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Businesses Find that It’s Possible to Save Money–and the Environment


Yesterday, Bill Gates announced The Breakthrough Energy Coalition, which is a $2 billion fund he is establishing with other wealthy folks and the University of California. It is aimed at closing the cost premium between legacy energy sources and those that reduce carbon emissions.

The subtext is clear: Businesses won’t become fully engaged in combating climate change if it cost them and their owners, stockholders and customers more money than doing things in less environmentally conscious ways.

The key, then, is to make the financial case for cutting energy use and increasing use of renewable energy sources. Last week, three analysts from The Rocky Mountain Institute – James Mandel, Mark Dyson and Peter Bronski – posted a commentary at The Harvard Business Review describing how companies can reduce their energy bills in energy efficient ways.

The introduction suggests that in the past most companies – outside of huge energy consumers such as data centers and “processed-focused companies” – don’t pay much attention to their utility bills.

That legacy thinking is changing, however. The piece looks at ways to cut energy use. The three suggestions are to capture “negawatts” – money saved by tweaking existing equipment in the building – using smart controls and integrating photo voltaics, storage and other renewables technologies.

Mark Dyson, who is the Manager at The Rocky Mountain Institute, wrote in response to emailed questions from Energy Manager Today that progress is being made, and for a variety of reasons: “Energy efficiency investments, more often than not, easily pay back with energy savings alone,” he wrote. “Still, we do see corporations making such investments for reasons other than energy cost savings – for example, corporate office buildings that are LEED rated are popular because they are comfortable and productive places to work, and are a visible sign of corporate values. Done right, they are also NPV positive based on energy savings alone, but this is not always the underlying motivation.”

What is Changing

It is simplistic and self-evident to say that companies want environmentally sound energy practices only if they don’t add costs. Two vital things are changing, however: More companies see the need to take action on climate change and new tools are available that make it feasible to simultaneously save money and cut energy use. That growth is both in energy generation – solar, wind and other renewable technologies – and the ability to analyze and manage usage.

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