Posts tagged ‘Energy’

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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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: ngm.nationalgeographic.com

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.

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.

September 21, 2010

From Green Design to Green Operations

Eric Baxter, Brightworks Sustainability AdvisorBy Eric Baxter

Brightworks Sustainability Advisor

It’s been more than 10 years since the U.S. Green Building Council rolled out the LEED® rating system.   Now that LEED certified buildings have been operating in the real world for several years, researchers and the media are analyzing whether these buildings are living up to expectations.  One aspect of LEED projects is that they carefully model the environmental and financial savings that greener buildings should create for owners and tenants.  The question is, what happens when these buildings move from concept to reality, and how can we best manage the transition when reality presents unexpected but unavoidable challenges?

Brian Libby from the Sustainable Industries Journal recently dove into this subject, using various examples of the gap between expectations and actual performance for green buildings.  One of his data points was the LEED Platinum Certified OHSU Center for Health and Healing (OSHU CCH), which as Libby points out, hasn’t met all of the performance targets the building was designed to achieve. Brightworks CEO contributed a guest column to SIJ that gave a fuller picture of the unanticipated challenges the building faced when trying to meet its performance projections (Bridging The Gap).   Such challenges can happen with any building.  All you have to do is increase your tenant population or install some energy-intensive equipment, and the building you walk into every day is no longer the building you modeled.

So how do you keep a green building performing in the face of changing conditions?  With ongoing operational plans and policies that continue to take resource efficiency and healthy environments into consideration.

I want to expand on the discussion of  OHSU CHH as a prime example of a building that was designed to be high performance making a successful transition into a building with high performance operations.

The Lobby of the OHSU Center for Health and Healing

photo courtesy of benshead on flickr

Certainly the building was groundbreaking.  It utilized best-in-class features in its construction, from photovoltaic (PV) enabled sun shades on its south face to collecting all of its stormwater and treating 100% of its wastewater on site using a membrane bioreactor.  You can learn more about the design of OHSU CHH here. It was the first large-scale highrise healthcare facility to earn a LEED Platinum certification, and has established itself as a focal point for the University’s expansion off the main Marquam Hill campus and into the redevelopment of Portland’s South Waterfront district.

As a Sustainability Advisor, I worked with the development, design, and construction team on the project, and am now working with the building operations team in the certification effort for LEED Existing Building Operations and Maintenance (EB O&M).  It has been exciting for me to watch a building designed for high performance evolve to be even more efficient and extremely well-run. When OHSU/RIMCO first approached this project, they admitted that they were looking for a different model; one that would allow for experimentation in how to manage and maintain the building. Knowing CBRE’s expertise in that area, the owners contracted with them to operate and maintain the building . Since tenant understanding and use of building systems is crucial to the performance of any building, the building management team has been active in educating tenants. That education included what the building can do, how a green building might feel or act differently from other buildings they have previously worked in, and how their understanding and use of these different attributes contributes to its performance.

This gets to the crux of the change: Even the most high-tech, energy-efficient building might perform no better than a code-built building if it is poorly operated. Efficient operations in a green framework are critical to maximizing a building’s potential, as well as minimizing expenditures and resource uses for energy and water.  This ultimately provides operational cost savings on an ongoing basis. Since the building was turned over to CBRE’s operations team, they have worked to continually improve the operation of the building.  Their goal is to reach the operations target that the developer, Gerding Edlen, sought from the outset of the project: 50% operational energy cost savings over a standard, code compliant building.

Because of its intended use, the building faced inherent challenges in meeting this goal. Key challenges included higher medical equipment energy loads than originally anticipated, as well as a complex system design that required extensive tuning during commissioning in order to optimize performance. In the process of optimizing the building’s systems and developing a high performance operations program, the operations team has also successfully implemented an array of other green practices, from green cleaning and procurement to a building-wide recycling program.  OHSU is interested in formally adopting and receiving third-party recognition for these and other new strategies through a LEED EB O&M certification in order to cement these operational practices.  To this end, Brightworks is again working with the OHSU CHH team to develop these practices into the LEED EB O&M framework and prepare the building for this certification.

