Tag Archives: efficiency

Green Line Series | McKinstry’s Influence in Collaborative Energy

AshAwad01Ash Awad, P.E. is the Chief Market Officer at McKinstry. Ash is responsible for McKinstry’s market development strategy and has more than 20 years experience in the industry. His extensive knowledge covers systems engineering, evaluation of sustainable ideas and development of alternative-financing solutions. During this Green Line Series, we asked Ash a few questions around collaborative energy.  He will participate in the session District and Cooperative Energy | Hot Ideas + Cool Technology in the Seattle 2030 District as a part of the GoGreen Seattle program track on Sustainable Building and Design.

GoGreen Conference: We are excited to learn of McKinstry’s focus on “collaborative energy”, most recently featured in the new Amazon/Westin project in Seattle’s 2030 District. What does “collaborative energy” mean and how does this drive a more sustainable future?

Ash Awad: Collaborative energy is a derivative of the more well-known district energy concept, but instead of a central plant being the supplier of energy that is distributed to a “district” or collection of buildings, one of the buildings within that collection is the supplier of the energy. We like to refer to it as collaborative energy because a number of parties must collaborate to make it work. In the case of the Amazon/Westin project, a private building owner (Westin) had waste heat from its data centers that it was releasing into the atmosphere that the owner thought could have value as a heat source. Another private building owner (Amazon) was about to build its new corporate headquarters across the street and wanted to make that building as energy efficient as possible. Through its policies, the City of Seattle enabled these two private owners to innovate and design a system that captured the waste heat from the Westin, piped it under the street and delivered it to Amazon – thus the collaborative energy concept was born. Collaborative approaches like this are key to driving these cutting-edge outcomes.

The idea of re-using energy that’s been transformed into a different state isn’t new. McKinstry has engineered and implemented waste heat recovery systems many times before.  What is new is doing it on a large scale when energy suppliers and users are different entities and the energy crosses private property borders.

Dense, energy-intensive, mixed-use environments – such as cities – are not only smart ways of using and conserving land, they are also fertile ground for recycling energy.

This renewable model turns waste heat into an asset, rather than a liability, and promises to dramatically increase the energy efficiency of cities while reducing their carbon footprint. It’s a win for energy users because it saves them money and provides them energy price certainty for a long time; it’s a win for the community because we don’t need to bring on more energy generation resources.

We hope that this project catalyzes a paradigm shift in the way communities think about energy use and policy that shapes it.

GoGreen Conference: McKinstry designs the systems to take advantage of waste heat. Can you share new developments with these systems? Any new McKinstry projects launching that will utilize this?

Ash Awad: McKinstry is working on several other energy recycling opportunities. McKinstry thinks of buildings as energy resources – not just energy users. The Westin/Amazon project demonstrates that data centers in particular, are energy-rich environments that can benefit adjacent properties and communities.

The mechanical systems that are the backbone of these types of projects are readily available and are getting more and more efficient. What’s really interesting is the role data is playing in helping us better figure out how to use waste heat. Through the use of technology, buildings are getting smarter, which allows building designers and operators to be proactive in making decisions that affect the efficiency of our built environment.

GoGreen Conference: Our GoGreen business and public sector leaders will be very interested in learning about McKinstry’s work in this area. Can small and medium-sized businesses utilize these new systems? Why should business and public sector leaders care about this?

Ash Awad: This type of system may not be right or even possible for everyone. Retrofits to accommodate this solution can be expensive, and often downright impossible. Facilities with central boilers are good candidates, but if the boilers aren’t fully depreciated or have life left in them, it can be hard to justify replacing them. Utilities or other heat providers must obtain permits and navigate other bureaucratic obstacles in order to add water pipes and other needed infrastructure.

Businesses should care about this because how their facility operates directly affects the perception that people have about their business. Increasingly, building owners are looking for ways to make their buildings more energy efficient not just because it is the right thing to do, but because it is also good for business. Research has shown that a company’s environmental record impacts people’s decision to do business with them. And building owners looking to attract tenants are finding that how “green” their building is can be a huge factor in determining lease rates.

Public sector leaders should care about this kind of innovation because as Oregon-based EcoDistricts describes the promise of this idea: “With the right mix of inspired design, smart planning and skillful execution, cities can be engines of innovation full of talented and creative people who accelerate economic growth, shared prosperity and ecological resiliency.”

