More Light, Fewer Watts: Cincinnati Firm Expands As It Saves Customers Big Bucks

Eco Engineering bulb swap

In 1998, when Tom Kirpatrick bought Cincinnati-based Eco Engineering, LLC, the company had five staffers and revenues of just $600,000 a year. Soon thereafter, he “made a strategic decision to focus on lighting and lighting controls and to do that exceptionally well,” says Kirkpatrick, a former Procter & Gamble sales executive. “As a result, we’ve grown from a purely local company to a regional company and now a national one.”

By focusing on energy-efficient lighting solutions for commercial, industrial and institutional customers, Eco Engineering has grown to employ 55 workers—40 of them in the Cincinnati area. Annual revenues now top $20 million; a growth rate of 30-35 percent is projected long into the foreseeable future. The company’s clients include corporate giants—ketchup manufacturers HR Heinz; Kellogg’s cereals; and overnight package deliverer FedEx. Increasingly, Kirkpatrick says, Eco Engineering is doing work for big companies in multiple locations.

Eco Engineering—staffers are pictured here retrofitting exterior lighting—can save large industrial plants as much as $1.2 million on lighting. Smaller manufacturing plants can save as much as $150,000 a year. 

You can see why Kirkpatrick is excited about the company’s accomplishments. The jobs Eco Engineering has created are good for Cincinnati’s economy. And the company’s work is good for our health and good for our increasingly fragile atmosphere. Cutting back on the amount of electricity we need and then generate for lighting cuts back on the amount of air pollution created by coal-fired power plants. In Ohio alone, that pollution causes more than 1200 premature deaths each year, and more than 2000 non-fatal heart attacks. Across the country and around the world, it contributes to the extreme weather events we’ve been experiencing with increasing frequency. “Being able to help customers reduce their operating costs and do it in a way that makes the world a better place is a great thing,” Kirkpatrick says. He wants businesses and government to maximize the power of energy efficiency by employing advanced technology and important legislation. “It fits my personal beliefs about the role we need to play as stewards of this earth,” Kirkpatrick says.

Eco Engineering’s success has been made possible, in part, by recent advances in lighting technologies. “When I started in 1998, the only option for a four-foot fluorescent lamp was a 32 watt lamp with an electronic ballast,” Kirkpatrick says. “Today, there are 180 different things you can do to make that lamp more efficient—different lamps, ballasts, occupancy sensors.” Kirkpatrick says that on average, “we can cut the lighting portion of an electric bill by 60 to 65 percent. In a warehouse, that might be 80 percent of the electric bill. In an office, it’s 30 to 35 percent.”

Those are huge savings. “A large industrial plant—like an auto plant—can save $1.2 million a year, just on lighting,” Kirkpatrick explains. That’s right: $1.2 million a year on lighting retrofits alone. Smaller facilities have much to gain, too. “A typical, smaller industrial plant can probably save something closer to $150,000 per year,” Kirkpatrick explains. Payback periods are often two years or less. After that, additional savings are money in the bank.

Eco Engineering’s growth has meant a lot of hiring. Its team includes engineers who assess current lighting use and redesign inefficient systems; sales directors; project managers; installation crews; clerical workers; human resource and administrative personnel. Together, Eco Engineering’s staff has retrofitted the AT&T building in Atlanta as well as Columbus’ 2 million square-foot Polaris office center and downtown’s LeVeque Tower, one of my favorite buildings in Columbus.

Kirkpatrick believes there’s much the state government there can do to pave the way for energy efficiency. “The bully pulpit is very important,” he says. “State and federal energy-efficiency incentives”—like those made possible by Ohio’s Senate Bill 221—“help make CEOs aware of the possibilities. The incentives help them realize there’s something to this technology and that we can produce more light using fewer watts.”

More light, fewer watts. Eco Engineering’s recipe for success is good for the company, good for its customers, and good for Ohio.