Archive for ‘Climate’

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:


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.

May 13, 2013

Four Hundred

By Scott Lewis, Brightworks CEO

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.


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…

September 10, 2012

What’s the environmental footprint of your technology use? There’s no app for that.

Josh Hatch, Director of Sustainability Analytics, BrightworksBy Joshua Hatch

Director of Sustainability Analytics

Are you big into social media? Can you hardly wait for the next iPhone? And are you having trouble reconciling the environmental implications of our ever-connected society? You are not alone. If you tune into the latest environmental data from large technology firms like Apple, Google and Facebook, then you could develop whiplash from confusing numbers and competing claims.

The environmental footprint of your social and technological habits is hard to understand because most of the supply chain and infrastructure of technology companies is hidden in the “cloud” or in contract manufacturing towns. It is also hard to make sense of the net environmental impact these companies present, both positive and negative. Should we be concerned that the data centers that power all digital services are one of, if not the, fastest growing sectors of our electric grid, or placated that they are only two percent of our over-all energy use? I am speaking at Greenbuild 2012 this fall on this one issue alone.  And can social media and technology create greater openness and tools for activism that drive a broader societal awareness or corporate environmental responsibility and eventually “pay for themselves”?  It’s a muddy issue, but we can start to clarify it by identifying what the questions are today, and what will tip them in one direction or another.

The Impact of the Cloud

Google was first major technology company to get really transparent on the impact of their operations by releasing the energy usage from all of their data centers. It can only be huge, right? Actually, I was surprised at how small it was. Data centers make up about two percent of U.S. electricity use and Google’s share was less than one percent of that. Facebook more recently followed suit by disclosing their energy use and carbon footprint, and did a great job presenting some complex data and making it relatable.  In short, the carbon footprint of your annual Facebook use is about equal to the footprint of a couple glasses of wine or a medium latte.

Facebook: Sharing Our Footprint

Your Facebook carbon footprint is equal to… Image via Facebook

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March 7, 2012

Is Your Supply Chain Prepared for the Future?

Dave Newman, Senior Strategist, Brightworks Enterprise Solutions GroupBy Dave Newman, Senior Strategist

The humble supply chain will undergo a dramatic change as our energy network and systems transition from oil (fossil fuel) to renewable energy. Which begs the question: Is your company ready?

A business’ success or failure always depends on its ability to source and deliver products and services to the marketplace. Let’s look at how that delivery has historically taken place, how it will change as our energy network changes and how smart companies are preparing themselves.

Supply Chain Evolution

A supply chain is a system of organizations, people, technology, activities, information and resources that move a product from a company or supplier to the customer.  Picture a relay race of many runners: Each participant moves the relay baton until it reaches the finish line or, in this case, the marketplace where the product can be purchased.

Reviewing the evolution of the supply chain gives us a valuable foundation to discover what it may look like in the future.

Pre-Industrial Supply Chain

Before the industrial revolution, most people grew, raised or hunted for their food. All basic needs were available in the nearby town mercantile. In early America, some products were imported from European nations, but they tended to be expensive and were available only to the more affluent and urban populations. Goods traveled by truly sustainable supply chains – across oceans via sailing vessels powered by winds and currents, and locally via horse-drawn wagons.

Pre-Industrial Supply Chain: Companies, Manufacturing and the Marketplace in One Location

Pre-Industrial Supply Chain: Companies, Manufacturing and the Marketplace in One Location

December 13, 2011

Clear is the New Black

Scott Lewis, Brightworks CEOby Scott Lewis, Brightworks CEO

A couple of weeks before the 35th celebration of Earth Day in April 2006, the New York Times declared “Green Is The New Black.” The article reported on how environmental friendliness had reached into consumer trends, business and fashion, and stated, “Eco-awareness is becoming a hot topic and a growing business.”

Five years later, an Obama has replaced a Bush in the White House (and finally done something for the planet); the economy is showing tentative signs of life after suffering a meltdown; and green has gone from trendy to what the MIT Management Review calls “table stakes” for doing business. As companies and industries move from compliance to strategic investment in sustainability throughout their value chain, the new watchwords are disclosure and reporting.

