No Water Means No Beer, and Other Insights from an LA Water Conference

Beer lovers – now that I have your attention – let’s talk water. Nowhere in the country is water more critical an issue and looming risk than in my home state of California… critical to farmers, utilities, businesses, and yes, even breweries.

Officials touring San Luis Reservoir in 2013, which supplies water to Silicon Valley, is at historic low levels, only 17% full. (Source: Patrick Tehan/Bay Area News Group)

Officials touring San Luis Reservoir in 2013, which supplies water to Silicon Valley, is at historic low levels, only 17% full. (Source: Patrick Tehan/Bay Area News Group)

The current drought has brought a host of challenges for our growing state, including more wildfires, collapsing delta ecosystems and fisheries, decaying infrastructure and declining water quality. While California is on track to reduce carbon pollution due to our progressive climate and energy policies, our water challenges are the elephant in the room.

So it was inspiring to attend a daylong event convened by the Pacific Institute in Los Angeles, where leading corporate, nonprofit and technical water experts honed in on water stewardship and shared innovative solutions to the business and environmental challenges we face with regard to water scarcity.

The companies represented there – including AT&T, Deloitte, MillerCoors and Veolia – see water scarcity as a current business risk, as well as a critical component to economic growth in California, the Colorado River Basin and around the world. The World Economic Forum even ranked water crises as the third most pressing global risk for 2014. “Often, the greatest risks come from conditions over which the company has the least influence,” noted Jason Morrison of the Pacific Institute, whose Water Action Hub offers a powerful guide with tools and resources for collective action.

The day’s far-reaching discussion would be impossible to capture in a single blog post, so I'll highlight here just a few of the challenges and solutions that stuck with me after a full day of information sharing.

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What We Build Together: Collaborating to Scale up Sustainability

Brendan FitzSimons speaking at Accelerating Sustainability

Brendan FitzSimons (2nd from left) speaking at Accelerating Sustainability

Today’s environmental challenges are bigger, thornier and more interconnected than ever. Meeting these challenges will require more effective collaborations among businesses, governments and NGOs to discover and deliver solutions.

That’s why it was so encouraging to see the focus on partnerships between these sectors to scale up sustainability at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation's 2014 Accelerating Sustainability Forum.

I participated in a panel entitled “Sustainability and the Return on Collaboration” with Eunice Heath, Dow Chemical’s global director for sustainability, Ann Klee, GE’s vice president of environment, health and safety, and Monique Oxender, Keurig Green Mountain’s senior director for sustainability. Chris Guenther of SustainAbility, the panel’s moderator, asked us to share our perspectives on collaboration and how they have evolved over time.

During the panel, I spoke about EDF’s more than two decades of experience working with leading companies to unlock environmental benefits, starting with our first corporate partnership with McDonalds to identify opportunities to cut waste and save money. That approach—identifying opportunities that deliver both environmental benefits and business value—has characterized our other corporate collaborations, including those with FedEx, Walmart, and AT&T.

For example, our work with AT&T has focused on identifying ways to cool their buildings more efficiently, saving both water and energy. Based on our work together, AT&T has publicly committed to saving 150 million gallons of water and 400 million kilowatt hours of electricity from building cooling each year by 2015.

Increasingly, companies like AT&T are also recognizing the influence collaborations like these can have on environmental performance beyond their own walls and operations:

Guenther noted that while collaboration is needed to develop environmental solutions that can overcome industry and competitive boundaries, these efforts can also be challenging. An audience member took that opportunity to ask the panel what we thought were the key elements for successful partnerships:

  1. Take the time to build relationships and understand your partner’s concerns.
  2. It’s important to understand the business case for making environmental improvements. Often, the business case is based on cost reductions, but other compelling arguments include risk management, the creation of new business opportunities, or brand/reputational benefits.
  3. Be clear on goals and objectives of a partnership to avoid any confusion or disappointment among both parties.

While collaborations to realize environmental benefits among companies and NGOs can change over time and require care and attention, they hold the potential to address problems affecting not only a single company, but an entire industry.

