No More Excuses for Not Becoming Energy Efficiency

I’ve been seeing blogs and other news articles at the national level make statements that we have exhausted our efforts on being more energy efficient as a country, that most businesses have addressed all the low hanging fruit.  That is so not true.  Even our building which has been Energy Star certified for 5 years now we have been working on an energy reduction plan for 2014 – 2015 and we have again learned that we can probably reduce our energy usage by at least another 50…% because of technological advances in lighting since 5-6 years ago and other low hanging, low cost upgrades.  It is not something you can say you have accomplished and there is no more room for improvement – that is why you need someone to focus on this.  Waste reduction is the same situation.  Now solar has become very reasonably priced so there is even a good chance that we could generate on-site the remaining energy that we may need and become a net zero electric usage building.  Why would a business not want to add that money that is paid for utilities and waste right to their bottom line?  I’ve also been in several presentations by our utility companies and have heard them say that commercial building owners in Muskegon have not taken advantage of the business solution incentives like in our neighboring counties.  So I challenge all building owners/managers everywhere in West Michigan to join the Battle of the Buildings and let’s get it done – there are no excuses.  http://www.usgbcwm.org/battle.php

2014 Sustainability Trends (2 of 10)

I finally spent some time reading the “State of Green Business 2014” which is published each year by www.greenbiz.com  and sustainability metrics and indicators is the major story line and I’ve read that in many reports and articles.  About two years ago I started using a Sustainability Dashboard and so far that has served us well.  www.green2sustainable.com

The report introduces ten key trends for 2014 and I will briefly comment on two of them every few days this week:

1.  Collaboration Becomes An Accelerator: We have a great example here in West Michigan where competing manufacturers joined forces voluntarily to drive the supply chain and created BIFMA’s (Business + Institutional Furniture Manufacturers Association) e3 Sustainability Standard (http://www.bifma.org/?page=sustainability)  Another example: the Global Roundtable on Sustainable Beef involving members of the entire beef value chain along with leading nonprofits setting the principles and criteria for sustainable beef.

2.  Chemical Transparency: Did you know there were more than 85,000 chemicals in commerce in the U.S. alone?  About 2,000 new chemicals are introduced into commerce annually in the U.S. – that is about six new chemicals every day.  Research everyday is discovering the dangers to humans and the environment from many of these chemicals.  Walmart and Target have been driving the retail market to approach these issues head-on.  In 2014 ten priority chemicals will be named with a requirement to disclose ingredients and remove priority hazardous chemicals.  In California, the Department of Toxic Substances Control by April will select up to five “priority products” for manufacturers to reformulate into safer products using green chemistry and I’ve heard that if a manufacturer refuses to do this, they will not be allowed to sell their products in California.  I am keeping a close eye on this one as the commercial cleaning industry has manufacturers that won’t go with the 3rd party green certification path because they don’t want to expose their list of ingredients for trade secret reasons, so this will all be very interesting.  If manufacturers refuse, opportunities will be created for others.

Next post I will talk about the next two:

3.  Water as a Risk Factor

4.  Shadow Pricing

We Only Have Once Chance At This

I heard Sandra Steingraber speak today at Women and the Environment hosted by WMEAC.  Despite what you hear horizontal fracking has not been around for years and there are way too many unknowns as well as issues that have already been identified as problems to allow this to happen.  Besides all of the human health  and environmental issues which to me are the most important, property values will decline (they already are in areas where fracking is happening).  Also do not belie…ve the reason that some use to justify that it will help us become independent of foreign oil, the expectation is that natural gas will be sold and exported for higher prices in Europe, China and the like.  It will not help the U.S. only those large corporations that will be extracting and selling.
My other thought here in Michigan and the activity that is going on with fracking and the focus on the Muskegon port development – my gut tells me that we are a target for natural gas export port.
I’ll share more as I learn more.  I will share just a few things today –
1)  silica sand is used in the process – just Google the dangers of silica sand to human health.
2) Only 1% of the earth’s fresh water is available for human consumption, 20% of that resides in the Great Lakes.  While industry and even the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality has been claiming that each horizontal frack well uses about 5 million gallons of water, we now know from recent reports from the industry itself that Michigan’s frack wells are using way more than that—as much as 16 to 21 million gallons “per frack.” One well pad used 42 million gallons. See: “Michigan’s 21-Gallon Frack Job: A National Record?” at www.banmichiganfracking.org.
3) Then there is the issue of waste water created from fracking.  There is absolutely no technology today available to restore that water back to potable water that can be used by humans.  The state of Ohio has become a dumping site for toxic water from this process.  Just this week I saw an article where someone is proposed that this be used for road construction materials.  It seems that those involved in pro fracking think that the general public is stupid and that they can move things along quickly before anyone realizes what is happening.
Read Sandra’s blog post. Educate yourself.  There should be nothing political about this issue – it is common sense when you read about the science of the process and the dangers and for what, cheap gas that will be exported to benefit a few, not you, not your local communities or the U.S. .  Are we going to allow this in Michigan?  Two years ago there were 2 permitted wells in Michigan – today there are 53.  We must stop this.  See More

