Making Sustainability a California State of Mind

By Jason Walter

California has been known by many identities over the years. The Gold Rush of 1848—along with the fields of yellow poppies that bloom every spring—gave California its official nickname, “The Golden State.” The state’s world-class vineyards have earned it the nickname “The Grape State.” And hopeful settlers sought opportunity in a place they called “The Land of Milk and Honey.”

Today, thanks to forward-thinking businesses, California has earned a new nickname. It is quickly becoming “The Sustainability State,” and for very good reason. Few places around the world have been as active as California in the effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by advocating for greener technologies, forward-thinking environmental policies and expanding sustainability practices.

But for California businesses, sustainability is more than a “feel good” endeavor. It’s also a smart business practice because it helps conserve energy, reduce unnecessary expenses, eliminate waste and create a positive impression of the company with employees, customers and the community.

Since commercial buildings are the single biggest users of energy in California, accounting for more than 38% of California’s electricity consumption and 25% of its natural gas use, they are a logical place to concentrate sustainability efforts. The California Public Utilities Commission’s Long-Term Energy Efficiency Strategic Plan has set a goal that all new commercial buildings that begin design after 2025 must be constructed as zero net energy facilities. It also sets a goal that 50% of the square footage of existing buildings must achieve zero net energy performance by 2025.1

(Achieving zero net energy means the total amount of energy used by the building on an annual basis is roughly equal to the amount of renewable energy created on the site.)

There are plenty of areas to target in commercial buildings for energy efficiency projects, but the ones that often provide the biggest bang for the buck are lighting; heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC); and solar energy solutions. Here’s a look at the top sustainable products in each area.

1. LED lighting technology
Light-emitting diode (LED) technology is simply a smarter and more sustainable way to illuminate interior and exterior spaces. In fact, LED lighting is forecast to represent over 75% of all lighting sales by 2030,2 so businesses certainly see its potential.

There are a number of reasons why ENERGY STAR-qualified LED interior lighting has become the choice of forward-thinking businesses. Unlike traditional sources, LEDs can emit light in a specific direction. As a result, this technology is highly efficient and well suited for downlighting and ambient lighting applications.

In addition, LEDs use at least 75% less energy than an incandescent lighting comparable. That means significantly lower operating costs. They also last 20 times longer than incandescent lighting and about two to five times longer than fluorescent lighting, which means fewer replacements and reduced maintenance costs. In fact, a well-designed and properly used LED bulb can have a lifespan of 12 years or more.3

LED exterior lighting provides significant opportunities for businesses to illuminate their facilities, enhance security and lower energy costs. By converting to LED lighting outdoors, businesses become more cost-efficient and provide improved light quality and nighttime visibility, resulting in a safer work environment. Areas where LED exterior lighting is especially effective include parking lots and garages, high-traffic walkways and loading docks.

2. Energy recovery ventilation systems
Did you know that up to 80% of the energy in HVAC exhaust air can be recovered?4 It’s true and it’s what makes a process called energy recovery ventilation so effective.

Here’s how it works: Inefficient HVAC systems require a great deal of energy to heat or cool incoming outside air. By contrast, energy recovery ventilation systems condition incoming fresh air by using reclaimed waste energy from the exhaust air stream. These systems work with your HVAC system to lower energy costs and improve indoor air quality.

In cooler weather months, energy recovery ventilation systems reduce the energy needed to heat ventilated air by transferring heat from warm inside air being exhausted to fresh cold supply air. In warm weather months, the inside air cools the warmer supply air to reduce ventilation cooling costs.

3. Solar photovoltaic systems
For businesses, the concept of solar energy used to be an intriguing idea but it was often relegated to the “someday” project list. In California, that’s no longer the case. Solar is a viable part of our energy mix. So if you’re thinking about going solar, here are a few facts to consider.

Solar photovoltaic systems capture sunlight and convert it into electricity that can be used to power everything that traditional electricity powers—from your office equipment to lighting. Purchasing a solar photovoltaic system is an investment—in the business and in the environment—but that doesn’t mean it has to break the bank.

The CaliforniaFirst statewide financing options, many solar energy system installations can be implemented with little to no upfront costs.5 Plus, the savings in the long run can be substantial and will offset the overall cost over its lifetime.

To learn more about ways to make your business more sustainable, how to finance your project, find the right contractor and earn rebates from PG&E, download the free eBook, “20 Sustainable Products to Help Businesses Save Money and Energy.”

  1. California Energy Commission
  2. U.S. Department of Energy
  5. California Solar Initiative

Businesses are making sustainability a California state of mind.
  • SMB Blog Author
    Jason Walter
    Senior Marketing Manager for commercial programs at PG&E. With a focus on integrating solutions, he takes a systems thinking approach to the development and rollout of energy management programs. Jason is an advocate for generating energy efficiencies and sustainable solutions for PG&E's customers, and within the company itself.

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