December 19, 2014

Path to Net Zero – Into the Necessary Zone

By Scott Lewis | Brightworks Founder and CEO

Averting catastrophic impacts of climate change requires us to shift to a zero-carbon economy as quickly as possible.  Responsible for about thirty percent of all human-caused greenhouse gas emissions, our building stock represents a big opportunity in that economic transformation.  Recognizing this, the state of California’s building code is moving toward a code-minimum  that requires all new residential buildings achieve Zero Net Energy (ZNE) by the year 2020, and all new commercial buildings ZNE by 2030.

Difficult to achieve in any but the smallest buildings at the single-building scale, net-zero has certain advantages at the campus, portfolio or community scale.  At scale, heat and cool can be moved from a waste source in one building to an input in another (i.e. waste heat from a kitchen or lab can pre-heat hot water in a residence hall, etc.), and parking garages and walkways can accommodate photovoltaic panels to help power nearby buildings.  At the community or regional scale, generation can happen offsite, and wind, geothermal, and small-scale hydro can enter this mix.  At scale, net-zero becomes more exciting (because scale drives results that matter), and more possible.

CSU NZE Path

Results of a Path to Net Zero analysis for a campus; click for a larger view

For the owner of a large campus, key initial questions include “where should we start, what should we do next, and why?” Brightworks in 2014 began helping two large clients – one, a university campus, the other, the campus of a large medical provider – to address these very questions.  The approach was straightforward – create an inventory of the entire building stock in the portfolio, figure out which buildings were slated for demolition and when, which were slated for upgrades, and when, and what new construction projects were planned for the next 20-30 years.  Line that up with a careful building performance and engineering evaluation of the existing buildings, and then map out the greatest opportunity for impact for each building typology – Academic, Office, Lab, Assembly, Athletic, Food Service, and Parking.  The result: a campus-wide energy use roadmap to net zero that clearly reveals the gaps, barriers and opportunties along the path.  The report provides a baseline reference for infrastructure and building planning into the future.

 Not Just for Campuses

While portfolio and campus owners may benefit from economies of scale, most buildings do not fit into that model.  From the bleeding edge of experimental projects like Seattle’s Bullitt Center, to larger government buildings like the National Renewable Energy Lab’s Research Support Facility – Zero Net Energy Buildings are going from theory to reality across different markets.  To help designers, developers and public agencies understand the nuances and details of what it takes to start designing and building Net-zero Energy Buildings, Brightworks has been providing free in-house presentation to architects and daylong workshops to the design community and municipal governments.  We find this among our most interesting and exciting work; at its core, it begins to get from the “this is really good” or “this is better than code” to the “this is necessary” zone.  We all need more of that.

November 19, 2014

Farewell to a Friend

Ken Lewis, former President of AC Martin, one of Los Angeles’ top architecture firms, was a close friend and colleage.  We remain inspired by his commitment to excellence and to sustainability, and by his passion for life.

We shall miss him dearly.

Ken 
photo courtesy ac martin

 

With the Wiley Trout
 On the Henry's Fork, June 2014

 

 

August 10, 2014

Severe, Pervasive, Irreversible

by Scott Lewis, Brightworks Sustainability founder and CEO

May and June were the hottest on record for the planet.  The latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says if we don’t soon and rapidly curb emissions, the effects of climate change would be “severe, pervasive and irreversible.”

This follows on the heels of  a July report from NASA that 2013 was the driest year on record – dating back 119 years – for California.  NASA climatologist Bill Patzert, commenting on the situation, said “the Amercian West and Southwest are definitely on the ropes.”

Good article here from the New York Times on common myths that impede our effective response to the situation.

The challenge is not technical.

Drought in U.S. West

August 8 2014 : Drought conditiions in US west

It is political.

At Brightworks, we’re trying to help.

You can too.

 

January 24, 2014

Carbon Neutral

by Scott Lewis, Brightworks Sustainability founder and CEO
Those of us who spends our days (and nights and weekends…) advising others on how to improve their ecological imprint and the associated social and economic imprints that go along with it, have a mandate to walk our talk.  Our credibility and our ability to understand our clients’ perspective depend on it.