We’re now in the age of transparency: Clear is the New Black. Hiding sustainability exposures behind the veil of corporate secrecy is shifting from common practice to a sign of weakness. Today, leading companies – in sectors ranging from consumer goods to major extractive industries – are producing public reports with greater detail and transparency than ever thought possible.

Public Reporting Requirements Grow

In the U.S., two recent developments have hastened the shift toward greater public reporting of sustainability risk, opportunity and progress:

  • Under a federal rule (referred to as “Part 98”) published in October 2009, all “large source” greenhouse gas (GHG) emitters in the U.S. are required to track and report their emissions. The rule, under what is also called the Greenhouse Gas Reporting Program (GHGRP), covers more than 10,000 facilities in the U.S. and accounts for more than 85 percent of all U.S. greenhouse gas emissions.
  • In January 2010, the Securities Exchange Commission – the federal agency charged with determining what business risks publicly traded companies must document in their quarterly or annual reports – for the first time included climate change on the list of required disclosures.

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November 15, 2011

Climate Neutrality: A Viable Corporate Strategy?

Dave Newman, Senior Strategist, Brightworks Sustainable Systems GroupBy Dave Newman, Senior Strategist, Sustainable Systems Group

In September 2011, the London 2012 Olympic Games made news by dropping plans to offset the event’s carbon emissions. The Games organizers said offset projects would have taken place away from Britain, and they prefer to maximize their environmental efforts locally.

The London Olympics 2012

Development for the London Olympics in 2012, photo via

This dramatic change made me wonder what caused the London Olympic organizers to renounce their offset plans, besides the estimated $4 million price tag. Climate neutrality was considered a leadership position back in the mid 2000s. But in recent years the value of climate neutrality has diminished, mostly because carbon offsets have fallen out of favor.

What changed the landscape for carbon offsets? Could it be trendy sustainability measures are losing currency as companies find and adopt strategies whose business benefits better align with their needs?

What is a Carbon Offset?

A carbon offset is a “promise” to avoid creating a ton of carbon emissions somewhere else in the world, typically in a developing country.

An example of a carbon offset project is a factory in Indonesia replacing an oil-fired boiler with a natural gas boiler. The sale of these carbon offsets would provide the necessary return on investment to pay for the cost of the new gas boiler. The owner paying for the gas boiler can sell carbon offsets equal to the amount of CO2 they will avoid emitting by upgrading their equipment.

It was an elegant idea, but eventually problems surfaced:

  • Many projects did not produce the carbon offsets they promised or their measurements could not be independently verified.
  • Investigations revealed many of projects would have occurred regardless of whether carbon financing was included – thus the purchase of a carbon offset produced no added benefit.
  • Many U.S.-based companies want local carbon offsets so they can be seen as helping their own communities, but offset projects are typically located in the developing world.

Unclear ROI: A Recipe for Disaster

The cost of carbon offsets ballooned in the late 2000s, selling anywhere from $8 to $20 a ton. Renewable Energy Credits (RECs) became a very popular substitute for carbon offsets and were much cheaper, priced from $.50 to $3 a ton. The use of RECs came under heavy criticism as they were used by some companies like offsets to reduce a firm’s overall carbon footprint. Whether businesses purchased carbon offsets or RECs, they incurred costly annual expenses from offsetting their CO2 emissions.

Most companies featured these programs in corporate responsibility reports or related marketing efforts, but they began to ask: Should a U.S.-based company invest in carbon offsets to achieve climate neutrality goals when a large percentage of the U.S. population does not believe climate change is real? Do U.S. or global customers care if a company has either achieved or established a climate neutrality goal?

As these questions became harder to answer, many companies re-examined climate neutrality as a corporate goal: If consumers don’t believe in or care about climate charge, why make the investment?

