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7 Ways To Reduce Your Building's Carbon Footprint

7 Ways To Reduce Your Building's Carbon Footprint

Reducing your building's environmental impact doesn't just make sense from a sustainability standpoint -- it makes good economic sense, too. While operating an ecologically-friendly facility might involve an initial investment, it generally pays for itself in terms of energy and material savings.

The Truth About Building Emissions

When people talk about carbon emissions and air pollution, they usually mention it in terms of "cars on the road." For example, if an average family skipped eating meat and dairy for one day a week, it would be roughly equivalent to taking their car off of the road for five weeks. Even though cars and transportation pollution are the standards when it comes to visualizing the environmental impact of various actions, buildings actually contribute more pollution than vehicles do. Any time a building uses a device that relies on combustion, like an oil- or gas-powered furnace, boiler, or stove, it emits carbon dioxide and monoxide. Electricity consumption may also contribute to carbon emissions if the power source is a fossil fuel. All told, buildings contribute up to 39% of carbon dioxide emissions.

Help the Environment -- and Your Bottom Line

In most cases, carbon emissions represent waste, and waste can get expensive. Taking steps to make buildings more energy-efficient means that fewer fossil fuels are consumed to keep them heated, cooled, and powered. Lower fossil fuel consumption means a lower power bill. That's even before considering the numerous subsidies and other incentives for facilities looking to reduce their carbon footprint -- power and fuel companies often offer rebates for upgrading to energy-efficient equipment. The Investment Tax Credit also allows you to deduct 30% of the cost of installing solar panels from your federal tax burden. Reducing a facility's carbon emissions may require an initial investment, but incentives exist to help ease the transition.

The Best Ways to Reduce a Building's Carbon Footprint

There are a lot of strategies for making a facility more environmentally-friendly, some of which are more practical than others. Here are the top seven:

1. Calculate your footprint. Before you can come up with an emission reduction strategy, you need to know what you're emitting. There are tons of online calculators that will help you estimate what environmental impact your facility has, and you can contact your electricity and fuel providers to see what sources your heating and power come from. This will allow you to figure out where it's feasible to cut back.

2. Don't over-commit. You don't have to go carbon-neutral right from the outset, and trying to do so might cause more problems than it solves. It's better to make tangible strides toward reduced emissions, rather than make plans to go carbon-neutral and not follow through.

3. Handle the HVAC system. Heating, ventilation, and cooling systems are responsible for up to 40% of building emissions, so it makes sense to attack the largest source first. Switch to energy-efficient heaters and air conditioners. Program them to run at certain times a day -- for example, don't run air conditioning during the coolest part of the day, and use sensors to determine when ventilation is needed.

4. Examine your water usage. Water also contributes significantly to carbon emissions. All of the water a building uses needs to first be treated, pumped, and then heated before coming out of the tap, and all of that requires energy. Switching to efficient fixtures that prevent leaks, like low-flow toilets, can reduce water wastage. Installing rainwater harvesting and greywater systems can dramatically reduce water usage for landscaping. Using native landscaping plants or xeriscaping can further reduce water wastage.

5. Generate your own energy. Solar panels are not only subsidized with a tax credit, but they can also lower energy bills by allowing a facility to reduce its dependence on external power. There are only so many ways to reduce a building's power usage; as long as it relies on power from a carbon-emitting source, it will still result in indirect carbon emissions. Setting up on-site power generation using renewable sources helps save money on the electric bill, and reduces a facility's carbon footprint.

6. Change your lighting. Lighting requires a significant amount of power. Switch to energy-efficient LEDs, and maximize your facility's use of natural light during daylight hours. Window films can help you take advantage of sunlight, without worrying about gaining too much heat in summer.

7. Don't skimp on maintenance. Clogged filters, malfunctioning fans, and leaking pipes can make the most energy-efficient appliances be wasteful. Keep on top of regular maintenance to make sure your building stays at peak efficiency. You'll save money on water and fuel, and be able to avoid costly repairs from neglected problems, too.

Reducing a facility's carbon footprint doesn't have to be difficult or arduous. Estimate where you can cut back, use energy- and water-efficient appliances, generate your own power when it's feasible, and keep on top of regular maintenance. You'll help reduce your building's bills and help the environment at the same time.

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