GBB recently had the opportunity to learn more about one of our tenured members, Advance Air and Heat Company, who are also a GBB GOLD certified business. Owner Karen DeSousa gives us an insider’s view of their business and how it all began.
“My father started Advance Air in 1986 out of the dining room of our house. We literally moved the dining table over and put a desk under the window and we were in business! I remember as a kid coming downstairs in my pajamas to find technicians standing in my kitchen. Over the years, as the business grew, so did the house. I joined the business in 2002 (I no longer wear my PJs in the office). We now have four garages and a pretty sizeable office space over the garage. My father hopes to retire over the next several years, while my brother – who is currently one of our HVAC technicians – and I run the business.
We are an HVAC-R contractor – heating, ventilation and air conditioning and refrigeration. We also install and service Building Automation Systems and controls. We cover Southeastern MA up to Boston area, Cape Cod & the Islands and RI. Most of our customers are commercial and industrial business and publicly-owned buildings. We pride ourselves on the long-term relationships we maintain with our customers and our employees.”
We asked Karen to tell us about 2-3 actual examples of things Advance Air and Heat are doing to be green. We learned about their:
- Mercury Recycling Program – We recommend the installation of programmable thermostats as part of an overall energy-saving plan for many of our customers. Many times these programmable thermostats replace the older style, round metal T87 thermostats which contain mercury. In 2005, concerned about the proper disposal of these thermostats, one of our technicians discovered a program at Covanta Energy which allows us to collect mercury-containing devices, including thermostats, thermometers, fluorescent bulbs, etc. and bring them to Covanta for proper disposal. Since Covanta began the program in 2000, more than 1,000 pounds of mercury have been diverted from municipal solid waste streams, and therefore kept out of our water supplies.http://www.covantaenergy.com/en/what-we-do/community-engagement/mercury-collection.aspx
- Scrap Metal Recycling – Removal of copper piping, ductwork and other metals is often par t of our HVAC renovation projects. Not only is metal recycling green, it is also usually quite lucrative, as the value of scrap metals has been steadily climbing over the last few years. So it’s a win-win for the environment and our business.
- Donating old cell phones, computers and other electronics – By donating used electronic equipment to community partners, we are able to stay current with new technology without putting the old electronics into landfills. Many organizations recycle, refurbish or simply reuse older electronics for many great causes. For example, organizations give donated cell phones to members of the military to call home, or to victims of domestic abuse who need emergency access to 911. Computers and printers can be donated to schools and other organizations seeking access to technology.
We were curious to find out what some of their biggest challenges had been with regards to going green. DeSousa replied, “Our biggest challenge up until very recently was the lack of a convenient recycling program for traditional recyclables such as paper, cardboard, glass and plastic. Until about a year ago, the town we are located in did not have a curbside collection program in place. There was a central collection location that you could bring recyclables to, but the hours were limited and it was impractical to coordinate drop-offs. Often employees would end up bringing recyclables home with them to their own curbside recycling pickups. Fortunately the town now offers a comingled curbside recycling pickup, making it easier than ever to be green.”
We asked Karen what have been 2-3 of their favorite GBB initiatives. “Replacing our lighting with compact fluorescent lighting was one of my favorite GBB initiatives. The best part was comparing the before and after electric bills. It was exciting to see such immediate, dramatic energy savings. There are not many opportunities to see such a quick return on investment and immediate impact.
An enormous amount of paper is generated by even the greenest offices. GBB’s initiative to create a paper reduction policy has helped us reduce the amount that we use. This saves us money on paper products and reduces the amount of storage needed in our already very cramped office space. Whenever possible, we avoid printing by using email or other electronic alternatives. When a document has to be printed, we print it two-sided, reducing our consumption by half. Any paper not printed two-sided is reused as scratch paper for quick phone messages, notes, etc. We reuse file folders by using adhesive labels to rename folders. It’s easy and convenient and saves us a ton of money on new paper and folders.”
What positive results has Advance Air and Heat seen from going green? “One of the most positive things that have come out of being green is the support we’ve received from our customers, colleagues, and most importantly our employees and their families. We believe that businesses should be a positive part of the community: by providing jobs, being good neighbors and using responsible business practices on every level (safety, integrity, quality, etc.). Being green is a natural extension of that. We’re thrilled by the positive response we see from everyone we work with.
Being green has saved us a significant amount of money. Since energy is a significant operating cost, cutting the amount we spend by using CFL lights, using day lighting and watching unnecessary power consumption has helped our bottom line. Also by taking a reduce/reuse approach, we maximize our resources and minimize expenses. For example, swapping out paper towels for reusable/washable towels in our kitchen area and restroom, printing two-sided documents to reduce paper usage and reusing file folders or printed paper for scratch paper, we avoid spending money on new paper products.”
Have you noticed a cost savings and if so, how? “The most dramatic cost savings we’ve seen was as a result of changing to CFL bulbs. It was immediate and impressive. We have a small office with recessed lighting throughout. Our total energy bill went from around $500 per month to under $300.
As an HVAC company, we also focused on making our own operations as efficient as possible for HVAC. We invested in energy-efficient models of HVAC equipment (saving hundreds per year over older less-efficient models), use programmable thermostats to reduce the heating and cooling during off-hours (we save 1-2% for each degree we setback the thermostat), and perform regular preventive maintenance on our equipment (saving hundreds more per year vs. units with dirty filters and coils).”
Finally, we wanted to know more about Advance Air and Heat’s experience with the GBB. “Everyone whom I’ve dealt with at GBB has not only been extremely knowledgeable and professional, but also a real pleasure to work with. It is wonderful to have our Greening efforts recognized and applauded. So often interactions between the business community and the Green community can be focused on the negatives – criticizing what’s not done yet and overlooking what has been accomplished or improved. The GBB has been a partner and coach – helping us achieve our green goals and encouraging us to push ourselves to do more. I look forward to continuing to work with GBB in the future.”