Environmental initiatives are not top of mind for a lot of facility managers and building service contractors in Tennessee, which is why Teresa Farmer, sustainability consultant for Kelsan and LEED-AP, knew that if she was going to encourage customers to switch to green products, she needed to back up the lip-service with real action.

“If I’m going to the customer about going green, I should be able to say this is what we as a company have done,” she says.

For starters, Knoxville, Tenn.-based Kelsan uses green cleaning products in its own offices. It has also outfitted restrooms with touchless dispensers and fixtures and waterless urinals.

But Farmer felt it was important to move the company from green to sustainability. She helped start a sustainability committee to research environmentally friendly programs. The first step was to send a questionnaire to all company employees asking what initiatives they would like their company to take.

The answer was quite simple: eliminate disposables from the office breakroom. Styrofoam cups and plastic utensils were out; in their place were real plates, cutlery, glasses and a dishwasher to clean them. Employees even received their own water bottle.

When selling to customers, Farmer says she pushes end users to “get ahead of the game” and not settle on just doing green cleaning. That attitude is the same for her own environmental goals for Kelsan. She is always pushing to do more.

After looking into Kelsan’s contribution to the waste stream, Farmer helped implement a program to recycle cardboard, paper, empty drums, pallets, bottles and cans.

While recycling efforts reduce waste, the best methods eliminate it all together.

“Our biggest trash item is cardboard boxes,” says Farmer. “We used to fill Dumpsters with them.”

Now employees reuse boxes they receive for samples as delivery boxes for small shipments to customers. Kelsan is also committed to a paperless office and strives to help customers reduce paper use, too, with online purchasing and e-mailed invoices.

This past February, Kelsan completed its latest and biggest sustainable initiative by installing energy-efficient lighting in its offices and 80,000-square-foot warehouse. Warehouse lighting alone made up 75 percent of the company’s monthly energy consumption.

Although the up-front costs are steep at nearly $60,000 (before receiving an energy credit), the long-term benefits and cost savings are significant. Kelsan is seeing a 52 percent reduction in energy consumption; energy costs drop from $42,053 annually to just $11,383. The company should recoup its investment within 11 months, says David Shipley, director of purchasing and operations.

The cost savings continue: since the new lights don’t put out as much heat, there is an additional cooling reduction of nearly $6,000.

Many industries can benefit from energy-efficient lighting, but it turns out that distributors also experience an unplanned and indirect benefit — fewer picking errors.

“The old warehouse had dim lighting, which made it very hard to pick orders,” says Shipley. “We measure picking errors every day and with the new, brighter lighting we’ve noticed a reduction in errors.”

Kelsan was honored for its energy efficiency initiatives with a GoGreen ET (East Tennessee) award from the Knoxville Business Journal earlier this year.