Since the 1980s, the most widely quoted definition of sustainability is “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” We frequently hear about sustainability in terms of reducing a carbon footprint. A carbon footprint is the total set of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions caused by an organization, event, product or person.
Greenhouse gases can be emitted through transport, land clearance, and the production and consumption of food, fuels, manufactured goods, materials, wood, roads, buildings and services. For simplicity of reporting, it is often expressed in terms of the amount of carbon dioxide, or CO2, emitted.
It is a widely accepted view that the most effective way to decrease a carbon footprint is either to decrease the amount of energy needed, or to decrease one’s dependence on carbon emitting fuels.
The Europeans have been at the forefront of sustainability. They were the first to adopt a system for carbon credits back in 2005. Carbon credits refer to the European Union Emissions Trading System (EU ETS), the largest multi-national emissions trading scheme in the world and representing a major pillar of EU climate policy. The EU ETS currently covers more than 10,000 installations with a net heat excess of 20 MW in the energy and industrial sectors which are collectively responsible for close to half of the EU’s emissions of CO2 and 40% of its total greenhouse gas emissions. Under the EU ETS, operators buy carbon credits. If an operator performs well at reducing its carbon emissions, it has the opportunity to sell its credits and make a profit. The system allows exchanges without a great deal of government intervention. In the U.S., traction has been slower. North America’s only voluntary, legally binding trading system, the Chicago Climate Exchange, ceased operations in 2010. And earlier this year, another trading system operated by the Chicago Climate Futures Exchange discontinued the last of its contracts.
Do corporations find sustainability important?
You bet. And the reason is, for publicly traded companies, that sustainability creates long-term shareholder value by embracing opportunities and managing risks derived from economic, environmental and social developments – the three pillars of sustainability. Because this “long view” strategy is embraced in the boardrooms at the top, it is very likely that it is also important at the bottom.
Sustainability is even measured on Wall Street. Sustainability performance is an investable concept. The Dow Jones Sustainability Index, for example, was launched in 1999 and follows a best-in-class approach to list companies across all industries that outperform their peers in numerous sustainability metrics.
And amid recent job woes, at least one position seems to be gaining currency: the chief sustainability officer (CSO). Last year, Coca Cola, the multinational beverage giant, announced that it was appointing its first-ever chief sustainability officer as part of an effort to reduce carbon emissions and save energy. A number of other companies, including UPS, SAP, Sun Microsystems, Google, Georgia Pacific, Duke Energy and DuPont, already have Chief Sustainability Officers (CSOs) which report directly to the chief executive. Other companies, like Nestle, Dell, Unico and Nike have appointed Sustainability Directors which are also high level positions reporting to the top. These positions are more than just someone serving a role within an organization. These people are empowered to lead initiatives across other business lines.
Often, streamlining the energy performance benchmarking process is one of the first hurdles tackled by new sustainability departments. Property managers and engineers become particularly critical to these efforts. Engineers become responsible for identifying all the things that can be done to buildings to improve energy efficiency. Sustainability departments also provide a way for property managers and engineers to communicate with each other, sharing goals, experiences, lessons learned, and information about new concepts and technologies. For example, Seattle-based real estate investment and operating company Unico Properties LLC holds weekly LEED meetings, weekly engineering meetings, and quarterly chief engineer meetings at which they review sustainability ideas and goals. This process ensures that environmental issues stay in the forefront.
Coca Cola Enterprises has published specific goals of reducing carbon emissions from manufacturing to 5% below 2004 levels by 2015, and ultimately recycling the equivalent of 100% of its packaging. DuPont plans to reduce CO2 emissions at least 15% by 2015 from a base year of 2004. UPS plans to reduce carbon emissions in more than just its airline and vast truck fleet. For example, in 2009, UPS’s multi-year lighting upgrade program replaced or upgraded 22,683 fixtures. The total since 2007 is more than 69,000 fixtures upgraded, with an estimated annual energy savings of 25 million kilowatt hours.
A challenge for commercial buildings
Several years ago, BOMA International established the Market Transformation Energy Plan and 7-Point Challenge to reduce energy consumption in commercial buildings by 30 percent by 2012.
In just over five years, the response to the challenge has been overwhelming. Over 120 BOMA member companies and BOMA local associations have endorsed the challenge, making improved energy performance a priority. Several local governments have also embraced the challenge, with endorsements from the mayors of Albuquerque, Denver, Orlando, Orange County, FL and Phoenix.
The goals of the challenge are representative of what other corporations are doing to meet sustainability objectives:
- Continue to work towards a goal to decrease energy consumption by 30 percent across company portfolios – as measured against an “average building” measuring a 50 on the ENERGY STAR® benchmarking tool.
- At least once a year, benchmark energy performance and water usage through EPA’s ENERGY STAR benchmarking tool;
- Provide education to managers, engineers, and others involved in building operations, to ensure that equipment is properly maintained and utilized;
- Perform an energy audit and/or retro-commissioning of buildings, and implement low-risk, low-cost and cost effective strategies to improve energy efficiency with high returns;
- Extend equipment life by improving the operations and maintenance of building systems and ensure equipment is operating as designed;
- Through leadership, positively impact your community and planet by helping to reduce your industry’s role in global warming; and
- Position yourself and the industry as leaders and solution providers to owners and tenants seeking environmental and operational excellence.
Successful sustainability practices require comprehensive strategies that extend to all aspects of the business — from the board room to employees to suppliers. Companies with CSOs and/or Sustainability Directors are actively looking for solutions. Some of the best solutions may not be easy to see. Filtration, for example, is an excellent way to reduce carbon footprints. Some air cleaning systems, like those available from Dynamic Air Quality Solutions, can help reduce their carbon footprint and lower CO2 emissions by reducing fan horsepower. Additionally, high efficiency air cleaners can reduce ventilation air requirements. These two things can have enormous impacts on energy consumption. To learn more about the sustainable attributes of Dynamic Air Cleaners, visit www.DynamicAQS.com/commercial.
The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author Robert F. Goodfellow, is Vice President of Marketing with Dynamic Air Quality Solutions and a certified indoor air quality professional with over twenty years experience in the heating, ventilation, air conditioning and refrigeration industry. Contact him at rgoodfellow@DynamicAQS.com