Energy Efficiency: Switching on the Green Light; Many Kiwi Businesses Are Lagging Behind Global Uptake of Sustainable Practices. Hayley Barnett Asks Local Energy Efficiency Experts Why More of Our Companies Aren't Tapping into Environmental Opportunities and What Some Businesses Are Doing to Go Green

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Byline: Hayley Barnett

Staggering savings, increased productivity, a reduced carbon footprint and a better reputation are just some of the payoffs for businesses that decide to go down the road of energy efficiency. Yet convincing Kiwi companies to go green is still a monstrous challenge.

It seems businesses, large and small, have the best of intentions but, when push comes to shove, talk of lowering our carbon footprint might just be a lot of hot air.

The Energy Efficiency and Conservation Authority (EECA) is mandated to educate businesses on the benefits of saving energy. It does this by focusing on what corporates tend to value most -- their bottom line.

Last year, the Government launched its Energy Efficiency and Conservation Strategy, part of which involves assisting businesses to improve their energy productivity.

EECA chief executive Mike Underhill says Kiwi companies have more to gain than they think.

"To be frank, most businesses haven't read the strategy," says Underhill. "Most see energy as such a small part of their total operating costs that they think there are more important things to focus on.

"At the other end of the spectrum, some companies pay well over $2.5 million a year on energy consumption, but it's mainly those in export-driven markets because they see the value in having a green reputation overseas."

Underhill says the real challenge lies in getting SMEs to look beyond the initial cost and see the ongoing cost-effectiveness and myriad other benefits of saving energy.

"Commercial buildings alone eat up around $2 billion a year on energy. If you save 10 percent of that it's an awful lot of money, so there are some really significant savings to be made. We find it useful to talk about the dollar savings because it goes straight to a company's bottom line."

A study carried out by EECA in mid-2011 found the majority of New Zealand businesses consider their brand and reputation to be their most important business driver, with relationships coming in second, profitability third and managing energy use down at number eight.

Underhill says energy efficiency isn't top of mind for businesses that are only just coming out of a recession. EECA is promoting subsidies for energy audits and will be launching a number of other schemes in an effort to change such thinking.

"If I were running a small business in New Zealand, the sad fact is I probably wouldn't be aware of the opportunities," says Underhill. "But even if I were, I'd be more worried about how I'd survive next year so I wouldn't want to waste time and money on energy efficiency."

Underhill says EECA is about to launch new schemes looking at how to give energy management advice to the owners of buildings. The schemes will also look at part-funding energy consultancy to new buildings and part-funding energy-savings projects in existing buildings that wouldn't otherwise go ahead.

"We will use third parties to go out and promote that and offer the services," he says.

Energy audits are now subsidised by the Government, but Underhill says few SMEs are aware of this.

"What we're trying to do is tell people they don't need to be an energy expert -- someone can come in and say, 'Here are the energy gains you can make', and they're authorised by EECA so you can have confidence in them."

EECA research shows that switching to energy-efficient lighting is one of the best returns on investment available for businesses looking to reduce their energy use.

Over the past 15 months Philips has sold over 16,000 energy-efficient light fittings for commercial offices. Combined, the switch to this lighting product results in 610 fewer tonnes of carbon emissions and provides energy savings of $554,000 (based on 15c/KWh).

When energy efficient lighting is combined with lighting controls like occupancy sensors and daylight controls, Philips says energy savings of up to 70 percent on lighting costs can be achieved. …