All Posts Tagged With: "energy efficiency"

A Fictional Letter to the New York Times

This is a preview of some writing I’ve been doing lately. It’s a fictional letter to the editor of the New York Times, written (again, fictionally) on December 12, 2009. Enjoy! Comments most welcome.

To the people of New York City:

I invite you to imagine life fifty years from now. Set politics and religion aside, and just imagine New York in the year 2059.

Going to the Stock Exchange? Better take a water taxi – unless you’re a strong swimmer. The buildings around Wall Street were sealed off years ago on their lower stories and the streets are now navigated with water taxis and gondolas, similar to Venice. The water levels do fluctuate several feet at times, but New Yorkers are quite adaptable.

In fifty years, the coastlines of Brooklyn, Long Island, and the Bronx have been dramatically altered, in many cases beaches and whole communities erased. The resulting move inland has caused real estate prices to rise ever higher – harder still to imagine than a watery Wall Street, I know.

Fifty years hence, higher sea levels have given severe storms much more water to funnel toward the city. Surges of water come from both Long Island Sound and the Verrazano Narrows. Vital infrastructure — hospitals, sewage treatment plants, communication conduits – has been paralyzed by flooding with corrosive seawater. It took decades and billions of dollars to rebuild them, and some were simply abandoned.

Like hot weather? Hope so, because here in New York, in fifty years, we now have close to 50 days a year with temperatures over 50 degrees. And about 600 heat-related deaths each year.

Are you fond of good music and good parties? You’ll have to find them closer to home, because New Orleans no longer exists. It was buried under water about ten years ago and has been left for dead.

Is this just fantasy, or, at best, science fiction? Afraid not. And New York is not alone. Since all life on the planet is connected in an intricate web, the effects are everywhere. Collapsed economies, dying ecosystems, disappearing fresh water sources, floods, droughts, resource wars, and increased terrorism, to name just a few. I’ll give just a few examples, but read on to the end, because I also have very specific advice for how you can avoid or at least mitigate these effects. Think of it as a legacy project. What do you intend to leave behind for your loved ones?

Humanity opened a Pandora’s box with our years of burning fossil fuels and emitting the carbon dioxide that warmed our atmosphere. Once nature began her response, she magnified the effects pretty quickly. Think: runaway freight train.

I had a lot of paragraphs written about species extinction, disappearing forests, dying coral reefs, droughts that have killed millions, hundreds of millions of people homeless from coastal flooding. Millions with no access to fresh water because their sources – mountain glaciers – have melted and gone the way of the dinasaurs.

But you don’t live near a melting glacier, do you? And you probably don’t know any of those people who have been flooded out or starved by famine.

I could also go on about worldwide instability of governments, social structures, and economic systems. About the intensification of the divide between “haves” and “have-nots.” Between rich countries in temperate zones, where wealth and technology provide a buffer against climate risk and poor countries close to the equator that are deeply exposed to the twin climate hazards of flood and drought.

But that’s all pretty abstract and far in the future. Reading that probably didn’t even raise your heart rate.

I’ll also refrain from going into detail about fuel costs and trade embargoes that have wreaked havoc with world economies. About political and climate refugees who are increasingly hopeless, funneling into global terrorist cells and crime syndicates.

Because, let’s face it. In fifty years, you may very well not be alive, having lived a full life and died well.

Ah, but your children or grandchildren, nieces or nephews will still be around to clean up the mess.

Today, scientists and policy makers are currently arguing passionately back and forth over what to do about all this. Some even question whether climate change is real, or whether it’s caused by human activities, or whether it’s happening now. Wonder no more, because here are the answers to those questions:

Yes, yes, and yes.

Besides, and this is harsh, the earth doesn’t care what you believe in.

That out of the way, let’s roll up our sleeves and talk action. If I lived fifty years in the future, I would have a unique perspective on things. In that spirit, here are my suggestions, offered with deep respect and in no particular order. I have divided them into two categories: 1) shift your thinking and 2) things to do now.

