Archive for ‘Sustainability Analytics’

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
June 1, 2012

The Human Investment

Nate Young, Education Coordinator, Brightworksby Nate Young

Education Coordinator

The most valuable assets of a 20th-century company were its production equipment. The most valuable asset of a 21st-century institution, whether business or non-business, will be its knowledge workers and their productivity.

– Peter Drucker 1999

No company can succeed without investing in its most important assets. Yet the challenge, as Peter Drucker points out, is recognizing what’s most important. Many modern organizations hold a vast network of “human resources” that are in essence dying on the vine due to a lack of ongoing investment, especially in the area of sustainability training and development. Fortunately, as leading companies are demonstrating, engaging and investing in employees isn’t a charitable effort – it pays dividends of higher company profits and more effective sustainability programs.

Accounting for human resources

To hear Paul Herman of HIP Investor tell it, many companies avoid investing in their employees on a regular basis – possibly due, in part, to a limitation in U.S. accounting standards. You see, employees are not considered an asset, according to the Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP), the standards by which American corporations develop their financial statements. Employees only show up as salary costs (Expenses on the Income Statement) and possibly as pension costs (Liabilities on the Balance Sheet).

The GAAP requirements can be overcome (Infosys, for instance reports their human resource valuation each year), but these structures tend to reinforce management’s 20th Century views of what are “investments or assets” versus “expenses or liabilities.” Like me, you’ve probably heard the phrase “our employees are our greatest asset” more than a few times. Even if we can’t show it properly on financial statements, why don’t we act like we mean it? Clearly, investing in infrastructure is believed to pay benefits, so why don’t we feel the same about our employees?

Our employees are our greatest asset

The people have spoken…via google search.

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December 12, 2011

Move the Market, Don’t Let the Market Move You

Josh Hatch, Director of Sustainability Analytics, BrightworksBy Josh Hatch

For those of you impatient with progress on sustainability in our society, I have wonderful news: Sustainability is here. Today.

OK, we haven’t literally solved it. But it is possible, within reach even. This is encouraging, right? Most of us worried about sustainability are concerned we aren’t moving fast enough — and we aren’t. But not because renewable energy isn’t cheap enough, worldwide climate protection policies are insufficient, or Whole Foods’ Organics aren’t organic enough. Nor does sustainability cost too much, require additional technological breakthroughs or need further study.

Progress is being held back by the widespread, self-defeating business mindset of “waiting for a good time” to consider sustainability — when the best time is always now.

Why Standing Still is the Greatest Risk of All

Truly innovative and leading organizations make decisions with imperfect or partial information, or in spite of immature or uncertain technology. And they use creativity or partnerships to work around financial obstacles. They are successful independent of these limitations — perhaps even more successful because their competitors stand flat-footed, unwilling to challenge assumptions that prevent action.

Unfortunately, sustainability won’t be “easier” to address in the future when solar energy is cheaper and ecological impacts are fully valued and integrated into reporting. Why?

  • Sustainability problems – such as risk of climate disruption and increasing prevalence of toxins in our air, water and soil – are becoming increasingly severe.
  • Available options and resources – such as time to act, collective willpower and financial resources – are becoming increasingly limited. Inaction or complacency based on deferred action is a human behavioral phenomenon. Decisions by society or corporations to defer or de-prioritize action on sustainability represents a mental barrier more than a consequence of technology, information or financial resource limitations.

Forward-Thinking Decisions That Pay Off

The Toyota Prius

The Toyota Prius, Forward-Thinking Success. Photo via Consumer Reports

Many companies have defied predominant business norms or customer preferences and transformed their industries for the better. A modern classic is, of course, the Prius. For automakers, developing a hybrid-electric vehicle seemed niche at best and suicidal at worst. Previous electric car efforts had gone poorly for other manufacturers. And there was a very small market, at best, for these expensive, fuel-sipping vehicles when Toyota began their designs. But when the company released the first Prius, they had a multiple-year lead on the entire automotive industry and are now the de facto “brand” of hybrid electric vehicles.

Who in your company has the analogous good idea that is being prevented from implementation?

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September 13, 2011

Is Sustainability Your Known Unknown: Using Sustainability Analytics to Make Confident Business Decisions

Josh Hatch, Director of Sustainability Analytics, Brightworks

By Josh Hatch

Director of Sustainability Analytics

Confident decision-making in tumultuous times requires a thorough understanding of triple bottom line and broader sustainability impacts. Using the sustainability lens may not influence each decision in a significant way, but it will enable businesses to identify opportunities, reduce risk and effectively communicate the sustainability impacts of their operations.

Effective organizations are learning that modern business decision-making and planning requires them to look beyond sustainability as a certification, rating system, goal or even a theory. They’re embracing sustainability as a set of decision criteria and a filter to be applied to any major business dilemma. Businesses that ignore sustainability’s strategic value do so at their own risk in an era marked by volatile energy and resource prices, evolving regulatory requirements and unforeseen financial, environmental and supply chain disruptions.

Titanic vs. Iceberg

Sustainability implications for businesses often hide beneath the surface until it's too late. Image via Robert M. Williams

Here are four steps leaders in sustainability are taking to build stronger, more resilient organizations:

1.  Establish Organizational Sustainability Bearings Before Setting Your Course

The first step isn’t necessarily the hardest in addressing sustainability—there are so many opportunities for low-cost/no-cost improvements that can be pursued immediately. However, many organizations suffer from the problem of setting broader organizational priorities and launching sustainability initiatives before fully mapping the relevance and impacts of these initiatives on their business.