This collaborative-energy approach spotlights the opportunity tied up in the massive untapped productivity of energy that resides under our streets and in our buildings in this country. Focused public policies that encourage urban density and public-private partnerships that build stronger neighborhoods are the key that can unlock this potential.

Event Details: GoGreen Seattle, brought to you by King County, will take place Wednesday, March 30, 2016 at the Conference Center located at Eighth Avenue and Pike Street in Seattle, Washington. Tickets are available at seattle.gogreenconference.net or via phone at 206.459.0595.

 

Green Line Series NYC | Grassroots Engagement Drives Greener Healthcare at NewYork-Presbyterian

Being successful at sustainability is as much about community organizing as it is about operational prowess. In this Green Line Series, we speak with GoGreen NYC speaker and Corporate Sustainability Officer at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital, Jessica Prata, on how engaging the organization’s staff across departments — from the OR to nurses stations and maintenance — and giving them outlets to participate in NYP’s sustainable practices has catalyzed their capacity for achievement.

GoGreen NYC: Just how much potential does sustainability hold for the healthcare industry? What kind of impact has embracing this philosophy and these systems made at NewYork-Presbyterian (NYP)?

Jessica Prata: As health providers, hospitals are very central to the community. We have a responsibility to provide the healthiest environment that we can for our staff and patients. We also want to create a very safe environment for staff and families to be in, and for patients to heal in, so that’s where the tie comes in for us.

At a glance, some may not immediately see the connection between environmental sustainability and healthcare.  How does recycling and waste management, energy production, efficiency and cogeneration, and transportation fleets connect to caring for patients in the best way we can? In fact proper management in these areas does impact our organization’s ability to provide the highest quality of patient care in a clean and safe environment. If you consider the broad impact that a hospital has in a community, you recognize how these sustainability initiatives contribute to our overall air quality and environmental footprint. Also, the more money we save by managing resources and waste more effectively, the more money we have to spend on creating the best patient experience possible. The dots do connect.

At NYP, we want to keep our patients as healthy as we can and provide tremendous care, all while doing the right thing in the community. We are members of and promote Practice Green Health, a nonprofit organization that gives support and guidance to hospitals as they embark on this journey.

GG: What was the process for making sustainability a part of your strategic vision and plan for how NYP moves forward as an organization? 

JP: Back in 2005, there was a good amount of movement within our facilities department. A lot of initiatives started there as a part of a very aggressive energy management plan. And 2005 is the year we received our first award from the EPA — we’ve since received seven. Then NYP’s senior leadership started to question what other elements of sustainability could be addressed. Energy is a huge component that helps us save money and control our environmental impact, but we felt there was more to take on.

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GoGreen ’11 Phoenix Green Line Series: Al Halvorsen Talks Efficiency + Making BHAGs Happen

You might be wondering just what in the world a “BHAG” is—never fear. Al Halvorsen, Senior Director of Sustainability at Frito-Lay North America is just the guy to tell you all about them. Accomplishing BHAGS—or “big, hairy, audacious goals”—is Al and his team’s specialty. In just over a decade they’ve fundamentally changed the way Frito-Lay does business by integrating sustainable best practices into the corporate culture and operations. In this Green Line Series Interview, Al tells us how they turned their BHAGs into reality and saved the company millions in the process.

GoGreen Conference: When did sustainability and efficient energy use hit Frito-Lay’s radar and what was the initial motivation for the company to get started in this? Did it come from the employees at the grassroots level or was it something the leadership embarked on from the top?
Al Halvorsen: We started with a program back in 1993 when we created green teams in all of our facilities. The primary responsibility of those green teams was to ensure the environmental compliance position of our manufacturing facilities was met. But out of that initiative came a focus on resource conservation as well as environmental compliance.

Officially, Frito-Lay created our own department of energy in 1999. At the time, we were focusing mostly on energy efficiency and water efficiency—plus helping to drive costs out of the system and improve the bottom line results of our manufacturing operations. We set some pretty aggressive goals in ’99 to shoot for drastic energy reductions and we put a team in place alongside our global productivity initiatives.

