Bob Woods' Green Point

Getting to the point of green energy

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  • Bob Woods
    Should Companies Put the Environment Above Profits?45.0
    Entry posted October 26, 2010 by Bob WoodsMember 
    Title:
    Should Companies Put the Environment Above Profits?
    Entry:

    A somewhat jaw-dropping article today, via The Economist Web site.

    Normally I’d sum up what the column said in a short paragraph or two. But the email newsletter from which I was alerted to the piece had such a good summary on it, I’ll just use theirs:

    Companies shouldn't worry about their "triple bottom line”—profits, people and the planet—since, ultimately, it's simply by pursuing profits that companies help their community, argues Ann Bernstein. Nebulous goals such as helping humanity and the environment sound worthy but don't add up to much, Bernstein says, so companies should stick to what they do best: making money and spreading prosperity through society as a whole.

    (Summary from SmartBrief on Sustainability)

    One thing’s for sure … that summary got me clicking over to The Economist’s Web site toot sweet. Here’s the entire article.

    The Economist piece is actually a discussion of a book called The Case for Business in Developing Economies, by Ann Bernstein. You’ve read the summary, and by now you’ve hopefully read the article itself. Feeling a bit steamed, perhaps? I certainly did. While there’s a couple of specific points in the article with which I’d argue, this one sticks in my craw the most:

    Anti-corporate activists sometimes claim that big companies are mightier than governments. This is absurd. Governments can pass laws, raise taxes and declare war. Companies have virtually no powers of coercion. If people do not voluntarily buy their products, they go bankrupt. Business is thus extremely sensitive to public opinion. This is often a good thing.

    Unfortunately, this whole big company/government question isn’t as black-and-white as is portrayed in this article. We’ve seen examples of companies “too big to fail” right here in the US, with government swooping in to bail them out. This alone shows their "mightiness," in that their absence would hurt more than their continued existence.

    And while business is sensitive to public opinion, they certainly have the funds to attempt to coerce the public, especially with the recent Supreme Court decision that has the potential to expand the role of corporate money in federal elections.

    Back to the Planet

    While I’m more of a pragmatist when it comes to the whole green/sustainability issue in building, I’m definitely not in the “to hell with the planet” camp. There’s a place at the table for everyone on all sides of this issue—business, government, environmentalists, and even buyers/tenants.

    If everyone can negotiate in good faith, and know that they won’t walk away from the table with everything they want, we can come up with solid solutions that are good for both business and the planet.

    How do you feel? Should companies not even worry about the “planet” part of the “triple-bottom line,” and just worry about profits? Should they ignore profits entirely and help the planet, as some in the environmental movement want? Or is there a middle ground there … somewhere? Discuss in the Comments section below.

    Keywords:
    schumpter, the economist, companies, corporate responsibility, environmental issues
  • Bob Woods
    Green Energy = Green Money45.0
    Entry posted September 27, 2010 by Bob WoodsMember 
    Title:
    Green Energy = Green Money
    Entry:

    Screenshot: The More You Know from NBCI had my interview with Matthew Lesko this afternoon (previous blog post on this topic). To prepare for it, I studied up on all kinds of green-related energy matters, like I was back in college cramming for an exam. Like the NBC promos say: The More You Know … right?

    Well, 15 minutes after we started rolling, Matthew is thanking me on camera … and we’ve only briefly touched on green. Didn't even realize it. And of the short time we did mention it, we mainly discussed residential green energy.

    Don’t get me wrong: The overall interview went very well, and contained a lot of helpful information for people and companies looking to lower their utility rates. While I’m sure the video will be good for our business, the “green” part inadvertently got lost in the shuffle.

    Thing is, I found a lot of good information I wanted to bring up with him. Since the camera is long gone, I decided to share what I found on the commercial end of the green equation with my fellow pros here at commonground.

    More:

    First off, I knew that all kinds of programs are available from a huge variety of sources. But, geez, I didn’t know how many. Let’s just say that Google might have melted down just a bit with my generic search of “green programs” and “commercial projects.” What’s more, it probably melted a bit more than that when I searched for similar programs in the residential space.

    Rather than doing the impossible task of playing Google and providing links to every single program, I’ll let you know the “whys” of going green in the first place, and then just a few of the cash benefits.

    Why Go Green?

    I’m all about the bottom line as much as I am about the environment, when it comes to green-related subjects in real estate. In my mind, a green project isn't any good for anyone if the company, government, etc., behind it can’t implement/sustain it because it costs too much.