Additional reading:

A Hacker, a Hipster, and a Hustler Walk Into A Bar…

O.K. not a bar, but into the Manhattan Center’s Hammerstein Ballroom for the TechCrunch Disrupt Hackathon. Never heard of a Hackathon?  Well, until recently, I hadn’t either. It’s an event where teams of coders compete over a very short period of time to develop an app. As I learned, the “Hacking Dream Team” is to have a Hacker to do the guts of the app, the Hipster to focus on the look and feel of the app, and the Hustler to hold the project and team together. According to the event organizers, this was the best attended Hackathon TechCrunch has sponsored yet. Over 160 teams of coders competed to develop apps in less than 24 hours.

Attending the Hackathon was like getting a glimpse into the future and included demonstrations of 3-D printing and drones. Hundreds of coders hunched over their keyboards to crank out apps that ranged from the whimsical—such as the music app Game of Tones to the practical—like an app to help you with your job search called Career Hound—to those that combined the whimsical/practical such as RoboKeg.

28 Billion Reasons to Improve Building Cooling Efficiency

By: Tom Murray

Can you picture the amount of water you use to shower every day? Now imagine everyone in New York City – well over 8 million people – taking a shower a day of over the course of a year. That's almost the same amount of water that AT&T and Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) realized could be saved if cost-effective improvements in large scale building commercial cooling systems were adopted nationwide—28 billion gallons of water a year. That’s $170 million in annual water and sewer charges—savings that will only increase as water utility rates rise in the U.S.

In 2012, EDF and AT&T launched  a pilot to identify opportunities to reduce water and energy use in buildings, with a focus on cooling towers. Many buildings are sitting on big opportunities to reduce water use in their cooling towers — up to 40% — in ways that can also save money. Based on the results from the pilot, AT&T is rolling out a plan to achieve 150 million gallons of annualized water savings by the end of 2015. The plan includes:

1. Investing in technology to improve water use efficiency for cooling towers.

2. Investing in “free-air cooling” projects, which take advantage of the outside air to provide some, or all, of the building’s cooling needs.

3. Growing the capacity to optimize cooling tower operations by sharing training materials developed during the pilot with property managers, facility managers, and other key staff across AT&T’s highest water-using sites.

Scaling up the findings beyond AT&T to other big buildings, including office space, city halls, hospitals, schools, shopping malls, and more can start saving the U.S. billions of gallons of water a year. That’s why EDF and AT&T have created a free toolkit with resources to help organizational leaders and facility managers reduce the water used for cooling buildings. The reduction solutions in the toolkit not only benefit the environment and communities, they also save organizations money. For example AT&T found that:

  • One cooling tower filtration system upgrade costs less than $100,000 to install but promises more than $60,000 in annual water and sewer savings—paying for itself in less than two years.
  • A minor $4,000 equipment upgrade to expand free air cooling promises nearly $40,000 in annual savings.

These kinds of smart solutions will become increasingly important as climate change reduces water supplies and development ratchets up demand.  Hopefully this collaboration and toolkit will help spark the adoption of water efficiency measures in building across the country and help to make sure we continue to have enough water for people and the natural systems that sustain us.

Water Efficiency Planning: It all starts with good data

By: Caroline Goodbody

Nearly two thirds of the country remains locked in severe or higher level of drought and there is no end in sight.

I began to understand the scale of the problems facing our water systems while working for US Senator Ben Cardin. Senator Cardin is chairman of the Environment & Public Works Subcommittee on Water and Wildlife, which exposed me to the policies that surround water issues. When I wrote speeches or talking points, I would write broad umbrella statements like, “Water is essential to life, economic development, and growth,” and follow with a few facts and figures to impress whatever audience he was addressing. I knew that proper water management was important, but my understanding was only surface deep. I never had time to really explore the issue in depth and had to assume what the experts were telling me was correct.

After completing my first year in Yale’s MBA/MEM program, I had a couple of goals in mind when I looked for my "dream” internship this summer. The first was to learn the hard facts and specifics behind those grand statements I had written: I wanted to know where the numbers came from. The second was to learn how water issues are addressed outside of government, especially in the corporate sector. I was lucky to find a near – perfect fit with the EDF/AT&T Water Efficiency Project.

