Energy efficiency sometimes has an image problem.
Despite incredible innovation in the field in the last 15 years, in some people’s minds, it’s still associated with ugly plastic window insulation and harsh fluorescent lights. Compared to other catchy solutions to our nation’s fossil fuel problems—shiny, futuristic solar panels, say, or the wing-like blades of a wind farm—how can energy efficiency measure up? (Actually, in financial terms, it measures up amazingly well. Check out this report from the consultancy McKinsey & Company. It shows that simply by pursuing cost-effective energy-efficiency measures in our nation’s electric and natural gas systems, by 2020, our country could reduce its energy bill by $680 billion. At the same time, we’d reduce our greenhouse gas emissions by 1.1 gigatons a year. That’s huge—the equivalent of the emissions of all cars and light trucks on US roads.)
Luckily for commercial and industrial customers of WESCO, the nation’s largest electrical equipment supplier, that company doesn’t buy into the belief that those interested in energy efficiency must sacrifice aesthetics for savings. Instead, WESCO, a Fortune 500 company with 13 offices and warehouses in Ohio, looks at energy efficiency and sees serious business opportunities. With good reason. Using everything from state-of-the-art LED lighting to sophisticated controls that manage buildings’ mechanical systems, WESCO is helping clients like Kohl’s department stores, Bob Evans restaurants, and The Limited Companies retail shops do a lot more work with a lot less juice.
“It’s a strategic growth priority for our company,” says Billy Grayson, WESCO’s director of corporate sustainability. “We’d love to be doing a billion dollars worth of work in this area in five years.” You heard that right: a billion dollars’ worth of business. (WESCO is currently a $5 billion concern.)
Thanks, in part, to Ohio’s smart energy policies, that imagined growth is already underway in the Buckeye State. WESCO’s efficiency work there is already creating jobs. At just one the company’s Ohio offices, five people now work on energy efficiency, up from two employees three years ago. WESCO’s growth is also saving money for employers, who can use it to invest in new workers or simply to make payroll.
WESCO sees growth opportunities in energy efficiency for good reason. “Our customers are focused on it, especially within industrial manufacturing and the utility industry,” Grayson notes. Also, there’s what he calls “the intersection of the cost of energy and the prevalence of financial incentives”—made possible, in part, by Ohio’s Senate Bill 221, the state’s energy efficiency and renewable energy standard. Add to that “a sense of corporate responsibility for mitigating climate change, and customers up and down the supply chain are asking for this,” Grayson says. Finally, another reason: The country has a glut of excess, existing commercial space that can benefit from energy-efficiency makeovers. “There’s more opportunity in rebuilding current infrastructure,” he notes, “than in building new spaces.”
The sophisticated energy efficiency measures that WESCO offers—like streamlined fluorescent lighting that’s both easy on the eyes and saves 30 percent on energy—are a long way from the early efficiency fixes that made saving energy a task for the artless alone.
With WESCO and other Fortune 500 companies leading the charge for energy efficiency, I look forward to energy-efficiency’s new, 21st-century image: sleek, smart, and a driver of growth.