Thursday, April 28, 2011

Congratulations to Former Student Naimish Upadhyay!

I am really pleased to announce that one of my former master's students, Naimish Upadhyay, was recently hired as a consultant with Ernst and Young in the area of Corporate Sustainability and Climate Change Consulting in Mumbai, India.  He will be working throughout Asia on sustainability projects.  Congratulations!  I hope to post updates on his work and successes in the future.

Naimish is the third from the right in this photo.  The image was taken after one of my classes presented results of their sustainability research in Clearwater to the Mayor and City Council of Clearwater.  According the Naimish, this class project came up in his interview with Ernst and Young.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

A Paler Shade of Green: Continued

These wind turbines on Bahrain's World
Trade Center send a green message.

One of the big critiques of the green movement is its joylessness.  Some see it as promoting a drab existence with flavorless veggie burgers, poorly fitting clothing bought in resale bins, and cohousing with a dozen hipster poets.  Of course there’s nothing wrong with these things, but it’s not what most want.  What drives this false impression is the failure of the green community to create a coherent cultural vibe that excites the masses.  Nothing demonstrates this more than most certified green buildings.

As I noted in an earlier post, the certification of green buildings is based largely on technical aspects of a building.  Per capita impact doesn’t matter.  Nor, does the impact on the surrounding community or the overall aesthetic nature of the building.  Thus, a green building is more of a technological entity that exists largely as a monolith to greenness in a sea of status quo.  Again, there is not anything particularly wrong with this approach.  However, if the point of green buildings is to try to move culture to be more environmentally sustainable, it does little to change culture if the building is not symbolically green and culturally relevant.  If a building is an island unto itself without attempting to engage its surroundings, it does little to transform culture.

Thus, when I look at most green buildings, I am truly impressed by the technological achievements, but unimpressed by the art and design of the buildings. 

Most of the green buildings I have been in have been sterile box-like structures with little clear evidence of their greenness.   They are technologically interesting, but look like office park institutional buildings both inside and out.

However, there are some that scream green!  Perhaps the greenest building I ever visited was Debevoise Hall at the Vermont Law School.  This 19th century building went through a complete renovation several years ago to transform it from a rattling old campus building to a new LEED Certified building with composting toilets, energy efficient design, and a variety of innovative projects.  It is evident upon entering the building that you are in a green building.   The greenest aspect of the building is that it is a heavily used historic building that was preserved.  It causes people to react to the building in interesting ways that are different from most other green buildings I have visited.

In short, it doesn’t matter how technologically green a building is if it doesn’t change behavior of people around and in the building.  Take a look at the certified green buildings you visit.  Do they clearly impact the behavior of those around and in the building?  Or, are they flavorless veggie burger buildings that do little to transform our society?

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Gulf Oil Spill One Year Later

Bird in Louisiana cleaned by the International Bird Rescue
and Research Center after last year's oil spill.  Photo by Brian
I'll be back to my comments on green building later this week, but I wanted to memorialize this one year anniversary of the Gulf Oil Spill with a brief post. 

Here's my take on the anniversary:  still no clear U.S. energy policy to reduce our dependence on oil, no new rules regarding safety of deep water drilling, gas approaching $5.00 a gallon, and record profits by oil companies that are subsidized by our government.What else is there to say?  Will the high gas prices cause Americans to finally wake up from our oil nightmare?

Sunday, April 17, 2011

A Paler Shade of Green Building Part 1.

Should we build new green buildings while leaving older
buildings abandoned?

In this brief essay, I hope to explain why I have a love/hate relationship with green buildings.  I do like them, at least some of them, for their technological advancements, their positive examples, and their place in changing our culture into a more environmentally sound society.  I do not like them for other reasons that have to do with consumerism and design. 

Let us first review what a green building is.  In its simplest form, a green building is one that utilizes resources wisely.  For example, green buildings are designed to reduce energy or water consumption.  They also tend to use local building materials and are innovative in their design, construction, or situation.

An international green building certifying body, LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) has emerged that provides a framework for certifying buildings using a point system.  Scores are earned in a variety of categories including energy, water, siting, building materials, and innovative approaches to design or construction.

LEED rates buildings as bronze, silver, gold, or platinum based on scores received within various categories.  While there are other green building rating systems, LEED is often considered the international standard.  It is, by far, the most commonly used system in the United States. 