The deepest liability of carbon offsets, and the reason their ROI is so hard to quantify, is they are frequently just a band-aid on business-as-usual practices. Environmentalists frequently saw them as a way for companies to pay their way out of their carbon “sins.” This made them unsatisfying for the audience companies wanted to win over with their environmental initiatives.

Environmentalists were frequently right. Many companies were not making offsets part of a broader effort to take sustainability deeper into their organizations, find recurring cost savings and spark innovation (Click here to read some success stories of companies that did). As a result, these companies were not capturing any real value or public relations value from their offsets.

Every Business Case for Sustainability is Different

The Business Case for Sustainability, Brightworks Sustainability Advisors

Every business will find its own unique mix of business benefits from sustainability (learn more about the Business Case for Sustainability). Buying carbon offsets alone seemed to be of less value than many companies hoped when this trend took hold. But there are still exceptions. About one month after the London Olympics announcement, British Petroleum (BP) and their not-for-profit carbon management arm, BP Target Neutral, announced they would purchase carbon offsets to cover the emissions from spectator travel to the London Olympic Games at no cost to the ticket-holder.

BP Target Neutral is hoping to sign up enough spectators to set a new world record for the largest offset as measured by number of participants. Participants can sign up using BP Target Neutral’s London 2012 web page or its Facebook page.

Making the offsets an interactive event with customers is probably an effort to build goodwill and customer engagement. BP and its subsidiary perceived a business value from purchasing carbon offsets that just wasn’t there for the Olympics organizers.

That’s the business case philosophy in action – sustainability makes sense for everyone differently. The trends of the moment won’t last if they can’t create real value for businesses. As companies think more deeply about how to create and capture the sustainability benefits they need most, we can expect carbon offset programs to continue falling away.

November 8, 2011

Good News, Bad News

Scott Lewis is founder and CEO of Brightworks

Well, the bad news is that 2010 had the highest annual net increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide ever, a 6 percent increase, with China and the US leading the pack.

2010 CO2


This coincides with the human population passing 7 billion people for the first time.  Not a coincidence, perhaps.

World Population Reaches 7 Billion

7 billion and going strong. Source:

The good news is that the world is just brimming with opportunity for rapid transformation to a renewable energy economy, if only we could get those dang policy makers – the ones who make the rules about what kinds of energy get most heavily subsidized, incentivized and regulated or not regulated – to make decisions in the public interest rather than the interest of their funders.

Seriously, the good news is that when enough people clamor loudly enough for real change, the technology and resource capacity is not the barrier: Scientific American published a plan to power the whole world with 100 percent renewable energy back in 2009.  Here’s to the possibility of a future with lasting prosperity for all, just waiting to emerge.

October 6, 2011

Are You Ready For The New Scope 3 Greenhouse Gas Emissions Standards?

Dave Newman, Senior Strategist, Brightworks Sustainable Systems Groupby Dave Newman, Senior Strategist

Ready or not, Scope 3 is here. And you’d be well advised to understand what it means for your business and prepare for its impact sooner rather than later.

Two new international greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions standards — known as Scope 3 — were launched October 4 at events in New York and London. They were released by the Greenhouse Gas Protocol, a global collaboration led by the World Resources Institute (WRI) and the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD).

The Greenhouse Gas Protocol previously released GHG emission standards for owned manufacturing and operations (known as Scope 1) and for purchased energy (known as Scope 2). The two are considered the de facto standard for global GHG emissions reporting.

Scope 3 ups the ante considerably. It enables companies to fully measure and manage emissions across their value chains and product lines for the first time. Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University have estimated two-thirds of U.S. industries would overlook 75 percent of GHG emissions if they neglect reporting on Scope 3 emissions.

Greenhouse Gas Emissions

The new Corporate Value Chain Standard helps companies discover the biggest opportunities to reduce emissions within those parts of their supply chain (manufacturing, transportation) they don’t own. The new Product Life Cycle Standard enables firms to measure the GHG emissions of an individual product, including its use by the consumer, using a credible international approach.