GG: You’ve achieved those original goals for the most part. Have your sustainability initiatives been profitable as well as socially responsible? Do you find that sustainability and profitability can be uttered in the same sentence?
AH: Yes, absolutely. So your first question was about profitability— and I would say that our sustainability initiatives have been very profitable. Back in ’99 we set targets to reduce our water usage by 50 percent per pound of product produced; our natural gas use by 30 percent; and our electricity use by 25 percent. Right now, we have achieved a 45 percent reduction in water, 33 percent reduction in natural gas and about a 25 percent reduction in electricity. This goes along with our initiative to drive efficiencies in our motor fuel usage, which we started a few years later. Overall, if you combine all of those reductions, Frito-Lay, as a company, would have spent about 80 million dollars more on those commodities to run our business and operations if we had not put those sustainability measures in place. When you look at profitability, these sustainability initiatives are delivering daily to the bottom line.

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GoGreen Austin 2011 Green Vid: Mueller Development as a Model—Concepts to Reality

The Pecan Street Project in the Mueller Neighborhood in Austin, Texas is a living laboratory for sustainable development and thanks to the commitment of several key organizations, community leaders and municipal departments (plus a grant from the Federal Government) it’s measuring progress and experimenting with practices that will help cities in the US and abroad build greener and smarter going forward. Enjoy this exciting session from the inaugural GoGreen Austin!

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GoGreen Seattle Green Line Series: McKinstry’s David Allen Argues For Bringing Business + Environmentalists Together

GoGreen Seattle speaker David Allen is a businessman—and a pretty good one at that—but he and his company, McKinstry, aren’t afraid to fight for the environment too. For those with an eye fixed on the bottom line, it might sound like a conflict of interest, but Allen assures us that what’s good for McKinstry’s clients also just so happens to be good for the Earth as well. And that’s the point he’s been tirelessly working to drive home—going green is good business. But results at scale won’t happen unless environmental advocates, government and business all work together to innovate effective solutions. Don’t know about ya’ll, but we hear David loud and clear!

GoGreen Conference: McKinstry singles out innovation as a key component of your success in sustainability—how does that concept manifest itself throughout the company?
David Allen: We became a part of the clean technology and energy movement as a result of the complexity of buildings. We’re a 50-year-old company that is engineering driven in infrastructure, mechanical, electrical, water, etc. In the 1990s computers showed up in homes and the watts per square foot demand increased. The mechanical and electrical systems that consume and use energy became more complicated and interconnected. So as a company that services clients of all types in the built environment, we had to come up with solutions to help them navigate their way through all of these changes. It was the perfect storm to instigate action—the cost of energy rising, mechanical and technology systems improving, changes in how and when people want to work and how they want their work environment to act—all of those things came down on building developers and owners at the same time.

Our goal is to have legacy customers. We design, operate, maintain and reengineer for them for the life of their building. In sustainability’s case, innovation simply became a mandate. Though we didn’t start off saying, “let’s save the planet,” we quickly found out how great an impact the built environment was having on CO2 and electricity use consumed.

From that standpoint we got hit with a double whammy. We needed to innovate for our clients in order to lower their utility usage—and thus their carbon footprint—and we need to innovate better ways of supplying heat, water and power while also maintaining and monitoring the use over time to lower costs. For us, stopping climate change and helping our clients ended up being the same thing. It’s a perfect segway into the conversation that GoGreen champions on the idea that environmentalism and corporate innovation go hand in hand. Businesses need to get involved with environmentalists and vice versa. We need to go arm in arm to attack these problems.

GG: Can you expand on this idea of continuity—that sustainability is not just renewable, but continuing. With green buildings, if you build something to the high standards of LEED Platinum, can you stop there? Will the building maintain its efficiency forever or do you have to keep with it?
DA: The US Green Building Council did a wonderful job of creating the LEED standards. They led on that initiative and it worked. People aspire to it and it’s well known in the mainstream as an important benchmark. The big issue that they run up against is that once a building is done, it’s the operational things that keep it sustainable. You can have a perfectly energy efficient structure with gray water systems, rain water collection, outdoor air mix and the right electrical lighting systems. You can incorporate all those things in a building model, but if it’s not operated correctly, it’s not sustainable.

