Green Strategies: Costs Dropping, Benefits Growing

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It goes without saying that when developing “green” strategies for a company the first thing that’s asked is 'So, what's this going to cost us?'  The assumption is that green strategies – to save energy, to reduce GHG emissions, to reduce water use and waste generation - will always come at a premium, with greater upfront costs compared to traditional (non-green) approaches. While most people and companies understand that green strategies ultimately save money in the long term (reduced energy and water costs, carbon credits), many of these ROIs are out a number of years. Our culture has changed to ignore long term gains as pressure mounts for short ROIs. One senior staffer at a municipality told me that no project would ever be approved in his municipality where the payback is realized after the current term of the mayor! And, of course, pressure from shareholders!

Fortunately, as research and experience grows and green strategies are implemented, the upfront costs of more and more green strategies are declining compared to conventional alternatives. And now in the area of buildings, some green building strategies have now been established to be less expensive upfront than the conventional alternative, while still providing the longer term benefits. 

Of course, potential cost savings will depend on a number of variables for each individual project. Bob Faulhaber, “The Green Civil Engineer”, has written about some recent case studies that he is involved in showing that the upfront costs of “green” alternatives can be cheaper than conventional approaches. Here are a few examples. Remember, these may not apply exactly for every situation.

Bob developed a cost estimate comparison for a commercial stormwater management project: a parking lot with distributed rain gardens vs. traditional catch basins and a detention pond. Below is a table with his approximate costs and assumptions made.


As you can see, the cost of rain gardens for the parking lot is cheaper than traditional lot drainage. 

One more example also involves parking lots - pervious surface vs traditional. The data for this cost comparison is drawn from a small parking lot project. The options included underground detention in the form of pipe or chambers or using pervious pavement and stone base for storage. 


The proposed parking lot built with pervious pavement and underground water storage was significantly less expensive than an impervious parking lot with traditional rain drainage.

The key is the big picture – verify systemwide costs, not focus on individual project portions.

There is also growing evidence that companies that commit to “going green” receive business benefits beyond the traditional ones of reduction in energy costs and reputational enhancement. D&W Inc., a company that supplies glass and mirrors, recently published the story of their green program. This is their words, but they strongly feel that their program not only directly saved them money, but also reduced their regulatory profile and increased operational efficiencies. For example, based on some process changes to improve efficiency and reductions in the VOCs in their coating, they were able to transition to a lower air permit level, reducing their annual regulatory costs, red tape, and need for costly audits. In addition, the program simplified operations to enable easier cleanup at the end of the day, saving them labor costs and improving product quality.

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This Environmental News for You is meant to provide general ideas on how to implement effective “green” program strategies. You should evaluate these thoroughly before implementing. CCES experts have the experience to assist you in helping to organize, strategize, and implement a “green” program and properly evaluate potential strategies for their economic and environmental benefits.


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