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U.S. Companies Embrace Green Technology


By Paul Natsu
U.S. Department of State's Bureau of International Information Programs
March 12, 2008


Citigroup has adopted power-saving measures that are designed to save nearly
$100 million annually.

For as long as companies have manufactured goods, they have looked for ways to
reduce costs. Corporations are beginning to realize that developments in
technology are making it easier for green choices to lead to increased profits.
Paul Nastu is publisher and managing editor of Environmental Leader, an online
publication that describes itself as the “executive’s daily green briefing.”

Energy efficiency was about increasing profits before it was about saving the
planet. Today, it takes less than half the energy to produce a dollar of
economic output as it did in 1970, according to recent research from the
American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy. Over the past 20 years, steel
manufacturing has seen an energy-efficiency improvement of 167 percent. The
energy efficiency of computer systems has improved an incredible 2.8 million percent.

In other words, for as long as companies have manufactured goods, they have
looked for ways to lower costs.

Of course, times have changed. There is new impetus for U.S. companies to make
energy-efficient, or green, choices. The global scientific community has
declared that global warming is very likely man-made and that the Earth’s
climate and ecosystems are already being affected by greenhouse gases.

What’s more, public opinion seems to have turned, and people are calling for
corporations to make changes. Some consumers have stated that they’re even
willing to pay more for corporations to produce greener products. According to
Forrester Research, 12 percent of U.S. adults — some 25 million Americans — are
willing to pay extra for consumer electronics that use less energy or come from
a company that is environmentally friendly.

Green Building

Companies are taking green building — and the subsequent savings in energy,
natural resources, and money — seriously. New technologies and the increasing
importance of the U.S. Green Building Council’s (USGBC) Leadership in Energy and
Environmental Design (LEED) certification program, as well as new efficiency
codes, are helping to drive corporate adoption.

The savings to companies can be large. Financial conglomerate Citigroup, with a
real estate portfolio equaling 8.5 million square meters worldwide, has adopted
such power-saving measures as turning off escalators in the lobbies of buildings
and redesigning bank branches to include more natural lighting and recycled
materials. The company says it can save as much as $1 per 0.09 square meter a
year, or nearly $100 million annually, by making its offices use less energy.

That kind of potential savings is driving retailers such as Wal-Mart, Target,
Starbucks, Best Buy, Lowe’s, and REI to build prototype green-building stores.
Best Buy claims that in the future, it will build only eco-friendly stores,
certified by the USGBC through LEED.

Office equipment retailer Office Depot says that it has reached a 10 percent
absolute reduction in carbon dioxide emissions from natural gas and electricity
consumed in its North American retail stores, warehouses, and offices by
installing more energy-efficient technology.

Solar panels at a Frito-Lay plant provide energy to bake an estimated 145,000
bags of chips per day. (© AP Images)Green Energy

Technology advances are also leading U.S. corporations to increase the amount of
alternative energy they use. And government incentives are making alternative
energy, such as solar and wind power, economically feasible.

Google expects to invest hundreds of millions of dollars in renewable energy
projects. The goal of the Internet search giant’s RECheaper Than Coal) initiative is to develop electricity from renewable energy
sources that will be cheaper than electricity produced from coal. Google will
focus initially on advanced solar thermal power, wind power, enhanced geothermal
systems, and other potential breakthrough technologies.

Companies are also finding less expensive ways to incorporate green energy.

Potato chip and snack-food maker Kettle Foods has installed 18 wind turbines on
the roof of its new Beloit, Wisconsin, manufacturing facility. The turbines are
projected to generate approximately 28,000 kilowatt-hours of power each year —
enough to produce 56,000 bags of potato chips.

The nano-manufacturing technology firm Applied Materials is installing more than
1.9 megawatts of solar power generation capability on the open roof space and
parking areas of its research campus in Sunnyvale, California. Once completed in
2008, Applied Materials’ system will generate more than 2,330 megawatt-hours
annually — enough to power 1,400 homes.

West Virginia Alloys, the largest silicon producer in the United States, has
contracted with Recycled Energy Development to build an electricity-generation
system that captures hot gases coming from silicon furnaces to make steam and
run generators.

And at its plant in Casa Grande, Arizona, snack-food producer Frito-Lay will use
methane gas to run the plant’s boiler. In addition, the company will build at
least 20 hectares of solar concentrators and a biomass generator.

Green Operations

To understand just how serious businesses are about reducing the amount of
energy they use to run their operations, you need look no further than General
Electric Company. GE has pledged to invest $1.5 billion annually on
ecomagination research and development by 2010. One of four GE ecomagination
commitments originally made in 2005, R&D investment has reached more than $2.5
billion since the program’s inception. In May 2007, GE announced that it had
doubled sales from environmentally friendly products to $12 billion over the previous two years.

Wal-Mart is measuring the amount of energy used to create products throughout
its supply chain, including the procurement, manufacturing, and distribution
process. The retailer is initiating a pilot with a group of suppliers to look
for new ways to make its entire supply chain more energy efficient.

SC Johnson, a leading cleaning products manufacturer, recently completed a
transportation-logistics project that eliminated 1,882 tons of greenhouse gases
over a 12-month period, used 2,098 fewer trucks, reduced fuel usage by 168,000
gallons, and saved approximately $1.6 million.

What’s Ahead

Corporations are beginning to realize that green choices can mean increased
profits. Some industry insiders believe that a sudden decrease in energy costs
will not necessarily mean the end of the adoption of green technology, as was
the case in the 1970s when U.S. companies dabbled in green. What’s more, as the
United States moves closer to some form of cap and trade (a system that provides
economic incentives for pollution reduction), the adoption of green technologies
by corporations is bound to increase.

 

Promoting Green Building Design, Construction and Operation, Sustainable Living,
Clean Technology, Renewable Energy Resources and Energy Independence