Early 2006 was life-changing for Paul Rak. In the span of four weeks, he became a first-time dad, bought a Toyota Prius and watched Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth. "You do those three things, you'll want to make green changes, too," Mr. Rak says.
The president and owner of VeriForm Inc., a Cambridge, Ont., metal fabricating company, began exploring how to make his company's operations more environmentally friendly. Fast-forward four years and VeriForm, which specializes in parts for the mining, forestry and machinery industries, has spent a total of $78,000 on nearly 60 eco-friendly projects. Together they save the company more than $120,000 a year.
The eco-changes shrank VeriForm's greenhouse gas emissions to 126 tonnes in 2009, down from 234 tonnes in 2006. That figure is even more impressive given that in 2009 the company's sales were 28 per cent higher and the plant's physical size was 145 per cent larger than in 2006.
The inspiration for going green was altruistic. "We were just trying to reduce our carbon footprint," Mr. Rak says. But the financial rewards quickly became evident "once we started doing spreadsheets and payback analysis," the 46-year-old says.
The average payback time per project has been eight months, with some paying for themselves much faster. Changes to the heating system paid for themselves in two weeks.
Four years ago, VeriForm's heating bill was as much as $6,000 a month. The plant had seven manually operated thermostats, which made it challenging for employees to remember to lower the heat before weekends or evenings. The company replaced the manual thermostat with a single, centralized thermostat, which is programmed to turn down the heat when the plant is closed.
At the same time, Mr. Rak noticed that the plant's five-metre-wide bay doors were being left open for as long as four hours a day. In winter that led to huge heat losses. The company had a control installed that shuts off the heat when the bay doors are open. Soon after, VeriForm's staff modified their shipping operations. Now the bay doors stay open just five minutes at a time.
Installing the centralized thermostat and door control cost $2,500. The price was worth it, Mr. Rak says. VeriForm's heating bill dropped a whopping 91 per cent in one month, Mr. Rak says. The centralized thermostat and bay door control save the company more than $23,000 a year. And, he notes, because less natural gas is burned, less carbon dioxide is released into the atmosphere.
Another early project involved changing lights in the plant from high-intensity discharge (HID) lamps to T5 fluorescent lights, which use 51 per cent less energy. Installing the new lights cost $8,000, but the lights save VeriForm $21,000 a year, Mr. Rak says.
VeriForm also changed how lights are controlled. It installed motion-activated switches in its offices, hallways, lunchroom and washroom. Now lights automatically shut off five minutes after a person leaves a room. The switches cost $768 and save the company as much as $300 each year, he says.
The company also has eliminated paper towels from the plant, boosted the efficiency of the air conditioner and reduced the number of garbage pickups. It also planted trees on its property.
Recently, the company hired Enviro-Stewards Inc., an environmental consulting firm, to assess the performance of the its cutting table, which cuts steel while capturing smoke and that is generated in the process. VeriForm also sells the table, called the VeriCUT Crossflow downdraft system, as a commercial product.
The consultants found strategies to slash the cutting table's energy consumption by 90 per cent, making it not only less expensive for VeriForm to use but also a more competitive product for the company to sell. One of the proposed modifications involved changing the air compressor that powers the machine from a screw compressor, which runs continuously, to a piston compressor, which runs only when the air volume has decreased to a certain point. Another change focused on modifying the dust collector so that it runs only when the machine is cutting, as opposed to all day.
Together the two changes will cost more than $30,000, Mr. Rak says, but they'll save VeriForm up to $10,000 a year. And the company is applying for grants from the Ontario Power Authority-funded Electricity Retrofit Incentive Program, which could cover more than $7,000 of the cutting table's modifications.
All together, VeriForm's eco-friendly changes have boosted the company's profits by 75 per cent, Mr. Rak says. Over the next 10 years, the energy savings will give the company nearly $2-million extra in revenue.
In addition to saving the company cash, going green boosted VeriForm's profile, and Mr. Rak has launched a second division, VeriGreen, which helps other companies reduce their energy use through such technologies as motion-sensitive light switches.
"The best thing companies can do is look at their energy costs," Mr. Rak says. "People think utility costs are fixed costs. They think … 'If my lighting is turned on it's got to use electricity,'" he says. "What they don't understand is that utility costs are variable, depending on the technology you use."
When businesses invest in technologies that cut their energy use, "the cost of implementing doesn't repeat year after," Mr. Rak says. "The savings repeat year after year."