How to formulate a sustainability program Featured

8:07pm EDT April 30, 2012
How to formulate a sustainability program

Sustainability programs and energy conservation are rapidly gaining popularity in the corporate world. Economic advantages include reduced operating costs and savings on utilities, maintenance and capital expenditures. Environmental benefits include the use of recycled building materials and improved air and water quality.

According to Robert Jones, Ph.D., Vice President of Advanced and Emerging Technologies for Corporate College, a sustainable plan should begin with a complete assessment of current conditions.

Smart Business spoke with Jones about sustainability programs, what types of alternative energy options are available and how he sees the marketplace evolving in the future.

Why should more companies embrace sustainability programs?

It saves money and helps the environment. Many programs can be initiated at little or no cost. Beginning a recycling program, for example, may take as little as an investment in some recycling bins and employee training.

At Tri-C, one of our programs focuses on turning off computer equipment at the end of a workday. The only cost is training our employees, but the payoff can be substantial. Tri-C has a lighting program that uses LED lighting in all of the on-campus vending machines. Most offices have motion sensors that automatically turn off lights after a certain time if no motion is detected.

Tri-C has made the commitment for new construction projects to be LEED certified. The Advanced Technology Center currently under construction is designed to be at least LEED silver. We take sustainability programs very seriously. It’s a good way to do business.

What types of alternative energy options are available?

Most large-scale projects focus on wind or solar. Wind farms take up a lot of space and must be located where wind speed is sufficient and constant enough to create electricity, and often that is not where transmission lines are available. This increases the cost of the project because the supporting infrastructure must be built. Large projects need to be coupled with smart grid initiatives so the power grid can compensate for the loss of power when the wind dies down. Power cannot be stored on the grid, so power lost from the wind farm must be immediately replaced through increased generation from other power plants.

Large solar projects need to be built in locations to maximize sunlight and infrastructure could be an issue. However, small solar projects can be built in multiple locations. Tri-C has solar installations at some of our campus locations, including the downtown Metro campus and at the Advanced Automotive Technology Center on our Western campus.

What kinds of subsidies are available for businesses that use alternative energy?

The federal and state governments generally have programs for purchase and installation of alternative energy systems, either through grants or tax breaks. The availability of these programs changes frequently, so it is best to visit the Department of Energy website to find the latest programs.

How should a business go about formulating a plan to take advantage of alternative energy?

Alternative energy should be included as part of a complete sustainability plan, which starts with a complete assessment of current conditions. At Tri-C, we analyzed energy usage, climate, transportation, buildings, grounds, procurement, recycling, waste reduction and training. Based on where we were, we set specific goals and timelines. Input was solicited from all levels, including students, because for sustainability programs to be successful, everyone needs to do their part.

Some programs were inexpensive, such as creating a recycling program across all campuses or offering discounted RTA passes so students could take mass transit instead of driving to campus. Other programs were more extensive, such as retrofits to update lighting, boilers and AC systems. Tri-C made a commitment for all new buildings to be constructed to LEED standards. Campus green spaces were redesigned to decrease the amount of storm water runoff.

These are just some of the projects that Tri-C has implemented to increase efficiency, lower the carbon footprint and ultimately decrease operating costs. Not all of the programs that Tri-C is implementing will work in every business, but the process that Tri-C used should be widely applicable. The main steps are to analyze current conditions, set goals, develop a workable plan and gain employee acceptance.

How do you see the marketplace for alternative energy evolving

The Department of Energy believes that utilities will shift to more distributed generation in the next 10 to 15 years instead of large power plants providing all of the power generation. This is going to include wind and solar but may also include small biomass facilities and plug-in electric or electric hybrid vehicles.

However, renewable energy sources, at least today, are not completely reliable; the wind can stop blowing, or the solar panels can be obscured by clouds. To manage changing conditions in the power generation, utilities will need many of the features provided by the smart grid. These technologies allow utilities to monitor power conditions throughout the grid, bring online additional generation as needed, or to control load to compensate for lost generation. Deployment of smart grid technologies varies from state to state, and Ohio is far behind states such as Texas, Florida and California.

But even with smart grid technologies, renewable energy will account for only a small percentage of generation until the problem of storage is solved. Currently, all power must be consumed as it is created. Renewable energy would be more reliable if it could be stored when generated and supplied to the grid when needed.

Robert Jones, Ph.D. is Vice President of Advanced and Emerging Technologies for Corporate College. Reach him at (216) 987-3038 or Robert.Jones@tri-c.edu.

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