmart BC Business Energy Advisor who helped them change staff behaviours and make technical efficiency upgrades.

"The [Pear Tree] staff was in it to win it," says Adrian Pettyfer, the restaurant's energy advisor. "We all sat down together and created standard operating procedures for the front of the restaurant and for the kitchen. Now the staff doesn't just come in and turn everything on. Each piece of equipment, from the stereo to the stovetop, has a schedule."

Staff engagement was also key for Back in Motion. "The core team ran an effective staff engagement campaign before and during the energy challenge," says energy advisor Maya Chorobik.

Back in Motion kicked off their awareness campaign with a party to get everyone working together. From there, they engaged both staff and clients in better energy use behaviours, including: running the dishwasher only when full, having gym clients limit themselves to one towel in order to reduce laundry loads, and giving each staff member a card that reminded them to turn off their computer monitor and the lights when not in use.

"They took suggestions from staff, which helped get everyone involved," says Chorobik. "And it worked. The behavioral changes that resulted from this campaign are now ingrained as habits."

Look for energy efficient lighting opportunities

Back in Motion was already using T8 fluorescent lighting in their offices and common areas, but they upgraded 108 of their 32W T8s to 28W T8s. They also changed the halogen lighting in their meeting rooms and bathrooms to LEDs. Motion sensors were put on the kitchen lighting and natural light was better used by replacing some of the ceiling tiles with translucent screens to catch light from the unoccupied space above.

Remarkably, Back in Motion was able to realize 9% in energy savings even though their operating hours increased and they experienced a hot, dry summer. Going forward the upgrades will save an estimated $665 a year.

Energy savings are achievable even if on a lease

The limitations of Back in Motion's lease meant that they weren't able to make upgrades to the heating and cooling (HVAC) system or their hot water tank. But they did move the thermostat settings on the HVAC, so the air conditioning wouldn't switch on as often. To make up for the decreased cooling, they opened the doors in the front and back of their space to create a cross breeze.

Chorobik says that businesses in leased spaces may be limited in terms of the technical changes that are possible. "But replacing outdated lighting can have significant effects on energy use and provide other benefits such as improved light quality and more controllability," she says. "Low- or no-cost behavioural and operational measures are also a good place to focus."

Don't rule out costly upgrades that save in the long run

The Pear Tree made a number of energy saving changes, including upgrading to LED lighting, adding lighting controls, and wrapping hot water pipes. The biggest change was the addition of a variable speed drive to the hood vent fan motor. Instead of having the fan operate at 100 per cent power all the time, the staff can adjust it to match their needs at the time.

At the lower settings, the motor doesn't use as much energy. As well, the vent expels less conditioned air, which saves on cooling in summer and heating in winter.

"I'm going to be taking this suggestion to a lot more restaurants," says Pettyfer. "I had always thought it was an expensive upgrade, but we did it for under $3,000. And BC Hydro has an incentive that can bring the cost down even further." This upgrade will save the Pear Tree Restaurant nearly $1,000 per year in electricity costs.

Who are the real Energy Challenge winners?

With energy savings totaling 18.5 per cent, the Pear Tree Restaurant was the official contest winner. (Read more about their Energy Challenge efforts.) But in an energy-saving contest, everybody wins.

Back in Motion has expanded both in size and in its number of operating hours over the past two years. Without the focus on energy savings, the growth of the business would have meant a significant growth in energy use. Getting everyone engaged with energy efficiency at this point is therefore a big win, controlling costs and improving the bottom line.

"Working with the energy advisor gave us skills and awareness to continue to make changes," says Shannon Welsh, one of the core organizers at Back in Motion. "And now other [Back in Motion] locations have contacted us about what we've done to see what they can do in their spaces," she says.

The Pear Tree Restaurant is experiencing a similar energy efficiency ripple effect.

"This process reminded me that energy efficient upgrades are not just for new businesses or when you're doing a big renovation," says chef-owner Scott Jaeger. "You can make energy efficient choices each time you go to buy a new piece of equipment or make a new policy. For us, that will include thinking about the equipment required for any new menu item."

Take on your own energy challenge

October is Power Smart Month. Save power, save money by taking on your own energy challenge. Get help from LiveSmart BC Business Energy Advisors. They work with small and medium-sized businesses to assess the most effective ways to save energy — then help you access product incentives that reduce the cost of upgrades.