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GoGreen ’12 Austin Green Line Series: Iga Hallberg on The Next Frontiers of Clean Tech

The clean tech industry is growing up and like any other, maturity is not coming without growing pains. But in Austin, clean tech has helped keep the economy booming despite a global recession and is a solid contributer to the city’s growing reputation as a international hub of innovation. In this Green Line Series interview, clean tech expert, Iga Hallberg, gives us the run down on the industry’s next frontiers and the impact it is poised to make on global energy markets.

GoGreen Conference: The clean tech industry has seen its ups and downs of late. It’s been the darling of the green jobs movement and it’s been at the heart of several major controversies over taxes, subsidies and incentives, and international accusations of bad sportsmanship — despite all of that, what kind of real, progressive impact has clean tech made on the energy and tech industries as a whole in the past five years?

Iga Hallberg: I think we need to look at the clean tech industry as a system and consider both the generation and conservation of energy on assessing the impact of clean tech on our communities and economy. According to Bloomberg Energy Finance, over $1 trillion has been made in investments into renewable energy since 2004. The renewable energy generation industry has grown very rapidly in the past few years with global renewables power capacity (minus hydro) at over 300GW currently.

We have seen similar progress on the efficiency side and huge investments in technologies in smart lighting, thermostats, appliances, building materials and standards. It is fascinating to see the different types of programs that are being supported in different regions globally and as we would expect, those programs typically fit the resources available in those areas.

For example, we have utility scale solar plants being built in the Southwest, while rooftop systems are more prolific in urban areas in California and the Northeast. Likewise, many private homes and commercial customers have taken advantage of new more efficient lighting technology. Today, the German solar industry still employs hundreds of engineers and workers developing technology throughout the whole value chain despite the fact that much of the panel manufacturing has moved to China recently.

The industry is growing globally and continuing to invest even in a soft economy making renewable energy more cost effective and available to many more developing countries than even three years ago.

GG: Has the industry’s image been damaged by the controversies surrounding its growth? Do you see a reframing of the story as necessary to securing the industry’s future success in the States? If so, what is the story that needs to be told?

IH: This is a very young industry which will go through maturing cycles like any other. A lot of the policy and incentives have been offered to support initial growth and are designed to be reduced and ultimately taken away. The industry MUST learn to sustain itself through rapid scale and simultaneous cost reduction in order to be competitive on a global basis. That goes for solar power, as well as things like better insulating windows for homes. We have recently seen similar cycles in the semiconductor and display industry in the 1980s and 90s and the explosion of personal electronics in the past 10 years with rapid globalization of products and applications. Whole industries have been developed to support our use of our favorite communications devices.

We have also had a number of public failures and one wonders about motivations for their massive publicity, but those of us in the industry watching the rise and fall of certain technologies and services recognize that it is a natural process of industry maturity. We all can point to different technologies that have had great  Continue reading

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GoGreen ’12 Austin Green Line Series: Seton Healthcare Family’s Trennis Jones on Sustainability’s Growing Business Case in Healthcare

Healthcare organizations account for four percent of the nation’s billable square footage, yet they consume more than eight percent of the nation’s energy annually. And their costs, along with demand, are sky rocketing as baby boomers age and key resources (oil, water, etc.) grow scarce. Sustainability, it would seem, is on the mind of every hospital executive in America. And if it’s not, it should be. In this installment of the Green Line Series, Trennis Jones, Senior Vice President at Seton Healthcare Family, gives us the big picture breakdown for sustainability’s business case in healthcare.

GoGreen Conference: Let’s start big picture. This is a transformative time for healthcare — lots of questions are being asked on how it can improve, how it can increase the quality of care and how it can be more financially efficient. From your perspective, what is the overarching vision in your industry for how sustainability can make an impact on what you do?

Trennis Jones: If you look at hospitals alone — we use about 836 trillion BTUs of energy annually. We produce a little over 30 pounds of CO2 emissions per square foot — broken down, that is more than 2.5 times the energy intensity in carbon dioxide emissions for commercial office buildings. So, if U.S. hospitals spend over $5 billion annually on energy ­­ — often equaling one to three percent of a typical operating budget — that works out to about fifteen percent of the profits. That’s a big chunk.