Employee Engagement and Sustainability

I do believe that most people care about sustainability efforts: economics, people and the environment and it sure is a lot easier to reach goals when everyone is engaged in the process.  When you have all three of these cylinders balanced, you have prosperity!  In my role of sustainability at our company, many times I have felt like I am alone on this boat, rowing and rowing all by myself.  I know I am not the only one in this type of role that has felt that way.  I am often approached by colleagues in the West Michigan area in similar type roles asking to meet and just chat because they feel the need for peer support and they don’t necessarily get that internally.  Here are a few ways that I do believe you can get more people involved in your efforts:

  • Post your sustainability goals so they are visible to everyone.  I established a “Zero Waste to Landfill” goal for 2014.  I cannot do that alone, everyone in the company has an impact on that goal.  I better be letting everyone know that and keep them in the know on our progress throughout the year.  Visual ways to demonstrate this are great and there are several ways you might be able to communicate that:  Company Intranet, bulletin boards, electronic kiosk, company newsletter, updates at company meetings or team meetings.  Remember it takes at least seven times for people to hear something before they start to absorb it.
  • Share utility information with everyone.  Preferably in a graph or nice format that is easy to read.  If you are tracking this information in EPA’s Energy Star Portfolio Manager (http://www.energystar.gov/) you are able to generate reports.  There are web-based dashboards and we use the Sustainability Dashboard tool https://www.green2sustainable.com/
  • Offer lunch and learn educational opportunities.  These seem to be successful especially if you can offer information and tips that can also be applied at home.
  • Creative a competitive environment amongst departments.  This could especially be helpful with energy conservation efforts.  Provide tools like decals or sticky notes for employees to use to remind others to turn off computers for example.
  • Provide tours of your building talking about the sustainability features
  • Get employees involved in your waste audits
  • Solicit suggestions from employees on improvements they recommend

Those are a few ways I have tried to engage our associates/employees.  The more frequent you do some of these things, the more engagement you will experience.  I speak to this from first hand experience.  I will admit that I have not been consistent about doing this and I definitely have found when I do, the participation goes up, when I don’t, it disappears.  So 2014 I have committed to practicing what I preach!

Battle of the Buildings West Michigan Style

Are you ready to rumble with us?  Calling all commercial buildings anywhere west of US127 from the Indiana border to the Mackinac Bridge and all of the Upper Peninsula to join us for Battle of the Buildings West Michigan style!  The competition will run the entire 2014 year and is focused on energy reduction year 2014 over 2013 – The Biggest Loser wins!  Already more than 1,000,000 square feet of buildings are committed to work towards a loose!  Check it out here Battle of the Buildings

In the news:

http://www.mlive.com/business/west-michigan/index.ssf/2014/01/us_green_building_council_spon.html

http://mibiz.com/news/design-build/item/21237-local-usgbc-chapter-launches-battle-of-the-buildings

Green Buildings Directly Related to Public Health

For more than a decade West Michigan, specifically Grand Rapids has been in a leadership role in the green building movement that has swept the world.  Leaders in the office furniture industry as well as the design and construction industry paved the way which lead to many of the first green buildings in the world.  Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) is a 3rd party green building standard that is transforming the way the built environment designs, constructs and maintains all buildings and communities.   LEED is a green building tool that addresses the entire building lifecycle recognizing best-in-class building strategies.  More information on LEED can be obtained on the U.S. Green Building website.