For example, there’s a city that built a LEED Certified city hall. When they got done building it, they powered it up and it actually consumed more power than the old one. So we came in and found the operations weren’t being run well. All of the “integrated” systems were being run in completely non-integrated ways. Sustainability is all about optimization. And it applies to everything—not just buildings. It’s how we get to work, what we buy, where it came from, how do we get rid of it and where things up.

With buildings, we have to look at whether they are being run efficiently. Are people coming to work in the winter with a t-shirt on, when they should be wearing a sweater so you don’t have to crank the heat and consume mass amounts of extra electricity?

So much of this is behavioral. The green movement and clean energy movements need to adjust and get into innovative behavioral models. We’re doing some of that too. We’ve got a software program that we’re selling in mid-western schools called PowerED, which is a proprietary overlay to the energy education we do with schools, teachers and kids. With this program they can take things into the interactive realm and actually watch the BTU and watt usage. They can even compete with other schools on energy and water use. The result is that kids learn how to optimize their resource consumption. A lot of people say this is the first generation of kids who will be the ones telling their parents to turn the lights out.

Another thing worth mentioning is that the whole notion of a “negawatt.” This is the watt that doesn’t get used, but rather conserved as saved energy. And it’s a renewable energy source. Many experts are now saying that the largest, most accessible pool of renewable energy available in the US is the negawatt.

For example, Seattle City Light is obligated to give the University of Washington a certain amount of electricity. There’s a baseline. The University turned around and decided they were going to be 20 percent more efficient in terms of their needs. That’s a huge amount of returned electricity Seattle City Light essentially gets back in the budget and doesn’t have to generate from coal. They can sell that somewhere else if they want. The opportunity is huge and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Amory Lovins from the Rocky Mountain Institute wrote a white paper in 1990 about the negawatt and predicted in would be a $1.2 Trillion industry–and he was right.

GG: You work with a broad spectrum of clients across the business world. How do you work with clients whose budgets don’t always support doing everything they want to in terms of green construction or retrofits? Is it all or nothing?
DA: Here’s how you have to go about it. First, people need to understand that the building they have or are building needs to get specked out, so that when it operates efficiently to begin with. We are showing people that their business model actually has too much money allocated to run their building and pay for power. We’re trying to innovate and rethink the entire system of real estate and built environments along these lines, so that it becomes a financial opportunity to be sustainable, optimal and energy efficient.

Right now, a high-rise developer in Oregon isn’t very motivated to lower their utility bills, because they just pass the cost on to a third party called a tenant, right? That’s just wrong. We’ve been in Washington D.C. lobbying to get legislation passed that creates incentives for private building owners to spend low-interest money to amortize energy work over a longer period of time so that it fits into their model. That’s why all the public agencies are doing it, but not the private. Because they ARE the tenant. If people stay connected to the power rates, we’ll be a lot better off. Because if I own a building and there are 190 tenants, all paying 20 percent too much for power, that’s a lot of room for improvement.

The thing I ask politicians—and it applies to the people who say they can’t afford sustainable buildings too—is whether they want to lower carbon or not? If the elected officials in a community don’t want to do it, then there’s no discussion on sustainability, right? But if they do, they have to get down to it. You can’t just do the cute stuff. You have to do the things that are meaningful.

GG: What are the key areas you see needing to be addressed in order to get that meaningful change?
DA: Water conservation is also huge. We are all over people about water now, because it’s quickly becoming a bigger issue than energy in terms of being a scarce resource. We can solve the energy crisis, but water is not so easy. So if you’re talking to someone with a building who is asking whether or not they should put in a gray water system, we need to educate them. We need to be honest about the fact that water is going to triple in price. That’s just a reality.

And the engagement between business people and environmentalists on these issues is paramount. The GoGreen Conference is right smack dab in the middle of that conversation. We’re positioning ourselves in the middle too, because the two sides have to be brought together to get any results. We need a different strategy than what has always been billed as some battle between the greedy capitalists and the wacko greenies.

These issues are not wacko. There is a shortage of water. Our energy is dirty and there’s a groundswell of desire to clean things up and not live so large. So back to your original question—we are being more upfront and confrontational with our clients about the things we believe are important to push innovation in. That’s why we pour our resources into this. It’s a belief issue, but it’s smart business too.