Then you have in-patient facilities, which use an average of 240,000 BTUs per square foot. Hospitals account for four percent of the national billing square footage, but we account for eight percent of national energy consumption on average. That four percent of difference represents a big opportunity for us. The question is:  How do we capitalize on that and not lose the sight of the fact that our number one goal is to care for our patients better?

Big picture for us involves looking at how we can construct and renovate better. How can we construct that building going up differently than we would have in the past in order to be greener and more efficient? We recently finished construction on Dell Children’s Medical Center in Austin. That building was constructed with the vision of it being a “green hospital.” In fact, it was the first LEED platinum hospital in the world. And even though we just closed out on the main building, we are adding on a new unit that will feature at a 20-kilowatt photovoltaic array for the solar water heating system that will reduce energy consumption for that unit by three percent. With the future in mind, we are also installing three electric vehicle (EV) charging stations for patients who are driving progress by owning an EV.

GG: Obviously these initiatives are already having an effect on Seton’s bottom-line. Do you feel sustainability can directly affect the quality of patient care as well?

Continue reading

GoGreen Austin 2011: Recap + Resources

Our crew has a great love for the Pacific Northwest, but we have to say that Austin blew us away. We are so inspired by the ideas, the passion and incredible commitment to sustainability and the triple bottom line we witnessed in your fine city. We hope that everyone who attended left as excited as we were and armed with actionable practices to take back to your businesses and organizations.

We want to kick this post off by saying a humble and heartfelt thank you to everyone who attended the conference, and all the speakers, sponsors, exhibitors and community partners that made GoGreen Austin 2011 a smashing success. We absolutely could not have done it without your participation and support! Our special thanks to the City of Austin and all involved departments for the warm welcome and commitment to the mission of GoGreen. We are also incredibly appreciative of support from Lucia Athens, Jessica King, the Austin Convention Center, Texas Gas Service and the Austin Business Journal.

In case you missed out on GoGreen Austin 2011 or just want to relive the fun, we’ve put together a recap with session highlights from three of our favorite talks and resources to explore. We also hope you’ll add your insights, takeaways, links we missed and links to your own recap blog posts in the comment section. Sustainability is a conversation and we want to hear your take on it!

Keynote (Lucia Athens, City of Austin)
Austin’s Chief of Sustainability, Lucia Athens, certainly came armed with inspiration and new resources from the City. Her talk on changing operations to create viable solutions was both practical and visionary—taking into account human behavioral psychology to form the foundation of creating sustainable change. Her approach centered on 4 New Operating Principles to use:

1. Try a new operating system
2. Keep up with the Jonses
3. Backyard Pride
4. Pay it forward

Lucia also announced several new initiatives the City of Austin is starting to enhance green business and provide additional resources for those committed to sustainable practices.

Greenwashing (Valerie Davis, Enviromedia)
Enviromedia CEO and co-founder Valerie Davis (fellow co-founder Kevin Tuerff spoke on the Green Branding and Marketing panel) gave us a lot to think about with her session on what constitutes greenwashing and how to avoid it. We watched several commercials that showed what a wide spectrum there is between intentionally misleading people outright and inadvertently playing up your sustainable efforts a little too much.

The key, said Valerie, is to be transparent, authentic and prepared to prove your claims. How you deal with challenge says as much about your brand’s commitment to sustainability as the initiative you are promoting. An example of a company getting it right is Patagonia, which breaks down their products and reveals all of their sustainable and not-so-sustainable components in a compelling way through the Footprint Chronicles.

If you want to learn more on greenwashing (and how NOT to do it), visit the Greenwashing Index, which is an interactive website designed by Enviromedia and the University of Oregon to give the public tools to vet advertisements and render judgment on the level of greenwashing each employs. It’s a great resource.

Equity + The Triple Bottom Line (Sheryl Cole, Austin City Council; Armando Rayo, Cultural Strategies; Brandi Clark, EcoNetwork; and Susan Roothaan, A Nurtured World)
An increasingly important issue on the sustainability front is the “people” aspect of the triple bottom line (i.e. taking care of people and planet, in addition to profits). The GoGreen Austin panel on equity brought a robust conversation on fair access to information, resources and jobs in the green economy to the forefront of the conference agenda.