So, we here at Brightworks made a commitment to operate as a Climate Neutral business – to offset the CO2 emissions associated with our commuting, office energy use, workday travel (to and from meetings, etc.) and procurement, to the best of our ability.  We do this by (1) trying to track and measure our CO2 impacts, and (2) buying 2x offsets for that CO2 impact.

Why 2x?  Two reasons.  First, we have to assume that the offset system probably isn’t perfect, and second, we assume our tracking and measuring system for our carbon impact is probably imperfect as well, so we err on the side of conservative, and buy 2x.

So, how does this work?

First, we track our Air Travel, Commute to and from work, Work Car Travel, Office Energy Use and Procurement.  We convert all those numbers to CO2 using industry references.  Then we buy (2x) offsets from the most credible offset source we can find, the Bonneville Environmental Foundation.

Below is the summary of our carbon footprint. If you are curious about the underlying data that supports this analysis, it is all here.

Brightworks’ Carbon Footprint-2013
Source Metric Tons
Commuting 6.39
Air Travel 128.39
Work Car Travel 5.33
Office Energy Use 77.64
Procurement 6.99
Total Metric Tons 217.75
January 10, 2014

Brightworks By The Numbers | 2014 Update

by Scott Lewis, Brightworks Sustainability founder and CEO

Thanks to our ex-staffer,  great friend and lampmaker Billy Ulmer, we have updated our famous Brightworks Metrics with end-of-year 2013 data.

The results are as follows:

Metrics_01.2014

Numbers Behind the Numbers
Total Built Environment (Buildings, Campus, Master Plan, Infrastructure) Projects Completed: > 325
LEED Projects Certified >175
Total Square Footage >35 million
Total Cost $9.26 billion
Projected Impacts
Energy Cost Savings $26,056,579 per year
People We Touched in 2013 64,583 people
Carbon Dioxide (CO2) Emission Savings 134,341 metric tons per year
Water (H2O) Savings 104,455,041 gallons per year
Waste Diverted from Landfills 797,325 tons

As always, our data as of December 2013 largely reflects our LEED® projects in the rating systems of New Construction, Core & Shell, Commercial Interiors and Schools. To learn more about how we think about the people we touch, read our post on the subject.

January 1, 2014

Acceleration and Scale

by Scott Lewis, Brightworks Sustainability founder and CEO

Twenty-Thirteen recedes in the rearview mirror.  The year in which the CO2 concentration of the Earth’s atmosphere passed 400 ppm, for the first time in 2.5 million years. And coincidentally (maybe), an article from Geophysical Research Letters recently reported that the Arctic is now warmer than it has been in 440,000 years.  Hmm.

For those who may consider it unwise to experiment blindly with the planet’s climatic systems, the urgency of enabling the rapid transformation to a post-carbon economy has never been greater.  And yet we see a fossil fuel extraction frenzy sweeping from the Bakken shale oil reserves in North Dakota to the Athabasca tar sands in Alberta, Canada to thousands of hydrolic fracturing sites from Nova Scotia to California.   It would be difficult to argue that momentum has shifted even tentatively towards a fossil fuel free future.

 So what do we do with this?

For those of us working for a sober approach to natural resource stewardship and a rational approach to ecological risk, the answer has to be “make change at larger scale, and make change happen with greater speed.”  Without scale and speed, we don’t have a chance.  Instead of making change one building at a time, let us intensify our focus on developing solutions that can be deployed across portfolios of buildings.  Yes, at Brightworks we are doing that now, as are many others.  But we need to, and will, do much more of it.  Instead of making change one company at a time, we will be looking with greater scrutiny for opportunities at the industry scale, seeking trade associations and informal alliances to support in their efforts to become truly sustainable.  Acceleration and Scale.  That is my mantra for 2014.  Looking forward, to the opportunities before us.  Informed by what we see and know, from what has come before.