I spoke at the Sierra Club a while back and while I was there I told them I was proud that they brought in a businessperson like me to speak to them. The environmentalists have done a great job at getting us to a tipping point on climate change and global warming. That’s pushed young people to adopt these things into their lifestyle and politicians to start running on a sustainable platform when they craft legislation. That’s all well and good, but if you don’t get business to come in and execute on the innovation we need in a way that lets us make money and create jobs for everyone—it just won’t happen.

It’s imperative that environmentalists and businesspeople to work on these issues. We work with a lot of non-profits and organizations like the GoGreen Conference to make this happen because we think it’s so important. McKinstry isn’t afraid to say that we’re a for-profit company and our partners say that’s OK too. So we’ve taken a step in the right direction knowing that “for-profit” and “good for the environment” and “socially responsible” can all exist together. We’ve just got to step it up even more to get to where we want to go.

David Allen is Principle and Executive Vice-President of McKinstry, a Seattle based construction, engineering and facility services firm. He’s also a featured speaker on the GoGreen Seattle 2011 roster. To hear David speak, along with 50+ of Puget Sound’s top sustainability professionals, join us April 20th for GoGreen Seattle 2011 at the LEED certified Conference Center. You can get more details or register at: http://seattle.gogreenconference.net.

Follow us on Twitter (@gogreenconf) and Facebook (facebook.com/gogreenconference) for all the latest event updates and sustainability news from the region!

Creating Change At Scale: Rob Bernard, Chief Environmental Strategist at Microsoft

Rob Bernard is the Chief Environmental Strategist at Microsoft. He’s is a featured Keynote Speaker at GoGreen ’10 Seattle on Wednesday, April 21st. Join us to hear more from Rob and over 60 other green business leaders on the cutting edge of sustainability in their company.

There’s no question that change is coming. In fact it’s happening right now. But change at broad scale has been more elusive for many. For Microsoft, with 80,000 employees in 100 different countries, affecting the kind of broad-based change is seen as both an opportunity and an obligation to society. With Rob Bernard at the helm of their sustainability efforts, they’re pushing for mass impact at breakneck speed.

GG: As an 80,000 person company, Microsoft has the potential to make a huge impact on the Earth’s systems—both positively or negatively. How do you handle that responsibility?
RB:
There are a couple of ways. One is what we hope is a clearly defined strategy and then secondly, making sure we put the right sort of governance model in place to execute that strategy. Then we try to use the appropriate level of communications so that people understand the strategy.

We look at several things when we develop strategy. The first is looking for energy efficiency gains for both ourselves and for society. We’re looking at how to leverage IT gains for all sectors. The second is looking at how we use technology tools to accelerate breakthroughs and scientific understanding of what future climate situations look like, and also working on modeling adaptation or mitigation strategies in the face of climate and environmental changes on our planet.

The third area is to make sure that we’re being responsible environmental leaders in the way we run our business. Here we’re looking beyond just energy efficiency to places like paper use, food services, transportation policies and travel policies.

Underpinning all that is this governance model that asks the question: How do we make sure that environmental sustainability becomes a core tenant in the way we do business, so that regardless of whether you’re a engineer writing software or a sales person, we’re providing the tools and support to make good decisions?

GG: What is Microsoft’s role in the broader sustainability movement? Is it to take care of your own business or go outside of the Microsoft campus and into the rest of the world?
RB:
We have a billion customers around the world, so we have an opportunity and an obligation to ensure that our customers are able to leverage our tools, services and technologies to drive sufficient energy and efficiency gains. For example, think about the role of sensors and sensor-based networks in building-based management. We also made an announcement last week with Ford where people who are looking to buy electric vehicles, and need infrastructure for charging, can use some of our software to enhance that experience. And then there’s the home products we’re developing that help people manage their home energy use.

We’re looking to build partnerships with other organizations for things like resource accounting and utilities efficiency. The goal is to make the impact that we make at Microsoft, but also in the IT industry, very positive so that more and more companies can provide more services to both enterprises, consumers and scientists to scale the solution up quickly. Because there’s one thing we all agree on and that’s that we don’t have much time.

