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3 Steps Nonprofits Can Take to be More Energy Efficient

As New York’s leading personalized board matching service, BoardAssist is approached daily by New Yorkers who want to join a board where they can be a real agent of change.  Once on board, our placements often ask “what more can I be doing to help the board I’ve joined?”  In this week’s guest post Natalie McKeon of the Environmental Defense Fund offers a great answer to that question – help your nonprofit become more energy efficient and save them money at the same time.   (Note:  we ran this post in 2017 and it was so popular, we are posting it again.)

3 Steps Nonprofits Can Take to be More Energy Efficient

We know that nonprofits have limited resources to commit to energy management, and when just starting out, it can feel like a daunting task. To help, here’s a roadmap on three ways nonprofits can, and have, built smart energy management into their long-term strategy:


  1. Do an Energy Audit – Use information from your energy provider to understand baseline energy use in your buildings. Once you have a sense of how much energy your organization uses, request an energy audit from your provider. An audit will reveal obvious inefficiencies and detail opportunities for increased efficiencies. It’s important to have benchmark energy metrics so your organization can set attainable efficiency goals.


Case in point: Alamo Colleges District enlisted EDF Climate Corps fellows to help meet their goal of reaching carbon neutrality by 2050 and reducing emissions by 30% by 2020. Over the past four years, the network of five community colleges conducted a number of energy analyses and audits to pinpoint sources of high-energy demand. The college district is also in the process of developing a report card tool that can measure energy performance and policy compliance over time. Having access to this data allows Alamo Colleges District to regularly monitor energy performance and identify new potential energy efficiency actions.


  1. Start with basic upgrades. A number of straight-forward energy efficiency projects have the potential to yield huge savings—and at great scale. Things like upgrading outdated infrastructure or old equipment can increase efficiency, while lowering operating expenses. Common efficiency upgrades include LED lighting retrofits, motion sensors for electricity controls and heating, ventilation and air conditioning replacements.


Case in point: Goddard Riverside Community Center wanted to reduce its monthly energy costs and put the savings towards improving programming for residents and community members. The Center explored integrating lighting controls—such as motion and daylight sensors—to help reduce energy consumption during periods of little-to-no use. Taking this one step further, LED lighting retrofits were also considered. Goddard even approached optimizing their water consumption by installing water-efficient shower heads, kitchen aerators and toilet flappers. If all projects are implemented, Goddard could see savings of up to $200,000 annually.


  1. Go beyond the “low-hanging fruit”. Once the basics are covered, there are more strategic and sophisticated options for energy management to explore – like the integration of clean energy technologies. Renewable energy is becoming increasingly accessible as prices continue to drop, and it offers a wealth of benefits: tax incentives at the state and federal levels, a more reliable and resilient energy supply, cost savings and even brand enhancement by demonstrating your public commitment to a low-carbon future.


Case in point: Having completed a number of energy efficiency measures, Shedd Aquarium took on a bigger project: installing a microgrid on Chicago’s Museum Campus, home to Shedd Aquarium, the Field Museum and the Adler Planetarium. Microgrids sound complicated, but, if implemented, Shedd Aquarium shows that any organization can start working on one today. Their small-scale electric grid would operate independently of, or in conjunction with, the main power grid, giving the campus increased electric reliability during power outages. Additionally, the microgrid and energy-efficiency upgrades would help the three institutions avoid over 7,500 metric tons of harmful carbon emissions per year. Shedd Aquarium also implemented a battery for energy storage, enabling them to participate in demand response programs, which helps to reduce the amount of energy used during peak periods of demand.


Increasingly, energy management is becoming an important part of any business strategy. Nonprofits of all types and sizes can take advantage of basic energy management techniques and use the money saved to continue driving their important work.


Environmental Defense Fund’s mission is to preserve the natural systems on which all life depends.  Guided by science and economics, they find practical and lasting solutions to the most serious environmental problems.  What distinguishes Environmental Defense Fund is the combination of what they protect and how they protect it.  EDF  works to solve the most critical environmental problems facing the planet. This has drawn them to areas that span the biosphere: climate, oceans, ecosystems and health. Since these topics are intertwined, their solutions take a multidisciplinary approach. They work in concert with other organizations — as well as with business, government and communities — and avoid duplicating work already being done effectively by others.