    That’s why I like the U.S. Green Building Council’s (USGBC) attitude towards green construction, redevelopment, and so on. The USGBC is equally interested in seeing such projects perform well both from a financial and environmental standpoint.

    The organization lists several ways in which a LEED project—I’d say any green project would fit here—can be beneficial in both of the ways thought of being green. The list below is theirs; the comments in parentheses are mine:

    • Lower operating costs and increase asset value
    • Reduce waste sent to landfills (savings in volume-based waste removal fees)
    • Conserve energy and water (savings in utility bills)
    • Be healthier and safer for occupants (savings from heading off potential lawsuits; yep, I'm serious about that)
    • Reduce harmful greenhouse gas emissions (beneficial side effect from conserving energy, as well as from replacing "brown" utility-delivered energy supplies with green energy)
    • Qualify for tax rebates, zoning allowances and other incentives in hundreds of cities (obvious)
    • Demonstrate an owner's commitment to environmental stewardship and social responsibility

    I’ll add another one. Green buildings and LEED-certified projects are able to charge higher rents. A January 2009 study, Doing Well by Doing Good? Green Office Buildings by Piet Eichholtz, Nils Kok, and John M. Quigley, showed that rents for green office buildings are about two percent higher than comparable nearby buildings. What’s more, effective rents or rents adjusted for occupancy levels in office buildings are about six percent higher in green buildings than said nearby comparable properties.

    While the only way to truly tell if an individual project will benefit from going green is by crunching the numbers, all of these facts should really hit home enough with developers and owners for them to do the math.

    Show Me the Money

    This is where the rubber hits the road. And you’ll find that many roads lead to the federal government’s Energy Star program. If you thought that Energy Star is just for the refrigerator in your kitchen, think again.

    They have an entire page on tax deductions for commercial buildings. In short, though:

    A tax deduction of up to $1.80 per square foot is available to owners or designers of new or existing commercial buildings that save at least 50% of the heating and cooling energy of a building that meets ASHRAE Standard 90.1-2001. Partial deductions of up to $0.60 per square foot can be taken for measures affecting any one of three building systems: the building envelope, lighting, or heating and cooling systems. These tax deductions are available for systems “placed in service” from January 1, 2006 through December 31, 2013.

    There’s several other links at the page to help you determine other ways to find savings from energy efficiency. Hit it up for the details.

    Another good source for green-incentive information, and one that should be tapped, is the state and municipal governments from wherever your project is located. Sometimes getting the information is as simple as a phone call. Other times, you may need to dig through a Website or two (or ten) to figure it all out. If the programs exist, though, you’ll be happy you spent the time; or had the intern do it for you.

    You have to beware, though, about these programs. I’ve seen three factors in particular affect them:

    1. Short deadlines (even by bureaucratic standards)
    2. Funding for the program running dry
    3. Program-eliminating budget cuts

    Numbers 2 and 3 happen more often than Number 1. A good example of Number 3 is the Clean Energy Rewards program in Montgomery County, Maryland. There (or for me, “here”), the county eliminated the program that gave county businesses and residents a half-cent per kilowatt hour toward the purchase of clean, renewable energy.

    We’re talking about utility-delivered energy, too; meaning you didn’t have to drill for geothermal, build a windmill or set up solar photovoltaic (PV) panels on your roof to take advantage of the program. It's a shame it ended.

    Overall, though, the green money for green projects and green energy is out there. You just have to dig for it, and probably fill out some forms to get it. Just make sure you print out the forms on recycled paper.

    By the way, Matthew agreed to let me excerpt a few of his topics—ones normally only seen by his paid audience—that can help my fellow cg members with their green projects and goals. I’ll have those details in a post here sometime in the next few weeks.

    Keywords:
    green energy, green power, green projects, green commercial construction, solar, geothermal, wind power, montgomery county maryland, clean energy rewards, bob woods, commonground, cg
  • Bob Woods
    Practice What We Preach1
    Entry posted September 14, 2010 by Bob WoodsMember 
    Title:
    Practice What We Preach
    Entry:

    As I was preparing for my first blog post here on commonground, I was also conjuring up a presentation on residential energy choice for a local green group. “Energy choice” is the practice of buying utility-delivered electricity and natural-gas supplies from alternative-energy providers.

    Residential and commercial utility account holders in those states where energy has been deregulated can now choose to either continue buying energy supplies from their local utility, or to purchase from these alternative energy suppliers.