The building was also recently honored by the Building Owners and Managers Association (BOMA) with The Outstanding Building of the Year (TOBY) Award. The CCH competed against buildings from around the world to become the first winner in Oregon.  Given the tenant-friendly and operator-friendly nature of LEED, particularly the EB O&M requirements, it should come as no surprise that five of the fourteen TOBY Award winners are LEED certified, including two LEED EB O&M certified projects. I expect to see continued interest and growth in EB O&M certifications, and I’m excited because these programs create buildings that are not only healthier for the people who occupy them,  but which reduce operating expenses for building owners and managers, and minimize their environmental impacts.

August 2, 2010

Frog Blog

Amphibians Smart.  Humans?  TBD.

That's Scottby Scott Lewis

Brightworks CEO

A popular urban legend maintains that a frog put into hot water will leap right out, but a frog put into a pot of slowly heated water will complacently languish to its unhappy demise.

While this modern parable for human folly has long been discredited by scientists – frogs indeed hop right out of  a warming cauldron – we humans, it seems, are a little less savvy than your average amphibian.  Consider:

On July 25, the National Atmospheric and Oceanic Administration (NOAA) reported that “[w]orldwide average land surface temperature was the warmest on record for June and the April-June period, and the second warmest on record for the year-to-date (January-June) period, behind 2007.”  The monthly analysis from NOAA’s National Climatic Data Center, is based on records going back to 1880.

Additionally, a new NOAA analysis called “State of the Climate,” which looks at ten indicators of global temperatures, concluded that the past decade was the warmest in 150 years.  An excerpt:

“While year-to-year changes in temperature often reflect natural climatic variations such as El Niño/La Niña events, changes in average temperature from decade-to-decade reveal long-term trends such as global warming. Each of the last three decades has been much warmer than the decade before. At the time, the 1980s was the hottest decade on record. In the 1990s, every year was warmer than the average of the previous decade. The 2000s were warmer still.”

From NOAA's State of the Climate report (2010)

Congress Demurs

One might think this kind of troubling news might stir policy makers to decisive action.  The House had passed a solid energy/climate bill last summer (2009), and the Senate was driving a legislation introduced by John Kerry that would have created an economy-wide carbon cap.  But unable to muster enough support to insure victory for the Bill, Senate Majority leader Harry Reid let the legislation die in committee on July 22nd.  “We just don’t have the votes,” Reid lamented.  Ribbit.

In response to this juxtaposition of more alarming data from NOAA and congressional inaction, New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman wrote, “We’ve basically decided to keep pumping greenhouse gases into Mother Nature’s operating system and take our chances that the results will be benign — even though a vast majority of scientists warn that this will not be so. Fasten your seat belts.”

The remainder of Friedman’s column is full of some interesting and relevant information – I highly recommend it.  From Friedman:

  • The China Daily reports the country is set to begin domestic carbon trading programs during its 12th Five-Year Plan period (2011-2015) to help it meet its 2020 carbon intensity target.
  • ABC News recently reported that a “heat wave, which has lasted for weeks,” has Russia suffering its worst drought in 130 years.
  • A day before the climate bill went down, Lew Hay, the C.E.O. of NextEra Energy, which owns Florida Power & Light, one of the nation’s biggest utilities, e-mailed to say that if the Senate would set a price on carbon and requirements for renewable energy, utilities like his would have the price certainty they need to make the big next-generation investments, including nuclear. “If we invest an additional $3 billion a year or so on clean energy, that’s roughly 50,000 jobs over the next five years,” said Hay.

So the next time you hear someone demean our pond-dwelling amphibious friends, remind them that at least a frog knows when to get out of hot water.  As documented previously in this space, a renewable energy, stable-climate future is within our reach.  Let’s hop to it!

March 3, 2010

Energy Rant

That's Scottby Scott Lewis

Brightworks CEO

Energy is one of my secret fascinations.  I suppose it’s not such a secret any more (now that you’re reading this…).

