April 30, 2019 | Alex Harry

The Small Business Association of Michigan (SBAM) is using the power of partnerships with utilities to help its members across the state put energy efficiency to work. Here’s how the organization does it.

U.S. small businesses spend more than $60 billion a year on utility costs for the spaces they rent or own. However, there is vast potential to dramatically lower these costs with energy efficiency and unleash a wide array of economic and environmental benefits—helping business owners stay in the black by going green. The Small Business Association of Michigan (SBAM) recognizes this potential as well as the power of partnering with the state’s electric utilities to ignite awareness, action, and savings for its members.

SBAM is a 26,000+ member association and the only statewide association focused solely on serving Michigan’s small business community. Listening to the needs of its large membership, SBAM noticed that utility costs came up as a frequent concern. To meet this concern head on, it launched the Small Business Energy Solutions Program in April 2017 in conjunction with utilities Consumers Energy and DTE Energy. With SBAM’s deep connections to small businesses across the state, both utilities saw the partnership as a way to increase participation in their energy efficiency programs, bolster customer service, and help transform the utility image as an asset rather than an obstacle to small business success.

Read more about SBAM’s smart approach to utility engagement and strategic partnerships in Caile Richards’ Q&A Profile.

With this partnership in place, SBAM’s Energy Advocate Caile Richards—the first full-time employee for a small business organization in Michigan dedicated to energy management—serves as a trusted source for business owners on energy efficiency and renewable energy. As part of Caile’s duties, he helps businesses obtain building energy audits and utility rate analyses, answers billing and payment questions, connects owners with qualified energy service contractors and available financing, and leads on general energy project management and education. His support gives small businesses the benefit of time and dollars saved, a designated contact for utility needs, and a strong advocate when it comes to state and local energy legislation.

How SBAM Helped UTEC Unlock Deeper Energy Savings in its Warehouse

Ann Arbor-based UTEC is a small business with 40+ employees that started selling copy machines in 1975 and has evolved to provide southeast Michigan with a variety of office technology equipment and solutions. The business previously installed some LED fixtures and motion sensors to waste less energy and money, but had a hunch there were even greater opportunities for savings in its warehouse. As an SBAM member, UTEC was easily able to reach out to Caile Richards and receive help conducting an energy audit to identify the most cost-effective energy efficiency actions to take. SBAM then arranged for a vetted lighting vendor to perform the desired upgrades and through its partnership with DTE Energy helped the company secure utility rebates to minimize upfront costs. As a result, UTEC is saving $6,407 per year on its electric bill and has less than a two year payback on the new and modern lighting investment. In addition to lower utility bills, UTEC’s warehouse now has 15-25 percent brighter lights that create a safer and better working environment for its employees.

Turn Lessons into Action

SBAM and other partners of the Small Business Energy Initiative demonstrate how energy efficiency gives local chambers of commerce and small business organizations a great way to add value to their members and local communities, grow strong networks, and attract new members. If your organization is considering launching an energy efficiency program, follow the example set by SBAM and engage with your local utility early in the process to leverage their energy efficiency programs and resources. This step can go a long way to expanding your efforts and unlocking more energy- and dollar-savings opportunities for small businesses that look to you for help.

Get started by taking the steps below:

  • Survey local programs: Do a simple Google search online for information about your utility’s energy efficiency programs, rebates, and incentives. Most utilities have readily-available information on their websites.
  • Identify the appropriate points of contact: Seek out the best person at a utility or local government in your jurisdiction to find out whether or not your small business members can take advantage of their energy efficiency programs and offerings.
  • Promote utility and government programs to your membership: Invite any utility or local government contacts you’ve established to attend and participate in your organization’s events, meetings, and initiatives. Offer to promote existing energy efficiency programs and policies to your membership and ask if the utility is interested in pursuing advertising opportunities to help boost non-dues revenue.

Learn More and Get in Touch

IMT’s Small Business Energy Initiative Action Guide provides a robust and refined set of strategies and templates that any chamber or small business association can adapt and deploy as part of its own energy efficiency and sustainability program. Want to learn more from local chambers and associations that have successfully launched a program? Looking for more guidance on how to position your organization as an energy leader for your membership and within the small business community? Send me an email at alex.harry@imt.org.

Program Area(s):

Real Estate

Meet the Author

Alex Harry

Former program manager for private sector engagement

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