Archive for February, 2010

Takeaways from the GreenBiz.com State of Green Business Forum

February 25, 2010

I’ll assume you aren’t interested in hearing about the hours I spent in airports trying to get to and from Chicago in a blizzard, even though it was how I spent the majority of my time.  Perhaps I’ll do a future posting on the joys of winter travel within the snowbelt.  For now, on to the conference.

The panel of IT leaders focused on smarter … smarter grid, smarter buildings, smarter operations. It’s all about instrumentation. But rather than using instrumentation to see where you’ve been, use it to see where you are, so you can make a course correction if need be. Utilize controls to make your building smarter and more efficient, and monitor KPIs in real-time to optimize your operations. IT departments and technology vendors can play a key role in advancing corporate sustainability by providing the systems and instrumentation necessary to enable continual performance improvement.

Another panel of sustainability strategists from companies such as UPS and Motorola discussed post-Copenhagen views toward carbon management. Have motivations changed? The general consensus from the corporate panel members was that carbon reduction strategies also need to advance other business objectives to garner support from executives. For example, it’s easy to come up with the business case for initiatives that will reduce fuel consumption within corporate fleets.  The reduction in fuel consumption directly translates to cost reduction, in addition to a reduction in carbon emissions. Making cell phones more energy efficient can make the product more competitive and attractive to consumers, and help the consumer save money and reduce their own carbon footprint.

During the same panel discussion, the moderator asked Allison Hannon from The Climate Group what her organization thought about the carbon reduction goals corporations are setting – are the goals significant enough to really make a difference?  She said The Climate Group is less concerned about the actual goals and more concerned about companies focusing efforts in the areas where they can have the biggest impact.  For example, UPS’s air fleet is responsible for a major portion of their total emissions, so she’s happy to see them focusing on emission reduction strategies in this area.  For a bank, she’d like to see them focusing on providing capital to renewable energy projects rather than simply switching to recycled paper.

If you haven’t yet read GreenBiz.com’s new State of Green Business Report, you can check it out here (registration is required.)

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In Hot Water – Reducing Water-Related Energy Consumption

February 12, 2010

Save energy and money at work! Did you know that a standard hot and cold water cooler can use more energy than a large refrigerator?

Water coolers in businesses consume about 4 billion kilowatt hours of energy every year. Fortunately, there are better options available, including Energy Star qualified models, which use about half as much energy as a standard unit.

So if you discover your water cooler is an energy hog, consider changing to a more energy-efficient model that will save you money in the long run.

And at home! Reduce your energy costs at home by adjusting the settings on your water heater. The average household spends $400-$600 per year on water heating – second only to heating and cooling.

If you lower the thermostat on your water heater to 120 degrees (many are set at 140 degrees), you won’t notice much of a difference, and for each 10 degree reduction in water temperature, you can save between 3-5 percent in energy costs. Reducing the temperature to 120 degrees also helps to slow mineral buildup and corrosion in your water heater and pipes – helping it to run longer and more efficiently. 

Performance Measurement – it’s more exciting than you think!

February 1, 2010

As companies reflect on their accomplishments in 2009, many feel good about their efforts in sustainability and are sure they’ve made a difference, but can’t quite quantify their results. Measuring performance can be a challenge (especially initially) and the thought of it doesn’t usually get the sustainability team all fired up.  However, it is essential for maintaining momentum and keeping employees engaged.

First you need to benchmark your baseline environmental performance so you can tell whether your future initiatives make a difference. Which environmental areas do you want to benchmark and monitor on an ongoing basis?  Energy?  Waste?  Water? Identify which areas are applicable to your business and consider the expectations of your stakeholders (e.g. investors, customers, consumers, employees, competitors.) Now determine the specific metrics that makes the most sense. Do you simply want to track total energy consumption or a normalized version such as energy consumption per unit of production or per dollars of revenue?

Once you decide on the metrics, it’s time to go out and get the data. Some data may be readily available from utility bills or operational performance metrics you already track; other data may need to be obtained from outside service providers (e.g. waste haulers.)  Most of the time these service providers are eager to help once they understand your needs, but be prepared that you may face a little resistance.  Sometimes the service provider will be nervous about why you’re suddenly asking for data you’ve never before requested. They may even think you’re asking because you’re considering changing to another vendor. By taking the time upfront to explain your motivation, you can bypass some possible unpleasantness and set the tone for the service provider to partner with you on this important initiative.

In some cases, you may need to rethink your original set of performance metrics if the data simply isn’t available. For example, if you lease space in a multi-tenant building, utility sub-metering may not exist.

Once you’re able to track your performance, you can communicate and celebrate your successes citing actual quantitative data – and that can actually be pretty exciting!