    Back to my presentation. Our specific topic is on green electricity, and how easy it is to contribute to the area’s ecological health by purchasing locally produced wind power that’s put directly onto the electricity grid. This green power then displaces non-renewable electricity generated by power plants fueled by coal or other sources.

    How does this work? Hit the jump for more.

    More:

    Imagine a glass jar full of brown M&Ms that represent non-renewable energy on the grid. Now replace some of those brown M&Ms with green ones (representing green energy). Green M&Ms displace brown M&Ms, just like green energy replaces brown energy on the grid. When more green M&Ms come in to the jar, there’s less room for the brown M&Ms. That’s a bit of an oversimplification of how the power grid works, but it’s pretty accurate.

    For the end-user, going this route means they can go green without having to install solar, geothermal, etc., at their home or commercial building. Of course, such users can start off with buying utility-delivered green power now, and then going the solar/geothermal route later. I’d venture to say that building owners who buy green energy from alternative energy suppliers are more likely to take the site-installed green-energy solution “plunge,” than those who have contracts for standard power (or still buy from their incumbent utility).

    One of the themes I’ll be hitting on in this blog is how these different types of energy work to “green” up a commercial project. Believe me, the posts are going to get more detailed and complex. But I thought for my first post here, I’d go easy on ya.

    How does the headline of this post relate to all of this? Well, if you live in a state where the energy markets are competitive (electricity | natural gas), you’ll likely be able to find an alternative energy supplier who can deliver to you this kind of service. So when you’re out talking about going green for a particular commercial project, you can truthfully interject that you’ve gone green at home, and it was as easy as going online to fill out a form. I’ve found the personal touch and personal stories always help in selling.

    By the way, when a commercial client of yours decides to buy electricity in this way, they’re also one step closer (out of many, many steps) to having their project LEED certified. This is also true of existing buildings going for that LEED EB O+M certification. I’ll be touching more on LEED and energy suppliers in upcoming posts, too.

    I look forward to blogging here and becoming a part of the community. Thanks to the folks at commonground for offering me this unique opportunity.

    Keywords:
    green energy, green power, solar, geothermal, biomass, consumer choice, energy choice, deregulation, electricity, natural gas
  • Bob Woods
    Natural Gas … is it Green?25.0
    Entry posted October 18, 2010 by Bob WoodsMember 
    Title:
    Natural Gas … is it Green?
    Entry:

    Man, did I unknowingly open a can of worms about two months ago (before I came on with commonground). I wish I could get into details of what happened, but my company needs to keep good relations with the other firms with which we deal, so I’ll refrain from saying anything specific here.

    That specific “conversation,” that opened said can of worms, though, revolved around natural gas and its impact on the environment. I knew that an argument exists within the energy community about the use of natural gas, and that people on both sides are very passionate about their viewpoints. But I wasn’t aware just how deep those feelings run. Let’s just say … I know now.

    With that in mind, I wanted to look into the various claims about natural gas, to find out what your opinions are on the subject about natural gas and its perceived greenness.

    More:

    On the “against green” side, natural gas is not renewable. It’s petroleum-based, so all was said and done with it way too many years ago (except for the synthetic stuff they create in labs). And as with other petroleum-based natural reserves, getting at natural gas is no simpler than drilling for oil; that is, it’s difficult and hazardous to the environment.

    While it burns cleaner than other fossil fuels, it is by no means “clean.” As with coal and oil, natural gas’s byproducts include carbon dioxide and methane when consumed as an energy source.

    After reading that, you might be thinking “case closed; natural gas is as brown as toast.” But those who support the use of natural gas as an alternative to traditional supplies cite its cleaner burn, as compared to other fossil fuels.

    At a 2009 environmental conference in Argentina, it was asserted that natural is an abundant and growing resource that is 25% to 30% less polluting than oil and its byproducts, and 45% to 50% percent cleaner than coal and its derivatives.

    Heck, T. Boone Pickens wants to replace gasoline with natural gas in cars throughout the US, while widening the use of wind power. Of course, Pickens has a financial interest in natural gas and wind power, so his support of both can be viewed with skepticism. He deserves mentioning in this article, though, because he is not alone in his views—he just has the cash to do something about it.

    The biggest questions that we as environmental-related professionals have to answer are these:

    1. Is natural gas a viable alternative in the long term?
    2. Does natural gas provide a viable stop-gap while cleaner and greener technologies are being developed?
    3. Should natural gas be immediately discounted as a energy source because it produces greenhouse gases when burned?