GG: What are some of the specific ways that Microsoft reduces its impact? How does that translate into your product line?
RB:
Some things translate into what our clients buy. Some things are just physical behavior or thinking about our supply chain and how we run our business. For example, we can look at our food service. We’ve redesigned our entire food service and also our waste stream on our corporate campus—which is where approximately 50 percent of our workforce is located. By doing that we’ve reduced our waste stream by half in the first year of attacking this issue. That’s an example of how our focus on becoming more efficient and less wasteful, both in terms of what we purchase and what we dispose of, is making a huge impact.

An example of where our efforts touch our product lines is in using our own software tools and data to ensure that we’re having an impact on energy consumption for the clients. Specifically we’re ensuring that Windows and our other software are energy efficient in how they run and also we’re promoting more unified communications so that we’re reducing our air travel. In that area, we’ve been able to reduce the travel of the average Microsoft employee by 20 percent over the course of a year. That is a direct result of leveraging our technologies more effectively and others can do the same.

GG: When did this conversation start and when did Microsoft get serious about enacting broad scale sustainable policies?
RB:
It’s one of those things, like a lot of things, that has multiple source points. I’ve been in my role at Microsoft for two and half years, but we’ve been thinking about these things for well over a decade.

If you look at our road map for something like Windows, we’re transitioning from a world where energy efficiency and enhancements were options in the product line to a world where they’re default on both the client and the server end. Those things take up to a decade to really embed themselves into the technology and we’ve been working on sustainability in a lot of different places that are just now showing up with big impact.

The next question is: How do you take well-intentioned individual behaviors and put them together in a way that is strategic and adheres to a larger vision and strategy? That process and transition started about three years ago—but we want to accelerate and amplify the speed at which we’re doing things and the impact they have.

GG: What have been the biggest roadblocks you’ve come up against and how did you bust through them?
RB:
Internally, our biggest challenge is often keeping up with the pace at which things are changing. We’re in over one hundred countries and have dozens of product lines and services. Keeping track of and harnessing the incredible amount of work that’s done everyday has been an early-on challenge. I think as we get more involved in this and it becomes systemic, the next wave is using the right models to change our practices broadly and change how we talk about this with customers. Those aren’t really challenges necessarily, but something we have to work through.

The biggest challenge we face externally is actually changing behavior rather than pushing technology. There are incredible technologies that exist right now that will enable customers to significantly reduce the impact of their IT activity or allow IT to reduce the impact of their operations. These things exist because there are cutting edge companies doing incredible work and making radical changes in their energy consumption. The technology is there, so the issue is why it isn’t happening on a broader scale? It’s often because these are behavioral changes.

Let me mention a statistic that is interesting, illuminating and concerning all at the same time—fewer than 20 percent of IT professionals know how much energy their infrastructure consumes. Because historically those facilities figures showed up on the power bill, which they don’t see. As a result, many IT professionals can’t optimize their energy use because they don’t know what it is. That’s not a technology problem, it’s a business model, infrastructure and corporate governance issue.

Let’s say you came to me and said, “Hey Microsoft, I want to find out how I can reduce the amount of energy I use in my data center.” I would first ask you how much energy you’re using in your data center. A lot of people aren’t really sure, but they still want to reduce it. So then I’d ask, “Why aren’t you sure?” Usually the answer is that facilities has the answers because they pay the bills—but you have to go get those bills.

It’s great to have web tools and services in place that monitor and control real time energy use, but you won’t get to that level of operational sophistication unless you begin with the fundamental behavioral issue which includes proactively tackling the issue by going out and finding the data you need to get started.

GG: Are there any sustainable initiatives or policies that you haven’t been able to implement yet, but would like to?
RB:
The challenge right now is building things up to scale. We have incredible amounts of support across the whole company, but we’re still pushing hard to make this happen faster and make things more beneficial for our customers.

GG: How can smarter software help other companies be more sustainable?
RB:
It depends on what industry they operate in, but taking an example, let’s say you’re in the IT department and you monitor your energy use. You can probably save 25-30 percent right off the bat by following some of our efficiency best practices. If you think about air travel or train travel—a behavior that almost every business person has to engage in—and invest in telecommuting technologies like we did, you can reduce travel substantially. That has a massive financial impact on a company and also drastically reduces their carbon footprint.

If you can actually change the way in which people work and travel by substituting technology for physical transport—that’s huge. You can also look at the difference between sending data and sending physical paper. We look at this in terms of how we distribute our own materials and software. We’re encouraging our customers to move further away from using disks, printed materials and packaging that has to be shipped and closer to getting things digitally. The dematerialization concept is quite powerful and we’re just starting to see it take hold.

