Editor's Letter

April 22, 2013
Green Thumbs and Granularity

Some people just have a green thumb for clichés and buzzwords. Many of these people are public relations writers who send me email every week.

These writers are often short on specifics but long on buzzwords like iconic, enterprise-wide, best-of-breed, envisioneer, world-class and collaborative solution. Sometimes they try to hit it out of the park by concentrating a number of overused words into swaggering juggernauts like “This iconic firm has birthed its integrated solution from enterprise-wide, cross-functional big data.” Striving hard to write outside of the box (there’s an oldie but a goodie!), they don’t recognize that such sentences merely kick the clichés (and the meaning) down the road.

I can’t get any traction on the meaning of many clichés, like evidence-based design (as opposed to, say, folly-based design?), client-focused consulting firm (as opposed to consultants who ignore the client?), or the firm that is passionate about its work (keep your shirt on!). Some clichés had a nub of meaning in their original contexts, but once these horses were out of the barn and running free in the spacious pastures of clichédom, the meaning was gone. In fact, recent brain imaging shows that a cliché like green thumb doesn’t even trigger the part of the brain that deciphers metaphorical language but instead activates only the mental dictionary.

My pet peeve of the month is granular, a fuzzy word that was in vogue with speakers at a recent energy conference. Its exact meaning is still obscure to me — and, I suspect, to many of its users — but it refers to a level of detail that is a good thing, the opposite of the bad thing that is meant when someone says, “don’t bore me with the details.” In the field of energy management, it denotes a level of data and control that an energy manager can put to good use.

In this issue you will find two energy managers who pay close attention to the details and who have profited as a result. Ron Marinelli of the Hackettstown Public School District has taken granular control of his schools’ energy management, while Paul Quinn of Duke Realty has a granular, mile-wide but inch-deep approach that is reaping savings at more than 100 office buildings in his REIT’s portfolio. There’s gold in those grains.

While I can’t bring myself to use the word except in a tongue-in-cheek fashion, I think that we will be hearing more about granular energy data in the near future, and that is a good thing. In fact, I would take that to the bank rather than with a grain of salt.  

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