One of the major oppositions I heard about LEED is the cost to obtain.  Comments like that typically come from those that don’t understand LEED, those that have little or no experience with it, or those that are not looking at the total cost of ownership of a building and only concerned with getting a building constructed or renovated at the lowest possible cost without concern for the people that will live and work in the building or the environment.

Time and time again I hear the successes of improved productivity, improved health, reduced energy usage expectations, lower water usage than traditional buildings and landscapes and there are many of those stories documented for others to read.

Many communities in Michigan have received grant money to address storm water run off in their communities.  We continue to pour money into addressing this issue on the back end – why do most of the design and construction teams along the lakeshore of Lake Michigan choose to ignore that issue and avoid even exploring new technologies?

We are very fortunate to have Grand Rapids leading in this way and a Mayor (Mayor George Heartwell) who understands it, promotes it, works to change zoning ordinances in his city and implements plans for a brighter future where green building is the standard and not the exception.  Health is directly related to the built environment and we must stop building buildings that are toxic and harmful to people and the environment. It is all related.  A good read : Public Health and the Built Environment How Architects Can Design for Better Public Health

My hope is that the rest of West Michigan will someday realize that public health is directly related to the way we design and construct our communities and buildings and that money will no longer take precedence over health and the environment.  Short sided thinking will not make an attractive community for a younger generation either.

Pay the Utility Companies Or Pay Yourself – You Decide

Last week I coordinated an Energy Efficiency Briefing for the Muskegon Area Sustainability Coalition specifically for K-12, higher education, government and non-profit building owners.  I see low hanging fruit opportunities every day in my travels while working with all of them. While many are encouraging alternative energy options – good old energy efficiency should come first.  So the agenda looked like this:

  1. Rebuild Michigan – there is a program offered by the Michigan Department of Energy for all of the above in addition to small commercial buildings less than 30,000 SF to come in and do an energy audit for up to 10 buildings.  Rebuild Michigan provides preliminary energy audits and related project support services to enrolled clients.  You must be able to provide 12 months worth of energy usage data.
  2. Green Revolving Funds – Next we heard from Dr. Matt Heun from Calvin College on how they established a Green Revolving Fund.  They put some seed money into it and then as they invested in energy efficiency upgrades, the savings calculated from those upgrades were reinvested into the fund to be able to do more projects.  There are other great examples of organizations that have established Green Revolving Funds or another name is Paid From Savings in West Michigan.  These can be established in any organization or business.  There is also a challenge out there for colleges and universities across the country to establish this type of system called Billion Dollar Green Challenge  Dr. Heun’s statement “Would you rather pay the utility company or pay yourself, you decide.” really resonated with me.  Here is a link to an interview with Shelley Irwin (WGVU Morning Show) interviewing Matt on January 15, 2014 http://www.wgvu.org/wgvunews/audio/fplayer1.cfm?styid=24717
  3. Consumers Energy and other utility company incentive plans was next up.  For several yeas now anyone paying for electric and natural gas in Michigan as been paying a fee towards a fund and all utility providers have been offering an incentive program to those that choose to implement qualified energy efficiency upgrades.  Consumers Energy program for 2014 has changed and new categories or projects within categories have been added.  So worth exploring.  I learned about possible projects that we should explore this year.  Don’t wait however as this ends after 2015 unless it is renewed and if you are not using the incentives all of that money is being distributed, so your neighbors are.
  4. Michigan Saves:  What if you could save hundreds on your monthly energy costs? With Michigan Saves financing up to $250,000, you can power your business with less energy by upgrading your facility and equipment.  A low-cost financing option however we should think of this as more of an investment and not financing.  We are investing now and immediately will start to save dollars.
  5. US Green Building Council West Michigan Chapter presents Battle of the Buildings Competition.  A Biggest Loser style competition for energy savings that will run the entire year of 2014.  Register on their website and you will need to use the EPA’s Energy Star Portfolio Manager tool (free) to report your energy usage data.  This free tool is easy to use and allows you to benchmark your building against similar buildings or to benchmark against your own building(s).  Join in the challenge – are you ready to rumble?  There will be workshops offered to Battle participants throughout the year, energy audits will be given away, and publicity and recognition throughout the year and a big celebration at the end of this competition.

Even though our company has been on this journey for awhile, it gave me new ideas to explore.  We have an energy score of 87 now which is great but there is still low hanging fruit and then we can talk about alternative energy to power our building and operations.