One of my Big Three environmental issues (along with Toxic Pollution and Biodiversity), our reliance of fossil fuel energy is the driver behind the climate crisis, a lot of the toxic pollution and biodiversity issues, and so full of complexity and intrigue that it fascinates and perplexes me to no end.

The Demand

Industrial society uses lots of concentrated – and for transportation, portable – energy, to run.

We need 24/7 base load.

We need peak load.

We need we need we need.

And most of our current energy modalities are destroying the planet, or at least, the planet’s ability to sustain the diversity of life and the human quality of life we aspire to preserve (and bring to more people).

World Energy Demand

Global Energy Use: World Marketed Energy Consumption, 1980-2030 (Source: US Energy Information Administration (EIA))

The Supply

The irony.  There is so much energy “out there,” if we were smart and strategic, we wouldn’t know what to do with all the excess. [1]

The biopshere is brimming with massive energy flows, including:

  • direct solar,
  • indirect solar (which includes wind, appropriate – non-fossil fuel based, non-food crop displacing – biofuel, and wave),
  • tidal (which is moon, whereas wave is wind is solar),
  • geothermal.

It’s all about priorities, design intent, political corruption (much of it legal in the form of campaign finance and ‘revolving door’ lobbying, just made worse by the US Supreme Court).

If we *really* wanted to, we could be on 100 percent renewables, globally, in a decade or two, easily.  Easily meaning the technology exists – today – assuming the will were aligned, not meaning we’ll ever get the will aligned.

Yes, it would be costly.  But the Greenland ice sheet sliding into the North Atlantic will be more costly. AND, it would also help solve major issues of pollution, habitat destruction and the political and economic challenges associated with our dependency on imported fossil fuels.

It really is a matter of choice, urgency, and priorities.

Total Surface Area Required to Fuel the World With Solar (source: http://www.landartgenerator.org/blagi/archives/127)

The Challenge : Economics 101

Price is a huge driver of human behavior.  Gasoline in the US currently costs in the range of $3/gallon.  That price doesn’t include environmental externalities (estimated at $120 billion in 2005 alone) nor the cost of keeping our troops in Saudi Arabia, much less the Iraq war or all the other subsidies hidden from view. Therefore, it does not reflect the REAL COST, to society, of its manufacture, distribution and use.

Keep price signals artificially low, you get too much of any activity: This is Economics 101 (low price, more activity; high price, less activity).  With gas at $9/gallon, in Norway you don’t see a lot of Hummers.  Between conservation [2] – still the cheapest energy source by far (now getting rebranded “energy efficiency,” which some marketing guys must have figured out raises VC money faster than conservation) – and all that free sunlight hitting the planet’s surface every day, we are flush with opportunity.  Yes, storage and portability is a challenge.  Dumb grid is a challenge.  But compared to climate change, these challenges pale.  It’s not about possibility, it’s about political will.

So don’t let anyone tell you it’s about cost or technological barriers.

Two great and inspiring articles:

A path to 100 percent renewables using Wind, Water and Solar (WWS) by 2030 (from Scientific American, no less).

—  The potential addition to the WWS equation by what the author, a retired DuPont scientist, refers to as clean biofuels – not made from corn or switchgrass (bad), but from things like algae grown on the surface of the sea, and a plant that literally “grows gasoline.”

————

NOTES

1.The total solar energy absorbed by Earth’s atmosphere, oceans and land masses is approximately 3,850,000 exajoules (EJ) per year. In 2002, this was more energy in one hour than the world used in one year.

2. “studies show a median technical potential of 33% for electricity and 40% for gas, and median economic potentials for electricity and gas of 20% and 22% respectively.” ACEEE (2004) See source (AEEE article) here.

February 7, 2010

Thought Experiment

Worked for Einstein, so why not?…

That's Scottby Scott Lewis

Brightworks CEO

.

.

Let’s play a game. It’s called a thought experiment.

No, not Scott Lewis, but we can understand why you'd think so...

Einstein, Thought Experimenting

Legend has it that Einstein used a thought experiment to get the idea for special relativity, and also to challenge a physics concept called quantum indeterminism.

Way beyond me...

