City Traffic on Wide Street in Washington DC

If there’s one thing that all businesses have in common, it’s that they use a lot of energy.

Take, for instance, D.C.’s Union Kitchen. Union Kitchen is a business dedicated to helping young food companies get off the ground. They serve up space and support for over 40 food service startups—so that means they need cooking, refrigeration, and other food prep space for each startup’s team.

That’s why their food preparation spaces around the city need to be large. Most of Union Kitchen’s locations are converted warehouse spaces around Northeast D.C. In just one of their three locations in D.C. proper, the business maintains 14 ovens, 4 industrial refrigerators and freezers, and uses vast amounts of lighting, heating, and air conditioning. These machines and services must be running at all hours of the day and every day of the week, in order to keep food at proper temperatures.

The result? Sky-high energy bills.

And in 2014, when Union Kitchen needed to make upgrades to their original industrial kitchen facilities just a few blocks from Union Station, they were faced with pretty significant obstacles: time and money.

Sure, energy efficiency saves money in the long run, and customers are often excited to support a business that cares about the environment. But energy efficiency projects take time, are difficult to plan and prioritize, and—most importantly—are often crazy expensive.

But through a bright and successful new program with the D.C. government, Union Kitchen was able to make some significant upgrades to equipment, lighting, and building systems—and save money while doing it.

Yep, that’s correct—D.C. government is giving away money to local businesses to conduct energy efficiency projects. Through the D.C. Sustainable Energy Utility (DCSEU) and clean energy nonprofit Groundswell (that’s us!), businesses—whether they rent or own their own property—can apply to receive funding for projects as small or as large as they want.

So Union Kitchen? They received $2,000 in rebates on energy-efficient equipment through the program, and were able to purchase energy-efficient gas and electric kitchen equipment. Now installed, these new pieces of equipment will save the business 6,800 kilowatt hours of energy each year—that’s the amount of energy the average U.S. home uses in 7 months.

Can you imagine not having to pay 7 months’ worth of utilities? That’s hundreds of dollars per year in savings—and that’s money that businesses can use to funnel back into their customers, and improve their facilities even more.

Sound like something your business should do? Here’s how it works:

  1. Give us a call at Groundswell or send us an email—we’ll help you decide what kind of energy efficiency program fits best for your business.
  2. Groundswell staffers will connect you to your advocate at the DCSEU. Together, you’ll set up a time for their experts to visit your business and conduct a free, no-obligation site visit.
  3. Once your site visit has been completed, you’ll receive a free project estimate, which will detail how much you can save, using the DCSEU’s resources. You’ll then decide if the project works for your team. If the project works for you, you’ll sign a contract with the DCSEU to move forward!

Maybe you’ve been thinking about upgrading appliances, or installing new windows. Maybe you’d like some lighting that doesn’t cost an arm and a leg, or you’d like to switch your business to wind power. Groundswell and the DCSEU can help you access any (or all!) of these resources, at a budget that works for you!

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Think your business deserves some upgrades? Send Ann Li, Groundswell’s Commercial Program Manager, an email at ann.li@groundswell.org to get started.


Kelsey Ryan is the editor of Groundswell’s magazine. She’s a linguist, fledgling Tolkien scholar, knitter, Oxford comma proponent, and firm believer in the use of stories for social good. Explore her website, or connect on Twitter: @kryanlion.