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:

AT&T, EDF Promote Conservation Toolkit In Water-Stressed U.S. Cities:  bit.ly/1jLX9Ww

When Social Good Trumps Competition: shar.es/SVZWQ

What’s Your Corporate Water Management Plan?

Jennifer Dudgeon, Principal, Sustainability, CA Technologies

How much water does your organization consume? This is a question that CA Technologies has been asked more and more frequently. Customers want to know, investors want to know. Let’s not forget the CDP is scoring water disclosure next year, raising the importance of being able to articulate how we use and dispose of this very precious resource.

As a software company with no manufacturing operations and the bulk of our offices located in multi-tenant buildings, it’s challenging to answer this question. An added complication is the fact that the cost of water is significantly undervalued. This makes it difficult to craft a business case to install the necessary water meters, which would allow us to be smarter in this area. But these roadblocks didn’t stop us – innovation is at the core of our business and that extends to the sustainability realm. In the summer of 2013 we took on an EDF Climate Corps Fellow, Jonathan Hempton, to investigate how we can transparently and inclusively account for our water use practices.

As it turns out it was good timing, since around that time EDF and AT&T were finishing a project that’s aimed to help companies like ours figure this stuff out. The Water Efficiency Toolkit provides businesses with guidance on what questions to ask their facilities teams and ways to evaluate a building’s water efficiency and possible areas for improvement. Jonathan took this material and modified it to suit our needs, developing both a water audit tool and a water scorecard, which we will be rolling out this fall.

Good news for your company or organization: AT&T and EDF are hosting a free webinar on October 2nd than can help you dive into using the tools too. To find out more and register, click here.

In May 2013 we were scratching our heads trying to figure out how we can understand our water use, and in September we have a strong foundation that will allow us to develop a corporate water management plan. Not bad for a summer’s work!

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.