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.


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!


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