Op-ed: For CT business leaders, every day is Earth Day

Sue Coakley

Sue Coakley

What does Earth Day mean to you? To many people it is a time to pull trash out of riverbeds or roadsides, or plant trees: highly visible ways to demonstrate concern for our planet. To me, however, Earth Day also means LED lighting, high efficiency boilers, improved ventilation systems … and saving money. Indeed, to thousands of businesses all across Connecticut, every day is Earth Day, because of the investments they have made to do more with less – in this case, less energy.

When we started our business leader award program in 2008, our modest goal was to work with state utilities to identify and showcase businesses from Connecticut and other New England states that have taken steps to reduce their energy use, to demonstrate to others that it could be done.

Little did we know the changes we would set in motion.

In 2008, we recognized Stew Leonard’s for working with Connecticut Light & Power to improve the efficiency of their operations in numerous areas: replacing more than a dozen pieces of equipment with higher efficiency options, installing high reflectivity roofing, occupancy sensors, weather stripping around doors, and more. While Stew Leonard’s covered most of the total project cost, incentive funding from the state efficiency programs reduced the payback period from five years to 3 1/2 years, making the project justifiable from the company’s perspective.

What is most exciting is that they did not stop there. “We were always looking for ways to carve out money from the budget to support Stew Leonard’s energy efficiency,” says Doug Hempstead, vice president of property development. “So when we saw the fast payback and the ongoing savings, we were thrilled. Now we are always looking for opportunities to save energy and save money – every single year we do something to improve efficiency.”

In 2013, Stew Leonard’s underwent a million dollar upgrade that replaced HVAC units with high efficiency units, and incorporates a heat reclaim system which removes the excess heat generated by refrigeration and utilizes it for heat and humidity reduction. The stores also have new refrigerated cases with night curtain LED fixtures and high efficiency motors.

A similar story is told by Bigelow Tea out of Fairfield. In 2010, we recognized their energy efficiency leadership for the steps they took to reduce energy, including a more efficient cooling tower and air compressor, installing a 194 kW solar array, occupancy sensors and automatic computer sleep settings. But again, those first steps led to an interest in doing more.

“We always cared about doing the right thing for the environment, but the commitment to saving energy has become absolutely central to our mission,” says Jim Gildea, plant manager.  Since 2010, they have upgraded 50 percent of their lights to LEDs, with the rest to be completed in the next 18 months. “We are just starting our next project, a retrofitted geothermal system which will save us $30,000 per year. For us that is not only a great deal but reaffirms our commitment to the environment.”

NEEP works with businesses all over New England and New York who tell the same story. Making investments that reduce energy costs not only makes sense for the environment, it makes excellent business sense. “Frankly, I don’t want my competitors to know about some of these deals,” says Doug Hempstead. I think he is only half-joking.

Governor Malloy and his new Energy and Environmental Protection Commissioner Rob Klee recognize that investing in energy efficiency is not only good for individual Connecticut businesses, it boosts economic growth for the state. Indeed, energy efficiency can be considered an economic driver. A 2009 economic analysis by Environment Northeast concluded that $1 invested in energy efficiency yields over $4 in gains to gross state product, as money not spent on fossil fuel imports can be reinvested locally.

In the last two years, Connecticut moved up in rank from No. 8 to No. 5 in the ACEEE ranking of states by their energy efficiency policies. Governor Malloy has stated publicly that he is aiming to take over Massachusetts as first in the nation for energy efficiency. That is a great goal – for Earth Day and every day.

Sue Coakley is executive director of NEEP (Northeast Energy Efficiency Partnerships).

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