The message seems like such a no-brainer: Today's most-efficient lighting systems can save building owners anywhere from 30 percent to 50 percent from their electricity bills and produce a two-year return on investment. But that message sometimes gets lost, misunderstood or downright ignored by the executives who can sign the checks to pay for lighting upgrades because they are pressured by the quarter-to-quarter financial measures of the investment community and aren't interested in making new investment; don't realize that lighting sucks up 30 percent of all electricity in a typical office building; or have simply never been exposed to the compelling return-on-investment (ROI) case studies that a lighting upgrade can produce.

Lighting manufacturers intend to change that with the Enlighten America initiative recently launched by the National Electrical Manufacturers Association (NEMA), Rosslyn, Va. The initiative will focus first on the building owners and other key decision makers in the facilities arena to tell the ROI story in terms that they will understand. Says Greg Bennorth, director of marketing services, Universal Lighting Technologies, Nashville, Tenn., “When they understand there is significant savings to be made that will improve the bottom line of their operation, they are likely to support the initiative.”

Promoting ROI as a strategy to sell lighting upgrades isn't a new idea. It's been on the program for decades at GE Lighting's lighting academy in Nela Park, Ohio; and the lighting centers at the headquarter locations of Philips Lighting, Somerset, N.J.; and Sylvania, in Danvers, Mass. And Advance Transformer's Jack Briody used the power of his personality to champion a similar industry-wide crusade in the 1990s. Susan Bloom, director of corporate communications for Philips Lighting and one of Briody's energy champions for many years, says one of the keys to success for Enlighten America will be to tell the story in the language key decision makers in corporate America will understand.

“Once we've been able to present the lighting upgrade opportunity to a key decision maker in the language of business today, the opportunity is so compelling and the economics so attractive that it's immediately acted upon,” she says. “However, competing messages from a barrage of manufacturers, difficulty in reaching key decision makers, and the inability of many industry members to effectively present the case for a lighting upgrade in the standard terms used by Corporate America (ROI, payback period, etc.) have traditionally stood as barriers to greater penetration of the lighting upgrade opportunity. NEMA's Enlighten America program will provide a strong, industry-wide platform through which the entire body of NEMA lighting manufacturers can help promote the opportunity to the commercial audience nationwide.

“While we have all been working independently to drive this same activity up to this point, we can now collectivize our efforts and work together to achieve our mutual goals of helping corporate America to better understand and act on their opportunities to utilize energy-efficient, high-performance lighting options to achieve comprehensive benefits.”

In an online video at the Enlighten America website, Keith Ward, president and CEO, EYE Lighting, Mentor, Ohio, said he had found senior executives very willing to listen to proposals that offer energy savings of 30 percent to 50 percent and two-year paybacks, not to mention the potential benefits of increased productivity from better lighting and the long-term environmental benefits.

John Strainic, general manager of global product management for GE Lighting and Industrial, has spent 24 of his 31 years at GE working in the company's lighting business. He says lighting manufacturers have gotten more sophisticated in how they communicate ROI and says more tools are available to tell the story. He offers the example of how GE's salespeople talk in a language that retailers would understand. “A retailer cares about selling merchandise and drawing traffic into a store. We can equate the reduction in energy costs to how much in sales a store would have to generate to have the equivalent amount of operating return.

“To take it further, because a retailer cares about selling merchandise first and foremost, it means communicating that energy-efficient products don't mean you have to compromise quality of light. When we are selling to a retailer, before they make a change to energy-efficient products, the ‘visual people’ or merchandisers have to give the okay that the look and feel of the store are what they want relative to their image and marketing strategy.”

Susan Anderson, Osram Sylvania's manager of energy relations, says one of the toughest challenges in getting executives to buy into a proposal for a lighting upgrade is to help them realize they often have the funds for the project, but that they may have to move them from one budget to another. She says it's important to get to that level of decision maker. She agrees with Susan Bloom of Philips Lighting that senior executives will be more willing to educate themselves on the potential of lighting upgrades when the information is coming from a group of manufacturers, instead of just one company.

“We have all certainly made huge inroads on our own,” she says. “The lighting industry has been delivering energy-saving products to the market place for four decades. We hope that through NEMA we can reach more people by coming together and speaking with one voice and reaching key decision makers in key markets through our marketing programs.”

