Energy Efficiency Profiting Small Business: A panel session at the 2019 Michigan Energy Summit
Written by Myka Irvine, recent GVSU graduate and Team Member of San Chez A Tapas Bistro
Energy efficiency is the first step of reducing a building’s carbon footprint; the benefits are for all organizations, big and small. During a Michigan Energy Summit breakout session, a panel of small business owners shared unique stories about their energy reduction journey.
Gillian Giem, from the U.S. Green Building Council of West Michigan, opened the session by expressing admiration for small businesses owners who see their energy expense as something which can be managed rather than an obligatory utility bill. Strong local business is the pulse of a vibrant community, and that’s why Michigan Battle of the Buildings is so proud of their participation. With the vast responsibilities of a small business owner, it speaks volumes of their priorities to manage energy wisely. Giem emphasized the importance of accessibility and availability when it comes to resources for “hard to reach” entities.
The Energy Assistance Program supports small organizations by providing a free ASHRAE level “1.5” energy audit performed by Professional Partners of the GR2030 District. The final product includes a utility analysis, connection to incentives, development of an EnergyStar Portfolio Manager account, and a customized strategic plan to lower energy consumption while profiting from these changes. Each panelist were pilot participants and are currently implementing the recommendations.
Cindy Schneider from San Chez A Tapas Bistro shared the company’s mission. Their culture empowers staff with a deep commitment to green practices during the onboarding process. San Chez requires a pre-application that describes the goals and environmental responsibilities the company maintains. As a restaurant that opened in 1992, Schneider makes sure that the initial pride in being green and local does not become stale. Jordan Sinkel, a server at San Chez Bistro and Roam by San Chez, has piloted their Salsa Verde sustainability team and played a key role in the recent energy audit. Foresight Management conducted the audit in February 2019 and the benefits have resulted in a 40% reduction in their overall energy consumption.
Javier Olvera from Supermercado Mexico recalled how they began as one small grocery store with a vision to expand. Now they operate three Supermercado Mexico stores throughout Grand Rapids and Wyoming. Olvera quickly realized that energy efficiency must be implemented, as the restaurants and grocery stores sectors ranks among the largest consumers of energy. With a team of energy engineers from Foresight Management, they pinpointed different changes that could be made throughout the stores to reduce energy waste. Top priorities were cooler motors, refrigeration covering, aerators, lighting and sensors. Olvera shared that so far, they’ve had a 25% energy reduction and $30,000 in annual savings.
Shandra Steininger from Grand Rapids HQ, a drop-in center for youth that are experiencing unsafe or unstable housing, connected the human energy it to takes to survive to the importance of energy reduction within in her organization. Shandra stated, “Energy is the greatest commodity you can control.”
HQ conserves energy in order to improve performance, not only for the youth but the organization at large. Though the building was strategically selected, disruption from the leaking roof and high energy costs lead to her finding Catalyst Partners, who directed her to the Energy Assistance Program. HQ has created the Green Umbrella Fund, a green revolving fund which invests a percentage of the energy savings into building improvements without interfering with the budget for HQ’s mission.
Each of these powerful small business owners have benefited greatly from engaging in energy audits at their businesses and they continue to make improvements according to their strategic energy reduction plan. The Energy Assistance Program provides the resources needed to help them manage and achieve their goals.