Engineering Sustainable Change
From energy costs to strains on the electrical grid, energy efficiency has had longstanding support, funding, and has seen more significant technological advancements than other areas of sustainability.
So, what can we learn from energy advancements and how can we apply it to areas like land use planning, water conservation and waste reduction?
Follow the Money
Make the business case for sustainability and watch the bottom line. Sustainability must be something that can endure – and let’s face it, in America’s capitalist economy nothing can endure if it doesn’t make financial sense. By focusing on implementing sustainability measures that make financial sense (short and long term), you can leverage efforts and develop programs that drive impact and enjoy broad support.
When looking at a building’s energy use, you’d never just look at natural gas without considering electricity – you don’t want half the picture, you want the whole story. Sometimes the whole story isn’t as immediately apparent but it’s important to dig deeper into all the drivers that increase consumption.
For example, land use decisions can significantly drive water use. Brendle Group led a Water Research Foundation study on Integrating Land Use and Water Resources: Planning to Support Water Supply Diversification that will be published by the end of 2017. The project explores current and future opportunities to diversify water supplies through better coordination between water and land use planners.
Energy conversations today have stretched beyond efficiency to focus on supply and the need for alternative solutions to traditional energy approaches. Electric vehicles, renewable energy, alternative fuels, storage technology, and grid modernization are rapidly emerging examples.
This lesson can be applied to other areas of sustainability like water, transportation, and waste – efficiency and conservation are always an important part of the puzzle but sourcing and supply also need to be considered for a truly sustainable solution. For example, alternative water supplies like greywater, desalination, and stormwater capture can help preserve drinking water for future generations. Similarly, waste diversion can be achieved through the development of biodegradable packaging instead of using less eco-friendly materials. While the market may drive the development of cost-effective alternative solutions, you also have a role in driving that economy. Like buying electric vehicles, rain barrels, or community solar subscriptions, our purchasing decisions can accelerate market transformations.
Set A Goal
Author and management consultant Peter Drucker said, “if you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it.” Energy efficiency has certainly taken measurable savings to a whole new level, whether it’s selling energy back to the grid using solar panels or Energy Services Companies using payback from savings as a business model.
But how efficient do you need to be? Energy and building benchmarks have helped businesses target energy savings opportunities. Similar steps can be taken to measure other resources, such as water. Brendle Group is currently leading another Water Research Foundation project Developing Water Use Metrics and Class Characterization for Categories in the CII Sector, providing water utilities and customers with metrics and benchmarks on their water use to inform better decision making. Keep an eye out for those research findings in 2018.