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…

September 11, 2012

Is Innovation Always Progress?

Scott Lewis, Brightworks CEOBy Scott Lewis

 Brightworks CEO

Earlier this month, I had the opportunity to attend the Aspen Institute’s Global Forum on the Culture of Innovation, co-presented by The Urban Land Institute. The Culture of Innovation struck me as a fantastic topic to explore, since we are living in an era challenged to reinvent itself before it implodes under the obsolete economic paradigm of the first industrial revolution. As I arrived, I thirsted for inspiration and new ideas to fuel my own efforts as an entrepreneur, employer, and would-be economic innovator.  The Forum offered morsels of genuine insight – particularly from Fast Company founder Alan Webber, himself a walking embodiment of thinking outside the box (or realizing there is no box).  IDEO’s Fred Dust also offered some unique and interesting perspectives that enlivened the event.  There was much talk of livability in cities, of fostering innovation to drive economic development, and of the future of office culture in a mobile society.

But what struck me most remarkably was the almost entire absence of any serious talk about sustainability.  Sure, I’m a sustainability guy, so my filters are a little hyper-attuned.  But if your ship has a hole in the hull and is taking on water, what they’re serving in the galley that night is sort of beside the point.

When the subject is culture and innovation, you’d think someone would talk about sustainability since the planet is besieged by the growing social, political, and economic impacts of climate change and resource scarcity. Where were Bill McDonough or William Kunstler when you need them?  (…and trust me, I’ve heard from both of them enough to be constantly on the watch for new voices to keep the momentum moving forward!)

Urgent needs for innovation

NOAA:  Significant Weather Events for Summer 2012

Significant weather events, summer 2012. Image via NOAA.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) just reported that July 2012 was the hottest month in the lower 48 states since the government started keeping temperature records in 1895.  The hot July also contributed to the hottest 12-month period ever recorded in the United States.

For this reason, when I hear the words “Culture of Innovation,” here are some of the questions that spring to mind for me:

  • How can we change the way science is performed to accelerate the commercialization of new clean tech and renewable energy opportunities?
  • If it’s true that we can meet all our energy needs for years to come with wind, water and solar energy, then what cultural momentum enables us to accept natural gas extraction that creates earthquakes in Ohio or coal extraction that literally dumps mountaintops in Appalachia into nearby streams?

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September 11, 2012

While You Were Out: Our Take on the Sustainability Stories of the Summer

Summer Vacation

Image via Laura Menenberg

Summer can be a hard time to keep up with the news – vacations, travel, and business planning for fall can take your attention away from the front pages. Before summer slips away, don’t miss these sustainability stories from summer 2012 that could affect your business in 2013.

LEED Gets Lobbied

In June, the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) announced that it would delay releasing the LEED rating system’s next version after pressure from a wide variety of interest groups.  Those groups included building owners, concerned that the new version would be too stringent or difficult to document; business interests like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce; and manufacturers of products panned by the new version of LEED.

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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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June 11, 2012

What is Sustainability ROI?

Scott Lewis, Brightworks CEOBy Scott Lewis

 Brightworks CEO

Sustainability provides a rich investment opportunity for any organization – business, NGO or public agency. However, conventional approaches to comparing investment options may under-represent the value of sustainability efforts, and therefore lead to underinvestment, missed value creation opportunity and increased risk. By expanding outdated notions and definitions of the “returns” from investment options, CFOs, business leaders and managers of public or non-profit organizations can make more prudent and strategic decisions regarding sustainability opportunities.

The standard measure for the risk-adjusted opportunity of an investment is a simple equation: the benefit or “gain” of the investment divided by the initial cost – referred to as “return on investment.” Put $100 into a project, get $140 back, divide the gain ($40) by the initial investment, and voila – a 40 percent ROI.

While expected ROI is widely used by investors, our focus here is on investment decisions made by CFOs and business managers inside organizations about where to allocate their internal resources to achieve their goals.

From Conventional ROI to SROI

To illustrate the problem with the standard ROI analysis, consider the following example: You’re deciding whether to invest in an energy upgrade project that includes switching out inefficient incandescent lights with more energy efficient T-5 fluorescent lamps, replacing some overhead lighting with task lighting at workstations, and adding natural ventilation and daylighting to the space to save air conditioning and lighting costs.  Suppose the initial or “first cost” of the upgrade is $100,000, and you get $15,000 annual energy savings: a 15 percent ROI.  If that payback seems low or there is a competing use for those funds that would have an 18 percent ROI, the energy upgrade wouldn’t be worth the investment.  But is that really the whole picture?