These lighting executives agree that utility-rebate programs, federal, state and municipal tax breaks and other financial incentives for installing energy-efficient lighting products are a nice but not necessarily critical element in the sales story for these products and systems. Says Anderson, “Energy-efficient electrical products have been selling themselves without incentives for many years. The incentives, when they are available, just make the story better by putting icing on the cake.”

Anderson says NEMA hopes Congress will vote to extend the commercial building tax deduction that's scheduled to expire at year-end and that the association is continuing to lobby to make that extension a reality. “We believe our legislators understand that the least costly way to reduce the need for new generation and clean up our environment is to reduce demand,” she says. “One of the most cost-efficient ways to begin is by utilizing the proven technologies available in today's energy efficient lighting systems. Through NEMA, we have to keep reminding them. Our legislators have to find an acceptable way to compensate for the lost tax revenue and resolve some of the other energy issues that continue to be packaged with the tax deduction program.”

Enlighten America's lighting manufacturers agree electrical distributors are well positioned to take advantage of the new interest in lighting upgrades that they believe this initiative will create, but they urge distributors to train their salespeople on the sale of energy-efficient products.

GE's John Strainic says best-in-class distributors are going through a re-education process and are moving from selling product out of a catalog to selling more solutions to an end client and really understanding the value they can deliver to that client.

“Then it becomes less of a competition about price and more about the service that can be delivered,” he says. “The best-in-class guys are well down that path. They understand how to dollarize value and they understand the value they bring beyond just the value of the product and system that they are selling.”

Strainic says this type of sales strategy is required to sell GE's new LED-based Cove Light. Designed for the hospitality market, the Cove Light replaces fluorescents or halogen lamps. “It is a different way to sell,” he says. “You are now selling a complete system not a replacement lamp. You have to understand not so much the technology but the sales process.”

Enlighten America's first contacts will be building owners and facility managers, but it will eventually touch all buying influences in the electrical marketplace, says Doug Baillie, vice president of corporate communications, Acuity Brands Inc., Conyers, Ga. A brochure recently published aimed at this target audience informs them about the cost savings lighting upgrades offer and urges them to check out www.nemasavesenergy.org for more information. This website offers a 24/7 virtual trade show where visitors can visit lighting manufacturers' booths to get more product information; chat with other visitors at the show; and browse the online library on lighting upgrades.

GE's Strainic says Enlighten America is one of the first times he has seen the industry's lighting companies and NEMA come together to promote the value of good lighting. “As a participant in this effort, it heightens and improves the awareness of customers and fits very nicely with our own commercial activities,” he says. “When one manufacturer is speaking, it's sometimes viewed skeptically by customers. With the industry speaking with one voice, it reduces that level of skepticism.”

What it Takes to Sell Green

Get in the know

With all the information that's available from your vendors, trade associations, the Enlighten America initiative, the U.S. Green Business Council's website, www.usgbc.org, Electrical Wholesaling's G-Biz newsletter and dozens of archived articles at www.ewweb.com and other sources, there's no excuse to go to market with an under-educated sales force.

Practice what you preach

Equip your facility with some of the electrical products you sell so customers can see how they work in a real-world environment. Use the latest in retail lighting for your counter area displays and the best office lighting you sell to light workspaces. Don't forget about the warehouse — it may be very similar as far as ceiling heights and light distribution patterns to what your customers may have in their facilities.

Sell the system, not just the product

This is one of the most common mantras in today's green market.

Include total cost of ownership in your lighting upgrade cost analyses

While many salespeople focus on a lighting upgrade's return on investment (ROI), Greg Bennorth, director of marketing services, Universal Lighting Technologies, Nashville, Tenn., says it's even more important to show the customer the total cost of ownership. “ROI is not the best calculation and neither is simple payback for energy-efficient products,” he says. “A better approach is the understanding of life-time costs — including installation, commissioning, maintenance and positioning (ability to participate in demand-response programs). Some products will provide a better total cost, but will not always pass the payback look that most customers calculate. This is an easy explanation but requires you to understand a customer's particular situation and educate them on the overall results of being energy-efficient.”