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Government Program Steers Private Sector To Greener Buildings

A Staples distribution center in Coppell has saved more than $65,000 on its energy bill annually, thanks to green measures, employees, and a little help from the U.S. Department of Energy.

There are about seven miles of conveyors in this building, 80 loading docks, and plenty of noise at this Staples distribution center.

“This building, we average about 30 - 35,000 cartons that we send out everyday," said Dan Pina, the operations manager. "We start packing at 8 a.m. We finish anytime between 11 and midnight.” 

As Pina explained how tens of thousands of boxes are shipped out, he pointed to LED lights and motion sensors throughout the 380 thousand square feet facility. Pina said Staples used to have only six box sizes, but now they custom make each box.

“As it rides through, our quality control, we're not filling it with a lot of extra dunnage to kind of secure it," he said. "Now it's pretty much filled with contents. It's not leaving that much room leftover, so along the way it’s made it a lot easier.”

In another building, Staples manager Bob Grazion showed off more cost-effective technology above, really big fans.

“If you guys want to look over here, you’ll see we have two of the Big Ass Fans over the receiving office," Grazion said. "They’re low speed, high velocity fans. They move very slow, very low energy, but move a lot of air. ”

They’re made of light aluminum, but still weigh about 300 lbs, measure 25 feet across and with lots of blades. It’s all part of the company’s commitment to President Obama’s Better Buildings Initiative. Industrial facilities or schools agree to go become more energy efficient, and receive grants to do it.

“By making the commitment, we stepped up and said, 'hey, we're not only going to reduce our footprint, we're going to raise it to 25 by 2020,'" said Bob Valair, the Director of Energy and Environmental Management with Staples. "We felt very confident with our management team and all the employees to make a difference.”

It cost Staples $84,000 to make its Coppell center greener. The return on investment took two years.   

“We’ve reduced the usage by 26 percent and our costs by 32 percent, 1.2 million killowatt hours just in this facility, alone," Valair said. "[They're] big significant goals, but I think it’s a journey.”

The Department of Energy’s Maria Vargas paid a visit to the facility Thursday.

“On average the organizations that work with us are saving about 2.5 percent of their energies per year, and it's accounting for tens of millions of dollars that we're saving across the U.S. economy," Vargas said. "So as these models and examples of what is fairly easy to do become more prevalent, we're hoping organizations benefit from following these leaders.”

She said it’s not only about energy reduction.

“So this is a technology solution. It’s also a people solution, and it's really an opportunity for American companies to innovate, allow their employees to be innovative, and  to drive change and to make the change work for the people that not only run the facilities but work there, too,” Vargas said.

Robert Roest has worked for Staples for three years as a maintenance manager. He says the changes the company has made helps him daily.

“Being in my position, a lot of the complaints come my way, 'it’s too hot, too dark, whatever," Roest said. "Just improving that in this facility, that personally helps me quite a bit. So much less headaches.”

Staples said it hopes to reduce energy in more than 1700 of its buildings in the next decade. But it’s not clear if the company’s goal to become more efficient includes a plan, announced earlier this week, to close more than 200 of its stores nation-wide by the end of the year.