New trends in Green Buildings and sustainability Reporting: Integrity versus Applicability

According to the most recent GreenBiz State of Green Business report, an increasing number of environmental performance results will be both reported and explained in the form of an Integrated Report (IR). An IR accounts for the inclusion of absolute environmental costs, which are “tallied by compiling companies’ individual impacts, such as carbon emissions, water consumption and waste, and assigning a cost to each impact.” Very few companies have yet to factor these considerations into their accounting systems, let alone report such information to investors. But GreenBiz notes that as governments begin to regulate carbon and as the climate change causes shifts in the monetary value of resources companies rely on, environmental costs will become a bigger lever for success or failure.

When it comes to addressing environmental costs, the areas of requiring the most attention occur outside the corporate office, in sectors such as operations, facilities, fleets, energy and real estate. The buildings sector is one part of the climate change equation with the greatest potential for significantly reducing greenhouse gas emissions and addressing environmental costs. The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) estimates that buildings are responsible for more than 40% of energy use internationally, one-third of greenhouse gas emissions and 30% of raw material use. “Greening” corporate real estate can help achieve deep cuts in greenhouse gas emissions both rapidly and cost-effectively, while simultaneously allowing companies to better manage and measure their environmental performance.

The recent trend of integrative reporting is already accounting for this component by urging companies to provide a basis for identifying and quantifying the projected benefits from investments in green building, and by fueling interest in integrating building sector reporting standards under the GRI and other frameworks.

Given investor and consumer consciousness of labeling programs, it is no surprise that as sustainability reporting develops to include these factors, many companies also seek certification to better communicate their green building initiatives. Studies show that because of investor and consumer awareness, certified buildings often lead in business activity; for instance, PNC Financial Services Group’s LEED rated facilities opened more than four hundred additional consumer deposit accounts and had more than three million more in consumer deposit balances per facility per year than non-certified properties. Overall, certifying a facility can exponentially improve a company’s financial performance and help to lower its operational costs.

Yet, the green building certification process remains a huge barrier for many businesses seeking to incorporate green building in their sustainability strategies. Programs such as LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) can add millions to construction costs while promising to cut other expenses. The additional costs of hefty certification fees and the soft costs of consultants and other hires leave little room in the budget for improving a buildings’ sustainability performance post-certification. And because corporations sometimes require various property types (whether owned or leased) to operate their business, there may exist drastically different conditions for each building seeking certification. Frustration over costs, building limitations and impracticalities of requirements consequently causes some businesses to throw their facilities to the wayside with certification.

But if the operation and management of corporate real estate plays a significant negative or positive factor in a company’s social responsibility, citizenship, or sustainability actions, then this shouldn’t be the case. Some may find that they can no longer afford to ignore the certification procedure – through certification they can more effectively address the critical role of their real estate assets.

One way that CSE is helping companies to achieve this in a less costly manner is through SERF, or the Society of Environmentally Responsible Facilities. SERF was designed in an effort to avoid many of the issues encountered with green building certification – mainly that it can be cost-prohibitive, timely, and oftentimes inaccessible. With SERF, integrity no longer trumps applicability – users avoid settling for a single trophy building by applying one rating system along an entire building portfolio at a much lower cost.

SERF offers an approachable method for certifying all facility types, whether that is a leased office or a warehouse, a small urban building or a large rural one. The process itself saves time and money by moving away from reliance on third-party consultants and commissioning agents for documentation (although all SERF documentation is verified by a licensed architect or engineer before certification is granted). Better yet, it’s flexible. Users can better address their sustainability goals by choosing to certify a building through a prescriptive pathway or a performance-based pathway. A dynamic scoring system also offers criteria that are considerate of building environment and limitations. The result? There’s no need to beat your head against the wall to achieve simple, streamlined results – you can have your green building and flaunt it too.

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How Carbon Footprint reduction is transforming the DNA of Leadership

Sustainability is about longevity, but it is also about transformation. “How do we respond to challenges and evolve for the better”, is always a question central to any leadership strategy. But being able to effectively communicate that question, connect it to a larger movement, inspire higher performance, find innovative solutions and influence traditional thinking are all characteristics that pertain to only a certain kind of leader. Given the recent flurry of climate change scares, there is no doubt that it is this concept of a “transformative leader” that will be leading the year’s discussion.

