Green your life at home, work & play

Energy conservation or energy efficiency? Or both? January 20, 2012

Saatchi & Saatchi’s  Strategy for Sustainability winter 2012 newsletter featured a recent article featured from the Guardian  that highlighted the fact that we now use 15 times more energy than we did prior to the industrial revolution. That shouldn’t come as a surprise considering that fossil fuels are involved in most activities – from growth and transportation of the food we eat, to the hot water for our shower, the fuel for our transportation (unless you walk or bike), and the power for our computers, phones, printers, etc… The article points out that although the majority of conversations are focused on finding alternative forms of energy supply, reducing energy demand is largely overlooked and should be something that is incentivized and regulated.

Speaking as someone who spends a lot of her time educating and encouraging organizations and individuals to reduce, reuse, repurpose and really, rethink, their energy, water, waste and product use, I agree that conservation is important. Regardless of whether you believe in Peak Oil or not, the fact remains that the earth’s population is increasing at an exponential pace – in the 1950’s, there were about 2.5 billion people on the planet, and now, a mere 60 years later, there are 7 billion. We are utilizing a finite resource and our needs are growing exponentially. Conservation is certainly important, as are finding alternative energy solutions.

Although it would be great for energy to be considered as a public good, as the article states, this will likely not happen in the near future, so energy conservation is one of the ways to stem the growth of energy use, at least for the short term.  Energy efficiency, of course, is a great first step in that discussion. Energy efficiency can reduce direct energy consumption by as much as 20-30%. Steps for this are more or less widely known – for commercial buildings, they range from switching to more energy efficient lighting, installing occupancy sensors and installing an energy management system, to looking at more holistic smart building solutions.

Once these measures are in place, it is time to look at energy conservation. This involves getting people on board – and this can be a tougher proposition, one that requires not only education but ongoing cheerleading, for lack of a better term. I have had CEOs and COOs tell me that their staff will ‘do as they are told’. Even if this is the case (which in most cases, it is not), obedience to mandated rules will be short-lived and will cause ill-will. I recently went to a Sustainable DC Energy Workgroup, one of nine workgroups convened with the end goal of providing an innovative plan to ‘make DC the greenest, healthiest, and most livable city in the nation’. The question was raised there as well –  ‘how can we get people to change their behavior – why is it so hard to do?’

That is a great question, and one that I find many organizations struggle with – once they realize the importance of it. Behavior change can add another 10-15% , if not more, in energy conservation, so it is certainly something that should not be ignored.  There are no easy solutions to successful behavior change.  Answers range from educating and incentivizing to recognizing to challenging individuals to conserve energy. It all depends on the organization’s culture –whether it is hierarchical or flat, its size, and its vision. These, among others, are all ingredients to the recipe that will, ideally, result in reduced energy consumption.

Another way to conserve energy, indirectly, is to look at the embodied energy from all the products that are used in a regular office environment or at home. This is a tougher one to measure, but, as a starting point, it can be addressed by following a couple of basic rules: simplify and buy ‘green’ products.

Simplifying means less stuff in your life – whether that is at your office or your home. It means thinking twice about whether something is really needed before you hit the ‘Buy’ button or put in a purchase order.  It means reusing items and again, rethinking.

As for buying ‘green’, this means what I’m sure many of you have already guessed – purchasing items that are made of 100% recycled content, that are sustainably harvested and produced, and that can be reused or repurposed.  The energy required to recycle a product is less than the energy required to make a new one.

So, conserving starts with getting people on board and simplifying processes and your life. And, although it sounds simple, it is tougher to do than installing energy efficient mechanical equipment, but it is just as important – if not more.


Begin Reducing Your Company’s Electric Bill September 19, 2011

Building waste accounts for 72% of the United States’ electricity consumption. In particular, office spaces consume the most energy of any type of commercial building1, emitting a significant amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) into the atmosphere. At present, there is no price for carbon, but this is bound to change as carbon taxes gain more support. By reducing your energy usage now, you will decrease operating costs and relieve your company’s vulnerability to increases in prices or CO2 regulation later.

If you have not yet taken steps to improving your energy efficiency, begin by determining your carbon foot print (note – this is one of many calculators and is provided as an example only). Track it through different installations and changes made in your office space so that you can see the difference impact measures make on your greenhouse gas emissions. Start with simple improvements, such as upgrading lighting systems, beforemaking large scale improvements.