    The biggest argument against natural gas, though, is that it fails as a “green” energy source in the strictest of terms. It’s not renewable, and it throws off harmful by-products when consumed as an energy source. That’s why I like to use the phrase “it’s greener … for now.”

    As a professional who sells natural gas supplies, I think it’s a great energy source for heating and stove-top cooking. It also powers a percentage of electricity plants around the nation in a fashion that’s cleaner than coal. All of that being said (and as I said before), I do think that any and all arguments for the use of natural gas should be prefaced by the phrase “For now …”

    I don’t think natural gas should be eschewed in the here-and-now because of its negatives, especially when compared to oil or coal. As cleaner technologies come about, though, its use should be re-evaluated. I guess you’d say I’m really not in the T. Boone Pickens camp.

    If you’ve read my other posts here at commonground, you’ve probably concluded I’m pretty pragmatic about these kinds of topics. I know I’ve reinforced that view with this post. I’ve been criticized a bit for that pragmatism, too. I don’t mind; after all, these posts are supposed to generate conversation. It’s my hope that we all learn from one another and come to our own conclusions.

    With that in mind, I’ll ask: What do you think about natural gas? Does it deserve a second look in all of the discussions about clean energy? Should it be viewed in the same vein as coal; something to be looked down upon and tossed aside as viable green technologies come online? Should it not be in discussions about viable energy alternatives, even today? Or is there a middle ground in there … somewhere?

    I’m truly interested in hearing what you think. I’ve purposely kept this article a bit light on supporting data, because I don’t want to overly influence the discussion, and because such numbers can be spun in many different ways. I’d rather have you cite what you use to support your arguments in your daily business life.

    We’re not going to solve any problems in our discussion, but we’ll gain a better understanding of where we all stand on this subject. Get the conversation going in the below comments section.

    Keywords:
    natural gas, green, not green, renewable, natural gas is not green, coal, oil, methane, carbon dioxide, greenhouse gases
  • Bob Woods
    Let's Talk U.S. Elections1
    Entry posted November 3, 2010 by Bob WoodsMember 
    Title:
    Let's Talk U.S. Elections
    Entry:

    "I Voted" stickerNow that all of the hoopla, back-and-forth, and (insert your favorite adjective here) from the U.S. mid-term elections is starting to die down, it's time for Monday-morning quarterbacking ... in this case, Wednesday morning.

    There's a lot of wailing and gnashing of teeth, in terms of what incoming House Republicans may or may not to do a lot of legislation that's been discussed, is in the pipeline, or already has been passed.

    Environmental professionals, meantime, are esepcially concerned about green-related initiatives.

    I'd like to hear your thoughts and predictions on how all of this will affect the environmental industry. Before I do that, let me hit you with something I found today:

    More:

    The following is from the SmartBrief on Sustanibility e-newsletter:

    This year's midterm election was a reaction against government overreach on decisions that require more regionally nuanced solutions. The reaction is consistent with what we're learning as we develop biofuels and biopower projects: The government can set objectives, but determining how best to achieve those should should be left up to local constituencies and should depend on regional conditions. It is imperative that this new Congress find common cause to follow through on the administration's strong commitment to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels.

    -- C. Scott Miller, president of The Miller De Wulf Corp., a bioenergy marketing and consulting firm based in Los Angeles, who tweets on Twitter @bioblogger

    Seems that Mr. Miller is more of a "bottom up" guy, when it comes to innovation and governmental control of energy sources. I'd say the previous Congress definintely had more of a "top-down" feel when it came to a lot of subjects, with green energy/issues and the environment being two of them.

    Will there be more cooperation in Washington with those "in the field," when it comes to environmental and green issues? Or will these efforts grind to a halt, as Republican versus Democrat fights boil over?

    And in a broader sense, who wins and who loses -- environmentally speaking -- with the incoming political wave that's breaking right?

    I can't think of a better place to have that conversation than right here at commonground. What do you say?

    Keywords:
    republican, democrat, obama, environment, green, energy, electricity, politics, epa,
  • Bob Woods
    Making Green a “Must Do”
    Entry posted October 5, 2010 by Bob WoodsMember 
    Title:
    Making Green a “Must Do”
    Entry:

    My last blog post touched on several areas that you can do in your projects to both make them more green, and to save money (or get tax credits and deductions) while undergoing that "greening" process. If you're doing work for most any kind of governmental entity, though, the "can" in the preceding sentence changes into "must."

