Cool Companies

by Carolyn Chase


hile many business people either think global warming is a political plot or has nothing to do with them, a number of firms have already looked beyond the politics to see cutting their greenhouse gas emissions as an opportunity for boosting productivity and profit margins.

Profiles of these efforts can be found in a new book entitled "Cool Companies" by author Joseph J. Romm, a long time energy efficiency expert. In fifty detailed case studies Romm shares how bottom line results have been achieved by improving processes, increasing energy efficiency and adopting new, and "cooler" technologies.

Profiling efforts at successful companies such as Compaq, Toyota, Xerox and Perkin-Elmer - as well as many small and mid-sized businesses - Cool Companies demonstrates that efforts to combat global warming do not need to come with massive costs to businesses. Romm explains why systematic efforts to reduce emissions help lead to productivity gains and increased corporate performance.

The most relevant finding to all companies is Romm's exploding of energy conservation myths. "You may believe that your company 'did energy conservation' in the late 1970s or early 80s, or that you've captured all the 'low hanging fruit,' the 'obvious' energy-saving investments with the quickest payback or highest rate of return. ... but today's energy efficiency is to yesterday's energy conservation as the personal computer is to the typewriter. Advances in combined heat-and-power and renewable energy are just as amazing."

You can cut workplace energy use, costs, and greenhouse gas emissions in half with rapid paybacks with a systematic energy upgrade. The Energy Cost Savings Council, a partnership of electrotechnology manufacturers and trade associations, say that businesses can expect to achieve a savings of $1 per square foot of floor space. If your building or office has avoided a comprehensive upgrade in the last five years, you are throwing away a great deal of money.

Case histories attest to the do-ability of a 50 percent reduction in energy use. With the City of San Diego's Environmental Services Department saving more than 60% in their energy retrofits of a suburban office building in Kearny Mesa, all local building owners and managers should be looking into this. The trade journal Energy User News examined 1,000 energy-efficient upgrades and found an average reduction in energy use of 39 percent, with an average return on investment of 32 percent - a 3.1-year payback.

Also, the people in these buildings enjoy higher quality lighting, improved indoor air quality and increased worker comfort. Romm provides quite a few details of the paybacks related to worker productivity and workplace design. He reports that "productivity savings dwarf energy savings. . . cutting energy use by a whopping 50 percent can typically save $1 per square foot per year. Boosting productivity a mere 5 percent will generate more than $10 per square foot in new profits every year. Failing to design buildings to increase worker productivity means ignoring 92 percent of its life-cycle costs. Yet most developers, architects, and engineers have been doing just that."

Why isn't everyone doing it right? The barriers are there, but often hidden until you start to put an emphasis on efficiency paybacks. Romm discusses how programs in workplaces got started and what kinds of problems can be discovered and overcome. One key is including energy savings as a financial factor from the very beginning of any project. Design bonuses should be given for energy savings beyond the average in any area.

The best efficiency projects occur only when there is an "energy champion." These individuals are empowered and have the support to work through the barriers, both inside and outside a company, that block efficiency projects. To aid in the process, the EPA has developed a five-stage process for reducing energy consumption in buildings as part of the voluntary "Energy Star" program.

Another program for Cool Companies is being launched here in San Diego on Wednesday, September 29. The San Diego Regional Energy Office will be hosting a one-day workshop entitled "Forging Partnerships to Bring Solar Energy to the San Diego Region."

Topics to be covered during the workshop include:

  • An overview of the National Million Solar Roof Initiative (MSRI)
  • An overview of the San Diego Partnership role in the MSRI
  • An update on solar technologies
  • Perspectives from industry representatives
  • The role of federal agencies in San Diego's MSRI
  • MSRI and federal resources for financing and procurement of solar systems

Please see the Energy Office website ( for a more detailed look at the workshop agenda. Email:

This event is the official kick-off of the San Diego Region Million Solar Roofs Initiative. Southern California has the climate for entrepreneurs to lead the way in producing and installing new technologies for a more sustainable energy future.