Sustainability 2.0

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Sustainability 2.0

Minerva and FigBytes just collaborated on a webinar about Sustainability 2.0. I was surprised to be reminded how inspiring systemic change can be. We delved into the transformative possibilities for sustainability and climate action and considered tools for setting ambitious visions and navigating to those goals....

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Story of Microfibers

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Story of Microfibers

Have you heard of microfibers?  I recently learned the Story of Stuff launched a campaign to raise awareness about microfibers in the water supply.  Microfibers are microscopic plastic fibers coming off of your synthetic clothing. 

The most popular example of such synthetic clothing is fleece.  Fleece has been my favorite clothing material for years, especially in cold months, because wool started to irritate my skin.  Fleece is light and easy to care for.  Whenever I saw garments were made of recycled plastic, it made me feel good because I was not contributing to the production of more plastic.  Like many other people, I also have yoga pants and other exercise clothing made of other synthetic fibers.

Now, it turns out microfiber comes off whenever I wash those synthetic clothes. Those plastic particles are so tiny that water treatment facilities can’t catch them, so they flow into rivers, lakes and oceans.  They will absorb toxic materials such as oil, pesticides and chemicals in the water and eventually get consumed by fish.  When we eat fish, those microfibers end up in our stomachs.  The great food chain at work… It is estimated that there are 1.4 million trillion microfibers in the ocean, which is equal to 200 million per person. Mind blowing numbers!

I have a few favorite items of clothing that I have been wearing for years.  I thought not buying too much new stuff is good for the environment.  But then I found out that older garments are even worse polluters of microfibers because well-worn clothes release more microfibers than new ones in the washing process.

This piece of information got me thinking about what I can do not to contribute microfibers as a consumer…I guess I can get rid of all my fleece garments but what I can wear in the middle of winter?  Wool over cotton underwear to avoid skin irritation? 

As the video from the Story of Stuff points out, the solution does not require onlyindividual consumers’ behavior to change.  Clothing and fabric manufacturers also need to get involved in finding solutions to this “small huge problem.”  Any new magic natural fiber in the making?

Please watch the video and start thinking what each of you can do.   The Story of Microfibers  We welcome your thoughts and comments.

Blog posted by Kanako McPhail, April 19, 2017

 

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Unlocking Value from Holistic Approach to Building Upgrades

Blog Summary: Many commercial building energy efficiency upgrades are proposed each year, but more than 75% of projects that are proposed do not get approved. This is why...

Per Scott Harmon from Building Buzz[1], many commercial building energy efficiency upgrades are proposed each year, but more than 75% of projects that are proposed do not get approved. There are three main reasons why this happens:

 1.      No Budget: Most projects don’t get approved because there is not a budget. Unless the equipment is broken or at end of life, the building owner has no reason to budget for it.  Upgrading lighting, installing building controls and replacing a functioning chiller are often unplanned investment opportunities. The majority are unforeseen and therefore unbudgeted.

2.      Lack of Trust: Building owners do not trust the forecasted savings in energy efficiency equipment proposals. Presented with a proposal to purchase more efficient equipment, the building owner is asked to (a) replace equipment that’s most likely not broken and (b) make a decision based on the IRR that’s computed by the person selling the equipment.

3.      Meeting Internal Hurdle Rates: Most purchase decisions had to pass a payback test.  How long will it take the building owner to get their cash back? Every building owner has a hurdle rate for payback.  If the project doesn’t meet the internal hurdle rate, there is no chance it will get approved.   

Minerva’s turnkey building upgrade program takes a holistic approach that combines energy efficiency, water efficiency, renewable energy, building envelop and seismic upgrades and with third party financing, such as PACE. Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) is a form of capital that building owners can use to fund energy efficiency and renewable energy projects eliminating the need for the upfront capital investment In California, PACE can be used to cover the costs of seismic retrofits, as well as energy and water upgrades. PACE authorizes municipalities or counties to work with private capital providers to provide upfront financing to commercial property owners for qualifying improvement projects, and to collect the repayment through annual or semi-annual assessments on the property’s tax bill.

By addressing multiple goals in one renovation project, owners can transform one-component-at-a-time projects into synergistic, high-return projects.  The economics for many of these projects can be cash flow neutral or positive from day one. Thus, the traditional “split incentive” barrier, whereby the owners pay for the capital expenses for energy efficiency upgrades, while the tenants receive the energy savings benefits through a reduction in their proportionate share of the base building operating expenses can be overcome with this program. Building owners can now view their building upgrade projects as value-creating investments and not unwanted, unnecessary expenses for themselves and their tenants. 

Having been in the construction business for many years, I am very excited about this program.  To learn more about how to unlock value from the holistic approach to building upgrades, please join us for the Better, Safer Building event on 2/2/17. http://tinyurl.com/z67jmle.  

[1]http://www.buildings.com/buzz/buildings-buzz/entryid/354/3-reasons-why-commercial-building-upgrades-arent-approved

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Is divestment just a moral issue?

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Is divestment just a moral issue?

When I started to hear about fossil fuel divestment movements, I simply thought that was a moral argument;  Fossil fuels are major drivers of climate change, which imperils our future and therefore endowments and pension plans should divest from the fossil fuel companies to align their investments with shareholders’ values.

Then I learned that Carbon Tracker Initiative has been saying divestment of oil & gas company stocks makes economic sense. Here is their rationale.

As the prices of renewables continue to drop and the shift to renewables accelerates, the demand for oil and gas will continue to decline, while the big oil and gas companies continue to project increasing demand and profitability in their business plans and annual reports.  In addition, their operations  will also be negatively affected in the future by decreasing availability of ingredients and water, vulnerability and risks of their physical operations and negative impact on employee health and safety, etc.  Higher costs will further depress their profitability.

The era of production of cheap oil and gas is getting close to an end and the energy companies are not even covering their CAPEX for producing those fossil fuels at the current market prices.  They need to invest millions or billions of dollars now in order to benefit from their investments in oil & gas exploration in the 10-15 years time.  If they continue to invest such huge sums, they would most likely end up with “zombie” (or stranded) assets in the future, thus the valuations of the companies need to be discounted.  It is a bad investment decision to buy the stocks of those companies.   It doesn't make sense for the shareholders to continue to support such moribund business model, either. Those companies need to shift gears to reinvent their business with an eye on the effect of the 2°C ceiling, not doing business as usual.

It thus makes a perfect financial sense for big pension funds, endowments and investment funds to divest from the assets that are unlikely to perform well in the coming years if they are concerned about the long-term growth and returns.

Climate Change is indeed a financial issue as well as a moral issue.



Related article by BillMcKibben- 

http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/news/global-warmings-terrifying-new-math-20120719

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