Tag Archives: sustainability

Certified Green Homes Can be Even More Green Through Occupant Involvement

For homeowners choosing to purchase a new home, or design and build their new home, there are a plethora of green building certifications from which to choose. From NAHB’s National Green Building Standard, to the EPA’s ENERGY STAR Homes program, to the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) for Homes, to Green Globes, those opting to reduce their carbon footprint through sustainable design and conscientious construction methods have the luxury of a great first step toward attaining their goals through green building standards that have been researched, adapted, and improved upon during the past ten to twenty years. However, a certified green home is only as green as its occupants, and homeowners of less efficiently built homes and older existing homes, as well as renters, also have the power to make a significant impact through their daily energy and transportation habits in addition to their choice of appliances, lighting, and plumbing fixtures.

A thoughtfully designed, beautifully constructed new home that is built in strict adherence to the EPA’s ENERGY STAR Homes program requirements indeed has the potential to pave the way toward a sea change in residential construction practices and heightened levels of sustainable living. Many homeowners of ENERGY STAR certified homes choose lifestyles and behaviors that parallel their energy efficient home. Indeed, a visit to the EPA’s signature program’s website shows just how much carbon dioxide an ENERGY STAR home can save. But can this home have its environmental attributes torpedoed by a homeowner that opts for incandescent lighting fixtures instead of compact fluorescent or LED luminaires, constantly runs electrical appliances (even while no one is home), or chooses a thirsty, single occupancy vehicle over a bicycle for a short trip to the grocery store?

It is vital to “walk the walk” as we build green and continue to up the ante in residential energy efficiency. Increased levels of homeowner education and awareness will greatly contribute to the effectiveness of a green home. And how about the homeowner of the older, existing home in need of some energy efficiency retrofits, or the renter of an apartment? Are they to assume that they are unable to contribute to global carbon emission reductions, that they cannot lead sustainable lifestyles in their current housing?

Like the well-known Chinese proverb, the journey toward an environmentally friendly home and reduced carbon footprint begins with small steps. Changing out inefficient lighting, installing high-efficiency plumbing fixtures, insulating a tank water heater and hot water piping, opting for a ceiling or floor fan in lieu of the window unit air conditioner, caulking around windows (for renters, there is even rope caulk, a non-permanent product) and adding weather stripping to doors, adjusting set points of thermostats during heating and cooling seasons, choosing mass transit, or talking to a landlord about the benefits of an ENERGY STAR refrigerator are all ways that those with older homes or apartments can tread lightly despite having a less-than-airtight, under-insulated home.

As residential construction methods continue to improve and green building certifications become more and more prevalent, the proverbial rubber meets the road of sustainable living when it comes to the occupant’s behaviors and daily choices.

Advertisements

Sustainable Schools: College and University Involvement in the Green Movement

Zach Powers, a student at Elon who interned with us this summer, wrote this powerful piece about the benefits of green college campuses: 

While the complex relationship between human activity and environmental integrity has received greater and greater attention in the scientific and policy-making arenas, it is also garnering attention outside of Washington in the form of organizations and important stakeholders, specifically academia.

Colleges and universities have become part of the green movement for multiple reasons. First, as bodies of academic focus and meccas of professional thinkers, institutions of higher education serve as ideal environments in which to explore the multitude of issues surrounding the “green” movement. Secondly, “since college and university campuses are effectively small cities, they are an ideal scale for exploring innovative approaches to the reduction of carbon footprints” (St. Arnaud et. al). As a result, many schools have voluntarily assumed the role of “experimental, living laboratories of the ‘greener’ future”, from which society at large can benefit. This is exemplified by the emergence of sustainability master plans at schools, often citing policy changes in new building techniques and criteria, transportation changes, and alternative methods of energy production, among others.

Schools around the country are signing onto the American College and University President’s Climate Commitment (ACUPCC), thereby pledging to (1) initiate the development of a comprehensive plan to achieve climate neutrality as soon as possible (2) initiate two or more from a list of tangible actions to reduce greenhouse gases while the more comprehensive plan is being developed [see website below] (3) make the action plan, inventory, and periodic progress reports publicly available by submitting them to the ACUPCC Reporting System for posting and dissemination.

North Carolina, specifically, has 117 public schools alone. The possible benefits of reducing their carbon footprint could be substantial, and may also include improvements to air quality for the state, which currently ranks among the worst in the U.S. in regards to air quality. According to the OSBM.state.nc website, the projected North Carolina population for July 2020 is 11,039,342. These levels are expected to rise an additional 12.9% by July 2030, bringing the total population to around 12.5 million people less than twenty years from today (the current population is around 9.5 million). Such rapid growth has prompted North Carolina to begin construction on 3 new coal-fired power plants (which emit half of the total air pollution in NC) and consider hydraulic fracturing to obtain natural gas. Another benefit to North Carolina universities committing to sustainability may be the generation of job opportunities, as schools require construction, 1st and 3rd verifiers, and “up fitting”. Research and best practices can be determined and improved in the famed Research Triangle as well as the other hundred schools, further increasing the potential impact of sustainable, cost-saving practices while demonstrating the prominence of North Carolina higher education.

ESG Energy recently joined the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE) in an attempt to create a partnership that helps colleges’ and universities’ carbon, energy and water reduction plans come to fruition. To learn more about the topics covered in this blog item you can check out the following websites:

http://presidentsclimatecommitment.org/about/commitment

– ACUPCC

http://www.eia.gov/state/state-energy-profiles-data.cfm?sid=NC#Economy

– General Information on NC (economy, demographics, energy etc.)

http://www.bizjournals.com/triangle/news/2011/07/20/report-north-carolina-has-no-10th.html

– Air Quality in North Carolina

http://www.osbm.state.nc.us/ncosbm/facts_and_figures/socioeconomic_data/population_estimates/county_estimates.shtm

– North Carolina Population Growth

Leasing Space? Reduce the Carbon Footprint of Your Business While Increasing Your Bottom Line

Read Craig’s latest post on the Greensboro Partnership blog.

Sustainability Spending on the Rise

Although the financial crisis has brought business investment to what seems like a crawl, business are spending money on sustainability activities as recently shown by the 2nd annual Sustainability & Innovation Global Executive Study.

This collaboration between the MIT Sloan Management Review and the Boston Consulting Group found that respondents to the survey expet their spending to grow further in the coming year.

The Question: How has your organization’s commitment to sustainability changed in the past year?

The majority of respondents have ‘somewhat increased’ or ‘significantly increased” investment and activities in sustainability. The greatest increase in the chart above is for significantly increasing commitment for the next year, which rose by nearly a third from 17% to last year to 22% for the coming year.

This begs the question, are businesses spending more on sustainability, or simply spending more in general as the economy improves?

Responses to other survey questions suggest that business owners are giving sustainability more attention, even though they do not see a short-term reward. This statistic is not surprising, according to Peter Graf, chief sustainability officer of the software giant SAP. Graf says that making the business case for investment in sustainability at SAP involved careful strategy, including lots of short e-mails about the topic & individual 2-hour meetings with key players to focus their interest. This sounds a lot like the method an adult uses to convince teenagers to do something the adult knows will be beneficial in the long run.

“When the board met as a group, it was, arguably, the best-prepared board meeting I’ve ever been at,” Graf told MIT SMR in an interview last fall. “It was a complete home run. One person said, ‘We’re having the conversation here that I have with my kids at every dinner.’ I was surprised how strong their commitment was and how immediate their agreement was that we have to adopt a long-term strategic focus on sustainability.”

The trend is clear – business executives see value in putting resources into sustainable initiatives.