Bringing to light that sustainable living is a something to be enjoyed by all people, our panel made a convincing argument for realigning our goals and priorities to be more inclusive of groups historically left out of the sustainability movement—including people of color and low-income populations. One of our favorite takeaways was that we, as a culture and a civilization, have to get beyond the idea that a sustainable citizen is a middle-class, white, hybrid-driving, yoga-practicing American—because most of the world and an increasing portion of America does not fit that stereotype. We need to broaden the definition by bringing more people to the table, recognizing the vast array of cultural contributions to the green movement, creating solutions that fit a wider set of needs, and fostering participation in sustainable living by all.

Cultural Strategies’ Armando Rayo wrote a great follow-up post on this topic as regards bringing the Latino community further into the “sustainability” fold and recognizing their cultural approach to being stewards of the earth. Read that here.

Another group that is actively broadening the reach of green practices is the Sustainable Food Center (this is pulling in a resource from the Austin Business Journal Going Green Award Winner Session, but their work is extremely relevant on this front). SFC is finding ways to provide sustainable, farm-sourced produce to a wider spectrum of Austintonians. Visit their site here.

So what was your favorite session? What did you take away from GoGreen Austin that’s stuck with you over the past 10 days? Our comment section is ready and waiting for your insights!

P.S. Pictures from the day are on their way—so check back for those. We’ll also be releasing select video of the main stage sessions throughout the spring.
And remember, you can get the latest green news and information on GoGreen Austin hot off the press year-round at @GoGreenConf and #GoGreenAUS. We’ll see you on Twitter!

GoGreen Austin Green Line Series: Building a Greener Future With Gail Vittori

Gail Vittori has been pushing boundaries at the intersection of building science and sustainability for 35 years. On April 6 she’ll share with GoGreen Austin attendees where green buildings are going and the impact they have on both the bottom line and our communities. But for now, we’ve got a sneak peek at what you’ll hear from Gail. In this edition of the Green Line Series we discuss the impact of LEED, how green buildings can serve everyone (not just the well-to-do) and what we need to do as citizens to ensure these buildings live up to their potential.

GoGreen Conference: What does it say to you that we’re seeing such iconic buildings as the Empire State Buildings, the Pentagon, etc. undergo renovations to be greener and more efficient? Do you think we’ve hit a tipping point in how we define a successful architectural project?
Gail Vittori: Green building is increasingly viewed as an investment strategy to secure long-term and resilient value in our building portfolio—whether public or private sector, residential, commercial or institutional.

GG: LEED has its critics, but what do you think that program has done for the green movement and the building industry?
GV: Every transformational initiative generates a healthy dialogue and debate. LEED has successfully integrated green building methods and materials into the fabric of the 21st century’s built environment at virtually every scale and every building type. By providing a common language and metric to measure performance in the context of a 3rd party certification system, LEED provides a unique literacy about the built environment’s relationship to environmental quality, human health, and social equity. And, because it is an evolving and ‘learning’ system, it continues to raise the bar and refines market signaling based on maturing practice.

GG: Is there a disconnect between the moral argument and the business case for sustainable buildings? Or are they two sides of the same coin?
GV: They are intrinsically connected though people may focus on one more than the other.  The business case is an underpinning to bring this to scale—which is happening—particularly notable in an economically fragile environment.  For green building to sustain its market position in this context is testament to its immediate and longer-term measurable values.

GG: Can businesses afford not to build green? What is at stake here? And what are the consequences of not choosing green?
GV: The market is differentiating green buildings as better buildings for people and the environment and the bottom line. That’s versus non-green buildings that burden owners with high operational costs and have compromised interior environments that undermine people’s health, well-being and productivity.  The green schools movement is an example of how this mindset has shifted from spending money to investing in better buildings and better environments for the future.

GG: What is the missing link? If greener buildings save more energy (and therefore resources/money) and are safer (less toxic; more structurally sound) then why isn’t every city mandating they be the standard going forward?
GV: Innovation is a gradual process that tracks early adopters, early majority, majority etc. through the innovation life cycle. There continue to be misperceptions in the marketplace about the cost and value of green.  The early adopters have a unique opportunity to share their stories buttressed with real data to bust the myths.

