The Role of Buildings in a Low-Carbon Future

Zpryme talked with Ellen Bell, Senior Specialist, Environmental Defense Fund, for her thoughts on the role of buildings in a low-carbon future, the rise of microgrids, and how graduate students in EDF’s Climate Corps program get her excited about energy.

ZP: What do you look forward to the most in your business day?

ellen_bell287x377Bell: We’re tackling something big—creating a new, low-carbon energy system—but we’re doing the practical, “in-the-weeds” work of doing it in individual buildings. Because of that, I look forward to two things: 1) working with great people—like building management and their engineering staffs, and 2) implementing our approach of finding the business case for operational efficiencies in energy management.

ZP: How does EDF fit into the Midwest energy ecosystem?

Bell: The Midwest has a large and thriving energy ecosystem of technology entrepreneurs, dedicated academics, innovative non-profits, utility partners, etc. While this network can be complex to navigate, all of these stakeholders are dedicated to working together to make the right decisions that will shape energy use in our changing world. EDF is proud to be a part of this alliance and dedicated to bringing our expertise through the Clean Energy program and our boots-on-the-ground talent in the form of EDF Climate Corps. We’re all about driving market adoption of the most effective solutions.

ZP: What is the role of commercial real estate in smart energy?

Bell: Buildings account for approximately 70% of all emissions in the City of Chicago, so focusing on decreasing those emissions makes environmental sense. But the infrastructure changes that lead to reductions also lead to fiscal savings that can impact how a building is marketed, how it interacts with its tenants and what those tenants may share with other offices across the country. So the commercial real estate industry has a unique opportunity to bring together the right stakeholders with the newest technology and best practices in energy management and tenant engagement—all of which can influence audiences with unparalleled reach.

ZP: Where do you see microgrids going in the next five years?

Bell: Because of concerns about reliability and the desire for more clean distributed generation, microgrids are poised for rapid expansion. Within the next five years, developers will experiment with a variety of business models that enhance the grid’s flexibility and efficiency.

ZP: What individuals (i.e. thought leaders) get you excited about energy?

Bell: Personally I am inspired every year by the brilliant graduate students who sign up to be part of our Climate Corps program. Individually they are all incredibly different, they come from diverse backgrounds that include degrees in everything from mechanical engineering to finance to urban planning, but they share a dedication to the desire to change the world through understanding how energy efficiency and making the business case for advanced energy management will transform not only the organizations where they spend the summer but the world at large. They apply a unique perspective to the questions at hand and I think of each of them as thought leaders because their fresh approaches to the issues and opportunities that face the energy industry drive the innovations that change the world.

Ellen Bell will be speaking at Zpryme’s ETS@chicago event, July 22-23 in Chicago. To learn more about the ETS@chicago and all of its speakers, please visit ets-chicago.com or contact info@zpryme.com.

This post originally appeared on Zpryme's Energy Thought Summit blog.

Pioneering a Portfolio Approach to Water Management with Walmart

By Kellen Utecht, Director of Sustainability, Phigenics

“Nothing is more useful than water; but it will purchase scarce anything; scarce anything can be had in exchange for it.” — Adam Smith

With California facing its worst drought conditions in its history, toxic algae blooms in Lake Erie, and water costs rising 33% since 2010, water’s value – both its actual costs and our perception of it – has been transformed since Adam Smith’s time. Companies today have a vested business interest in managing their water consumption. Since 2011, businesses globally have invested $84 billion dollars in water management projects.

logo-walmartGiven that water for cooling makes up a significant portion of a building’s water use, adopting a portfolio approach to cooling water management program is one way companies can make meaningful impacts in reducing water consumption and improving energy efficiency.

Phigenics, an independent water management company, works with leading companies in diverse industries such as healthcare, universities, hospitality and retail to optimize water use in the built environment. In one powerful example, Walmart – with a portfolio of stores spread across the United States – made significant reductions in its water use and utility expense by implementing such a program. Read more

Sustainability and Finance – Momentum Building, But a Long Way to Go

Guest post by Chris Pinney, President, High Meadows Institute

While it may seem that increasing progress is being made on integrating sustainability in the financial sector, the recent UN Principles for Responsible Investment (PRI) conference in Montreal was a sobering reminder of the challenges that still need to be addressed.

PRI In Person banner

On the one hand, we have seen a rapid growth of financial firms subscribing to the UNPRI, with firms now representing $45 trillion in assets under management.  At the same time, as UNPRI’s Managing Director Fiona Reynolds reported in Montreal, only 6% of asset owners committed to the UNPRI report that their performance management and compensation systems for senior executives include metrics that recognize and reward sustainability performance. As she noted, “What gets measured gets managed. If responsible investment is to become truly mainstream, it must start at the very top of every organization, with the right incentives.”

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The First U.S. City to Run Out of Water?

by Rachel Finan, student at the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies

Experts predict that by 2025 Sana’a, Yemen will become the first capital city to run out of water. They predict that by 2030 India will need to double its water-generation capacity or face the same fate, and water supplies in Istanbul, one of the world’s largest cities, is at just 28 percent. Yet before any of those cities run dry (in far off developing countries that most people in the United States associate with water scarcity issues), it could be a U.S. city that runs out of water. And it’s not just the usual suspects in the Southwest who face increasingly serious water concerns. Miami, FL is the second-most vulnerable U.S. city in a drought according to a University of Florida Environmental Hydrology Laboratory study. Cities such as Cleveland, OH; Chicago, IL; and New York, NY follow not far behind.

Rachel FinanJust last February, California state officials announced that 17 communities and water districts could run out of water in as little as 100 days. In Texas, that number more than doubles. Earlier this year state officials reported 48 communities were within 90 days of water interruptions; as of August 20th, there are 27 communities on that list. One small town in TX reportedly already has run dry.

This begs an obvious question; what are we doing about it? Additionally, what should we be doing about it – not just as a temporary fix, but as a long-term, strategic response? What would you do if water stopped coming out of your tap? Imagine if your town was one of the California or Texas communities with only 90 days of water left. As an EDF Climate Corps fellow, I’ve spent the last several weeks contemplating these questions and identifying opportunities for Texas-based institutions to not only conserve water, but to save money while doing so. I’ve been inspired by many examples throughout the state.

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