On A Positive Note [Always a Good Way To Start A New Year, I feel]

  • In July 2013 the US installed capacity for solar energy for the first time surpassed 10 gigawatts (source).
  • In October 2013, the 150th U.S. coal plant to be retired or prevented from opening was announced (source).
  • Also in October 2013, France’s highest court upheld the government’s ban on fracking (go France!) (source)

*                    *                    *

Lastly, here at Brightworks, we have a supercharged passionate committed team helping our clients create real value by discovering how sustainability can help them become more succesful.  When asked what gets them excited, some of their comments:

  • Exciting new ideas that allow new ways of doing things or thinking to happen.  Often these involve technology, but sometimes they can just be a new way of thinking or a new paradigm I haven’t known yet (like reading The Four Agreements, or Ishmael).
  • Water conservation. As we head into another dry year in Southern California I feel that water conserving strategies will play a prominent role in our discussions about sustainability. I’m excited about current technologies making their way into the mainstream and I am hopeful that we will be seeing them integrated into our future projects.
  • I get excited by interesting projects with unique challenges and my ability to solve them. I get excited by motivated coworkers who spread their own excitement to those working with them. I get amped up hearing about new technologies and strategies for approaching different challenges. I love this industry, and really enjoy networking and hearing  from the different individuals who work in the wide range of services that are involved in this industry. Our work makes an impact in the world, and I am glad to play a part in that and be proud of the work I do. I believe we strive to do our best in the world of sustainability and are continually looking for opportunities to increase our impact.
  • Inter-office collaboration, COFFEE, pro bono work for a cause, harmony between nature and the indoors, Less is More mentality, learning from nature, crowdfunding, Pantone color of the year, product transparency, Snøhetta, placebased design.
  • The opportunity to help our clients learn and execute on real changes that have environmental impacts.

And there you have it.  Happy 2014 everyone.

November 21, 2013

Aim High

by Scott Lewis, Brightworks Sustainability founder and CEO

The idea of Triple Bottom Line sustainability may be somewhat new in the popular vernacular, but the idea of social equity – the “P” piece of the People, Planet, Prosperity triumvirate – traces back for millenia (it as, after all, a core concept in many of the worlds wisdom traditions and ethical teachings). However, in a historical moment when government approval ratings are at record lows, it seems more than appropriate to reflect on the role the People factor played in our own nation’s history.

Last Tuesday was the 150th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address. On my way to work that day, I happened to catch on the radio one of more moving stories I’d heard in a long time. I’d like to share it with all of you – please feel free to pass it along. It’s worth hearing and remembering.

To me at least, remembering the high aspirations of those who came before us, and remembering the impacts and outcomes that followed from their commitment to what then seemed like impossible ideals, can help inspire us today to not lower our sights or be content with incremental change, but instead, commit to create the change we want and know to be necessary.

Remember.  And Aim High.

[If the audio link above doesn’t work on your computer or tablet or phone, the full story can be found here…]

Aim High Abe

November 15, 2013

Worth Noting [Shale Oil and Tar Sands]

by Scott Lewis, Brightworks Sustainability founder and CEO

I quote:

In terms of the quantity of oil potentially available, ultimate Canadian oil sand reserves are thought to be in the region of 1.7 trillion barrels, with 315 billion probable barrels accessible using technology currently under development. US oil shale deposits are estimated at 1.5 trillion barrels of reserves there are currently only estimates as to what proportion may be recoverable, but the figure used by the US government is 800 billion barrels.

 If all 1,115 billion barrels of these recoverable unconventional reserves in North America were exploited, it would result in estimated well to wheel emissions of 980 Gt CO2, equating to an estimated increase in atmospheric CO2 levels of between 49 and 65ppm. This could be catastrophic given that our atmospheric levels are already at 430ppm CO2e and we risk a new global extinction event if we pass the 450ppm CO2e stabilisation target and trigger global mean temperature increases above 2°C.

 As Jim Hansen, Director of the NASA Goddard Institute and Adjunct Professor of Earth and Environmental Sciences at Columbia University’s Earth Institute, has said, “squeezing oil from shale mountains is not an option that would allow our planet and its inhabitants to survive”.

Source: WWF

Formerly Boreal forest in Alberta, Canada.  Now, a  tar sand extraction site.

Formerly Boreal forest in Alberta, Canada. Now, a tar sand extraction site.

May 13, 2013

Four Hundred

By Scott Lewis, Brightworks CEO

400
this is a big deal

400 ppm is a big deal

the last time the Earth’s atmosphere had 440 ppm CO2 was over 2.5 million years ago.

the planet was 5 to 10 degrees F. warmer than it is today

“cozy,” you think.