GG: How do we bring these safer, more efficient living, working and social environments to people in lower income brackets? So that they truly serve a triple bottom line rather than merely becoming symbols of gentrification?
GV: It’s happening more than is readily apparent. There are multiple initiatives underway today that underscore the viability of green building for all—including the federal commitment to green all public housing units in the US; 40% of LEED for Homes certified projects meet affordability criteria; Enterprise Foundation’s commitment to affordable green and many, many more.

GG: What is the educational component of maximizing the effectiveness of green buildings? Are they just inherently better or do we need to “read the owner’s manual?” Does that just go for building owners/users or for builders/contractors as well?
GV: It’s important to have green building visibility and literacy through the entire supply chain—and integrate multiple stakeholders through the process to inform, guide and teach so that solutions reflect the collective intelligence.

GG: What is your take on the EcoDistricts concept? Is it the next wave of progress for the green building movement?
GV: Moving from a building-centric focus to a neighborhood or block focus makes sense and gains the value of economies of scale while building the communities where people want to live, work, learn, heal and play.

GG: What do you hope attendees of GoGreen take home with them? What is the value of coming together as a business community to discuss sustainability issues?
GV: It’s happening; it’s a compelling business proposition; it provides a competitive edge; it establishes a basis for resilient value; we will do better from listening to and learning from each other.

Gail Vittori is Co-Director of the Center for Maximum Potential Building Systems, a non-profit design firm dedicated to sustainable planning, design and demonstration. She is also a featured speaker at GoGreen Austin, April 6 at the Austin Convention Center. To see Gail and over 60 more renowned green professionals from the Austin business region speak, visit: http://austin.gogreenconference.net/registration.

To learn more about Gail and the Center For Maximum Potential Building Systems, visit: http://www.cmpbs.org/t.people-bios.html

GoGreen Austin Green Line Series: Enviromedia’s Valerie Davis Talks Greenwashing + How to Plan For a More Sustainable Future

Spend a few minutes with Valerie Davis and you quickly get the impression that this is not a woman who merely idles through life. The Co-Founder and CEO of Enviromedia is a doer, through and through. She’s taken a background working for the State of Texas and transformed it into a hugely successful green advertising agency that is barreling forward into the future by creating informed + entertaining campaigns (such as Don’t Mess With Texas and Water IQ), busting greenwashers through a collaborative Greenwashing Index with the University of Oregon, and serving its industry as a thought-leader. Valerie recently sat down with GoGreen to talk business, greenwashing and why some of our challenges don’t look so very different today as they did in the past. If you want a sneak peak at what awaits you at GoGreen Austin—look no further.

GG: Can you give us a perspective on what drove you to start Enviromedia all the way back in 1997? I was looking at your website and was inspired by the witty statements you have on it. So I’m wondering if it’s because you’re just “exceptionally business-savvy tree huggers” or because you were “capitalist pigs with a social conscious”—and maybe a crystal ball into a future that told you green would be big.
VD: Well I would say we’re probably a bit of both, but it was more that my partner Kevin Tuerff and I had our first jobs out of the University of Texas together. We worked at the UT Alumni Association and shared an office together. This was the late 80s and we had a blast working together. We said even back then that we would love to start our own agency someday, but ended up going our separate ways in our careers.

We both ended up working for then State of Texas—I was with the Texas Department of Transportation and Kevin was Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission where he was leading a high-profile environmental education program that had been established by then Governor Ann Richards. He invited me over to come help him with the marketing and work to educate Texans about things they can do to protect the environment, with a heavy emphasis on recycling.

So with that emphasis on recycling we created this statewide recycling awareness day, which is where we ended up putting most of our efforts and dollars. Over time the state’s recycling rate did increase significantly and after three years we went to the National Recycling Congress in Pittsburgh to share the case study of “Texas Recycles Day” with coordinators from all over the country. Kevin was presenting and said at the end, “If anyone is ever interested in starting an America Recycles Day, let me know.” By the end of the presentation, we had a several inches thick stack of business cards. And we looked at each other and decided maybe it was time to start that advertising agency we had talked about a decade before, but focusing on environment.

We knew that to do environmental education, it not only had to break through the clutter and be creative and not so cliché, but at the same time, having worked for the State of Texas with government and industry we knew that you had to be politically and technically savvy.