What is transformative leadership? Simply put, transformative leaders focus on their followers: they motivate followers to achieve higher levels of performance, listen and respond to their needs, challenge them to be innovative and creative, and in the process help them to develop their own leadership potential.

A recent report by The Climate Group spells out five traits that need to be embraced by business and government in order to create transformative leaders and achieve long-lasting, low-carbon results. The first step? Embrace change.

Many political and business leaders already acknowledge change, but only in recent years have we seen these leaders begin to embrace change as an instrumental part of longevity.  For instance, in his second Inaugural Address, President Obama announced a renewed commitment to clean energy and greenhouse gas reduction. In doing so he warned America of the need to change with changing times: “The path towards sustainable energy sources will be long and sometimes difficult. But America cannot resist this transition; we must lead it.” World Bank President Kim Jong Kim has also recently promised to make tackling climate change a top priority during his term. These leaders are beginning to embrace carbon reduction – not as a goal, but as a long-term and integral strategy for profitability, economic growth, and security. Their brute regulation is not only imminent, but also reflective of a new style of leadership: one that is strategic, determined, and receptive to the possibilities of change.

With decisive leadership also comes disruptive leadership. Transformative leaders create controversial strategies that challenge the way sectors and state interact. According to Senate climate guru Barbara Boxer, we can expect to see this approach in upcoming U.S. policy, whether in the form of a revenue-generating carbon tax or re-energized EPA regulatory schemes aiming to drive businesses to compete in energy markets and pave the path for clean energy.

We’ll also witness this as an increasingly common business strategy for success. According to The Carbon Disclosure Project, more than two-thirds of business already put climate change at the heart of their business strategies. Most of these companies are reporting their emissions at the company level. However, many more are challenging the status quo by learning how to extend emission reporting from the confines of their own operations to the wider effects of their products – re-defining the scope of reporting to include categories such as product use phase, end of life phase, and carbon abatement of products and services.

The business Case is evident in the following graph where  organizations that join the Carbon Disclosure Leadership Index (CDLI) have much better financial performance overtime that all the others in the Global 500 Index. The  CDLI includes Siemens, Coca-Cola, Microsoft and many other industry leaders

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At the Centre for Sustainability & Excellence, we observe these progressing trends with a growing number of professionals attending our global Sustainability and Carbon Strategy Practitioner training programs in all major cities including NY, Chicago, San Francisco, Atlanta, Toronto, Tokyo ,Dubai and Brussels  . Our registrants hail from forward-thinking companies like United Airlines, Walmart, Unilever and ABM. Their backgrounds are diverse – comprised of Sustainability and CSR Officers, Communications and Marketing Directors, Investor Relations and even Media Relations departments. What unites these individuals is a growing demand to learn: how to be radical, how to be transformative, and how to create impactful, enduring value.  Our upcoming training held in Chicago on March 7-8 is was designed in response to this maturing mentality; the training includes all scopes of GHG emission reporting, as well as incorporates hot topics such as water footprint, Life Cycle Analysis, and carbon reduction via green building.  As many more begin to follow these trends and pursue such knowledge, simple policies and reporting will no longer be enough. Investors and stakeholders alike will be looking for radical strategies that aim to create long-lasting impact – those professionals without the right amount of know-how might as well fold their cards to this new era of transformative leadership.

The environmental and entrepreneurial importance of “green” retail shops

The concept of sustainable development in terms of the lean and prudent use of energy resources of the Earth is initially embedded in daily business practice as a cost reduction strategy. The likelihood of an unexpected climate destabilization, has mobilized citizens who step up their efforts to direct formation of ecological consciousness and compliance. Companies on the other hand, as associations of economic power tend to endorse political power and to adopt environmental criteria to bring the idea of sustainable development into practice.

The idea of corporate policy of sustainable development through sound energy management can be incorporated at corporate-level, product-level and store-level infrastructure of the organization itself. In terms of main infrastructure, green stores aim to continuously reduce the environmental impacts of operation of these interventions by saving energy and natural resources as well as by adopting efficient waste and energy management systems.

Specifically, at a first level an energy-responsible store identifies its carbon footprint, ie the rate of carbon dioxide emitted during its operation, and lists in detail its intensive sources of energy. On a second level, based on this mapping, the organization in interest has the opportunity to develop a plan to reduce emissions by replacing them with efficient energy sources to create a more energy-responsible infrastructure. Optionally the organization may proceed to a more advanced plan, by offsetting through an internationally accredited organization. The compensation covers a deposit corresponding to the carbon originating from the operation of the infrastructure and is invested in projects and research on renewable energy.