“5-10 degrees warmer, that sounds kind of nice,” you think.

when the Earth’s average temperature was 5-10 degrees warmer than it is today, there was no Greenland Ice Sheet and the seas were 82 feet higher than they are today.

Not cool.

Not cozy.

 We can do More.

May 3, 2013

Spare Change

by Scott Lewis | Brightworks CEO

In an era of superstorms, and garbage gyres the size of Texas, where 1.2 people lack safe drinking water and, those of us working for change at scale feel a heightened sense of urgency around the issue of scale and impact.  According to a new report by the UN, climate change if not averted could push up to 3 billion people into extreme poverty by the middle of this century.  This is the Go Big or Go Home moment.

I’ve written elsewhere about the importance of having an aspirational vision – that incremental change is both uninspiring and insufficient.  But after 12 years in practice using sustainability strategies to help our clients address their most pressing issues and greatest opportunities around cost, risk, brand, talent and aligning their values with their work, we are finally gaining real proficiency in what I feel is the most powerful lever for helping our clients secure enduring competitive advantage.

Turbulent water overflow

Greenland Ice Sheet Melt – an impact of climate change.  Over the course of several years, turbulent water overflow from a large melt lake carved this 60-foot-deep (18.3 meter-deep) canyon (note people near left edge for scale).  A complete melt of the Greenland Ice Sheet would raise sea levals by over 20 feet.  Image credit: Ian Joughin, University of Washington; NASA

In the world of sustainability practice, the biggest barriers, challenges and opportunities are often perceived to be either technical or financial.  And while it is true that financial and technical innovations are urgent and important, we have found through our work on hundreds of projects with dozens of clients large and small, that the greatest challenges and opportunities are in fact neither technical nor financial.  Yes, we have to figure out non-toxic product strategies using renewable  inputs and closed loop recycling.  We have to figure out how to make buildings and communities that can run on renewable energy and function with a net-zero (or positive) environmental footprint.  And we have to figure out how to pay for these things.  But as Lester Brown observed in his inspiring exploration of possibility, Plan B, everything we need to do to achieve real sustainability, we are already doing, in places.  It’s a question of scale, resolve, fixing market failures like externalities, and overcoming huge issues like the corrupting influence of money in politics.  But the barriers are not technical, nor financial.  They are personal.

Sustainability = Change

We hear a lot of talk in sustainability circles of the Triple Bottom Line – people, planet, prosperity.  And while the ecological and financial dimensions of the equation are regularly addressed, and the social equity component is gaining some momentum in some circles, when I talk here about the social dimension of sustainability, I’m not referring to the “sustainability has to reach all groups” aspect.  While that factor, the Sustainability For All angle, is certainly true, urgent and important, that’s not what I’m talking about here, now.  What I’m talking about is this: sustainability is about change.  It means doing things differently in the future than today.  And if we don’t think about that fact, get inquisitive and ask about its implications, we’ll be stuck writing inspiring sustainability plans that gather dust on the shelf while the ice sheets melt and species continue to vanish.  If we aspire to accelerate the transformation of an economic, social and political system that depletes the planet’s natural capital into a system capable of providing lasting prosperity for the majority of humanity, we must focus heightened attention, and we have to do this quickly and well, on the implications of the simple observation that sustainability means change.  Not doing so would be akin to trying to lose weight without eating less or exercising more.

ChangeOrDie

Understanding what motivates people to change behavior is the most powerful lever to successful sustainability uotcomes.

The logic is somewhat straightforward:

Is our current system sustainable?  Answer: obviously not.

Do we wish to have a sustainable future?  Clearly.

Will we get there by continuing to do the things that created the situation we are in today?  No chance.

Therefore, we have to do things in the future differently than we are today.  Hence: Sustainability = Change.

This may seem obvious beyond words, but by not focusing on the implications of this simple truth, which we have found in our work to be the rule more than the exception, we allow tremendous amounts of energy to leak out the sides of our efforts, instead of moving us forward as quickly as we can go.

So what does this really mean?  What do we do about it?  How do we “operationalize” change effectively?  Believe it or not, there are good answers to all those questions.

Stay tuned and we’ll offer some thoughts, now that we’ve framed the question, in our next installment…

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