    Since we’re talking federal, state and local government here, the list of green items and initiatives needed in new construction, fit-out and rehabbing is as wide and long as anything you’ve ever seen. While many of the items dictated by governmental entities have to do with the construction or reconstruction of public buildings, some do control what can and cannot be built into and onto privately owned structures.

    Enter the U.S. Green Building Council—the people who developed the LEED certification process. They’ve really done a heckuva job in compiling a list of public policies regarding green construction. How big is the list? In the USGBC’s own words:

    Various LEED initiatives including legislation, executive orders, resolutions, ordinances, policies, and incentives are found in 45 states, including 442 localities (384 cities/towns and 58 counties), 35 state governments (including the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico), 14 federal agencies or departments, and numerous public school jurisdictions and institutions of higher education across the United States.

    That’s a lot of programs. The USGBC is always adding to it, as well.

    To access them, you can go here for the overall list as a Web page, here for a printed list [.pdf], or here to perform a search of all of the information contained in the Web page. The USGBC has even split the list into several categories. The links below will take you to the subsection of a massive page that lists all of the public policies about which it knows.

    Federal | State/Local | K-12

    If you're wondering how much information is in this list, let’s just say it’s been a very, very long time since I’ve had to scroll that much.

    There’s also a higher education list. You have to be a member of the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE) to see it, though. That page is here, but it is behind a firewall. If you’re a member, have at it.

  • Bob Woods
    A Green-Professional Incubator?
    Entry posted September 20, 2010 by Bob WoodsMember 
    Title:
    A Green-Professional Incubator?
    Entry:

    My company has entered into an agreement with a company called Greenavise here in the DC area. On its consulting side, Greenavise does just what you’d expect they’d do: green-related sustainability and energy-efficiency consulting.

    This company, though, does something else that I really find exciting. It’s a coworking venture that I think is pretty unique. I’m not sure how “unique” it really is, though. That’s why I need your help.

    One thing’s for sure: Greenavise’s coworking opportunity is definitely a one-of-a-kind in the DC area. This is an excerpt about the program from the company’s Website:

    Greenavise has created a unique green incubator for entrepreneurs in the Washington, D.C. area.  We are offering an opportunity for businesses with a focus or strong awareness of sustainability to participate in an innovative environment that has office, retail, showroom, seminar/event and storage space. This hub for green businesses is designed to allow you or your organization the flexibility of fitting your needs to your budget as you grow, while forming symbiotic relationships with businesses in the same sector.

    Greenavise has several different levels of membership, which go for as little as $50 a month. That's not a lot of green, for some exposure to a lot of "green" people.

    I believe I’m going to be working out of their offices a day or two a week. I’m looking forward to it, as I want to further expand my contacts in the green sector here in DC. I also want to increase my green contact base across the country; that’s one of the reasons why I’m here at commonground. (I’ll explain the others in a future post.)

    I need your help because I’ve been tasked to write a news release on the new relationship between my company and Greenavise. I’d like to say this coworking arrangement is unique, but you know what will happen the moment I write that and put it on the press-release wires. You got it—someone will say, “Hey, they’re not unique at all. There’s about one million of them in the US alone.” Not that many, of course, but you get the idea.

    If you know of others in your area, please let me know in the comments below. Conversely, if you think this is unique, please say so, too. Thanks for your help.

  • Bob Woods
    How the “Question Mark” Guy Can Help Your Projects With Gre...
    Entry posted September 21, 2010 by Bob WoodsMember 
    Title:
    How the “Question Mark” Guy Can Help Your Projects With Green $$
    Entry:

    photo of Bob Woods & Matthew LeskoI met this guy this morning at the event I blogged about last night. If you haven’t seen his TV commercials in the past, his name is Matthew Lesko, and he usually tells you about how you can use the federal government’s dime to pay for college, start a new business, etc.

    He told me today, though, that he knows of ways to use Uncle Sam’s wallet to help pay for green projects—both residential and commercial.

    Being that we were at a networking function, we didn’t really get a chance to talk specifics. After telling him about my blogs—the one here, as well as the one at my company—he’s offered to share some of the programs he’s found in our topic area.

    Lesko was at our function this morning, because green construction is especially big here in the DC area (he also lives in the area). The federal government is either building facilities or building out existing space with pretty stringent green requirements. The feds are also requiring its contractors to reduce their carbon footprint, which means even more work for those who are in the green arena around here.

    I imagine the he’s going to share information will likely help projects across the country, too. I’m not sure when I’m going to meet with him about this; when I do, you better believe I’ll be blogging about it for my fellow cg members.

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