There are two broad reasons why I am critical of LEED ratings.  First, the intensity of the use of the building is not taken into consideration.  What I mean by this is that a rated building can have any type of occupancy rate.  So, if I wanted to build a LEED certified mansion to house myself alone in 10,000 square feet of opulence, I could.  I would build my mansion with energy-efficient systems, lo-flo toilets, and worm composting.  I would use local materials and develop some innovative approaches.  If I did all these things and more, my green mansion would be certified as a green building even though the carbon and resource footprint would be huge on a per capita basis and far higher than a conventional home that houses several people.  Indeed, by many per capita ratings, an apartment building that has very few green innovations would be measurably greener than my green mansion.

In some cities, I have seen green commercial buildings constructed while existing commercial or office space is vacant.  Although the new buildings are wonderfully green, vacant buildings are heated, cooled, and maintained while new resources go to the new green building.

In part, that is why I am a fan of historical preservation.  Why demolish older buildings to make way for new green buildings?  It is a waste of resources and history.

I believe that there are plenty of non-certified buildings that are far greener than certified buildings—particularly when measured on a per capita basis.

To be fair, the LEED organization does have a certification process for renovated buildings.  Yet, I think it is worth questioning whether their approach leads to a greener shade of consumerism.  What I mean by this is that if a home is working well, even if it is not particularly efficient, does it make sense to retrofit the home or are we drawing consumers to buy products they do not necessarily need in order to save a bit of energy and water.  There is no doubt that if a new refrigerator is needed, that a greener more energy efficient refrigerator should replace it.  However, does it make sense to gut a working house to renovate it to be green? 

Coming design and why it needs more art and less technology.

Monday, April 4, 2011

IKEA Releases Sustainability Plan and I Give Advice

IKEA, one of the world’s largest retail companies, recently released a new sustainability report.  I brought the document to my sustainability science and management class to review today.  We are in the midst of a unit on business sustainability and the report’s release was timely.
The report has some very strong pluses in my opinion.  I do, however, have some suggestions for IKEA as they move forward.  Let me focus on the strengths of the report first.

1.  IKEA produced a sustainability report!!  The world is changing in important ways when a company the size of IKEA recognizes the significance of sustainability and uses their cultural impact and business talent to focus attention on improving the world through their mission.  While certainly not the first to focus on sustainability, they are one of the largest organizations to bring their corporate attention to the issue.

2.  IKEA is addressing issues for which they were criticized in the past.  One specific area where they have made improvements is with the use of forest products.  They have increased the amount of IKEA certified wood  in their IWAY program from 16.2% to 23.6 % of the total amount of wood used in their products.  In addition, they have taken aggressive steps to try to improve the sustainability of their wood and paper products.

3.  Unlike other organizations, they acknowledge that we are in a period of global climate change and that greenhouse gases are responsible for the change.  To address this, they are analyzing the greenhouse gas impact of their products through their life cycle.  They are also setting specific emissions targets for stores, striving for more efficient transport of goods and services, and working on local transportation options to and from their stores.

4.  They are seeking to eliminate the need to use landfills at all of their stores by having a 0 waste initiative.  In addition, they are striving to make all of their products recyclable and seeking to use recyclable materials whenever possible. 

5.  IKEA is involved with a number of different organizations to promote corporate sustainability.  Some of the key ones are the Better Controls Initiative, Business for Social Responsibility, the Forest Stewardship Council, and Compassion in World Farming.

These are just a few of the highlights that I noticed.  There are other great things in their report including guidelines for chicken production, water management of suppliers, and energy management.  I urge anyone interested in sustainability to look at the report.

There are some areas where I felt the report fell short.  Below are some suggestions for improvement in the future.

1.  Overall tone of the report.  The report is quite detailed and provides a good summary of activities.  However, I would have written a much more detailed and organized assessment of what is going on with their sustainability efforts.  I would have highlighted the goals in a more organized fashion, and I would have been bolder in my decisions.  For example, IKEA requires all stores to offer one organic food choice in their restaurants, and 10% of their food in the marketplace must be organic.  This seems like general practice these days and not particularly bold or innovative.  Bold and innovative would be 100% organic.  Likewise, IKEA purchases 13.4 percent of their total cotton from sustainable sources and hopes to have ALL of their cotton produced according to the Better Cotton Initiative social and environmental criteria by 2015.  This is a fact that is buried in the fine print on page 65. I would have put such a goal front and center.  Another example comes within the area of energy.  They are seeking to have solar panels on all of the buildings.  However they do not provide an energy savings as a result of this effort.  How much energy are they seeking to save through the production of solar energy on their buildings?

