How to Win Your Technology Budget from the C-Suite: Steps to Improving Your Case

Selling energy technology up the chain of command is a hard, sometimes thankless task. Without an airtight argument, it can be challenging to convince the C-Suite of the need to upgrade HVAC, lighting, and other core systems. To get these projects underway, you need to use the language executives are most comfortable in to tell a story: numbers.

CEOs and CFOs care about the impact an energy upgrade will have on their business in a holistic sense. That means simple financial information, like savings and cost implications, but also less tangible elements. How will the upgrade affect customer or employee experience? What tax impact would the various procurement options have? What else could bottom line reductions go toward? Will the implementation of the new technology be pain-free, or will it be disruptive? The trick is that decision makers want these factors quantified into clear financial terms.

 

Go Beyond Payback Period, ROI and IRR

Traditionally, energy technology projects have been pitched to the C-Suite using non-comprehensive metrics, like simple payback period, and useful but limited metrics, like return on investment (ROI) and internal rate of return (IRR). These are the traditional measures of success, but they don’t tell the whole story. If air quality goes up and results in higher productivity, that doesn’t get reflected in the payback time. Rising maintenance costs for dated equipment might add to the cost of inaction, but that won’t find its way into ROI calculations.

“It’s important to speak the language of the C-Suite,” explained Cliff Majersik, Executive Director at the Institute for Market Transformation. “For example, salary and benefits typically make up more than 85 percent of expenses for businesses occupying offices, so attracting and retaining talent is typically a top priority. Studies have found benefits in this realm that relate to building performance; One study found that companies that adopt more rigorous environmental standards are associated with higher labor productivity – an average of 16 percent higher – than non-green firms.”

The result is that beneficial investments in energy technology are passed over because they aren’t fully compatible with the metrics that employees use to “sell up” to decision makers. A more comprehensive metric – one that incorporates the total cost of ownership or use – can enable your CEO to weigh the long-term benefits of an upgrade.

 

Cost Calculations Are Complicated – Try These Steps

So what makes up the cost of using building equipment?
For a total cost of use model, you need to fold in ongoing costs and those costs that will be eliminated by making the investment. Some of these are simple, but many require a detailed approach to truly understand.

“It’s been my experience that the metrics initially provided are almost never comprehensive enough for leaders to make truly informed decisions,” said Peter Kelly-Detwiler, co-founder of NorthBridge Energy Partners. “Simple ROI or IRR calculations often fail to account for important variables such as reductions in maintenance costs.”

Upfront costs should include installation costs, less any applicable rebates, and procurement costs if you’re planning a cash purchase. There may also be tax benefits that result from the retirement of the asset being replaced that shouldn’t be overlooked.

Ongoing costs get a bit trickier. Start simple with recurring equipment payments if you plan to finance, lease, or subscribe to the new equipment.

Next up, calculate the energy costs to operate the new equipment and the predicted maintenance costs. This is usually where the new technology shines the brightest: Some LED lights require almost no maintenance for years and use considerably less energy than older series lights. Maintenance costs vary significantly by technology type, but costs tend to be higher for older systems.

Important, but more complicated to evaluate, is the opportunity cost that comes with making an investment. Cash that is spent on an energy project can’t then be used elsewhere in the business. Balance sheet spending is more flexible, but if you aren’t Apple or Microsoft, the amount of money your business can borrow is finite, and more borrowing generally means higher interest rates.

Finally, you should consider income tax implications. The method your business uses to pay for energy upgrades could change the picture from a tax perspective.

For cash purchases, assets are assigned a depreciation schedule that determines how much of the asset’s value can be deducted from the business’s taxable income each year. The idea is that, as the asset is used, it becomes less valuable. This loss of value counts as a deductible business expense.

Equipment purchased with borrowed money follows the same depreciation schedule, but now the business is paying interest on the loan. That interest is a business expense, and so it, too, can be deducted.

For a final option, we have OpEx-based procurement strategies, like technology subscriptions. In this case, the entirety of the recurring payments are a business expense. As such, they can be wholly deducted from taxable income.

 

How Should You Present These Costs?

Total cost of use is a cumulative measure; it builds on itself every year that the technology is in service. This is helpful, because some factors behave differently over time.

Start by presenting the costs after the first year – which will include upfront costs – and the costs after the fifth or tenth year, depending on the technology. This helps to paint a picture of the ongoing costs of each procurement option.

Different options tend to look very different over the lifetime of an investment. Cash purchases have high upfront costs and lower ongoing costs, but this may be mitigated when you factor in opportunity costs. Leases, loans, and OpEx-based options will have minimal upfront costs, but larger ongoing costs that add up over time. Finally, the cost of inaction – often overlooked – has no upfront costs, but incurs increasing ongoing costs as maintenance becomes more expensive and alternatives become more efficient.

CEOs and CFOs have to manage tremendous amounts of uncertainty in their long-term planning for the company. To make a compelling case and move from analysis to action, a model that accurately describes how new technology and the mode of payment will impact the business over 5-10 years is far more valuable than simple payback.

“Despite the clear economic benefits of energy efficiency upgrades, energy managers and efficiency proponents often hit a wall in their attempts to convince their executives,” explained GTM Research Senior Advisor, Shayle Kann. “Speaking their language and offering a comprehensive but straightforward delineation of upgrade benefits can go a long way.”

By:
Angela Ferrante, CMO at Sparkfund
Alex Dickson, Senior Solutions Architect at Sparkfund

Editor’s Note: Sparkfund has developed a calculator to approximate a range of costs and benefits experienced when making no changes vs upgrading to new lighting, HVAC, and controls systems. The metric is called “total cost of use” and the calculator is available here.


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