Foucalt's pendulum at the United Nations in New York City
Typically I like my surprises in the form of flowers for no apparent reason. However, the news of the US-China agreement to pursue actions in support of a clean energy economy was the kind of surprise I'll take all day long. Opposition was immediate, of course, as was skepticism as to just how bold it really is. We'll certainly hear more of both, but neither can overshadow the important signal this agreement sends: The leaders of the two largest economies and GHG emitters believe our changing climate demands action. Now. It was the kind of move that causes the pendulum to swing slightly higher on the progress side.

Many in the private sector greeted the news with great enthusiasm. They recognize the risks associated with climate change, but also the inherent opportunities in transitioning to a clean energy economy. The key is the predictability that consistent policy provides. Clarity can act as an innovation accelerant and productivity driver; constraints in one area drive creativity in others. According to a recent report published by We Mean Business, companies that have set targets aligned with the science and publicly disclosed their performance are seeing an Internal Rate of Return (IRR) of 27% on low carbon investments, with some reporting an IRR as high as 81%. Not too shabby.

The US-China announcement also comes as the US EPA's proposed plan to limit carbon emissions from electric power plants reaches a critical milestone: The close of the public comment period on December 1.

The Clean Power Plan (CPP), as it's officially known, sets goals for reducing power sector emissions based on local conditions, opportunities and policies. States are granted tremendous flexibility in how to achieve the targets, including through energy efficiency, expanded use of renewables, and improvements to coal fired plants. In addition, they can leverage multi-state solutions such as the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI).

The nine participating RGGI states support the CPP because they have directly experienced the benefits of a structured program to limit GHG emissions: $70M in clean energy investments, a 40% reduction in regional CO2 emissions, job creation and an estimated $2B in lifetime energy cost savings.

Data points like there are why, increasingly, companies are stepping out publicly to call for smart energy policy. BICEP (Businesses for Innovative Climate and Energy Policy), the policy arm of Ceres, includes a growing number of companies who see the urgency of being vocal. BICEP members are asking for some degree of predictability, not prescriptive rules, but guidelines. "Policy guardrails", as Starbuck's Jim Hanna likes to call them. BICEP members have made their case to Capitol Hill. We captured some of their comments here.

They are also thinking carefully about their trade associations and what those memberships say about their brand. Consider the recent departures from ALEC. Much as they claim it doesn't matter, having over 90 high-visibility brands, including Google, Microsoft, then Facebook, and now SAP jump ship over - among other things - its climate change position sends a signal.

And the pendulum gains momentum.

BICEP was back on the Hill again in November. Together, representatives from Kellogg Company, Nestle, eBay, Mars, and many more, told lawmakers why the transition to a clean energy economy is important to business. Then we'll release an open letter to the President and congressional leaders expressing the support of companies for regulating carbon.

Join us. We just might be witnessing a pendulum shift to a clean energy economy... one that appeals to Republicans and Democrats alike. And that'd be the best surprise of all.

This blog was first published in GreenBiz November 23, 2014

I recently hosted a book talk with Union of Concerned Scientist (UCS) engineer and co-author, John Rogers. The book is titled, Cooler, Smarter - practical steps for low-carbon living. It was put out by the UCS with the objective of helping people prioritize their efforts in the reduction of their carbon footprint by 20% - at least for starters.

I know some very cool and very smart people, and thought they'd be open to learning how to become even more so. So, when Beth Zonis from MIT suggested I host a discussion, I opted in.

First of all, the UCS authors do a stellar job of articulating specific and meaningful actions, with examples, based on scientific research and analysis (which often led to some surprises). For example, when assessing all the steps involved in getting food to the grocery store it seems transportation is a minimal component. Hence, while buying local is important for a host of reasons - improved flavor, nutrients, local economy development, etc. - it doesn't much matter when it comes to your carbon footprint. The folks at UCS, and most of us in the room, didn't like that conclusion, but that's where the science led.

A fact that I was pleased to 'get smarter' about is whether or not to use AC in the car. Turns out it's pretty much a wash due to efficiency gains in both automobile engines and AC, as well as the drag from driving with open windows. When needed, I can now park my guilt and crank the AC!

One of the key points in the book, and reinforced by John, is using effective terminology. Specifically 'could' versus 'should'. Should is a bit preachy; it comes across as 'I know what's best for you'. Whereas could is more of an option, as in, 'when it's time to buy a new car if you could buy a vehicle that gets 40 miles to the gallon rather than an SUV replacement that only gets 20 miles, it would save you both $$ and CO2.'

As I said out the outset, the people in attendance were both cool and smart, and the questions reflected that. However, there was one that struck me as neither. The discussion was around food and the larger footprint of meat relative to non-meat, and someone posed a sidebar question, 'How are we ever going to get a handle on this if the poor continue to go to McDonalds every day?' I don't believe this was intended to be derogatory or prejudicial. But what it did say to me was that the need for education is never ending - and in areas we don't necessarily realize. I saw this question as a variation on the theme, 'we can't make any progress until China and India get their act together'. In other words, it's the other person who needs to change, to take action, not me and not us.

In actuality, it's all of us who need to own this challenge and take steps to address it. One thing you could do is to check out!