Einstein's though experiements on quantum indeterminism

So if it worked for him, perhaps a similar exercise – a game played with our imaginations – can help us solve a less technically challenging but perhaps more politically daunting question:

is it possible that our elected officials could, conceivably, someday, do what it takes to help us solve the climate crisis?

Is it even possible?

Seems like great material for a thought experiment.  So here goes…

Suspend Disbelief.  Use Your Imagination.

Suppose for a moment that every member of congress, and the president, all had a family member (or, since we’re talking politicians, a lover in Argentina) whom they loved dearly, held hostage. (Remember, this is just a thought experiment, not a suggestion. So keep Homeland Security off my phone lines, okay?)

Imagine, if you will, that all these elected officials  – and let’s throw in appointed officials like the Secretaries of Energy, Commerce, etc., a few supreme court justices, as well – knew, without the slightest doubt, that if they didn’t execute a strategy within 12 months that would have us on 100 percent renewable energy in a decade, they’d never see their loved one again. (Or, if you want to make it more believable, assume the threat is they’d never get re-elected again, something they REALLY care about.)

Lewis' thought experiment on Congressional indeterminism. Senator 1: "Hey, let's come up with a solution to global warming and that Lewis dude will let us out of here." Senator 2: "Hey, I've got an idea. Let's invest in renewable energy and conservation!" Senator 1: "That's a GREAT idea; why didn't I think of that before?!"

How many of you doubt for a second we’d have 100 percent renewable energy in not only ten years, but five years?

We certainly have the technology.  The real single point of failure (SPOF), as my risk analyst friends would call it, is political will.

What To Do About It

We have to let our voices be heard over the din of the fossil fuel industry and its paid lobbyists.  Let your senator, congressperson, local and state officials know that this is a priority issue for you, you will vote for anyone who is committed to a crash program to get us off fossil fuels, and against anyone who won’t!

If you don’t know who your elected officials are, or how to contact them, you can find that information here.

And keep thinking…

read more »

January 23, 2010

Energy, Climate and Politics

Let’s Play Connect The Dots

That's Scottby Scott Lewis
Brightworks CEO

Thursday, January 21, 2010 was quite a day.

Three seemingly unrelated news reports:

Dot 1

“a bitterly divided Supreme Court on Thursday ruled that the government may not ban political spending by corporations in candidate elections.”

Source: New York Times

President Obama calls this “a major victory for big oil, … and the other powerful interests that marshal their power every day in Washington to drown out the voices of everyday Americans,”

Source: Reuters

What is he talking about? you might ask…

Dot 2

Same day as the Supreme Court announcement on campaign spending, NASA reports:

  • 2009 was tied for the second warmest year in the modern record
  • in the Southern Hemisphere, 2009 was the warmest year since modern records began in 1880.
  • The past year was only a fraction of a degree cooler than 2005, the hottest year on record, and tied with a cluster of other years — 1998, 2002, 2003, 2006 and 2007 — as the second warmest year since recordkeeping began.
  • January 2000 to December 2009 was the warmest decade on record.

“There’s always an interest in the annual temperature numbers and on a given year’s ranking, but usually that misses the point,” said James Hansen, the director of GISS. “But when we average temperature over five or ten years to minimize that variability, we find that global warming is continuing unabated.”

Source: NASA

NASA

Dot 3

Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski’s top political contributors, last 5 years:

  • Edison Chouest Offshore
  • Constellation Energy
  • Southern Co
  • Exxon Mobil

Amount raised by Murkowski from energy industry and energy lobbiests, last 5 years: Over $500,000.

Total contributions to all elected officials, Oil & Gas industry, last 10 years: $245,561,974

Source: Center for Responsive Politics

Dot 4

The New York Times reports  “In a direct challenge to the Environmental Protection Agency’s authority, Senator Lisa Murkowski, Republican of Alaska, introduced a resolution on Thursday to prevent the agency from taking any action to regulate carbon dioxide and other climate-altering gases.”

Source: New York Times

Consider the possibility that the most important leverage point to stopping climate change is campaign finance reform.


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