Daily “eco-friendly practice” is not only a social service but a potentially innovative business strategy as an energy efficient store does not increase operating costs but rather limits them. A good strategic communication for the company’s profile is also recommended because of the increasing market demand for green development. Consumers today recognize green entrepreneurship as a basic condition for sustainable development, before the threat of ecological collapse of the planet from polluting human activities and global warming.

Carbon Strategy: Just marketing?

Climate Change is one of the biggest challenges for the global community and greenhouse gas emissions (Greenhouse Gas-GHG) in the atmosphere are considered the main factor that cause. Apart from the international commitments (Rio, Kyoto Protocol) and national efforts to reduce emissions, organizations and businesses can also have an active role in tackling climate change. This is no what citizens / consumers who attach great importance to this environmental aspect require from companies and expect concrete results proving so. The measurement of carbon footprint is now common practice for many organizations worldwide, and is usually accompanied by a specific strategy on Climate Change.

In any case it is considered an environmental claim, meaning that companies communicate to consumers a message of protecting the environment, however it is more than this. Several models for calculating carbon footprint require companies to develop plans to reduce the footprint of products over time. These actions may relate to changes in energy consumption, use of new environmental-friendly technology, changes in product packaging, use of raw materials with less transportation needs (emphasis on local suppliers), thus result in the long-term reduction of carbon footprint and therefore beneficial for the environment. Carbon footprint and the overall Carbon Strategy are not just marketing, but also provide substantial benefits to society, and many companies have begun to realize the importance of this interaction with consumers.

For more information visit our consulting services for  LCA and Verification  or GHG Measurement and Reduction

New Carbon Emissions Proposed by the EPA

On Tuesday, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released it’s first rules on carbon-dioxide emissions for newer power plants.  Under these regulations, new fossil-fuel-fired plants must emit no more than 1,000 pounds of carbon dioxide per megawatt hour.

These new regulations will probably not make an immediate effect on carbon emissions.  The Washington Post’s Brad Plummer points that the newer plants already fall under this threshold and that regulations need to focus on conventional coal plants that emit more than 1,800 pounds of carbon dioxide per megawatt hour.

Plummer continues on to say that these new regulations will make it harder to build a coal-fired plant in the United States that can’t capture and store it’s own carbon emissions. The cost of collecting carbon emissions data is high and many companies cannot justify the costs.

Chief Executive Officer and President of the American Coalition for Clean Coal and Electricity, a coalition of coal-fueled power companies agrees. He told Environmental Leader that the rule would “make it impossible to build any new coal-fired power plants.”

However, this is a step in the right direction to control carbon emissions.  These new regulations are the EPA’s way of recognizing that global warming is a problem and that the administration is looking for ways to cut emissions.

While it was expected that the EPA would be releasing additional regulations for coal-fired plants after the November election, EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson told The Washington Post that there are no plans at this time to address existing coal-fired plants.

Beyond Climate Change Estimations!

THE NEED OF CARBON FOOTPRINT VERIFICATION AS IMPORTANT TOOL FOR TRANSPARENT REPORTING

Increasingly, leading organizations regard the mitigation of climate change as an important part of their role in society. Climate Change is becoming an ever-pressing matter and its mitigation more and more demanding from all members of society, including businesses and public organizations.

The origins of Climate Change are directly connected to Greenhouse Gas Emissions, which are the product of human activity. A wide range of interested parties regard Climate Change as one of the most important issues of our times and expect businesses to actively prove that they are part of the solution and not part of the problem. The issue of environmental protection is a target of prime importance for businesses and government organizations.

The results from a survey in more than 500 business leaders from China, Germany, India, Japan, the United Kingdom and the United States showed the following business attitudes towards climate change: 45% said that climate change was currently a major issue for their business, 59%- believe that climate change will be a major issue for them within 5 years. At the same time, climate change is not high on the list of strategic priorities for many companies. Only 5% named climate change as their top strategic priority and just 11% of business stated that climate change figures as their 2nd or 3rd strategic priority.