2.  IWAY.  IWAY is IKEA’s code of conduct for suppliers and is referenced several times in the report.  A review of IWAY criteria can be found here.  The guidelines, while quite positive, are not particularly innovative and seem standard for most international corporations operating in the global marketplace.  The report focuses on how some suppliers must follow applicable local laws, keep track of chemicals and their handling, manage waste, maintain safe work environments, and have clear working conditions and rights.  While this is a laudable program, IKEA, as noted in their report,  is not going to meet their 100% IWAY compliance without making some exceptions.  In addition, the issue of sub-suppliers comes into question.  Thus, it seems to me that IWAY is an issue that needs greater attention by their sustainability managers.  In addition, as stated in their goals, only the home furnishing suppliers and transport service providers are part of their 100% goal for 2012.  Have other suppliers already met the goals or are there separate evaluative tools for them?  In short, the report leads to questions of the social responsibility of their suppliers and when and whre their code of conduct is applied.

3.  IKEA Sustainability Product Score Card.  IKEA is developing a tool for assessing their products.  The criteria include using fewer resources in products, renewable or recycled material, recycling potential, product quality, transportation, and production efficiency.  This is a wonderful approach.  However, IKEA is using this as an “internal tool” to inform management of progress toward sustainability.  I have two suggestions for IKEA.  First of all, it is difficult to feel comfortable about product assessment without third party verification.  Thus, I would suggest that they work with an organization to evaluate their products.  Second, I would suggest that they publicize their results.  The fact that IKEA mentions that they are developing a sustainability scorecard is not good enough for me.  I want to see the results.  In this day of Wikileaks, why not?  They may as well put the information out.

4.  Social Responsibility.  IKEA has one of the more interesting social responsibility approaches I have seen in that they are very specific in their efforts.  I think that this is fascinating because one wonders why they picked these specific  charitable areas.  They have invested in FY 10 7.5 million Euros in water projects in India, sent IKEA products to Pakistan and India to help people impacted by flooding or earthquakes, and donated to a number of other specific projects in Asia.  In addition, local stores provide support to their local communities within prioritized areas of :  children, homeless, victims of emergencies, protection of natural resources, climate change, and education.  I would have liked to have seen more information on the local projects.  How is IKEA involved in charitable causes in the United States?  What examples are there?  I think IKEA could have printed a table of some of these within the report given the detail they provide in their global initiatives.  I would also like IKEA to discuss issues of local sourcing and purchasing within their supply line.

In short, I applaud IKEA for publishing the report.  I hope that they are open to suggestions to make their company more sustainable in the future.

Sunday, April 3, 2011


On Thursday, March 31, 2011, we had 5.9 inches of rain at our house when it was all over.  Our rain gauge nearly filled.

The day started out rainy, but then grew into a crescendo of storms that included several tornadoes and rains that were reminiscent of the 2004 hurricane season.  The photo below shows my yard in the midst of it all.  While A River Runs Through It is one of my favorite books, I didn't expect it to pertain to my lawn.

The water body between where I was standing and my neighbor's
garage is normally lawn.
Things were disrupted at USF.  Tornado warnings were issued via text message from the campus emergency reporting system.  The new emergency notification alarms sounded.  In the midst of this I had a scheduled conference call.  I found out later that the Botanical Gardens flooded.

Trees were down in my neighborhood.  Garbage floated in the floodwater almost everywhere in my part of Temple Terrace---it was evidently garbage day.

Is this normal or is it part of the trend of odd weather associated with climate change?  In this case, it seems to be just a normal severe storm that can occur in Florida this time of year.  I remember the famous March "no name" storm of 1993 that was much worse.  I was driving to Pensicola when that storm moved through the state.  I was driving on a nearly abandoned I-10 when the storm hit late at night.  When I arrived at my destination, I found out that there were tornadoes all around me.  I was glad I was listening to music.  I had a walk on a snow covered beach the next morning.

So, the nearly 6 inches of rain that fell last week were just part of the normal extremes we can experience in Florida.  As moist warm marine air moving north over our peninsula interacts with the cold dry continental air moving south, severe weather is in the forecast in the spring and fall.