United Way turns energy savings into food for kids

Nov 11th, 2010 | By | Category: Business
Hilda Johnson (L), Chief Financial Officer, United Way of Coastal Fairfield County, and Merle Berke-Schessel, Esq., President & CEO, United Way of Coastal Fairfield. (contributed)

Hilda Johnson (L), Chief Financial Officer, United Way of Coastal Fairfield County, and Merle Berke-Schessel, Esq., President & CEO, United Way of Coastal Fairfield. (contributed)

In its efforts to lower its expenses, United Way of Coastal Fairfield County looked at its energy usage related to lighting.

The facility had old and inefficient ballasts, which were contributing to the organization’s high utility expenses. United Way’s challenge was to find a new efficient alternative to lighting in its quest to become a more energy-efficient and environmentally-conscious organization, according to a news release.

After meeting with The United Illuminating Co.’s contractor, the best solution was to participate in the Energy Efficiency Fund’s Small Business Energy Advantage (SBEA) program. The SBEA is designed to provide cost-effective, turnkey energy-saving services for small commercial and industrial customers who do not have the financial resources or in-house expertise to analyze and reduce their energy usage.

A complete audit determined that United Way’s lighting system was in need of replacement. As a result, the plan was to replace older fluorescent lighting with high performance T8 technology. In addition, all incandescent lighting would be retrofitted with energy efficient compact fluorescent lighting. Wattage was thus reduced from 160 watts to 45 watts per fixture with the installation of new electronic ballasts.

The Result

After completing the project, United Way of Coastal Fairfield County’s annual energy savings is 34,812 kWh, which is approximately $5,570, and its lifetime energy savings is estimated at 452,556 kWh, offering an approximate lifetime savings of more than $72,400. The organization also received an incentive amount of $8,193 through the Energy Efficiency Fund for its commitment to energy efficiency.

“The program has helped to keep United Way from shrinking,” said Merle Berke-Schessel, Esq., President & CEO, United Way of Coastal Fairfield County. “We have not had to cut our work force in any way,” she said.

Additionally, the staff has a more pleasant, brighter environment to work in, and efficiency is now on the minds of those who work for United Way.

‘Lighting’ the Way to Greater Community Outreach

The most tangible result for United Way is the expanded community outreach due to the savings. United Way is now able to invest more funds into the community in its main areas of focus: education; helping families become and remain financially stable; getting kids ready for school; and implementing tools that keep kids and families healthy.

When United Way staff learned that children from low-income families were coming to school lethargic and dehydrated on Monday mornings, they began partnering with the Connecticut Food Bank on a program called the “Kids Backpack Program.” The program discretely places a bag of food inside the backpacks of students who are at risk of hunger over the weekend.

“If you equate five dollars per week per child in the Backpack Program with the dollar amounts in our energy savings, it truly shows that we are able to expand our services and provide greater community outreach,” commented Berke-Schessel. “For a non-profit, the Energy Efficiency Fund’s program has not only helped us keep costs down, but has also allowed us to further carry out our mission of improving people’s lives, and it relates very well with our investors and volunteers.”

United Way is also carrying out its green legacy through its support of the “Green Team,” which is housed in its building. The Green Team is a program which provides a large number of workers with training on an ongoing basis to ultimately become certified by the state as weatherization specialists and facilitators. The goal of this program is to launch careers in the green industry for those who are plagued by unemployment.

Every penny saved for United Way goes down to its bottom line, and therefore, like any well managed non-profit, it is always looking to operate more efficiently. United Way continues to explore alternative energy efficient options so that it can persistently work towards a better community and create a better life for those that it serves.

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