When I joined the team in May, AT&T and EDF had already completed the pilot phase of the project to identify opportunities to reduce water (and save money) by improving the efficiency of cooling towers on its buildings. AT&T’s Senior Energy Manager Tim Fleming explains the project in more detail here.

The next phase of the project was scaling up implementation of these findings within AT&T and more broadly. One of the tasks I was asked to take on was estimating the potential water savings that could be achieved if buildings in a dozen specific cities improved the efficiency of their cooling tower operations. These estimates help in making the case for why these cities would want to add this approach as part of overall water reduction plan.

While I knew this task would take time, I thought it would be doable and – since we were just aiming for ballpark figures – I believed would be fairly straightforward. Given how important water is to “life, economic development, and growth,” I was sure that the USGS and local governments keeps track of how much water is being used and who is using it.

So I was pretty surprised at how difficult it was to find data that allowed me to make “apples to apples” comparisons. Sometimes regional water demand would be broken down by sector; other times not. Even if water use was broken down by sector, states did not always use the same methods or definitions in determining water withdrawals and consumption. Sometimes there would be city estimates, and other times, the best I could find was regional or county level data. Finding recent data was also a challenge.

As I was combing through state and regional reports I was convinced that I was missing something. But when I dug further, and looked into methodologies, I would often find researchers making statements like, Quantification of water demand and its significance is limited by significant gaps in available data and analysis. Water has no federal data agency comparable to the Energy Information Administration that projects alternative demand scenarios,” or something along the lines of, Although the power sector is the largest user of water in the nation, national statistics on the consumption and withdrawal rates of individual power plants are characterized by inconsistencies and scarcity.”

Really?

Even though there is a universal understanding that water is essential to our economy, we have remarkably limited understanding of water use at both local and national levels. We cannot count on our water resources being reliable and predictable without accurate and comprehensive data. Water is important not just because we need it to drink and grow crops, but also because of the big role it plays in energy production. My colleague Kate Zerrenner covers this in a recent post.

The problem this lack of knowledge poses to policy makers and city planners is obvious – as populations grows, cities need to understand the constraints of local resources. But this information is important for decision makers in other sectors – including businesses. Businesses need to be able to count on a reliable source of water and a predictable source of energy.

Conquering our water challenges will be a challenge no matter what we do, but it will much easier if we have better data. And – as cliché as it sounds – will require every sector and company to look into its own facilities and find ways to reduce its water footprint. AT&T has already stepped up the plate and shown that tracking its water use and making small adjustments can save it money and mitigate future risk. The question now is, when will other businesses and government step up?

Caroline Goodbody is a joint MBA/MEM student at Yale University.

Cooling from the Outside In: AT&T and EDF Climate Corps uncover energy savings of up to 50 percent

By Mike McCarthy, 2011 EDF Climate Corps fellow at AT&T, MBA Candidate at the Fuqua School of Business at Duke University and John Schinter, Executive Director of Energy at AT&T

I’ve always been interested in how energy efficiency projects can reduce operational costs and environmental impact.  Not only are they a win-win for sustainability but I’d also like to focus my career on them  when I graduate from Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business next year.  I was excited to learn that my EDF Climate Corps fellowship would be working with AT&T’s Corporate Real Estate (CRE) division this summer.  I knew that AT&T was working aggressively to increase energy efficiency and had a goal for 2011 to reduce company electricity consumption relative to network data growth by 17 percent over 2010.  I also knew that AT&T’s 2010 EDF Climate Corps fellow helped the company identify opportunities to cut lighting energy use by 80% at its 250 largest central offices, a project that is currently underway in many of these locations.  I looked forward to contributing to AT&T’s progress on energy efficiency.  My project to evaluate the energy savings from optimizing the use of free-air cooling—as opposed to mechanical cooling systems—uncovered real and scalable results.  Recently I sat down with my boss for the summer, John Schinter, AT&T executive director of energy, to chat about our key findings. 

John: Mike, with your help, we accomplished a lot in the past three months of your EDF Climate Corps fellowship.  The hard work certainly has paid off.  What energy efficiency opportunities did you discover this summer?

