The energy options for companies have diversified with innovation.

 

When it came to energy, corporations used to simply be ratepayers. Pay the bill or not, that was their only choice, says Drew Torbin, CEO and co-founder of Black Bear Energy.

 

But times have changed, Torbin adds. Those companies now have choices — and those choices are increasing every day. Boulder-based Black Bear represents renewable energy buyers, helping them sift through those choices; the company’s clients own, manage, or control over 2 billion square feet of real estate. Torbin says it’s all about return on investment and boosting value. “How they capture that value differs,” he says. “Perhaps they are a Class A office provider and want to further their reputation as a cutting-edge provider of green, sustainable space. Or perhaps they choose to create more value from the existing real estate space that they have by receiving solar roof rent. Alternatively, they might want to lower operating expenses. It really differs by client, but the common thread is the desire to use energy as a competitive advantage.”

Energy choices may be driven at least in part by a company’s ethos, but there’s always the bottom line to consider as well. “The economics have to make sense,” Torbin says. “Every single project that we have been a part of, the economics are absolutely positive.”

Ashley Grosh, vice president of environmental affairs for Wells Fargo, sees sustainability initiatives as delivering “triple bottom-line results, providing social, economic and environmental benefits. Driving sustainability initiatives is good for our communities, providing jobs, increasing economic development, helping us be more competitive, and making our energy and water systems more secure and resilient as well as driving down costs.”

Grosh helps lead the San Francisco-based company’s Innovation Incubator, a five-year, $10 million program to reduce the energy impact of commercial buildings. “Technology innovation is enabling a lot of the efficiencies in our footprint,” she notes, “from water and energy savings to supply chain opportunities.”

Wells Fargo owns nearly 100 million square feet of real estate. The company is committed to purchasing renewable electricity to power 100 percent of its global operations by the end of 2017.

A commitment to sustainability “makes good business sense,” Grosh says. “Anytime we can do more with less, everyone wins.”

Similarly, Molson Coors has created “a culture of doing more with less” across its operations, says Kim Marotta, the Denver-based company’s global senior director of corporate responsibility. “So that’s why we are focused on efficient energy use within our breweries and integrating renewables, such as solar and anaerobic digesters, whenever we can. We’ve also recently completely eliminated coal from our operations and transitioned those facilities to natural gas that is cleaner and more cost-efficient.”

Investing in anaerobic digestion facilities in Europe and the U.S. has been a focal point for Molson Coors in recent years. “Right now, we’re putting wastewater through anaerobic digestion facilities at nine breweries and we recover biogas for generating process heat in two of them,” says Marotta. “This eliminates carbon emissions, as well as represents a portion of the energy consumed on these sites.”

Marotta points to other investments aimed at reducing the footprint of Molson Coors’ breweries. Those include a solar array at its brewery in Irwindale, California, which she dubs “the most powerful solar array at any brewery in the U.S.”

Molson Coors is also working to help its partners reduce greenhouse gas emissions, Marotta says. “We have a goal to reduce GHG emissions throughout our whole value chain, beyond our own immediate boundaries, that not only reduces our overall impact on our environment but also creates cross-savings all along our production chain.”

It’s part of a broad trend in food and beverage industry, Marotta notes. “We benchmark against other food, beverage and consumer products companies, and we’ve seen a steady uptick in companies that are setting long-term, visionary goals around renewables and sustainability.”

Sustainability is also a cornerstone of IKEA’s business model. In outlining its “people and planet positive” approach, the Netherlands-based retail giant cites not just the toll that carbon emissions are taking on the planet, but the pressure placed on businesses and families by energy and raw material costs.

“Even if concerns about sustainability and climate change are put to one side, being careful with resources, managing costs for the future, controlling energy use and looking after your people is good business sense,” the company explains in a statement.

IKEA’s store in Centennial, which opened in 2011, was the first in the U.S. to be built with a geothermal heating and cooling system. “We reduce our carbon footprint because we don’t have as much mechanical equipment associated with a building of this size,” says James Amidon, the store’s facilities manager. “We have no cooling towers, no chillers, and we have no boiler.”

The store also has the largest rooftop solar array in the state, three electric vehicle charging stations, an aggressive recycling program, and an ever-expanding line of environmentally friendly products. Kungsbacka, a new line of cabinets made of reclaimed wood and recycled plastic bottles, has been a big hit, says Megan Thompson, local market specialist for IKEA in Denver.

“We really want to focus on providing a more sustainable life at home, where we develop and promote solutions that inspire and enable customers to live a more sustainable life, aka kind of live the way we live here at IKEA,” Thompson says.

Black Bear’s Torbin believes companies are reaching a tipping point as more and more follow in the footsteps of corporations such as IKEA and Molson Coors. Until recently, if you were one of a hundred big owners of office space and only a handful implemented some type of onsite renewables, “You could feel pretty comfortable with inaction,” he says. But now, those companies may be at a competitive disadvantage.

“You can no longer feel comfortable sitting idly by, because you’re missing out,” he says. “That’s the tipping point that we’re starting to see, that these companies no longer feel safe and comfortable with the status quo.”

Read more articles like this in the full Innovative Energy Review here.