Without a solid understanding of the major and minor impacts and their relative proportions, sincere efforts can be made chasing relatively small gains. Metro, a regional government organization based in Portland, Oregon, enacted aggressive sustainability targets in 2003 for reductions in their major sustainability impacts—water, toxics, GHG, waste and habitat. However, they didn’t also conduct a thorough audit to develop a baseline, prioritize efforts and gauge progress toward the targets from their many programs and initiatives addressing sustainability.

Sustainability technical assistance from Brightworks ultimately provided them with the analytics to understand current sustainability impacts for each of their five goals, as well as the composition of those impacts. For instance, they targeted a water usage reduction of 50% by 2025. Our analysis identified how much water they were actually using so progress toward the target could be quantified. We discovered a single property (the Zoo) used 42% of their total water budget. Without seriously addressing water efficiency at the Zoo, the target will be difficult if not impossible to reach.

Confident planning requires this level of understanding of sustainability impacts. Major efforts should be focused on the biggest opportunities, while also ensuring appropriate attention is paid to minor, but meaningful, opportunities elsewhere in an organization. All companies need analytics to comparatively assess major and minor opportunities as well as to track their progress to justify further initiatives.

2.  Go Beyond Credentials by Applying a Sustainability Lens to All Major DecisionsBusiness Decision Making Criteria: Profitability, Marketability, Sustainability?

A few years ago, you only had to complete a GHG footprint analysis to assert your green credentials. But most of those reports just quantify the magnitude of one potential liability without providing mitigating solutions or a framework for considering the impact of future business decisions. Today, organizations must consider carbon impact and other sustainability factors in all major business decisions.

To respond to the outsized environmental footprints of their data center facilities, our clients have engaged us during site selection to consider the upfront impact on long-term water resource availability, carbon intensity of grid electricity, system development costs and green building incentives. They want to ensure their mission-critical facilities remain operational while effectively managing and limiting their resource consumption. Smart consideration of sustainability impacts at the front end of the project can result in selection of a site that has long-term water and energy security and a low carbon footprint. This reduces future risks from resource scarcity or carbon taxes.

3. Use Sustainability Analysis to Uncover Business Opportunities

This trend follows from a broader shift in perception. Not simply a static concept, sustainability is increasingly approached as a dynamic process. No longer do sustainability plans collect dust on the shelf. They must be actionable initiatives that relate to core business strategy.

The DOE Hanford Site faced federal requirements for GHG reductions across the board. Given the current traffic congestion, long commutes and rising gasoline prices encountered by their employees, they started by addressing the portion of their GHG footprint associated with commuting.

Responding to these challenges, Brightworks conducted a greenhouse gas reduction and cost savings analysis. We uncovered a future scenario so compelling that reductions beyond those required are being planned. Steps include expanding vanpooling, facilitating and promoting carpooling, condensing work weeks and relocating a significant number of employees to Hanford offices in Richland, Washington.

This combination of steps will save DOE and employees money, reduce emissions by more than twice the amount required by federal mandate and increase employee morale. The immediate savings possible will motivate Hanford Site to implement our recommendations ahead of schedule, and we expect they will look for reductions elsewhere in their operations.

4. Commit to Ongoing Improvement

Today’s sustainability leaders also continually address and re-evaluate their sustainability efforts. Consumers have a healthy amount of skepticism and insight into the legitimacy of sustainability efforts; only genuine efforts will allow your organization to avoid being seen as greenwashing. That’s why deft organizations are continually re-evaluating their business and operations for opportunities to align with sustainability practices.

After spending considerable effort renovating their event space—including energy efficiency upgrades, careful material selection and screening vendors for leadership in sustainability practices—Leftbank Annex in Portland asked Brightworks to conduct a thorough sustainability audit. They wanted to honestly assess the building’s strengths and weaknesses and identify additional opportunities for improvement.

In addition to validating their venue’s strengths, we identified creative solutions to respond to their unique constraints. For example, part of the venue’s appeal is as a historic building with original brickwork and large windows that provide a beautiful city backdrop for events. In their renovation, Leftbank Annex prioritized energy efficiency equipment, but they were limited in their ability to further insulate the building envelope. We recommended a partnership with a solar provider using third-party financing. Leftbank Annex would benefit by reducing their reliance on grid energy without compromising their aesthetic appeal, gaining a system paid for upfront by the solar developer (and paid off by energy bill reductions) and showing a visible commitment to renewable energy.

At the conclusion of our study, our client demonstrated a real understanding of ongoing improvement, stating: “Having you do an annual review, or asking for your advice before making a major investment, would probably be a very smart thing to do. Every decision we make needs to build off this foundation.”

It appears few companies today haven’t considered sustainability in some way. For many, however, sustainability remains a known unknown—something that is dismissed as irrelevant until it becomes the peril too close and large to avoid. What will separate the leaders and winners of tomorrow will be the ability to turn the demands of sustainability on their business into a known known—something that can be managed.

Companies that consider and reconsider the relationship of sustainability to their business will adapt quicker. And competitors that dismiss sustainability as extraneous or too costly will be left behind.