Shift your thinking (or, suspend disbelief, even just until the end of this letter):

  • Don’t fall prey to the schism of believers and non-believers.
  • Don’t rely too much on the science, especially when it threatens people’s values. This will only create resistance and denial.
  • Find ways to talk about the same thing, not a middle ground. There is always a place where people have more in common than we have differences.
  • For those of you who think climate change is a lot of hooey, putting major efforts into innovations in energy efficiency and renewable, clean energy is still the greatest economic development opportunity since the early days of the industrial revolution. Possibly ever. Look around. It’s not just the European countries who are investing heavily in this; it’s also China and India. You don’t want the U.S. to be left behind, do you?
  • This is not about instituting world government, taking away civil liberties, or redistributing wealth.
  • Climate change is not a distant threat, a “what if;” it is already upon us.
  • Never underestimate the critical role of public discourse, civic values, political leadership, cultural habits and economic interests, even spiritual beliefs. Science, wealth and technology do matter, but culture and politics trump them.

Things to do now:

  • Put about 75% of your efforts on making everything in your economy as energy-efficient as possible. Start with buildings, transportation, and agriculture. You have all the technology and knowledge you need to make it all at least 50% more efficient right now. By the way, that 50% is a very low number. I could just as easily have said 85%, but I didn’t want to sound too crazy.
  • Put another 75% into investing in innovations in clean energy sources. No, nuclear doesn’t count. Sorry. And, yes, I realize that adds up to more than 100%. Have I mentioned that there’s plenty of work for everyone?
  • Plant trees. Lots of trees, everywhere you can.
  • Hate to say it, but you’re going to have to build levees and sea defenses. People are already talking about and even designing them. You just didn’t know until I told you.
  • Do not allow fear or despair, or even anger to be your only response.
  • Stop arguing about things that do not matter.
  • Look at your neighbors, smile more. Dance.
  • Look inside; the answers are all within you.
  • And never, never forget that you belong here. This is your home. Humanity is your family. You can design any future you want.

This is a country founded on a hatred of tyranny. Failing to do everything you can to address climate change now is a form of intergenerational tyranny. This generation would, in effect, be imposing its will and wasteful way of life on future inhabitants of this planet, dooming them to the suffering that we residents of 2059 see on a daily basis.

How low can you go?

Businesses that set ambitious goals to reduce their carbon footprint also increase their profitability. How is that possible?

It’s simple. Reduced carbon emissions result from using less energy, the production of which in the U.S. puts tons of CO2 and other so-called greenhouse gases into the atmosphere each year. Greenhouse gases have been shown to accumulate in the atmosphere, causing climate change, also called global warming. By paying attention to more efficient use of energy, a business squeezes out waste while reducing its contribution to the release of CO2 gas. Whenever a company reduces waste, it saves money and enhances profits.

Here are two compelling examples provided by Hunter Lovins, of Natural Capitalism Solutions.

Dupont set a goal to reduce its carbon emissions 65% below its 1990 levels by 2010. They made this announcement in the name of increasing shareholder value. The company met their goal early, and are now over 80% below their 1990 levels of greenhouse gas emissions. Between 2000 and 2005, the waste-cutting saved them $3 billion. Andrew Winston, the author of “Green to Gold,” points out that between 2005 and 2007, Dupont’s annual savings from squeezing out waste was $2.2 billion a year. That was the same, those years, as their profitability. Here’s a company that’s profitable because it’s cutting emissions.

In another example, Swiss microchip maker ST Micro-electronics, set a goal of zero net greenhouse gas emissions by 2010 while increasing production 40-fold. At the time they made this announcement, they had no idea how to meet this goal. During the 1990s, its energy efficiency projects averaged a two-year payback (a nearly 71% after-tax rate of return). Making and delivering on this promise drove innovation and increased their market share. In 2004, the company moved from the number 12 micro-chip maker to number six. By the time ST meets its commitment of net-zero emissions, it estimates that it will have saved almost a billion dollars.

Sure, these examples from large corporations are impressive, but what about small business? A June 2006 article in Business Week by Byron Kennard, “Global Warming on Main Street,” is rather dire, noting that small businesses are especially vulnerable to climate disasters, including flooding and droughts. And yet, “There’s been virtually no research on what global warming means to small business, even though 23 million U.S. small businesses constitute one-half of the economy.”

