ST. PETERSBURG — The environmental business sector is hot, but not all businesses can have it as their main activity. Still, many are finding they can color their operations green and save quite a bit, too.
"We're a traditional printing business," said Karl Nurse, who runs Bay Tech Label. "We tried a few things, and one thing led to another."
Nurse said that in the past four years he has spent $25,000 on efficient lights, new windows, skylights and new landscaping, among other green changes to the way he does business. He has gotten almost $20,000 back in efficiency already, and once the investments fully pay for themselves, the ongoing savings will just accrue to the bottom line.
"Some of this you do because it saves money, but some you do because you want to," said Nurse, who also repainted with nontoxic paint and added cork flooring in parts of his 15,000-square-foot plant. "And now my back doesn't hurt anymore."
Other businesses and organizations are making changes they find aren't that hard and can pay off big. Recycling, encouraging employees to turn off lights and so on create big savings along with enhancing a green reputation.
"We decided to step back and see what we're doing as an organization," said Melanie Lenz, senior director of development for the Tampa Bay Rays. "It's not greenwashing; it's part of our core business goals."
Lenz said the Rays changed out their inefficient fluorescent lights at Tropicana Field and installed sensors in offices to turn lights off when no one was around. The team invested $132,000, but will save $53,000 a year. The team spent $100,000 to improve its air-conditioning efficiency, from which it will reap $250,000 in savings just in the first two years.
"We think this is the right thing to do," Lenz said, but added that the team promotes its green behavior to get baseball fans to follow. "We can make it a lot of fun."
Beer vendors keep aluminum cans for recycling after they pour the drink into a biodegradable cup made from corn oil. There is also a "cleanup hitter team" that between innings collects fans' plastic soda and water bottles for recycling.
"You literally see our people running down the aisles with bright blue bags," Lenz said.
But even the smallest business can go green. Chris Kean was leasing a Yellow taxi but decided to buy a hybrid car and convert it. He cut his fuel cost by more than half, and now his fares cover his expenses after just a few hours' work, with the rest of the day being pure profit.
"I'm not exactly a tree hugger, but it doesn't hurt to reduce our dependence on foreign oil," said Kean, who drives his 2008 Toyota Prius up to 300 miles a day in mid Pinellas.
Kean's customers rarely notice the electric nature of the car, he said, but one did and told him about an electronic change that increased his mileage. He now drives all day sometimes for less than $10 in gas.
Other businesses look beyond today's savings. Grady Pridgen is putting photovoltaic panels on his property management offices to generate electricity from the sun. He expects that to become profitable.
"A lot of folks do their calculations based on energy costs today," Pridgen said, "but we're expecting energy costs to triple in the next few years, so we're calculating on that."
Pridgen is putting $240,000 worth of solar panels in a 30 kilowatt system that also shades the south end of his 10,000-square-foot Gateway building. After rebates and incentives, he'll spend less than $50,000, and the savings will pay that back in eight years or less, he said.
At first, Pridgen will sell excess electricity back to Progress Energy at a wholesale rate, while still buying at retail. But as mandates come into effect for power companies to produce their power from renewable sources, Pridgen says he expects to be selling electricity for more than what he pays.
Installing a solar-electric system is not for the average landlord, which is why electricians are also getting in on the act. Jon Dehmel said he uses training in green technologies as a recruitment tool in his work with the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 915.
"It used to be unions were dying out, but that's because we didn't respond to people's needs," Dehmel said. "Green technology is the future, so for us to push that forward is a good thing."
Even public institutions are finding money where they thought there was none. St. Petersburg College saved $800,000 on its $6-million energy costs last year just by turning up the thermostat, scaling back some equipment at peak times, and changing out lights.
"You can do big things without spending a lot of money," said Susan Reiter, the college's director of facilities planning. "It is cost effective."
Some cost savings are business opportunities for others. The non-profit Louise Graham Regeneration Center employs mentally retarded people while it collects, for free, recyclables from Nurse, the Rays and others. It sells the waste paper and cardboard to paper mills, buys recycled-paper products and sells them back to its local clients, all of which saves the businesses the cost of garbage pickup and funds half of Graham's budget.
"You can find an alternative for almost anything," said Lenz, who added that the Rays saved $6,800 last year through recycling 58 tons of paper, cardboard and magazines. "You just have to look a little harder."
Paul Swider can be reached at email@example.com or 892-2271.