Energy – Know its Flow
By Joe Carpenter, Director of Sustainability and Operations
Last month I talked about the business case for sustainability and the benefits to looking more holistically at how an organization operates. This month I’d like to get you thinking about energy’s place in relation to a business’ sustainability efforts.
I’m going to start by being a little philosophical before delving into the more practical. So, I ask the question: how does energy relate to a business? Is it something that you consume out of an electrical outlet? Is it something that powers a vehicle fleet or manufacturing equipment? Or, what employees get from eating food?
Of course, we use energy in all of these ways. These examples, amongst many others, show that energy consumption is deeply woven into the fabrics of our businesses and lives. It is more than the flicking of a light switch, but the ability to convert one form into another for the purposes of work – whether that form is electricity becoming the light behind our computer screen, a fossil fuel becoming electricity, or that of food becoming the strength to answer a customer’s phone call.
Harnessing excess energy: the key to growth
In his article, the Perfect Storm: Energy, Finance, and the End of Growth, Tim Morgan argues that the economy is not really a monetary system, but that money is a permutation of an energy system, and growth the result of harnessing excess energy. Thus, a large reason for the explosion of economic growth since the industrial revolution was our ability to harness increasing amounts of available energy – largely from fossil fuels.
I’m not an economist, but the premise is provocative and gets me thinking: if I can more effectively harness energy, economic growth will be more likely to follow. Of course there are many ways to do this, but what approach would a business looking to be more sustainable take? Most often, it comes down to energy efficiency and/or the installation of renewable energy technologies.
It may come as no surprise that energy has an associated cost and therefore a standard way to improve financial performance is by using energy more efficiently. This efficiency can come through a variety of factors, but often boils down to the areas of lighting, office equipment, HVAC, and use of vehicles. Taking the first steps towards sustainability can feel overwhelming, but CABA is here to help. To explore what applies to your organization, become a CABA member.
So many options, but where to start?
All of the various energy efficiency options allow an organization to either use less energy and save money or use more energy at the same cost as before. The end result either way is a more cost-effective business practice. Businesses come in all shapes and sizes, and there are programs out there like Mass Save’s Small Business Program that can help determine the savings opportunities that make sense for each business. I encourage you to find out what other options are available and right for you.
Energy efficiency improvements can be a great path forward because there are low capital options and programs like Mass Save to augment projects with a longer time period for a return on investment. Reducing energy usage not only saves money, but is crucial to addressing climate change and other environmental issues. Alas, wouldn’t it be nice if one could use all the energy they wanted without the negative impact to the natural capital we all rely on?
Of course this panacea does not yet exist; nor can we count on technology alone to save us. However, renewable energy technologies have seen a dramatic increase in affordability and efficiency, making them now often competitive with fossil fuel energy. Although they don’t quite yet allow us to be totally free of carbon based fuels, if you combine them with energy efficient technologies and behavioral changes, you may be able to get most of the energy you currently need at affordable prices with far less impact on the environment.
These days accessing energy from renewables goes well beyond putting solar panels on the roof. It includes so many innovative permutations such as community solar programs, wind trees, geothermal units, solar units on carports, roof shingles, and window panes. Heck, you can now even buy renewable energy through some of the major utilities. Can your business leverage these technologies and become more resilient to price fluctuations while minimizing your impact on the environment and public health?
As I wrote last month – better understanding the systems in which one operates will increase resiliency. In this case you are looking at how your organization uses energy. Could you do a flow diagram following its path and how it adds value to your organization? Can you find areas where energy is being wasted? If you can you may be surprised by what you find. Remember, energy is more than just turn on a light switch, but something that fuels growth!
Joe Carpenter is the Director of Operations and Sustainability at CABA. Previously, he served as an Officer in the U.S. Army for nearly 10 years, including three combat deployments, and working for a small manufacturing company in a number of capacities. Joe graduated from the United States Military Academy at West Point with a Bachelor of Science degree in Management and from Harvard University Extension School with a Master of Liberal Arts degree in Sustainability; among a myriad of other educational experiences. Joe enjoys spending time in nature, working out, playing video games, watching improv comedy shows, and trying to figure out how things can be “done better.”