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3 Obvious Ways Companies Can Flip the Switch and Save Millions

<p>Cutting energy use across the enterprise can be so simple, and so cost-effective that it's astounding there is still any of this low-hanging fruit waiting to be plucked. Here are eight case studies showing what's possible.</p>

Probably much like dads worldwide, my dad would yell at us kids to turn off the lights or TV once we left a room. Given how much energy waste is rampant in corporate America, it appears he would have a full-time job in corporate America with all the devices left on.

Many leaders react with a yawn when I suggest that a simple yet effective energy saving technique is to dial down or turn off equipment. But payback on these projects can be astounding, as companies as diverse as Adobe, Fairmont Hotels, Hewlett Packard, Con-way and many others have learned.

Avoid Exceeding Requirements

Adobe's senior director of facilities, Randy Knox III, relishes telling the story about the efficiency project that achieved an astounding 4,900 percent return on investment.

Adobe provides nearly one million square feet of covered parking for its offices and was running its garage fans continuously. An air quality expert determined that there was sufficient ventilation that the fans only needed to run 15 minutes each hour during the prime-time commuting hours and still exceed regulations.

Continuing the discussion of fans, biotech firm Gilead was able to save by reducing fan operating speeds in its labs. Previously, fans had operated at full speed, 24-by-7. The ventilation requirements are regulated by OSHA, but it is allowable to dial down when a lab is empty. More than 50 percent of the energy needed by the fans was saved with this simple -- and obvious, if only in hindsight -- change.

Mark Thiele, founder and president of Data Center Pulse, urges data centers to increase the temperature, since it is one of the easiest ways to save on energy costs.

When computers were first introduced, they were much more sensitive to heat, which led to the now-unnecessary chilly temperatures in data centers: Original compute facilities were often maintained at a frigid 60 degrees Fahrenheit.

But technology has since improved dramatically and computer equipment may now safely run at a balmy 90 degrees Fahrenheit or more. For each degree warmer, the data center saves 3 to 4 percent on its cooling costs. Above 80 degrees, returns start to diminish. Maintaining temps in the low 80's is ideal, since it also provides a cushion in case there are hot spots.

Use Equipment Optimally

Slowing down for those businesses managing their own fleets has yielded significant savings. Con-way Freight reduced its maximum speed from 65 to 62 mph to save nearly four percent of its fuel. "We found the 'sweet spot' to be 62 mph for our fleet," explained Randy Mullett, Con-way's vice president for government relations. "A slower speed would realize some incremental fuel savings, but 62 is where we get the best fuel mileage while still meeting our service commitments and moving with the flow of traffic."

Hewlett-Packard's sustainability executive for the Americas, John Frey, said HP has found a good way to seed energy efficiency among its customers. "Customers often tell me that their IT energy efficiency initiatives will require additional funding. However, it has been HP's experience that using the HP tools and technologies already deployed frequently provide the fastest, easiest and largest savings."

Energy Star printers are shipped from HP with power-management settings enabled. Companies often inadvertently turn these features off when installing the printers. HP also provides tools to allow IT administrators to set duplex printing as the default.

Typically only 10 to 20 percent of documents are printed on both sides when each person needs to set duplex. With duplex set as the default, double-sided printing reaches nearly 80 percent. This increased efficiency saves the company money by reducing paper, ink and storage space.

Shift From "Always On" to "As Needed"

Fairmont Hotels and Resorts is a world-class operator that provides the utmost attention to guest well-being. But keeping the air conditioning at full blast in preparation for guest arrivals was wasteful.

Karen Hagberg, leader of Fairmont's Kena Lai green team on Maui, explained that "Now the front-desk increases the air conditioning when the guest arrives, saving energy while still providing a comfortable room."

Returning to fleet management, turning off the vehicle's engine rather than idling is another big energy saver. A typical truck burns three-quarters of a gallon of gas per hour at idle.

Con-way already turned off the engine automatically at five minutes, but made a small change to reduce idling to three minutes. Con-way estimates a savings of 55,000 gallons of fuel annually across its fleet of 8,800 trucks.

Cisco uncovered that its labs were the single largest user of electricity at Cisco. With 1,700 labs, the total energy consumed by labs was much greater than the data centers or office facilities, accounting for nearly 70 percent of its energy costs.

Cisco initiated a number of changes such as better monitoring and control of equipment installation. A significant part of the reduction was achieved by educating engineers to turn off equipment that was not actively engaged in a test.

During a typical business day, computers are used less than 40 percent of the time. Nearly 50 percent of employees frequently or always leave their computers on overnight.

After reviewing best practices at over 50 global firms, La Poste's Phillippe Charpentier, director strategy and innovation reported, "One of the most attractive projects for La Poste's green portfolio was PC energy management." When rolled out to its 170,000 PC's, La Poste expects to save $7 million on energy annually, or more than $40 per unit.

As these examples illustrate, turning off or dialing down provides great ROI. Most projects are also simple to implement. As my dad would say, "A no-brainer!"

Light switch photo via Shutterstock.

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