Fluorescent Lights in an Office

Image via Renewable Energy News


The problem with the standard ROI analysis is that it overlooks some of the potential benefits of the sustainability investment, and therefore undervalues the possible outcome. The first question in doing a Sustainability ROI analysis is, “Did we really look at all the financial costs and benefits of the project?”  The first place to look for additional financial benefits is in the area of Life Cycle Cost Analysis, or LCCA.  Did your analysis take into account the fact that the new T5 lights last for 5 years, yet the incandescent lamps they were replacing only last for a year?  Did it measure the dollars spent paying maintenance staff to climb a ladder and replace each incandescent bulb each year?  Did the analysis uncover the fact that the T5’s produce considerably less heat than the incandescents?  In a building where you run air conditioning for 68 percent of the year, the cooler T5’s save you money again.

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June 7, 2012

Redefining ROI for your Existing Building

Eric Baxter, Brightworks Sustainability Advisorby Eric Baxter, Director of Existing Buildings

A recent article on FacilitiesNet.com features six steps to move a building and a team through a LEED for Existing Buildings Operations & Maintenance (LEED EBOM) certification process. If you’re a building owner or manager, I encourage you to carefully consider each step when embarking on LEED EBOM. Before you do, however, consider one other critical piece — think of it as “Step Zero.”

As consulting firm that has worked on numerous LEED EBOM projects since the first pilot rating system was introduced in 2002, Brightworks has seen many project teams successfully execute an EBOM program for their facility. We have also seen a few project teams fail. In some cases it was an inability to follow through on the six recommendations in the article.

In other cases, they had overlooked Step Zero: understanding and agreeing on their organization’s motivations and value proposition for undertaking the EBOM journey, implementing this rigorous program and seeking this type of certification.

This step is a critical part of our work with clients, and something we’ll cover at our session at the BOMA Every Building Conference and Expo in Seattle in June. Without a clear, circumspect analysis of this critical piece before starting any kind of existing building sustainability program, the project team will be challenged to focus on the proper critical path items, budget appropriate funds to move forward and get buy-in from essential team members. Falling short in any of these areas can cause a project to lose its way and ultimately fail to earn a certification.

Common LEED EBOM Motivations

Considering Step Zero gets the project on track from the start. There are many motivations for undertaking the LEED EBOM journey and submitting your building for  certification. Here are a few that might point you in the right direction:

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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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May 31, 2012

Biomimicry evolves from concept to concrete

Pigmented domes on alligator, Author/Photographer/Artist: Roger Smith

Photo via Roger Smith on asknature.org

Aron Bosworth, Brightworks Sustainability AdvisorJennifer Barnes, Brightworks Sustainability AdvisorBy Aron Bosworth and Jennifer Barnes

Brightworks Sustainability Advisors

Why would we invite an alligator and a San Diego Zoo staff member to an educational workshop geared toward architects and designers? The answer lies in biomimicry, the field of studying and emulating nature’s patterns to create innovative and sustainable solutions to today’s business challenges.

Biomimicry has received acclaim for years as a potential game changer for sustainability. Only recently, however, has it started to take hold in design communities and prove itself to private businesses. As private industry, research and government unite around the concept and put it to work, we will see new success stories that demonstrate biomimicry’s evolution from exciting concept to proven design tool.

A New Way to See Nature

Most if not all of us have a desire to connect with nature – we try and schedule time in our busy days to spend time outside: getting a breath of fresh air during a work break or going for a weekend hike. Edward O. Wilson refers to our subconscious yearning to connect with the natural world as biophilia, and suggests it’s deeply rooted in our biological DNA.

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May 24, 2012

Silence on Sustainability: Not as golden as it used to be

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

A sustainability thought leader shared a cautionary tale with me recently. His former company had received a sustainability questionnaire from a non-governmental organization (NGO). The CEO told him not to respond. The firm’s responses wouldn’t be ideal, and they weren’t sure how much to disclose. When the report came out, the cost of that decision became clear: The company received an “F” ranking. When the survey arrived the following year, the CEO instructed him to respond with whatever information the company had. Anything would be better than their current grade!

Companies are being publicly rated on sustainability criteria – whether they know it or not and whether they participate in the process or not. The newly updated Ceres report on corporate sustainability progress among 600 top U.S. companies is just the latest publicized ratings example. No doubt the results caught at least a few businesses off guard.

The challenge for businesses is that these inquiries from industry watchdogs, NGOs or clients call for complicated responses and are probably not on your ideal timeline (of, say, “later, maybe never”). As my acquaintance’s experience illustrates, sharing your progress is better saying nothing, even if you don’t have all the answers. And just asking the questions will give you a sense of what some of your next moves should be.

Why are large companies falling short of Ceres’ expectations?

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