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It's easy being green
Businesses turning to energy-saving practices, offering products friendly to the environment
January 2, 2008
By Paige Winfield Staff writer


Green is the color that drives businesses - but now it's not just the green of money.

As concern for the environment has increasing influence on American consumers, suppliers are discovering that a way to get green is to go green.

Consumers want to patronize businesses that produce sustainable products in a way that is friendly to the environment, says Laura Adamski, owner of Cygnet Midwest, a small 22-year-old advertising firm based in Naperville.

"Retailers are really looking for sustainable green products because consumers are," Adamski said. "People are finally starting to get the message that we have to change how we live."

That's why a top priority of Cygnet Midwest is to help clients become certified by the GreenGuard Environmental Institute - a nonprofit organization that establishes acceptable indoor air standards for indoor products, environments and buildings. Adamski said she has seen demand for GreenGuard certified products increase dramatically in the past year.

"I think that it is a marketing tool that has to be addressed because it's going all the way down to the consumer level and I think that companies that are being the front-runners in green - they reap the benefits," she said. "It's another way for them to have cash flow in their businesses."

Spreading the green

Jim Stanley has received similar requests at his Elk Grove-based commercial printing company. Elk Grove Graphics attained certification by the Forest Stewardship Council at the end of last year, in response to companies that wanted their materials printed on FSC-certified paper.

Certification requires companies to document paper trails so carefully that it is possible to back-track paper from the printer all the way to the tree from which it came. The standards allow companies to show that they use paper products that come from FSC-certified forests that are responsibly managed.

"So many people are now requesting this," Stanley said. "It's incredible, really. We're trying to keep up with supply and demand."

Bruce Levin is relying heavily on green demand to sell the idea of steel framing to home buyers. The Naperville salesman for Wisconsin-based Epic Building Systems tells customers that it takes 40 trees to frame a 2,000-square-foot home in wood, but only six recycled cars to frame the same home in steel.

He also makes sure clients know that 95 percent of steel can be recycled and no scrap material is left over after it is produced.

"We are focusing on trying to educate the public because it is a risk for contractors to go to an established product to a new building product," Levin said. "It's behind the walls - no one sees it - but (buyers) know they are contributing to a better environment."

While steel framing has been used in commercial buildings for years, it is a relatively new material for residential homes. But Levin is convinced that even though steel is slightly more expensive than wood, market demand will continue to grow as consumers become more conscious of air quality and rainforest depletion.

"I think there's quite a change," Levin said. "Green seems to be very much in the news now. I think it's being brought to people's attention what they can do."

Cost-saving conservation

Green practices can equal profits even for businesses that are not inundated by consumer requests for environmentally friendly products.

As a data center that houses computer systems, Stargate has the potential to consume massive amounts of energy at its two locations in Naperville and Oak Brook. But a cutting-edge cooling system, automatic lighting and flywheel generators allow the company to decrease its energy usage by 10 to 15 percent.

The center provides a temperature-controlled and fire-safe environment for computer systems, along with supplying backup power, redundant data communications connections and high security.

Instead of remixing hot air back into the facility, Stargate's cooling systems expel the air so it does not have to be re-cooled. The company also reduces its power needs with a lighting system that automatically dims or shuts down as people move throughout the facility.

And Stargate's power backup system has been upgraded with flywheel generators that continue to spin when the facilities lose power. The technology replaced UPS batteries that consumed huge amounts of energy to be recharged.

Such sophisticated methods have recently opened a whole world of green options resulting in cost savings for Stargate, said CEO Gary Chaffin.

"The lower our costs are contained, the more we can end up with a strong bottom line," Chaffin said.

Contact Paige Winfield at pwinfield@scn1.com or 630-416-5275.

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