So that’s how we started Enviromedia. It was 1997 when we quit our jobs to start America Recycles Day, which long story short, is still around and now under the stewardship of Keep America Beautiful.

GG: You mentioned cliché advertising. Let’s talk about the new evolution of environmentalists. When did we transition out of this idea that to be green you had to be an incense-burning hippie and instead could be urban, stylish and tech savvy? And what has that meant for green marketing over the years?
VD: I was in a focus group last night on water conservation and we had consumers from this Dallas area that had household income over 100K. They were very clinical. They wanted the facts. They say that they want to save enough water for the future, but are just skeptical that they can water less and keep a healthy green lawn.

But at the same time, here it is 2010 and they call back to say they believe in recycling. So I don’t know that we’ve moved too far away, as far as consumers are concerned, from the idea that environment = recycling. That’s what it was all about in the 90s and I think a lot of people equate environment with something that’s so easy to grasp as recycling. But today it’s about carbon offsets, hydrogen fuel cell cars, electric vehicles, hybrid vehicles, CFLs, Organics—all kinds of issues and it’s very confusing. I think consumers want some clarity and at the same time I think they want to be doing the right thing.

So I just don’t know that things are really all that different, but marketing and business have been savvy enough to see that there is something here to tap into consumer-wise. We point to the year 2007 as one where huge change took place in American business and global business. And we think it was due to two things. In February of 2007, the UN Climate Change Commission published the report that stated that climate change is caused by human behavior. And it was that same year that Al Gore and his film, Inconvenient Truth hit it big in popular culture. This was an Academy Award winning movie that people were paying to go see. It was basically a PowerPoint on steroids about climate change. And then he ends up winning the Nobel Peace Prize with the climate change folks.

Concurrent to that we saw this green tidal wave of marketing, which hasn’t subsided much since then. So at the end of 2007, we were marking our company’s tenth anniversary and decided that we’d be darned if this green tidal wave comes crashing over our heads and no one knows who we are when we’ve been at this a decade as a company, and more as environmental professionals.

What we pinpointed at the end of that year was a major issue with greenwashing. I’ll never forget, I was giving a presentation to a group in Austin called Leadership Austin, which is full of entrepreneurs and business leaders. We had talked about a whole bunch of things and at the end of the Q&A session somebody asked what “greenwashing” was. I was so astounded. Here were some of the savviest business leaders in town and they didn’t know what greenwashing was. And if they don’t know about it, imagine what the everyday consumer is thinking.

Kevin and I talked about it and decided that we should really be educating people about greenwashing. That’s how we got the Greenwashing Index started.

GG: Tell us more about what the Greenwashing Index is and how it holds brands accountable for their sustainability claims…
VD: So it’s the end of 2007 and we wanted to do some greenwashing education, but were trying to decide what to do. At the same time we learned that the Federal Trade Commission was determining whether to update its “green guide” for environmental marketing claims, which were established in 1992 and at that point hadn’t been updated in a decade. They started this whole yearlong process justice to figure that part out.

If you think of the 90s—it was recycling and composting. 2007? It’s all of those things we talked about—carbon credits, renewable energy, hybrid vehicles. And all of these far more technical terms had found their way into products and marketing—which is a good thing—but at the same time, the consumer is exposed to this very complex issue of climate change. So we thought about what we could do right then to educate consumers, because we knew it was going to take the FTC a long time to even get in the position to do something.

So we started building a website to educate consumers and just through brainstorming, we came to the conclusion that we really shouldn’t have Enviromedia calling out the greenwashers—as much as we would like to. Instead we landed on establishing the first online forum that allowed consumers to take real, live green ads and post them on a website where the criteria was provided to scrutinize the green marketing claims and then rate the ads.

We also knew we couldn’t just be Enviromedia doing this. We’re basically a marketing firm. So we collaborated with the University of Oregon—Deb Morrison and Kim Sheehan—to take on the task of establishing the Greenwashing Index criteria as advertising academics. If you look on the website you’ll see the five criteria that walk consumers through rating an ad.

GG: Sticking with greenwashing, is it all of it a case of bad brands with sinister intentions trying to work the system? Or have you seen well intentioned, but maybe not as well informed businesses be guilty of greenwashing as well?
VD: I think that’s a great question because I think the answer is that it’s probably more of the latter. Meaning good intentions, but not being well prepared to go out and make these claims without thoroughly vetting everything.