Among the businesses affected by the introduction of Scope 3 are consumer products companies whose value chains can stretch around the world, as well as suppliers to these companies. Scope 3 will lead companies to look both upstream and downstream in their value chain for ways to reduce GHG emissions, lower fossil fuel consumption and cost and decrease risk exposure due to future spikes in fossil fuel prices.

Here’s where it gets interesting. All companies are either producers or suppliers. And in one role or another, there’s a good chance your business will be brought into Scope 3 reporting — maybe happily, maybe kicking and screaming.

As a producer, you may choose to embrace Scope 3 and turn it into a competitive advantage. Or you may ignore Scope 3 altogether — until you can’t. At some point, a large customer is likely to ask your business to report your scopes 1, 2 and 3 emissions. At that point, choosing to ignore any of the scopes will no longer be realistic.

Walmart is the most prominent company to lean on its suppliers to report emissions and other sustainability measurements. However, that expectation or demand is becoming increasingly prevalent among larger companies and promises to gain momentum as Scope 3 reporting catches on.

Adopting Scope 3 proactively or in response to customer demand will seem daunting to many small to medium sized businesses. It will mean tracking GHG emissions, for example, from:

  • Employee commuting or from their choices of transportation and accommodations when traveling on business
  • Product movement as goods are transported from factory to store or warehouse; this would include factors that influence emissions, such as carrier type (air, ship, ground) and volume and weight of shipments
  • Materials, manufacturing, customer use and disposal of the company’s products
  • Firms that outsource their supply chain management may have little visibility into the makeup and sustainability performance of their suppliers. Similarly, they may struggle with how to gauge emissions from customer use and disposal.

Assessing, managing and reporting GHG emissions and other environmental impacts are fundamental steps for companies interested in mitigating risk (see our free webinar on the subject) and creating competitive advantage.  Our consultants have years of experience in sustainable design, manufacturing and transport for companies like Nike and for suppliers to major retailers like Walmart as they have managed Scopes 1 and 2. Clients like these sometimes need help to map their value chains and product lifecycle components to locate and gather the appropriate data, effectively engage suppliers to provide Scope 3 data and produce reports that are appropriate for customers asking for emissions data, or for other constituents interested in the client’s sustainability performance.

While Scope 3 may appear complex and confusing, the two new standards have been in development for more than three years with numerous stakeholder events, multiple drafts, comment periods and road testing by more than 60 companies. So the Greenhouse Gas Protocol has taken good care to address and remove obstacles to rapid adoption of the new standards.

The question is: are you ready to add Scope 3 to your list of sustainability advantages?

September 29, 2011

The Port of Portland – Opportunity in Systems Integration

Chris Forney, Brightworks Sustainability AdvisorsChris Forney, Senior Sustainability Advisor

In Part One of our interview with The Port of Portland (click here to read), we learned how one leading public agency integrates sustainability throughout their organization and empowers their staff to play a role. Part Two continues the conversation and uncovers examples of the opportunities created by systems integration.


Five Gears of Sustainability Engagement

Chris: At Brightworks, we’ve been looking at businesses and their relationship to sustainability through a lens developed by Peter Senge in The Necessary Revolution. Gear One is just complying with regulations, and Gear Two is volunteering to do a little more. Gear Three organizations are really partnering change with opportunity creation, and by Gear Five they are redesigned with sustainability as a well-defined core value in all business decisions. It seems like the Port is at “Integrate,” or Gear Three or Four. I can see that integration across your organization; it’s in your HR department and in your strategic and business plans.

Five Gears of Leading for Sustainability

Five Gears of Leading for Sustainability

Dorothy Sperry, Environmental Affairs Manager: We’re probably at “Partner Plus.”

Rachel Wray, Environmental Outreach Manager: Our alternative fuels usage is close to Integrate. We’ve made choices over the last eight-to-nine years to move toward alternative fuels, well ahead of it being chic.

Dorothy: We have an energy management strategy that includes partnerships and looks really long term at our energy use. And we buy 100% renewable energy credits to offset our energy use. We have air quality goals that are a little more rigorous than other agencies, and our energy strategy includes those goals.

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