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Green clinics can save practices money and help the environment


National Report -- Gas and electric prices continue to rise for everyone - including businesses, and the state of the economy isn't exactly putting more money into clients' pockets to offset higher operating costs.

National Report

-- Gas and electric prices continue to rise for everyone - including businesses, and the state of the economy isn't exactly putting more money into clients' pockets to offset higher operating costs.

Add to that the damage high energy use can do to the environment and it's just a bad situation all the way around.

But there is a lot that a practice can do to cut back on its operating costs and put a little more green into its books and its community.

"Practitioners have the ability as community leaders to green practices and do it visibly, serving as a positive example and influencing other practices," says Dr. Gwen Griffith, a DVM turned full-time conservationist in Tennessee.

Around the office

- Buy products that are recyclable or made from recycled material. Try choosing office paper with a high amount of recycled content or recycling printer ink cartridges and electronic devices.

- Convert to an all-electronic filing system. It will result in less waste and save money on replacing office supplies.

- Purchase a set of dishes for the office so employees don't need to use disposal cups, plates and flatware.

- Switch to eco-friendly cleaning supplies such as dish soap, glass cleaner and laundry detergent.

- Make sure the office contains clearly labeled recycling bins. Check with your waste collector to find out if they collect recyclables by single stream, as in one container for all recyclables that is then sorted at the waste facility, or whether you must separate recyclables by their type. Some waste collectors also are now collecting organics for composting to avoid putting them in a landfill.

Clinic-wide improvements

- Lighting accounts for a large portion of electricity bills and therefore take a big bite out of monthly operating expenses. Install incandescent light bulbs to save about 75 percent in electricity costs. Just be sure to dispose of them properly when they go out -- the bulbs contain mercury.

- Invest $100 in a programmable thermostat to automatically decrease heating and cooling settings during off-peak hours. Experts say programmed thermostats can cut heating and cooling costs by 20 to 30 percent.

- Switch to a tankless or high-efficiency water heater. Water heaters and any other appliances like refrigerators or washer and dryers that are recommended by Energy Star, a program launched by the Environmental Protection Agency in 1992, can save substantial amounts of energy.

- Consider using less disposal items, like examination and procedure tools in glass as opposed to plastic. Think carefully about the benefits, though. For example, cloth drapes and medical gowns might seem like an environmentally sound choice, but one must also consider the time and cost of the energy, water use and detergent that will go into laundering those items.

The great outdoors

- Plant native plants instead of garden favorites. Native plant landscapes requires less irrigation and fertilization.

- Cut back on grass cutting. Expanding native plant gardens can cut back on the cost and air pollution associated with landscaping by reducing amount of grass that needs to be cut.

- Plant trees strategically. Trees can help provide shade and keep cooling costs down in hot summer months and provide a barrier from bitter winds in cold months.

- Reduce impervious surfaces. Use pervious pavement, gravel or pavers in parking lots to allow for better water runoff and filtration back into the ground. Water gardens and infiltration zones help protect local water sheds by creating natural runoff streams that get filtered before going into the ground.

Eco-conscious construction

- Existing practices can be retrofitted with new insulation, energy efficient windows and doors, sealed ductwork and sustainable construction materials, such as recycled vinyl floors.

- Those building new practices can opt for an all-out green building, which is constructed to have the smallest possible impact on the environment. Green buildings are estimated to cost about 1 to 3 percent more upfront, but Griffith says their energy saving benefits provide savings in the long run.

A helping hand

- As a reward for a clinic's efforts to go green, there are many programs available from federal, state and local governments that provide grants, low-cost loans or tax credits for all or a portion of any eco-friendly improvements. Check with county, city and state offices for local information or visit www.dsireusa.org for a list of some programs.

- Some federal assistance programs for environmental improvements:

* Energy Efficiency Buildings Tax Deduction: Covers construction materials to improve energy efficiency, such as new weather-stripping, doors, windows and insulation. The program offers a $.30-$1.80-per-square-foot tax deduction on the materials through Dec. 31, 2008.

* Business Energy Tax Credit: The federal government is offering a 30 percent tax credit on the purchase price of any solar products and a 10 percent credit on any microturbine, fuel cell or geothermal energy products installed through Dec. 31, 2008. Beginning Jan. 1, 2009, a 10 percent rebate will apply.

* USDA Rural Energy for America Program grants: Annual grant program offers a grant for 25 percent of the price of a renewable energy system or energy efficiency project. Annual deadlines for grant applications are in June.

- Local programs vary but could include incentives such as these:

* San Bernadino County offers a green building incentive, allowing businesses to take advantage of expedited plan reviews and building inspections for green building projects, as well as a waiver of permit fees.

* The state of Florida soon will offer a renewable energy incentive, providing a 100 percent property tax exemption for any solar water heat, wind and geothermal systems installed after Jan. 1, 2009.

* Arizona also is offering a program for energy improvements, allowing a 100 percent property tax exemption for the increased value of a structure resulting from any solar improvements.

* Many cities, counties and/or states also are offer incentives for photovoltaic (solar energy) systems. Washington City, Utah, is offering a $2 per watt rebate for photovoltaic and wind energy systems, with a maximum rebate of $20,000 for a commercial business.

* Utilities also are increasingly being required by states to offer "net metering" programs, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. Net metering allows customers to install solar panels or other energy generating systems and then sell energy back to their utility. This allows net metering customers to lower their monthly utility bills or, in some cases, break even or make a profit off their energy generation. Thirty states also now offer "green pricing" programs, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. More information can be found at here.

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