There is greenwashing that is intentional; that would fall under one of our five criteria of “omission” or “masking.” Maybe you play up one tiny green thing when you really have this whole realm behind the curtain of bad things that you’re trying to detract from. But I don’t think this is what happens as much. There are some well-funded industries that might get engaged in this kind of behavior, but most of the ads that you might see end up with a bad score on the Greenwashing Index, they just haven’t been as thoroughly vetted as it should have been.

If it’s unintentional, to me, it’s more a matter of if you do greenwash and get called out, how do you correct it? That’s what really speaks to your authenticity. Lots of people get called out on greenwashing and some just keep charging away—others correct course. Consumers are smart. Even in the world of environmental marketing claims, where things are getting more and more complex, consumers can smell a rat. So if we can give them a loose structure to sniff that out, then we feel like we’re doing a good thing.

GG: So if I’m a business owner and I want to talk about the real sustainable initiatives I’ve integrated into my business, even though I’m not 100 percent there yet—how do I do it and not greenwash?
VD: You have to have your house in order when it comes to green issues before you go out and market what you’re doing for the environment. That stands if you’re talking about a product that’s environmentally friendly or how green your company is.

You have to look inward, not just at why you’re doing this but at your whole inventory of activity. So, this is everything that we are doing, but also asking what else is there that we could be doing? Figure out when you can do each thing and what’s feasible (and what’s not). Then at least you’ll know where you stand and have a plan for communication and getting better. That’s the critical point. Take that inventory before you get to the marketing stage. That’s where I think a lot of the accidental greenwashing happens. Businesses go off half-cocked.

An example I use a lot is a bank that says they’re green because you can do your banking online and that lowers emissions and resource use. Well, if you’ve offered online banking for two years prior and you didn’t do it to be a green bank—my question would be, what else are you doing in your own facilities to substantiate that? Do you have a recycling program? Are you buying green products? How good is your water efficiency? And that kind of half-cocked environmental marketing claim isn’t necessarily evil, it’s just not well thought out.

GG: How do you recommend going about those decisions about what’s feasible and what’s not? What is your process for implementing green initiatives?
VD: Once again it’s about taking that environmental inventory first and moving through what you can do. And another observation we have (which especially applies to medium and large corporations) is that if sustainability is just at the program level and not at the C-Suite level, it won’t be nearly as successful. And the poor program people, who are struggling to implement the sustainability mandate, get very frustrated. If you can get that C-Level buy in you’ll be able to do more, it will be more authentic and your efforts will have a better chance of succeeding. It’s a difference between green being in the DNA of a company versus just going through the motions.

GG: Other than C-Level support, what other issues do you see businesses struggling with in getting their sustainability efforts underway or sustaining them? How can they break through the red tape?
VD: Gosh, there’s so much. If you think about the environmental footprint of a company, it’s everything from what a company does to its products and services to operations and technology—and even where its offices are located. It can be this overwhelming, multi-headed beast.

So it’s a big deal, but it’s not impossible. Plus it’s the right thing to do, so you’ve got to stick with it and not get burnt out. This world is evolving and changing. Looking at laws and politics down the road, things are going to have to change.
I’ll never forget being at our first UN Climate Change Conference in Bali in 2007 and when I asked Björn Stigson, who is the President for the World Business Council for Sustainable Development, what he foresaw for companies not working on sustainability, he said, “Well they may be fine now, but in the future they’ll be left in the dust.”

Businesses need to have the foresight to get rolling on sustainability and take the blinders off, because it won’t be status quo going forward on these issues. And going back to your original question on treehuggers, this isn’t just a feel good thing to do anymore. It’s your business’ future at stake here.

Valerie Davis is the Co-Founder and CEO of Enviromedia, a full-service green advertising, PR and sustainability consulting agency with offices in Austin, TX and Portland, OR. She’s also a featured speaker at the GoGreen Conference Austin, Wednesday April 6 at the Austin Convention Center. Register today to lock in Early Bird Rates (through March 1, 2011): http://austin.gogreenconference.net/registration

To learn more about the awesome work Enviromedia is doing: http://www.enviromedia.com