What a summer it’s been in New England! Sunny, blue skies, occasional excessive heat wave usually followed by an excessive downpour, but overall lovely. I think summer is one of the main reasons people live in New England. They have historically been fairly dry. That’s why when I was growing up our homes never had air conditioning. But that’s changing. It’s getting increasingly humid and I learned a lot more about why a few weeks ago from Al Gore.

As a guest of The Climate Reality Project, founded by Gore, I had the privilege to attend the conference both as a participant and a presenter. Joined on stage by my good friend Anne Kelly from Ceres and Stephanie Berger from Bell Canada, we discussed the critical role of the private sector in driving systemic change and, more importantly, how to go about gaining that support economy-wide. We also highlighted the Ceres Climate Declaration, which continues to gain momentum and demonstrate the recognition that addressing climate change is smart business.

While that was a treat, the real gift was being able to participate in the whole event while being taken on a deep-dive into the realities of climate change by Al Gore. It was such a rich few days you’ll be seeing a few more posts from me on various aspects of the conference. But now back to the increasing humidity.

The cause is water vapor. We all learned about water vapor in science class (a big part of the ‘water cycle’), but it doesn’t come up in conversation. And while it’s a Greenhouse Gas in its own right, it tends not to make the hit parade. As the atmosphere warms, more water is evaporated which in turn traps more heat. With each 1°c in temperature, the atmosphere can hold 7% more water vapor. In the last 30-40 years, our atmosphere has already increased its humidity by 4%. Aside from the uncomfortableness (and bad hair days) that it brings, it also means there’s more water pulled into storms resulting in excessive rain and snow and, in some cases, floods.

Clearly, it’s a ‘cycle’ we need to break.
It may come as no surprise that Data Centers are energy hogs.  According to a recent report by Jonathan G. Koomey, a consulting professor in the civil and environmental engineering department at
Stanford University, “Electricity used in global data centers likely accounted for between 1.1 percent and 1.5 percent of total electricity use, worldwide. For the U.S. that number was between 1.7 percent and 2.2 percent.”  And data center energy use is not slowing down.  In a separate study by DatacenterDynamics, it is estimated that the world's data centers will consume 19% more energy in the next 12 months than they did in the previous 12.  These are big numbers, and moving the dial on making data centers more energy efficient is critical.  Luckily technology professionals are putting best practices in place to lower the energy burn of their data centers.

In conversations recently with my colleague Kevin Gulley from FuelDog (he is an inbound and social media marketing expert specializing in work with technology companies), we discussed some of the things he has been hearing about when it comes to lowering energy consumption in data centers.  The first thing he mentioned was lowering energy burn related to cooling.  "In a 16,000 square foot legacy data center you see a lot of inefficiency from a cooling perspective and there is almost always room for substantial improvements.  Instead of throwing more energy and air conditioning units at the problem, the first step most companies take is to contract with a third-party firm to put together a computational fluid dynamics model so they can see where airflow is ineffective, constricted or redundant, and find areas of improvement."

Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD) is a software tool that allows businesses to simulate their data center, load it with equipment, mock-up the layout down to the types of air conditioners and floor tiles, turn everything on and see what happens.  When the air is not circulating in a data center in the most efficient manner, you wind up with hot spot that effect performance.  Over the years, businesses have simply thrown additional CRAC (computer room air conditioning) units at the problem to beat it into submission.  This is generally very expensive, energy intensive and usually not necessary.  The CFD software simulates air flow to and from servers, to CRAC units, to hot and cold aisles, under the floor, through blanking panels, etc., all in order to see how air recirculates and where hot and cool spots are. In essence, you find problem areas that are keeping the air from circulating properly before executing on a solution.  Once you have a model you can mock up if/then scenarios to determine the most efficient and cost effective solution.

"Going through the CFD process allows companies to identify several problems that may have thought were there, but with the actual data they are able to hone in on them and address them with low-cost solutions.  For example, you may find holes in the floor under server cabinets for cable cut-outs, and hot air is getting sucked right into them and contaminating our cool aisles making the air conditioners work much harder than necessary.  Simple solutions like buying some Cut-out Cubes from Sub-Zero engineering, which are essentially pillows that fill up holes in the floor can make the problem go away."  Some other additional areas of low-cost improvements that he has heard about include:

*  Putting in blanking panels (literally blank pieces of metal) to cover holes in server racks that were allowing unwanted air flow
*  Eliminating legacy and unneccesary cabling under the raised floor that restricts air flow
*  Opening smoke barriers that had been installed years ago and were no longer necessary, but were in the closed position

All of these solutions allowed for vastly improved air circulation, and more importantly, made sure that the cold air was getting to the right places in the data center.  These simple solutions can make a HUGE difference.  As a result of the CFD modeling and these improvements, businesses can often to shut down multiple CRAC units inside their data centers and still maintain optimal temperatures.  This effort can lead to dramatic savings.  It goes to show, when you have a problem, first gather the data and plan properly.  The solutions may be easier - and the benefits greater - than you initially thought. 

Check out this infographic featuring highlights from Telework Week.  This event, now in its third year is organized by the Mobile Work Exchange, and supported by Citrix.  A huge portion of the participants come from the federal government and the savings (both in time and money), quality of life and productivity improvements are truly eye opening. Feel free to share this one with whomever you like...just tell them to check out my blog and give me credit :o)

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