How Multiple Vantage Points Improve the Built Environment
Starting a journey includes envisioning and mapping the destination, adding scenic and pit stops along the way, and recognizing detours and new routes may be required, as well as re-mapping accordingly in near and real time. For a figurative journey like the one to decarbonization, following the roadmap is important but not always optimal. We may have fixed whats, whys, and wheres, but we may be constantly updating the whens and hows. I’ve often seen my whats and wheres changing too, but what has never changed has been my why.
Instead of using the term roadmap, which denotes a linear path and one on the ground, we need to start framing our decarbonization journeys as developing and using 4D GIS mapping to see our path from above and ahead.
Having plotted a career through various conservation and sustainability management roles, I’m now back in the built environment lifecycle solutions space and can share several vantage points that may be useful in negotiating the decarbonization journey: whether net zero, net positive, green building certification, resilient energy systems, or whatever.
Lay of the Land
Technologies and their applications are constantly evolving, so it helps to have eyes in the backs of our heads or 360-degree vision. There are even headsets that virtually allow us to have this. We also need coordinating viewpoints.
DSIREUSA.org is a great place to start to identify policies and incentives, whether tax credits, utilities’ incentives, federal loan guarantees, financing, solar renewable energy credits and a myriad of additional resources. Also, joining partnerships such as DOE’s Better Buildings Alliance and EPA programs and NASRC is extremely beneficial, not only from technology vetting and resources but to pool together to encourage vast improvements from manufacturers.
The community growth is expansive and continuing to grow and be more inclusive of all stakeholders of the built environment. Collaborating with peers and various stakeholders provides additional and critical viewpoints.
Rear View Mirror
Twenty-five years ago, as Director of Energy & Environmental Management for Shaw’s Supermarkets, I convened a brainstorming group of three of my colleagues, our electric utility account manager, and one of our business partners delivering refrigerant leak detection technology and reporting. The reporting was key – simple but powerful, identifying top 10 locations with concerns and what the value of the loss was.
We got together to determine how best to measure our energy consumption and load profiles, so we could begin to take into consideration so many variables. Back then, Shaw’s was ahead of its time, meeting Montreal Protocol, retrofitting refrigerants from the ozone depleting type, monitoring usage and demand as well as costs, and installing enhanced energy controls.
This still didn’t give a complete picture, however. We knew we needed more granular information, but how to implement and what to report?
We developed our SMART (store monitoring, analysis, reporting and troubleshooting) system, which formed the basis for many significant benefits for our company and the industry. For example, we developed one of the first interruptible (now demand response) programs, worked to prove (or disprove) manufacturers’ claims, removed 40 tons of oversized A/C capacity and associated equipment and materials.
We also maintained baselines which we used to recommission at regular intervals and identify anomalies with maintenance or equipment replacement. And we worked with EPA’s Energy Star Program to develop the Portfolio Program for Supermarket Companies and Food Marketing Institution to develop a training program that is still in use today. We then took this approach with water and waste to have metrics and KPIs at our fingertips.
Long and Winding Road
It’s sometimes bewildering those 25 years have passed, and these systems are not yet ubiquitous – not only in complex buildings but most buildings, with support from utility providers!
We understood then sustainability had three pillars, and it wasn’t even a mainstream term. Now we’ve morphed to ESG, with four and likely five pillars on the heels of the quadruple bottom line. Economic, environmental and social were the original three. Without environmental, we won’t have economic, never mind social. Without economic, we won’t get to where we need to be environmentally, so there won’t be social sustainability.
But above all, now, governance seems to be critical. Not in terms of government but leadership with oversight and investment and the ‘buck stops here’ mentality to ensure we meet environmental and social imperatives. Both are tantamount to business continuity and profitability, while saving and preserving resources for future generations.
Through the Looking Glass
We have been in the right place at the right time along the way, and sometimes a bit ahead of our time. We’ve been fortunate to have partnered with many businesses who’ve had the foresight and recognized the need for developing stretch goals and allowed us to brainstorm with them to develop the strategies and maps to achieve their goals. We’ve also helped businesses just starting their journeys and continuing to adjust with the nascent and future ESG initiatives.
Through our multiple vantage points – as a NYSERDA FlexTech Provider, liaison with multiple utilities, and membership of various partnerships and organizations across the country – we can provide a three-dimensional view of the journey ahead and save dollars at a greater ROI than most business plans and investment strategies.
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