According to a study by the Natural Marketing Institute (NMI), almost 90% of the U.S. population believes it is important for companies to not just be profitable, but to be mindful of their impact on the environment and society.

All organizations emit CO2 from operations and production of products. Upon decision to reduce its environmental footprint, an organization must first detect its current impact to the environment. This means, undergoing assessment to calculate the CO2 emissions produced at all levels of the production line or the operation of the organization.

Over 3,000 organizations in some 60 countries from across the world’s major economies measure and disclose their greenhouse gas emissions, water use and climate change strategies through the Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP). CDP is an independent not-for-profit organization holding the largest database of primary corporate climate change information in the world. This data is made available for use by a wide audience including institutional investors, corporations, policymakers and their advisors, public sector organizations, government bodies, academics and the public.

A most important phase of the greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) calculation is the Data Verification of the data collected.  Data Verification is the process of evaluating the completeness, correctness, and compliance of a specific data set against the method, procedural, or contractual requirements.

Data verification may be performed by personnel involved with the collection of data or by an external data verifier. In general, the distinction can be made between the person producing the data to be verified and the person verifying the data. An external data verification may be performed by specialized companies upon receipt of data packages to confirm the completeness of the data package. In most of the cases on site visit are required in order to verify all data provided.

Carbon Footprint verification is needed when calculating an organizations or a products carbon footprint as the organization minimize the risk of probability of error when collecting data. Verifying the carbon footprint of a product or an organization is important to ensure it is strong enough to communicate and demonstrate your organization’s positive approach to climate change.

The Centre for Sustainability and Excellence (CSE)- a global advisory firm with activities in more than 18 countries and offices in Chicago, Brussels and Athens, specializing in Sustainability Solutions and Climate Change – has the technical experience to verify carbon footprint for organizations and products in collaboration with myclimate – a non-profit foundation and international initiative with Swiss origins,  myclimate is among the world leaders when it comes to voluntary carbon offsetting measures.

About Centre of Sustainability and Excellence (CSE)

 The Centre for Sustainability and Excellence (CSE) is a global Sustainability advisory and training organization with offices in Chicago, Athens and Brussels.  CSE provides the public and private sector unique and advanced services to achieve Stakeholder Value including practical tools for designing innovative Sustainability Strategies and Reporting, verifying Carbon Footprint, LCAs and applying global recognized Frameworks for measuring Sustainability. In the last 5 years, the company has developed 4 innovative tools that have enabled fortune 1000 companies, governments and academic institutions across America to address the Triple Bottom Line and achieving a Return on Sustainability (RoS). For more information, please visit www.cse-net.org.

Carbon Management Still a Priority Despite Recession, Report Finds

OAKLAND, CA — The vast majority of multinational companies are pushing ahead with developing and implementing carbon management strategies despite a steep global recession that sent financial markets into a tailspin and took a toll on corporate balance sheets, a new report has found.

Yet company progress is often a reflection of regionality, with North American companies lagging their Australian and European counterparts in assessing their carbon footprints and devising ways to reduce them, according to the “Carbon Management and Offsetting Trends Survey Report 2009,” a study from EcoSecurities, ClimateBiz and Baker & McKenzie LLP.

Based on responses by more than 300 global companies, the report offers a snapshot of global corporate attitudes toward the voluntary carbon market and the role of carbon offsets within larger carbon management strategies. It follows the inaugural “Carbon Offsetting Trends Survey 2008,” which was among the first to probe the buyer’s perspective of the voluntary carbon market.

An average of 60 percent of companies in this year’s survey have taken stock of their greenhouse gas inventories, with more than three-quarters (76 percent) devising or executing carbon management strategies, which also include energy efficiency, waste reduction and recycling initiatives. Carbon offsets play a key role in these plans, with more than two-thirds reporting they have already bought offsets in the past, or expressed their intention of doing so before 2012.

Nearly 70 percent of all companies reported a positive view of carbon offsets, the purchases of which are motivated by the environmental benefits they offer (91 percent), in addition to carbon neutrality and marketing reasons (89 percent) and fulfilling their CSR commitments (79 percent).

By and large, buyers gravitate toward renewable energy projects, including solar (92 percent) and wind (86 percent). The most desirable region for projects tended to be those located in the U.S., likely a reflection of the respondents’ origins: Fifty-six percent of those in the survey hail from North America.

Published September 21, 2009