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Use Smart Tech to Make Your Small Business Sustainable

By 3p Contributor

By Jennifer Tuohy

Looking to give your small business a leg up, and at the same time, make it more sustainable? Cutting the environmental impact of your business not only helps the planet, but it can also positively affect your bottom line, both through a reduction in consumption of expensive fossil fuels and by streamlining your workflow. Here’s a look at some of the energy-saving, Internet-connected technology you can use in your office to create a smarter, more sustainable workspace.

Smart lighting

Traditionally, lighting accounts for up to 40 percent of a building's energy use. While switching out incandescent bulbs for LED bulbs will drastically reduce the amount of energy used for lighting, there are three other ways to do so as well:

  1. Smart lighting, either smart bulbs or smart switches, can be controlled remotely via an app and programmed to turn on and off based on certain conditions, including time, sunrise/sunset, environmental conditions, motion sensing or based on triggers from other smart device (such as a motion sensor in a doorway or a connected door lock).

  2. Install occupancy/vacancy sensors in rooms that are not in constant use, such as conference rooms, break rooms and bathrooms. Occupancy sensors detect indoor activity within a certain area and turn the lights on when someone enters and off shortly after the last person leaves. The use of occupancy/vacancy sensors can cut wasted electricity by as much as 30 percent.

  3. Personal dimmer switches allow employees to control the lighting in a particular space to best suit their work process and the time of day. Dimmers not only use less energy than a standard switch, but they also extend the life of LED bulbs. However, not all LED bulbs are dimmable, and LEDs require special dimmer switches.

Smart climate control

Heating and cooling an office space can be one of the largest energy uses for a small business. Reduce that bill and cut the strain on the environment by exploring some smart, energy-saving solutions.

  1. Do away with the lock box over the thermostat and invest in smart climate control with a thermostat that programs itself automatically and adjusts based on occupancy and/or patterns of use. Thermostats such as the Nest Learning Thermostat, Honeywell Lyric and Ecobee3 use smarts to control the temperature for you, keeping it at a constant, comfortable temperature when the office is occupied, and saving energy when it is not.

According to an ACEEE study, smart thermostats were shown to reduce energy use by an average of eight to 15 percent, concluding that “overall, they can reduce total US electricity use across all sectors by about 0.50 percent.”

  1. Reduce the need for your HVAC system to work so hard by employing passive heating and cooling in your office space with smart shades. Motorized and Wi-Fi-connected shades can be programmed to automatically regulate the amount of heat able to enter or escape a space based on time of day and season. For example, ensuring the shades are closed during the sunniest part of the day reduces the solar energy entering your office, cutting the need for air conditioning. Some models will work with smart thermostats to further regulate and reduce energy use, resulting in significant energy savings.

Smart power use

Take a look around your office and count how many devices are plugged into an electrical outlet, consuming power. Now count how many of those are actively being used—likely less than half. This is a small, but significant, waste of energy. Smart outlets and smart plugs can shut off the power flow when a charging device is fully powered up, or based on a pre-set time or other triggers.

  1. Smart outlets/plugs. Program all your non-essential systems to shut off automatically at closing time and come back on when you re-open using smart plugs. These plugs and outlets allow you to control anything plugged into them wirelessly via an app over Wi-Fi or Bluetooth. You can also use the app to set up schedules or triggers for the device to turn on or off, helping reduce unnecessary power consumption. Additionally, many of these devices can also track the energy usage of the appliances plugged into them, helping you understand your energy consumption and plan your electricity usage more thoroughly.

  2. Smart power strips. These come in a variety of configurations, but are primarily designed to reduce energy use from vampire power traditionally sucked up by peripheral devices on standby. You can have a power strip controlled by a master outlet, into which you plug a primary device, like a computer. The computer peripherals can be plugged into the other outlets and will stay off until the master device is powered on by the user. Another variation is a power strip with three types of smart outlets: the master outlet, two “always on” outlets for devices that need continuous power (like a router or landline phone) and four “automatic energy saving” outlets. These are designed to switch off completely once power is no longer needed, such as when the device attached is fully charged or has gone into standby mode.

A smart office also has the potential to learn and become smarter the more connected devices you introduce, further increasing the potential for energy savings. Most of this is simple stuff that you can do yourself, like ensuring a power strip is off and the lights aren’t left on. However, you or your employees may forget at some point—but the smart devices won’t. The combined impact of every small business in the country employing these types of energy savings will have a significant impact on global energy use.

Image credit: DesignCue via Unsplash

Jennifer Tuohy is a mom of two who is interested in sustainable and eco-friendly technology. She is a home automation enthusiast and advises small business to use smart home tech to reduce their footprint on the planet. She writes on behalf of The Home Depot, which offers a wide selection of smart home products.

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