Seminar Shows Businesses How To Be Green

By Bill Dries

Solar panels, wind turbines and electric or hybrid vehicles get much of the attention when conversations turn to sustainability or going green.

But for many businesses large and small, energy efficiency is the first shade of green – and the easiest way to help the bottom line.

That was the message Ken Lee, operations manager for Tennessee GreenZone, delivered Thursday, Aug. 2, during his keynote address at the latest installation of The Daily News seminar series.

TGZ is part of the Bartlett Area Chamber of Commerce, but it is financially self-sufficient. The nonprofit gets no government or chamber funding and it earns its keep with the sustainability surveys and advice it gives businesses.

“In most case energy efficiency items can be implemented almost immediately,” Lee said. “You need to establish an energy team – set your goals, track your progress and promote energy efficiency.”

For some companies, an in-house energy team is not realistic. That’s why Lee said he often recommends a mixture of outside help along with someone in the organization who watches energy usage and costs out the return on investment in some of the new technology that can help cut the costs.

Lee was also part of a panel discussion Thursday that included Mary Singer, president of CRG Sustainable Solutions; Becky Williamson, strategic marketing coordinator of Memphis Light, Gas and Water Division; and Andrew Magdovitz, also of TGZ.

Williamson said the measures Lee and the other talked about aren’t as “sexy” as the alternative energy sources because many associate increased effectiveness with energy conservation measures of the 1970s post-Arab oil embargo.

She and the other panelists said there is a difference, and the difference is the more efficient technology for channeling non-renewable energy sources.

Singer pointed out a recent Wall Street Journal article that noted 80 percent of corporations it surveyed include a sustainability section as part of their annual reports.

She also said many of those large corporations look to suppliers to train their in-house sustainability leaders, something smaller businesses could also benefit from.

“That is inspiration that ‘I can do it,’” Singer said.

The discussion at the Memphis Brooks Museum of Art, moderated by Daily News publisher Eric Barnes, was a change from last year’s sustainability forum, which focused more on renewable alternative sources of energy and new and emerging technology.

Some in the audience of 100 thought Lee de-emphasized the role of renewable energy sources too much.

Others said there is often a disconnect between businesses of all types looking for lower energy costs through whatever means are available and the incentives, as well as surveys and vendors that can turn an assessment of their buildings into an action plan with cost estimates attached.

One of the more popular members of the audience not on the panel was Chris Williams of Pathway Lending, which makes loans to companies that can’t otherwise afford to invest in the conversion to different procedures and/or technology that would be part of a sustainability plan.