Class: Going green can get you some green
JANESVILLE Small business owner Edmund Halabi quickly did the math.
Each week, he goes through two cases of paper towels in the restrooms at his Italian House restaurant on Janesville's east side.
At $40 per case, the towels cost Halabi nearly $4,000 each year.
Thanks to his son Brandon and one of Brandon's fellow students at Blackhawk Technical College, Edmund Halabi learned last week that the paper towels also create waste that cuts into his bottom line.
From an environmental perspective, the production of those paper towels requires trees and creates carbon dioxide emissions.
Brandon Halabi and Terry Hofmann are students in the Business Sustainability Planning class at BTC. Earlier this semester, they formed a team to strategize ways for Italian House to be greener and boost profits.
Other students in instructor Helen Proeber's class did the same at three other area businesses. The teams made their presentations last week.
Beyond the paper towels in the bathrooms, Brandon Halabi and Hofmann pointed out other areas of concern, namely a water heater that could be replaced with a tankless model, inefficient light bulbs, poor or missing door seals and a leaky faucet.
They did the math and found that Edmund Halabi—after some upfront expenses—could make improvements that would save him nearly $40,000 over about 13 years.
"Obviously, I can't do all these things at once, but, wow, these students really opened my eyes," Edmund Halabi said. "As the lights burn out, I'll replace them with LEDs, and I think I can probably put hand dryers in the restrooms for about $1,500."
The restaurant business, he said, is one with notoriously tight margins. Fifty percent of his budget is typically food costs. Labor adds another 30 percent. Throw in mortgage, marketing, energy and other costs, and he's quickly approaching 100 percent.
"Then we pay property taxes, personal taxes, federal taxes, state taxes, sales taxes, city taxes and on and on and on," he said. "We make a product, sell a product and try to break even.
"Some may not see it, but a few hundred dollars here and there can make or break a small business."
Proeber said the three-credit course, which has been around for about two years, is a core class in BTC's business management degree program.
Course concepts include green business, planning sustainability programs and leading corporate social responsibility efforts that can lay a foundation for both business profitability and environmentally friendly processes.
Typically taught on baccalaureate campuses, it's a somewhat unusual offering for a technical college, Proeber said.
"It shows that not only are these things good for the planet, they can save businesses money," she said. "It's becoming a more important topic for business owners, entrepreneurs, managers and leaders who run businesses."
Edmund Halabi watched all four presentations last week. He was so impressed that he encouraged the students to start their own green consulting companies.
"You can help businesses learn and show them how to save money," he said. "I'm old-school and sometimes reluctant to change.
"But I've certainly learned some things that I can use in my business."