Improve Your Lighting: Upgrading the lighting system of an entire building can have dramatic effects on your yearly operating costs. Make changes to the lighting system in your building before you make changes to the HVAC system since inefficient lighting produces a lot of heat waste, adding to the cost of air conditioning during the summer. Replace incandescent lights with more efficient compact florescent (CFL) or light emitting diodes (LED) lights. Encourage employees to turn lights off when leaving a room, but utilize dimmers and sensors in the office building to regulate lighting usage since it is difficult to change habits overnight.

Improving Your HVAC System: Before overhauling the HVAC systems in your building, reduce your heating and cooling requirements. Take simple steps such as cleaning and maintaining preexisting equipment, installing window treatments to block direct sunlight during the summer, and caulking cracks that let heat escape during the winter. Only after taking steps to reduce the amount of conditioning your space requires, look into more efficient systems. Investigate renewable sources of heat generation such as geothermal and solar heating, and make sure upgrades to the air conditioning units are appropriate for the size of the space.

Buying Energy Star:  Companies today need many different types of electronic devices in order to keep business running smoothly. Office equipment like computers, printers, copy machines, and digital displays shoulder much of the burden for the company’s carbon foot print; many of these products can be found with an Energy Star certificate. In particular, because of the immense amount of time workers spend on computers, ENERGY STAR computers are required to meet high standards while running, as well as while they are on standby and sleep mode. Use the Power Management settings to put the computer in to a lower-power state after business hours. For help selecting the best products for your newly green business, visit, the EPA Electronic Product Environmental Assessment Tool.

Visit other posts to learn about saving energy in a particular field of business: Greening RestaurantsSustainable Companies Achieve 200% ROI Per Bloomberg,  Eco-Friendly Conference Centers And Where to Find ThemBenefits of TeleworkCar Rental Takes A Turn For The SustainableWhat Do You Know About Clean Energy


Managing Water Risk in the Private Sector June 13, 2011

It is becoming increaDroughtsingly clear that lack of access to potable water will lead to one of the next major crises that we will face as a global community.  We are already witnessing the impacts of water scarcity in pockets around the world today, and this dilemma will only worsen with time.  While much of the focus surrounding water favors social and environmental issues, water is important to all sectors of modern society.  To remain competitive, businesses will need to assess the impact of water risk on investments.

Water risk is a lack of water that arises from water scarcity, water pollution, and water competition.  In the private sector, this risk can cause financial disruptions, increase costs, lead to revenue losses, and compromise growth.  Sectors most vulnerable to water risk include the food and beverage industry, the power industry, mining, and some manufacturing.  Water risk poses such a significant threat to business that last year the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) identified water as a potential material use that public companies should disclose to investors.

In line with the SEC’s sentiment, in 2010, the Coalition for Environmentally Responsible Economies (CERES) released a report studying corporate disclosure of water risk (view the full report).  The study looked at the water risk reporting of 100 publicly traded companies across eight of the most water-vulnerable sectors.  The report’s intention is for investors and companies to learn from the reporting practices of these 100 case studies and promote a better understanding of how water risk impacts a company’s operations, supply chains, and products.  But CERES was surprised to find that even in sectors most threatened by water risk, reporting on risk and corporate water performance is weak.  As water quality and scarcity becomes an even more severe issue, companies will be forced to take water risk more seriously.

Recognizing water’s relationship to future prosperity, the World Resources Institute (WRI), in partnership with Goldman Sachs’ Center for Environmental Markets and General Electric, is developing a Water Index to chart water risk across regions and sectors.  The Water Index will help investors understand and forecast water’s impact on businesses and investments.

The Water Index will rely on publicly available data provide information on water quality and water scarcity indicators.  This data will be presented spatially on interactive map overlays that allow users to compare and combine risk scenarios.  Because water is a local issue, risks will vary by region and sector.  Although some groups have attempted to calculate companies’ water footprints, this is one of the first attempts at quantifying water’s impact on companies.

The pilot project will focus on the water risks of thermal power generation in China.  WRI and its partners hope to highlight potentials for reducing water risk in this sector by providing recommendations for making the sector less vulnerable.  This pilot is just the start of what may prove to be an instrumental tool for aiding corporate water risk reporting and for businesses to ensure future growth and success.


United Nations Launches Global Compact LEAD Program March 9, 2011

It is easy to mouth the words “sustainable development”, but to make it happen we have to be prepared to make major changes — in our lifestyles, our economic models, our social organization, and our political life.

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon

On January 28, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon launched the Global Compact LEAD program. This group of 54 companies is making a commitment to adopt ambitious sustainability roadmaps and demonstrate leadership in tackling global challenges. Global Compact LEAD is a platform created to increase environmental, social and governance performance, and set new corporate sustainability benchmarks.