It’s in the best interest of a small business owner, then, to lower its carbon emissions. Simple energy efficiency measures, such as installing programmable thermostats, upgrading lighting, turning off computers when not in use, and using water-saving faucets, can easily allow small businesses to save at least 30% on their energy bills.

Taking it up a notch, setting a really audacious goal of being carbon neutral by, say, 2015 is a great challenge that could inspire great innovation and engagement. A goal like that invites everyone in the company to contribute creative ideas. People who know they are helping a greater cause are naturally more involved and committed to success. Who knows? Maybe some businesses would even tie profit-sharing to reduced carbon emissions, to acknowledge the profitability of eliminating waste.

Even if you are skeptical about the causes or consequences of climate change, what’s not to like? Saving money from reduced waste and an engaged workforce innovating to solve problems goes directly to the bottom line.

If you need help mapping out a plan to save energy in your business, call on us! We have tips and training on how to reduce energy use around the office. Two articles to get you started:

Shift Your Mindset from Hell to Heaven Three steps to lowering carbon emissions.

Blueprint for a Green Business Start by benchmarking your carbon footprint and/or ecological footprint.

[Note: Information in paragraphs 5 and 6 of this article are from the paper, "The Business Case for Climate Protection," by Hunter Lovins, available on the Natural Capitalism Solutions website. Paragraph 4 is from an interview of Hunter Lovins by David Riordan on Integral Life.]


Shift your mindset from hell to heaven


How does the BP oil disaster affect our businesses? Its effects on businesses in the Gulf are obvious. As a savvy business owner, do you see its effects on your own? Sometimes the answer is so close, we just can’t see it.

As one way to light a candle, rather than curse the darkness, I offer this mindset shift.

In Ian McEwan’s book, “Solar,” a physicist tells the story of a man living in a rainy forest. The man is terribly thirsty. He has been cutting down trees to get at the sap, so he can quench his thirst. The destruction all around him is evidence of his desperate quest to find something to drink. Sure, he could just tilt up his head, open his mouth and let the rain in. Or he could make a bowl to catch the rain. But he’s just so good at cutting down trees. So that’s what he continues to do.

It’s an allegory of our quest for energy: we go to greater and greater lengths to dig up ancient trees and sunlight in the form of fossil fuels. And yet, the earth receives more energy from the sun in just one hour than the world uses in a whole year. But we are just so good at pulling up fossil fuels. So that’s what we continue to do.

One great distinction I’ve heard recently (in Tom Friedman’s book, “Hot, Flat, and Crowded“) is between fuels from hell (fossil fuels from the earth’s fiery crust) and fuels from heaven (solar, wind from the sky). We are living in such an interesting time; this shift from hell to heaven is taking place NOW.

To help you take advantage of this shift and contribute to your business success, here are:

Three tips to shift from hell to heaven

Tip #1: Measure Thyself. There’s that old adage, you can’t manage what you don’t measure. Awareness is the first step towards positive change. Your local utility very likely has a program to support businesses in reducing energy use. An audit is the best first step, as it gives you a baseline to measure progress.

Tip #2: Get Smart. Reduce your energy use as much as possible. Two suggestions: 1) Go around your office and plug everything into smart strips. Turn off strips with equipment that’s not in use. This goes for cell-phone chargers and anything with a bulky box at the plug end. These items use energy even when the device is turned off. 2) Lighting retrofits can save buckets of money. Contact a company like Alliance Energy Solutions for turn-key service. They package tax credits and other incentives, even zero-interest loans if you qualify, to make it very affordable. Then, you get to sit back and enjoy the savings from your new, highly efficient lighting.

Tip #3: Welcome the Sun. Two suggestions: 1) Buy Renewable Energy Credits (REC’s), either via your utility or through a third party like Clean Currents or WindCurrent. RECs go to fund wind turbines and solar installations that sell clean energy to the grid. 2) If you own your building, look into putting solar panels on the roof. Most solar installers offer pricing packages that roll in the various incentives from local, state, and federal programs. In some states, this makes the price of solar very attractive.

Were these tips helpful? Let us know. We’d love to hear what else you’re doing to welcome the sun.

