Evaluating your energy use is the best way to begin. Although you can do this yourself, there are also online tools to aid in the process. The EPA's Energy Star program, at energystar.gov, offers a set of tools called Portfolio Manager to gauge a company's energy and water use.
Unused equipment consumes energy. It also tends to warm your office, pushing up air conditioning costs. Train employees to use energy-saving features; highly efficient Energy Star equipment and appliances often carry no cost premium but use 20 percent to 50 percent less energy. And flip the power switch to off before you leave for the night.
If you are like most people, you change fluorescent bulbs only when one burns out. This is actually the wrong way to do it from an energy-consumption perspective. After a bulb reaches about 80 percent of its rated life, it begins to tax your lighting system, wasting energy. So to reduce your energy bill, save money, and use labor efficiently, you should change all of your bulbs simultaneously, on a schedule. And when you replace them, use T8 tubes and upgrade to electric ballasts, thereby reducing the electric load by 42 percent.
This is as easy as installing window shades or coating the glass with heat-blocking film. If you're really ambitious, you could re-install windows that block the sun and insulate against the ambient temperature.
A cool roof uses highly reflective materials to lower surface temperatures by up to 100 degrees. Cool roof systems work best on shorter buildings in sunnier climates. Energy Star's roofcalc.com will help you estimate the potential cost savings.
Retrofitting your heating-and-cooling systems can reduce your building's energy consumption by as much as 40 percent, because many older systems are oversize and inefficient. Opt for a newer unit that is just as powerful (if not more so), and more compact. If you can't replace your HVAC system, improve it with a variable speed drive to control the motor's speed.
It can take years to recoup the investment of brand new solar panels. So a new breed of "solar-services providers" has begun providing solar panels to companies on a rent-to-buy basis. Renters bears no upfront cost or responsibility for upkeep--that's handled by the panel provider. Then the energy firm sells the electricity back to the customer, normally at a discounted rate. For a guide on rent-to-buy programs, contact the California Solar Center, californiasolarcenter.org.
Because buildings degrade over time, they should be retested or "re-commissioned" every 3 to 5 years. A Department of Energy-sponsored study found doing so would produce energy reductions up to 15 percent. You'll probably need to bring in an energy auditor for this one. If you rent your space, ask your landlord to foot the bill.
The federal stimulus package created and extended tax incentives for green initiatives, such as a 30 percent investment tax credit for renewable-energy systems. And don't miss out on other reprieves from sources besides the federal government. For a list of state offerings, see the Database of State Incentives for Renewables & Efficiency, dsireusa.org. The site also features information about rebates for installing renewable-energy and energy-efficient systems.