GG: What do we need to do to push change at a rate that will let us avoid some of the most unpleasant environmental consequences that are looming?
RB:
It’s really a combination of pushing and pulling. What we need to do as an industry, not just as Microsoft, is to provide more examples and case studies of breakthrough technology and behavioral changes. We need to showcase those achievements so that more people are aware and can emulate them. That’s more on the push side.

On the pull side, what we need to see happen is a more universal focus on making things more efficient and making things happen faster. I go back to this example I’ve been using in our discussion of the IT department and ask why more CIOs aren’t accountable for their company’s energy bill?

If we had a scenario where more CFOs, CEOs and people who do my job are driving CIOs to think about and become accountable for energy consumption, those professionals will start to develop and employ technologies to help them reduce their impact.

You could argue the same thing for line managers. If line managers become accountable for a manufacturing plant’s energy costs or carbon output—or both—they would go seek out the technology to drive efficiency.

GG: Are there any case studies on these groundbreaking behavior changes that particularly inspire you?
RB:
I’ll tell you about one that isn’t happening in the energy arena, because there is a lot of talk around that sector already. There are some pretty interesting things happening in places where people are using sensor networks to drive down the amount of water consumption in agricultural use.

Just to put this in context, about 70 percent of the water we use is for agricultural and manufacturing purposes, and estimates are that up to 50 percent of that water is wasted because we use the blanket approach rather than a targeted one. Now, imagine a world where you put in censors into the fields and can get incredibly specific about when and where you water.

Now you can do things like predicting water need. Since you know each seed, what its growing cycle should be and the optimal amount of moisture it needs, you can be really targeted with your behavior based on what the censor readings are. You’ll know if one row needs to be watered, but the other doesn’t. Or if there’s a 60 percent chance of rain in the next five days, so therefore you don’t need to water at this time at your current soil moisture levels. Getting down to that level of singularity will help save mass amounts of water—which is an increasingly scarce resource.

GG: When did this passion for sustainability begin for you?
RB:
It’s been a lifelong thing for me. I grew up doing a lot of hiking and I always spent my summers outside. I also spent a great deal of time in the mountain ranges over on the East Coast and overseas in areas that were being rapidly deforested and that stuck with me.

I did an MBA and took all the environmental science classes I could take—which at the time was one—and I also took a lot of interest in natural resources in biology classes. It’s just always been a big part of my lifestyle and who I am.
When I got the opportunity to help our company focus our efforts in this area, I was really thrilled that Microsoft decided that I could be the person to take charge of this area and lead the company in this arena.

GG: Are there any areas of sustainability that are particularly interesting to you?
RB:
I think a discussion that’s really interesting and growing in relevance is the intersection between human health and healthcare issues, and environmental issues. There’s been an incredible focus on the debate around climate change, energy use and security—but what about the fact that some of the byproducts from the way we produce energy today are also very likely key contributors to things like asthma or tumor and cancer rates? For many people I speak with, green chemistry is becoming more of a top-of-mind issue, with human health as a primary motivator for people who aren’t necessarily motivated by climate change arguments.

GG: Is there anything else going on with your work that you’d like to share with our readers?
RB:
Even though I spend most of my time trying to improve the advantages technology can bring to the discussion, sustainability relies first on attitudes and behavioral change. That’s what spurs the market to achieve at scale. Once behavior starts to change at scale, good advancements will start to happen much more rapidly.

I think one issue is that a great deal of society is hyper-focused on the energy aspect of the overall problem. But they haven’t quite yet internalized that this is much bigger than just energy. It’s also about human and environmental health and the ways in which we live. We need to look at our individual longevity as well as the planetary impact of what we’re doing.

Rob Bernard is the Chief Environmental Strategist at Microsoft and a keynote speaker at the GoGreen ‘10 Conference on April 21, 2010 in Seattle, WA. To register for the GoGreen Conference ‘10, please visit: http://www.seattle.gogreenconference.net/registration. GoGreen ‘09 sold out, so make sure to sign up soon!

To learn more about Rob Bernard and the Microsoft’s sustainable strategy, visit: http://www.microsoft.com/environment/