Green Your Supply Chain: 7 Questions and 7 Tips

painting by: Peter Seidel

7 Questions to Ask When Considering Purchasing a Product or Material for Your Business:

1. Apply life-cycle thinking. This includes:

a. Does the product contain toxic materials?
b. Where do the raw materials come from and where is the product manufactured?
c. How much energy is used to extract and ship components or parts of a product?
d. How much energy, water and resources are used to create and package the product?
e. How can it be disposed of or recycled at the end of its useful life?
f. Are there any environmental or health impacts of its use?

2. Do you even need to purchase the product new? Sometimes a used item is just as good.

3. Exactly how much of it do you need? Don’t buy more than you need; this wastes money and resources.

4. What type of packaging does it come with? Environmentally-conscious companies are doing all sorts of creative things to green their packaging. This addresses the materials that packaging is made from, as well as the amount of it.

5. Is the product well-designed for its intended purpose? Often, cheaply made goods fall apart and are thrown away within 3 months of purchase.

6. Does the use of this product require special ventilation? If so, don’t buy it! There are plenty of alternatives for low- and no-VOC cleaning products, paints, and adhesives.

7. Depending on how far you want to take it, ask about labor practices. Does the manufacturer pay a living wage, do they give their employees benefits, do they have a diverse workforce? Do they contribute to their community? The social aspects of sustainability / green are sometimes overlooked, but have huge potential payoffs.

7 Tips:

1. Look for locally-produced and sourced products. This helps support your local economy, and reduces transportation-related environmental costs. Continued

16 Practical Tips for Saving Energy at Home

drawings by Alyssa Dennis

One of my favorite clients sent out long list of energy-saving tips after spending close to a year shaving her family’s energy use. Violaine Melancon is a musician who cares deeply about the environment and she got bitten by the energy efficiency bug. A good list is very satisfying, even if they have things you’re already doing, because that just makes you feel a bit smug. (Already doing! So in-the-know!)

A while back we wrote about this topic , aimed at reducing heating bills in winter. Here we present Violaine’s more comprehensive list, with links added by us for your convenience. Let us know what your experiences are with saving energy around your house.

1. Turn off lights! Use as little as you really need.

2. Change all the incandescent light bulbs you can to those funny-looking fluorescent ones.

3. Unplug appliances (washer, dryer, kitchen things like blender, toaster, hairdryer etc…) when not in use. This includes your cell-phone charger and any low-voltage lights that have those boxy AC adaptors on the plug end.

4. Turn off your computer when not in use and purchase a “smart strip" at SmartHomeUSA , which cuts the leaking current at the source. While you’re at it, purchase smart strips for the TV/DVD center and the sound system. All electronics still use a lot of power even when off. Continued

Ecobroker

photo arranged by: alyssa
Amanda Lopez was the first Ecobroker Certified real-estate agent in Baltimore City and County, specializing in energy efficiency and sustainable design of Baltimore properties. Lopez of City Life Realty located on West 36th St. focuses on already-established historic communities, such as Hampden, Belair-Edison, Dickeyville, Arcadia and Bolton Hill.

Checkout an artical in bnet

Wake Up, Freak Out, Get a Grip


Wake Up, Freak Out – then Get a Grip from Leo Murray on Vimeo .

Two friends told me about this last Friday, so I had to check it out. It’s an excellent tour of the "tipping point" effects of climate destabilization — something even the IPCC predictions don’t account for. Leo Murray’s animation and narration makes the very complex science of climate feedback easy to understand and visualize in stark terms. While it does give a glimpse into probable scenarios of species extinction, climate refugees, and other human misery, Murray also tells us it’s not inevitable. This is not the time to panic, he says — this is the time to ACT!

On a related note, David Orr came to Baltimore on October 1 to give a talk about climate change policy. He and a group of experts have been briefing the two presidential campaigns as part of the Presidential Climate Action Project . On their website, you can view and download policy papers on what the next Transition Team has to do in order to hit the ground running in the first 100 days in office. Look through their "Climate Action Briefs" on topics such as the role of small business in addressing climate change, national security in a changing environment, the moral case for energy efficiency, and the great potentials of a new "green" economy.

While it’s very good news that the best minds in the U.S. are coming together on this, Leo Murray’s video is a timely reminder that we have spent the last 20 years waiting for government and industry to fix this problem. The message is loud and clear: it is up to US to act, and we must act NOW.