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ELKHART -- In a move to trim excess fuel and utilities costs, local employers -- and their employees -- are beginning to rethink what it means to operate a business as usual.
Oftentimes, that means starting to think green.
Take, for example, Public Works and Utilities employee Dan Jones. Almost two weeks ago, he traded in a city truck for a bike to use while traveling a daily, 18.5-mile sewer inspection route -- and that's after a 4.8-mile commute, by bike, to work.
Jones' boss, Dale Reecer, approached him with the idea after meeting with city officials who reiterated the importance of reducing vehicle idling time.
While the move from four wheels to two was "certainly nothing mandatory," Reecer said, "I knew Dan had been riding his bike to work anyway."
"He was just interested in doing that," Reecer continued. "We just thought it was taking a necessary step to lower fuel costs."
Reecer and Jones estimated that in the first 10 days, the decision to bike a route previously driven had saved around $90 in fuel costs. While both concede the savings aren't anything major, there are other benefits, such as reduced emissions and increased fitness.
"I like field work a lot better," Jones said. "There were a lot of motivating factors (to the job), and that kind of helped my physical fitness."
Elkhart resident Robyn Gable also notices a definite physical benefit since ditching her car for a 6-mile bike commute in early June.
"It's great exercise," said Gable, a case manager for iFiT in Elkhart. "And I definitely wake up on the way here as opposed to just driving here really quick."
She's also filled up her car "about half as often," and estimates she's saved about $75 in gas costs since switching up her morning drive.
"I've been wanting to do it for quite a while," Gable said. "Now, since gas prices are going up so much, I finally just broke down and started riding."
Businesses do it, too
Although Gable bikes to work during the week, she's only doing it Monday through Thursday. In a response to rising gas prices -- not to mention rising "everything else" prices -- iFiT officials decided to restructure the work week. A longer day, four-day work week is what director Cyneatha Millsaps said could be an effective response to economic woes.
"By going to a 10-hour day, four times per week, we use less gas and conserve more energy," Millsaps said via e-mail, "which helps the employees, the agency and the environment."
On an institutional level, Glenn Gilbert, a utilities manager for Goshen College, worked with other college officials to implement changes that helped reduce energy consumption by 15 percent over the past three years.
Because energy rates have fluctuated and increased over time, Gilbert said the college still spends more but consumes less. This has both lightened GC's "carbon footprint" -- the amount of impact human activities have on the environment -- and brought the school's level of consumption down to what was used in 1998.
The change came in little changes. The computer-controlled campus monitors whether rooms are in use, and then regulates the amount of heat, AC or light directed toward those rooms. Major lighting renovations, high-efficiency fans and -- surprise! -- "just paying more attention" have all helped, Gilbert said.
Students are getting involved, too, suggesting little signs over light switches that read, "these lights cost 4 cents an hour. Turn off when not needed."
Gilbert sums up the benefit of the changes simply:
"When energy's cheap, we're busy doing other things."
Contact Katie Rogers at email@example.com.