10 Sustainable Commercial Products for California Businesses

HVAC system

Commercial businesses in California striving to comply with the state's push to adopt ambitious sustainability practices should begin by installing energy efficient heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) and lighting equipment. Together these two categories account for about 75% of the electricity consumption in the average commercial building, making them prime targets for sustainability measures.

Upgrading to sustainable commercial products in HVAC and lighting can substantially reduce a business's energy usage and utility bills, and have a positive impact on the environment. Here are 10 sustainable commercial products in HVAC and lighting that can greatly reduce California businesses' energy consumption and carbon footprint.

Sustainable HVAC products

1. Programmable thermostats: Businesses can save as much as 10% a year on heating and cooling by simply turning the thermostat back 7 to 10 degrees for eight hours a day from its normal setting.1Programmable thermostats enable businesses to do that automatically during hours when the building isn't occupied.

2. Notched V-belts for HVAC motors: Notched V-belts, unlike solid V-belts, feature grooves that help reduce the bending resistance of the belt. As a result, these sustainable commercial products are 2% more efficient than standard V-belts because they run cooler and can last as much as twice as long as standard belts.2

3. Air-side economizers: Air-side economizers are sustainable commercial products that are designed to supplement and reduce demand from a building's AC system by bringing in outside air when it's cool outside. Santa Clara-based Intel Corporation, for example, conducted a proof-of-concept test that used an air-side economizer to cool servers with 100% outside air at temperatures of up to 90°F. The company estimates that using this sustainability practice will save $144,000 annually for a 500-kilowatt facility and that a 10-megawatt facility will save $2.87 million annually.3 Retrofit economizers are available for existing AC units and air-side economizers are required for businesses purchasing new commercial AC units.

4. Variable speed drives: Variable speed drives (VSDs) adjust fan speeds according to demand instead of operating at a constant rate, saving businesses money and energy. For example, three ENERGY STAR®-certified data centers using VSDs saved hundreds of thousands of dollars annually and had paybacks ranging from 0.54 to 1.7 years.4

5. Demand controlled ventilation: Demand controlled ventilation uses carbon dioxide sensors to read occupancy demand to precisely adjust building ventilation. Instead of running ventilation fans at a constant rate, this sustainable commercial product slows or speeds up fans and air intake based on CO2 levels inside the building.

6. Radiant heating: Radiant heating warms objects, not spaces, thus focusing heat where it is most needed. It can be installed in large indoor areas like warehouses and garages and outdoor areas like patios to reduce fuel consumption. Because it eliminates duct losses, radiant heating is more efficient than baseboard heating and usually is more efficient than forced-air heating.

7. Energy recovery ventilation: Energy recovery ventilation systems use reclaimed waste energy from the exhaust air stream to condition incoming fresh air. In the winter, these sustainable building products cut the costs of heating ventilated air by transferring heat from the warm inside air being exhausted to the fresh (but cold) supply air. In the summer, the inside air cools the warmer supply air to reduce ventilation cooling costs.5

Sustainable lighting products

8. Skylights: A key benefit of natural light is that it comes at no cost to you. As an easy sustainability practice, install skylights and remove obstacles that block windows to use natural light more effectively during the daytime.

9. Adaptive Lighting Technology: Just as it is wasteful to leave the thermostat set at a constant level even when the building is unoccupied, leaving the lights on in unoccupied rooms isn't very energy efficient. Adaptive lighting technologies, such as occupancy sensors, control systems and dimmers, turn lights on and off based on room occupancy and lighting necessity to reduce waste and preserve energy. Dimmers can also help modulate illumination, turning lights up or down as outside light increases and decreases.6

10. LED technology: It is estimated that by 2027, widespread use of light-emitting diode (LED) technology could save about 348 terawatt-hours of electricity.7 That's the equivalent annual electrical output of 44 large electric power plants, 1,000 megawatts each, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. LED prices have decreased significantly in recent years as these sustainable building products have attained greater market penetration. LEDs consume less energy and last longer than incandescent and fluorescent lighting. They produce less heat than other lighting technologies, which results in reduced cooling costs. LEDs also produce superior brightness, light output and color.


ENERGY STAR certification is the simplest way to determine whether HVAC and lighting sustainable building products meet current energy efficiency standards. ENERGY STAR-qualified commercial HVAC products can save a business approximately $1.70 per square foot over the life of the equipment. For example, a 12,000-square-foot building using an ENERGY STAR-qualified HVAC product could save more than $21,000 over its lifetime and prevent more than 40,000 pounds of greenhouse gas emissions.8

When determining which new commercial lighting products to implement, be sure to talk to a lighting contractor about ENERGY STAR-certified technologies or sustainable building products that are qualified by the DesignLights Consortium (DLC). Both organizations help ensure that you receive the quality and performance you expect from your new lighting system. PG&E also offers a variety of energy efficiency programs, rebates and incentives for qualifying ENERGY STAR or DLC products.

Achieving energy savings with sustainable HVAC and lighting products doesn't necessarily entail a complete overhaul, but generally does require collaboration with a qualified contractor. To learn more about ways to improve HVAC and lighting energy efficiency for California businesses, download the free "How to Get the Best Results from a Lighting or HVAC Project" eBook from PG&E.