When the economic downturn hit in 2008, Bob Friedman, president of Coffee Distributing Corp. in Garden City Park, took a hard look at his office refreshment services firm.
Like most companies, it was feeling the trickle-down effect.
"A lot of our customers were in the financial arena," says Friedman. "Some of our major accounts just disappeared."
Determined to avoid layoffs, he and his team looked for other areas where they could realize savings without compromising customer service, says Friedman, 67, whose late father, Samuel, and uncle, Louis, founded the firm in 1963.
CDC focused on areas where it could be more eco-friendly and energy-efficient, including a lighting overhaul, adding solar panels to its rooftops, seeking out recyclers, and replacing delivery vehicles with more fuel-efficient models.
All told, the changes save CDC more than $100,000 a year, Friedman says. It's these types of measures companies must consider if they want to remain competitive, experts say.
"Companies just pay the bills that come in -- high electric bills and other utility bills," says Scott Cooney, author of "Build a Green Small Business" (McGraw-Hill; $19.95) and adjunct professor of sustainability at the University of Hawaii's Shidler College of Business. "People are not trained to think about the causes of these things, and that's a mindset that needs to change."
Businesses must understand that sustainability is a journey and recognize where they are on that journey, Cooney advises. "Start wherever you are."
Begin with a lighting audit, he suggests. Many companies have areas of their business that are far over-lit, he notes.
Contact your local utility to inquire about any rebates or incentives for upgrades. "It makes the economics even more palatable," says Cooney.
For its lighting revamp, CDC worked with the Long Island Power Authority through its commercial efficiency program, now managed by PSEG Long Island.
"The LIPA subsidy helped cover roughly 50 percent of the costs" of lighting upgrades, says Friedman, whose firm was acquired by Compass Group North America in 2011.
Old fluorescent lights were replaced with more energy-efficient ones, and CDC was granted $134,000 in rebates in 2011 to install solar panels at its two buildings in Garden City Park, says Mike Voltz, director of energy efficiency and renewables for PSEG Long Island.
Those 85-megawatt panels produce about a third of the firm's electricity, Friedman says. They cost CDC about $75,000 after the rebates, and paid for themselves in about three years, he says.
If companies are looking for savings like CDC's, PSEG will conduct a free audit of their buildings to identify opportunities, says Voltz. "Commercial lighting is often the most cost-effective investment they can make," he adds, noting CDC's efforts were "forward-thinking."
In addition to lighting, CDC in 2009 switched many of its service vans to more fuel-efficient Ford Transit Connects with double the fuel economy. And it replaced its entire fleet of four dozen medium-duty trucks with new, more efficient ones. Overall, fuel usage dropped 25 percent, estimates Friedman.
CDC cut carting costs in half by finding partners to pick up for free and recycle its plastic, cardboard and metal waste, rather then paying a commercial carter to dump it.
And its recycling efforts go beyond its walls. "We use approximately 10,000 K-cups every month firmwide," says Patricia Ruggiero, facilities manager at Manhattan-based Herrick, Feinstein LLP, a CDC customer. They would "end up in the landfill, if it weren't for their recycling program."
CDC provides the firm with designated containers it picks up twice a month. Herrick, Feinstein pays a nominal recycling fee, which is donated to an Adopt-a-Highway program, Ruggiero says. The plastic cups are converted to electricity at a local waste-to-energy plant.
"It's impressive their overall commitment to providing eco-friendly products to their customers and their various green initiatives," says Ruggiero.
AT A GLANCE
Coffee Distributing Corp. in Garden City Park
PRESIDENT: Bob Friedman
PRODUCT: CDC sells more than 2,500 office refreshment products to 15,000 customers in the metro area and leases and services coffee and beverage equipment.
REVENUES: $75 million to $100 million