Sustainability has shifted from being a buzzword to becoming part of the corporate culture for many businesses.
Local companies are saving millions of dollars while they are reducing their environmental impact.
“At first pass, people thought it was a bunch of people hugging trees or turning their lights off or adding diversity,” said Corey Williams, executive director of Sustainable Tulsa. “They’re discovering that there is much more to it than that, and you can save money, retain quality employees and reduce waste without really adding extra expenses.”
Tulsa Community College saved $1.2 million over the past two years, Tulsa Zoo reduced its energy use by 85 percent with an annual savings of $175,000, and AAON is saving about $400,000 annually on its energy costs.
“Environmental stewardship is an integral part of our corporate social responsibility strategy to ensure quality of life for future generations,” said Stephanie Cameron, AAON spokeswoman.
Helping lead local companies down this path is Sustainable Tulsa, a nonprofit that focuses on education toward action through multiple programs including First Thursdays, a B2B quarterly series and the Scor3card program.
The Scor3card is a “triple bottom line” strategy program for area businesses. The triple bottom line is people, planet and profits: people meaning quality of life and employee retention, planet being environmental stewardship and waste reduction, and profit meaning responsible economic growth.
“It’s starting to be required by stakeholders, investors, employees, potential employees. Everyone is starting to look at the triple bottom line as the new normal for business,” Williams said.
Last year Sustainable Tulsa had 34 companies in its Scor3card program, which has grown to 55 participants currently. The plan is to have 80 by the end of the year.
Since establishing the program in 2016, participating companies have saved more than $2.5 million.
The Scor3card includes more than 150 actions that a company can do to improve its triple bottom line. Those items are divided into seven categories, such as communications, community stewardship, energy, water, transportation, material management and healthy work environment.
“We wanted this not to just be a checklist, but to provide tips to achieve and resource links,” Williams said.
Material management is where the three R’s — reduce, reuse and recycle — comes in to play and where companies can find a lot of savings.
“That’s the tangible things that people can see,” Williams said.
For a company to be successful with sustainability efforts there needs to be buy-in from all the employees, which is why communications, especially internal communications, is a critical part of the program.
Consumers want to align themselves with companies that they view as good environmental stewards.
“Our children, they want to support businesses and organizations that are sustainable and overall that affects a business’s brand reputation,” said Sandy Sloan, event coordinator with Sustainable Tulsa.
One major component of the Scor3card is benchmarking, where participating companies can take inventory of the amount of waste they produce and find ways to reduce, reuse and recycle.
“Companies are taking another look at their resources and they are finding that a lot of what they are throwing away can be recycled so they were losing money,” Williams said.
AAON, a commercial and industrial HVAC manufacturer, has taken several steps toward sustainability since 2014, including transitioning its lighting from 80 percent metal halide and 20 percent fluorescent to nearly 90 percent LED with a goal of 100 percent LED by 2020.
The LED upgrade combined with its advanced lighting control system saves the company $400,000 a year on electricity in addition to roughly the same amount received in rebates from PSO.
The result, in addition to the financial savings, is the equivalent to a reduction of CO2 emissions of 3,536 metric tons, 751 fewer passenger cars per year, 397,857 fewer gallons of gas consumed and 3,865,379 fewer pounds of coal consumed.
“In addition to this, we’ve installed more energy efficient HVAC systems, air compressors and building insulation,” said Austin Embry, AAON facility manager.
AAON also has started recovering and recycling the oil used in its sheet metal area.
All of its waste goes to the Covanta Tulsa energy-from-waste facility. That electricity is then sold to PSO who delivers it back to AAON to power its facility.
“We are literally powering our facility with our trash,” Embry said.
Lighting the way
Oklahoma LED, an LED conversion company based in Tulsa, has been helping area businesses and organizations transition to more environmentally friendly and cost-efficient lightning.
Since 2012 it has completed more than 175 projects — including 120 school districts — resulting in about $2 million in annual savings for its customers, said Joe Schrader, who co-owns the company with his wife, Stephanie Schrader.
“In most cases, we help them save an average of 71 percent in energy costs,” he said.
The average lifespan of the LED lights the company uses is 50,000 hours, which means that bulbs should last an average of 15 to 20 years before being replaced. That leads to reduced maintenance costs as well, he added.
“It’s really a miracle of modern technology,” Joe Schrader said.
Oklahoma LED is also a member of Sustainable Tulsa, having sought out the agency for ways to help increase its own sustainability efforts.
Stephanie Schrader said the agency’s Scor3card has helped her company develop a better recycling strategy.
“We go through a lot of cardboard and had been recycling, but we are really trying to up our game with those efforts,” she said.
All the old bulbs and packaging now gets recycled.
“When you start looking at how you’re recycling, it’s an eye opener. There are little things you don’t think about being wasteful,” she said. “You start to realize it’s the little changes that can make a big difference.”
More than dollars
Mike Limas, academic and campus services director at Tulsa Community College, is also the college’s sustainability committee chair.
TCC has realized $1.2 million in energy savings during the past two years through efforts such as updating its HVAC units, retrofitting its lighting with LED, installing software that can remotely control lightning and temperatures, and even putting in white rubber roofing that reflects the sunlight.
“We want to assure the citizenry that we are good stewards of our resources and also good environmental stewards,” Limas said.
While the initial impetus for operational efficiencies was a statewide mandate that all agencies cut energy costs by 20 percent by 2020, the college has taken on additional sustainability steps ranging from hosting conferences on sustainability, participating in community outreach efforts and even planting 400 trees across the college’s campuses.
“I think global warming and climate change are topics that may be a little more controversial in this part of the country while more accepted in other parts,” Limas said. “When we talk about sustainability in this part of the country, we talk about operational efficiency and being good community members.
“Through our curriculum and service-learning projects and collaborations we can convey the sense that the relationship between humans and nature has fundamentally changed.”