Renewable energy and the economic slowdown

wind-turbine-abstract-080815Ever since the economy really began to weaken and gas prices approached $3/gallon and then $2/gallon, there has been much commentary on businesses making cutbacks and slowing their implementation of sustainability efforts.  I have written that this time of economic crisis will separate the companies that are truly committed to good environmental stewardship from those that were only interested in making green efforts while the economy was strong.

During the presidential campaign, both candidates made renewable energy investments central pieces of their legislative agendas, employing images of wind turbines and solar panels in their TV ads and stump speeches.  However, since the credit crisis exploded and energy prices plummeted, even a pioneer like T. Booke Pickens, who spent tens of millions of dollars over the last few months advocating for public support of wind power, has delayed his landmark project.  The New York Times ran a story on Tuesday, 11/24, about how the “economic slump and plunging prices of coal and oil are upending plans to wean businesses and consumers from fossil fuel.”

My hope is that the U.S. Government, under the leadership of President Barack Obama, does not give up on its efforts to wean our country off oil, most of which comes from foreign sources.  I was encouraged by a message that Obama recorded last week for the Governors’ Global Climate Summit.

In his message, Obama states, “Climate change and our dependence on foreign oil, if left unaddressed, will continue to weaken our economy and threaten our national security.”  He goes on to say that his goal is to reduce the United States’ emissions of greenhouse gases by 80% by 2050.  He also committed to investing $15b each year on alternative energy, which he said will not only help to reduce our use of oil, but will also help create up to 5 million new jobs.  Regardless of the accuracy of the jobs figure, I hope that the U.S. sticks to this plan, and does not use low gas prices and a difficult economy as an excuse for inaction.  We should look towards Brazil as an example of how a country makes energy independence a goal and sticks to that plan, regardless of the economic circumstances.  Here’s a great story from the Wall Street Journal in 2006 which summarizes Brazil’s sugar ethanol industry development.  I remember reading this in an airport almost three years ago and was able to find a free link on Yale’s website – I found the piece so interesting, and wanted to share it with you.

The moral of the story for me is that we have learned our lesson from our addiction to oil – from the recent price spikes, as well as the fact that it supports dangerous regimes that hate America (not to mention the negative environmental impact of fossil fuels), and we need to make a change.  It will cost a lot of money and require sacrifice, but it is one of the greatest issues of our time and must be addressed.

Grassroots is the way to go: a look at GoGreen Somerville

ggsom_web_header_resize_new1My firm has become involved over the last several months with GoGreen Somerville, a coalition of businesses and non-profit organizations that leverage relationships, knowledge, and resources to green the Somerville businesses community.  I wrote a bit about this organization in May when it got a positive write-up in the Boston Globe.

GoGreen Somerville, where my firm is headquartered, is run by Vanessa Rule, who is very impressive.  She is motivated, talented and knowledgeable, an excellent combination.  I was excited to get involved in this effort, especially because it is on the grassroots level.  By building a laboratory of sustainability in our home city, this organization can possibly create a scalable model for helping other markets become more environmentally responsible.

Also exciting is that it includes a broad coalition of businesses: including bakeries, food manufacturers (chocolate), as well as a cleantech engineering firm and a wind power specialist.  It is a testament to the depth and breadth of talent in a small city that such best-in-class organizations spanning a wide range of industries have volunteered their time and resources to help make our city a more sustainable one.  It’s important to note is that if Somerville can become a case study for good environmental stewardship, it will help attract investment, new businesses, and talent; not to mention make it a better place to live and work.

I’m sure I’ll write more about this effort down the line, but I wanted to share this today, as GoGreen Somerville just launched its new website.

Tips from Deloitte: Top 10 list to green your client site

picture21A friend at Deloitte has made me aware of his firm’s “Greening the Dot” program, aimed at helping create awareness among Deloitte’s large employee base that being environmentally-friendly is an important thing to do.  The leaders of this effort frequently send out newsletters with tips to go green and initiatives that the firm is designing to be a more sustainable enterprise.

Not only is this effort a smart play from an employee retention perspective (given the economy, this will be important longer term rather than immediately) but also because it helps Deloitte send a values-laden message to its clients.  As a former consultant myself, I know that this industry is often seen from the outside as tough and unfriendly, and focused purely on numbers and deliverables.  However, I believe that Deloitte’s “Greening the Dot” program helps send a positive message to the outside world.  In the hypercompetitive world of strategy consulting, this can only help.

Below is a “Top 10 list to green your client site” that Deloitte released this week.  Clearly from its title, this is a series of ways that Deloitte employees can help the environment, and do so in very visible ways to the outside world:

  1. Unplug. Unplug “orphan” chargers and power cords which still consume energy when they are plugged in. Nearly 75% of all electricity used to power electronics is consumed by products that are switched off.
  2. Print less. Just because you’re at the client doesn’t mean you can’t reduce the amount you print! Consider having “paperless” meetings. With overhead projectors, we can eliminate the need for paper during meetings.
  3. Print duplex. To reduce your paper consumption, “duplexing“ can be done on copiers and printers.
  4. Use a reusable cup. Use a reusable cup or mug & save those paper or styrofoam cups from going in the trash.
  5. Recycle. Recycle paper, plastic, aluminum, glass, cardboard, and electronics in your local office.
  6. Turn off the lights. Be sure to turn overhead and task lights off as you leave offices and conference rooms. Also, avoid the need for unnecessary lighting by taking advantage of natural light whenever possible.
  7. Power down. Update your power management settings on your laptop to “stand by” or “sleep” after periods of inactivity when plugged in. If you only keep your computer on while you are actually using it, and put it on “stand by” for the rest of the time, you can cut energy use by 55%.
  8. Dress appropriately. Heating and air conditioning are typically the largest sources of energy use in the office. Dressing in layers can help your body adjust to temperature changes in the office. Keep a spare sweater in the office rather than turning up the thermostat or using a space heater.
  9. Travel less. Consider videoconferencing and other technology options to reduce your travel.
  10. Travel green. When traveling, be as environmentally friendly as possible. Bring a reusable mug, carpool and rent the most fuel efficient vehicles, reuse towels and linens, turn off the heating or air conditioning, and turn off all the lights before you leave your hotel room

The newsletter concluded with the following statement: “These small changes will make a big impact. Thank you for taking part in the efforts to make our office a little greener!”

This actionable series of tips, although just a start, provides a simple roadmap to Deloitte consultants of ways to easily go green when on the road at a client site.  None of these tips are difficult to implement, but all are sensible and can have an impact.

A must read – Al Gore’s NYTimes column (11/9/2008)

green-wind-turbine-30-96-66-2Al Gore wrote an excellent column in the New York Times on Sunday, 11/9, in which he lays out a very clear and sensible five-part plan to get America to produce 100 percent of its electricity from carbon-free sources within 10 years.  Although he has launched the We Campaign which has pushed this goal, this article is a quick and easy read, and as such, I highly recommend you take a look.

Without further ado, here’s a link to the piece.