Mike: It turns out that about a quarter of AT&T’s largest heat producing buildings are located in cool climates.  Furthermore, their utility bills show a historic pattern that suggests that they can use more outside air for cooling instead of using air cooled by energy-consuming chiller units.  It was an important first step to identify 250 buildings that could benefit from optimizing economizer mode, or free-air cooling.

John: Participant buy-in is fundamental to any successful program.  Talk a little about how you helped ensure that the property managers were involved.

Mike: You’re right. Buy-in is critical here.  Early in the process, we sent a quick email survey out to the property managers of all the buildings to determine how well they thought they were using free-air cooling.  It was important to show that we were working with the property managers to secure funding for their buildings.  These managers execute the day-to-day components of energy management so it was important to hear their voices from the outset of the project.  It was amazing to watch as the responses came in.  The property managers and building engineers have a lot of great ideas for energy savings projects.  We just needed to help them build the business case for these investments.

John: The surveys made me confident that our data analysis technique was on to something big.  Describe what you found.

Mike: Based on the responses to the surveys, AT&T could reduce its carbon footprint by over 50,000 metric tons of CO2/year by using this technology.  That is equivalent to almost 9,000 cars removed from the road each year, according to the EPA greenhouse gas equivalencies calculator.

John: That’s great that the project uncovered a tangible way to help minimize environmental impact. But you also thought about the financial implications to AT&T.  What were the highlights?

Mike: Yes.  Looking at our database of existing energy audits to estimate costs at a high level, we found that on average, the free-air cooling building retrofit projects pay back in around two years.  We’ve identified real potential savings in reducing the electricity used for cooling our buildings.

John: Your plan to identify energy savings projects in AT&T’s buildings using trends in utility bills and weather data really worked.  In ten weeks, you helped us accomplish what would have taken years using site visits and third party energy audits.  From an outside perspective, what do you think were the keys to success?

Mike: Sometimes making a breakthrough in energy efficiency requires a creative approach that combines thinking from several disciplines.  We couldn’t have gotten to these results without using Six Sigma data analysis, statistics, geography, and engineering.

John: So the project found economic and environmental benefits of optimizing AT&T’s use of free-air cooling.  What’s your recommendation on the future of free-air cooling at AT&T?

Mike: I designed the project with an ongoing monitoring mechanism that will be extremely useful to AT&T down the road.  We can use the method of analyzing utility bill trends in the future to “flag” buildings in the system that could benefit from an upgrade.  Because this project is scalable, the business case is that much stronger.

See a video case study on this free air-cooling project here and check out the video case study on AT&T’s lighting project mentioned above here.

EDF Climate Corps places specially-trained MBA and MPA students in companies, cities and universities to develop practical, actionable energy efficiency plans. Sign up to receive emails about EDF Climate Corps, including regular blog posts by our fellows. You can also visit our Facebook page or follow us on Twitter to get regular updates about this project.

Rethink Impossible: EDF Climate Corps fellow finds 80% energy savings for AT&T. Is there an app for that?

By Jen Snook, EDF Climate Corps fellow at AT&T, MBA/MEM candidate at Fuqua School of Business and Nicholas School of the Environment, Duke University, Member of Net Impact

Arriving at a new job is always a little daunting.  There is an adjustment period, but over time you find where you fit in and how you add value to an organization.  Rounding out my ninth week in the Corporate Real Estate division of AT&T as an EDF Climate Corps fellow, I felt much different than those first nervous days.  My project, looking at lighting use in roughly half of AT&T’s real estate portfolio, had seemingly borne fruit.  The path I had taken to this point can essentially be broken down into four stages:

  1. Understand
  2. Question
  3. Quantify
  4. Extrapolate

Understand
My lighting education started on our second day of EDF Climate Corp Training in NYC with an in-depth expert presentation on lighting from the Rensselear Polytechnic Institute.  As I started to dive into my project at AT&T, I built upon this foundation with additional research online, interviews with colleagues in the field, and conversations with lighting vendors.  I can now safely say that I know a LOT about lighting occupancy sensors and could talk in length about the virtues of lighting retrofits, but that’s another blog. Read more