Tackling the Carbon Challenge

June 20, 2011
Tracking and reducing your organization’s carbon footprint may be voluntary today, but it’s an exceptionally good idea

Tracking and reducing your organization’s carbon footprint may be voluntary today, but it’s an exceptionally good idea. The process will help you become more aware of your impacts and illuminate some less-obvious means of lowering emissions, as well as to prepare you in the event that emerging regulation mandates reporting.

Patrick Nye has approximately 10 years’ experience in renewable energy and carbon. He leads business development for the new Building Insights LLC at Green Building Services. Patrick can be reached at 866.755.6565 or [email protected].

Energy Picture
The percentage of fossil fuels that powers your facility depends on the regional mix of sources your electricity provider uses to generate power. While your facility may be at the mercy of the grid mix, you don’t have to be a victim. Here are some techniques to help you curb facility’s reliance on fossil fuels.

Track – and even automate – building energy use. Much of the gains in efficiency can be made in capital improvements such as lighting upgrades or thermal system improvements. However, there are also low-cost options that focus on getting building occupants to think about the energy they are consuming – simply getting occupants to turn off lights when a space is not in use or making sure to shut down their workstations at the end of  the day can add up to significant energy savings.

Improve your energy mix by adding renewable sources. For renewable energy, you could consider your own solar, wind or other renewable energy generation source on site. Investigate local, state, and federal incentives to help defray the costs. DSIRE is an excellent place to get initial information: www.dsireusa.org. You can also work with a Power Purchase Agreement (PPA) provider that will put a low-, or no-cost hosted solar system at your site and sell the energy to you at a firm rate under contract. Over time, not only will renewable generation reduce your operational energy costs, it will protect you from a volatile commodity marketplace. Energy prices frequently spike and having access to your own resource makes your future energy costs more reliable.

If creating your own renewable energy isn’t right for your organization, support its larger-scale production by purchasing utility green power or renewable energy certificates (RECs). This solution goes beyond the borders of your building to shift the marketplace and ultimately provides more reliable costs and less carbon emissions on the entire grid. Your utility may offer green power or you might consider buying RECs from a Green-e certified provider. RECs specifically target the purchase of renewable energy power, such as wind, solar, hydro, geothermal, and biomass to get these sources into the electricity grids and enhance market demand.

Your Footprint Beyond Energy
Although few companies delve into the level of detail associated with less apparent carbon emissions, this is greatly underestimated territory and some progressive companies do examine these impacts. For example, Portland, OR-based Green Building Services (GBS) discovered its biggest impact was the greenhouse gas emissions from employee travel – specifically air travel. GBS now tracks all employee air travel as part of its carbon footprint – seeing the impacts of air travel has moved the organization to employ more alternate technologies such as video conferencing, Web meeting strategies, and scheduling  individual trips together to reduce the number of departures and return trips, all as a way to reduce its travel footprint. Creating an internal minimum MPG standard or requirement for any vehicles rented by staff while on business travel can also help improve your organization’s emissions totals.

The Rose Garden Arena, the major league sports facility for the Portland Trail Blazers, also implements incentives and education surrounding alternative travel modes for employees and event attendees to reduce carbon impacts. In addition, the organization reduces, reuses, and recycles materials to lower carbon emissions associated with the embodied energy in source extraction, production, and transportation of waste materials.

Because facility managers know their occupants’ behavior, they are in an excellent position to lead the charge for change. Simply providing reusable mugs, cups, and clean water stations can significantly reduce a building’s waste stream and related emissions. According to the U.S. Government Accountability Office’s 2009 report on bottled water, 827,000 to 1.3 million tons of plastic PET water bottles were produced in the U.S. in 2006, requiring the energy equivalent of 50 million barrels of oil and 76% of these bottles ended up in landfills.

Bolster efforts to make double-sided copies throughout your building and reuse sheets to help lessen the 4,656 tons of office copy paper that gets transported to U.S landfills annually[1]. Encourage people to take their bikes to work with a creative incentive.

Different things appeal to different people so it’s critical to involve occupants in the creation of a variety of options so they can choose how they’d like to participate. When efforts are in place, track how they are affecting the building’s carbon emissions. All the small actions you champion for your organization will really add up. Report the findings to management and building occupants and jointly celebrate your successes.

Patrick Nye has approximately 10 years’ experience in renewable energy and carbon. He leads business development for the new Building Insights LLC at Green Building Services. Patrick can be reached at 866.755.6565 or [email protected].

[1] From Environmental Paper Network http://environmentalpaper.org/PAPER-statistics.html

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