Participating companies include Coca-Cola, Accenture, Intel, Daimler, Heineken, Nestle, and Siemens. Click here to view a full list of global participants. The companies have committed to implementing the Blueprint for Corporate Sustainability Leadership. Created in 2010, this is a roadmap that outlines roughly 50 concrete actions that businesses can take to achieve greater sustainability.

The blueprint offers an action plan in three core areas: integrating the Global Compact ten principles into strategies and operations, taking action in support of broader UN goals and issues, and engaging with the Global Compact. The blueprint identifies best practices in each of these dimensions, and can be viewed in six different languages.

The LEAD initiative also includes collaboration among local networks in more than 90 countries. Participants will work actively with UN agencies, funds and programs. According to the UN website, the first two years of Global Compact LEAD (2011-2012) will be considered a pilot phase and allows for LEAD members to shape and refine the platform’s services and programs.

The 54 companies were invited to join the program based on a history of engagement with the UN Global Compact, either locally or globally. Since its creation in 2000, Global Compact is the world’s largest corporate responsibility initiative and commits business to align their operations and strategies with 10 universally accepted principles in the areas of human rights, labor, environment and anti-corruption.

For more information:


A Change in Behavior for Sustainability February 27, 2011

A couple of weeks ago I attended the Business Response to Climate Change: CleanTech Panel at George Washington University. All of the panelists seemed to agree on many important points that will make sustainability economically and socially viable, among which two particularly stood out to me: 1) we cannot depend on one solution and 2) we have not yet found a ground-breaking development that will make sustainability go global. The first one is just a reiteration of what I had always thought and been told by many people. We cannot depend on one source to sustain population growth, with all its social, environmental and economical implications.

On the other hand, I had not really though of the urge of developing some ground-breaking technology that will make sustainability accessible to everyone, and, additionally, everyone has to want to implement it. This is where the greatest challenge stands: in making green technology available to people no matter what their economic status and changing their behavior into adapting sustainable measures in their everyday lives.

One of the most difficult achievements of the green movement is to get people to integrate environmental initiatives in their daily lives by breaking the barriers of engagement. Changing behavior is not an easy task, and humans tend to follow patterns and avoid change. In order to wedge in sustainable change in the workplace, employers must be creative. They must implement solutions that might not be business-related but that will result in changing behavior and improve sustainability indirectly through other activities.

An example of a long-term initiative is to ask staff to make two or three resolutions for going green at home. Ask them to write them down and put them in a self-addressed, stamped envelope. Seal the envelope and send it to them after an agreed-upon period of time, such as three or six months. This assumes, of course, that participants are willing to learn and to self-motivate. This activity should be undertaken after some basic education (see past blog on this) on the benefits of going green has been provided to participants.

Aside from incentives (see past blog on this), having fun is a great way to change behavior.  Volkswagen used the fun theory to increase use of stairs and trash disposal. Besides being a marketing stunt to promote Volkswagen as a brand for sustainability, fun theory provides some creative ways to change people’s behavior for the better. Click here to see more!


Congratulations to the SmartCEO EcoCEO winners! November 19, 2010

It is always great to see organizations that are taking action to become more environmentally sustainable be acknowledged. There are many awards that have been created over the last few years to recognize these organizations. In the Washington DC area, the Washington Business Journal, SmartCEO magazine, and the DC Mayor’s office are examples of organizations that have created such recognition opportunities.

The Washington Business Journal’s Greater Washington Green Business Awards was held in October to recognize companies as well as educate them. To see some tips from the event as well as a the winners, click here.

The SmartCEO EcoCEO award was held this past November. We wanted to congratulate four of our clients, who won in their respective categories. These are:

The Mayor’s Environmental Excellence Awards was held in February and is coming around again soon. Since we are at it, we would also like to congratulate Busboys and Poets, our first client (in 2006), for winning the award in their category for 2010.


The Fun Green Museum – Trash! July 8, 2010

Although all green museums are fun, the Trash Museum in Hartford CT, and the Garbage Museum in Stratford CT managed by the Connecticut Resources Recovery Authority are particularly geared towards making information about landfill-destined waste interesting and engaging.

Proud owners of the Trash-O-Saurus and the Temple of Trash (made from more than a ton of salvaged trash), these museums run environmental and recycling educational programs including suggestions on how to implement recycling at home. Besides tours of recycling facilities lead by trained educators, the museums run school and community programs, their overall attendance reaching nearly 60,000.

These museums run on a fraction of the budget of large-scale centers such as the California Academy of Sciences, and yet have a widespread tangible, positive impact on their communities. More museums need to take on the responsibility of teaching their patrons about practical skills for improving their everyday lives.

Note: Photo by


%d bloggers like this: