Taking Action: Getting the Goal off the Ground
Once an organization sets its emissions reduction target, the only thing left to do is make it happen. An organization may uncover many paths and projects to reducing its GHG emissions, with a great deal of variance in terms of projected payoffs and ease of implementation. Carbon management strategies, and the willingness or capacity to take longer, more involved steps, will vary depending on the organization’s culture, values, and available resources.
Though many options exist, the following represent common emission reduction projects to consider:
Energy efficiency projects - Improving efficiency is widely recognized as the most cost effective source of carbon reductions. Efficiency projects, however, often require capital investments and a focused effort to identify opportunities, which tend to be fragmented throughout a building or a portfolio. See the Retrofits and Performance Management topics for more information about efficiency. Because efficiency improvements tend to generate cost savings over the long term through reduced energy bills, capital issues arise and financing is commonly required. For more information on overcoming clean energy capital and financing barriers, see the Finance topic.
Low- and no-cost efficiency improvements and carbon reduction activities - Engaging employees and stakeholders becomes especially important in this effort, as the people on the front lines have access to all the relevant information and quite often provide valuable ideas and insights about how to save energy and reduce environmental impacts.
Renewable energy generation - Installing renewable energy projects on site can be expensive, but can also more fully engage stakeholders while sending a strong message of the organization’s commitment to sustainability. See the Net Zero topic for a more detailed look at onsite renewables and information about how information technology can help to integrate renewable energy.
Workplace optimization - Some organizations have found that more efficient use of their real estate portfolios can meet their functional needs, reduce energy bills and generate fewer greenhouse gas emissions. In addition, including information on employees’ commuting habits may also reduce transportation-related emissions by helping employees understand the emissions associated with commuting choices.
Supply chain management - In retail, manufacturing, and other sectors that involve significant resources from outside suppliers, a sizeable portion of an organization’s carbon footprint depends on the sustainability practices upstream in the supply chain. Recent emphasis has been placed on identifying and managing the GHG emissions associated with suppliers.
Green power, RECs and offsets - Many organizations incorporate green power purchases, renewable energy certificates (RECs), or carbon offsets into their reductions strategy. While certification and standardization are growing, it is imperative that an organization investigate and understand exactly what assets they are purchasing and how they reduce emissions. Third party verification can be an important tool to reassure the organization that it is getting what it pays for in terms of emissions reductions. For more on purchasing credible green power, RECs and offsets, see the U.S.EPA’s Guide to Purchasing Green Power.
In the Institute for Building Efficiency’s latest Energy Efficiency Indicator (EEI) survey for North America, decision makers responsible for managing commercial buildings across a broad set of industry sectors were asked to identify the most important strategies for reducing their organization’s GHG emissions.1 Forty-one percent either hadn’t prioritized or didn’t know their top strategy. Among survey respondents who had prioritized strategies, energy efficiency in buildings was most commonly selected as the organization’s top strategy, selected eight times more frequently than the next most popular GHG emission reduction strategy.
Monitoring and Verification
As programs are rolled out and GHG emission reduction projects launched, it is important to track progress. The organization must be able to see results and communicate them, both externally (reporting, compliance, investors, general public) and among internal stakeholders. The volume of data involved can make this a daunting task and requires deep levels of scrutiny to insure that the reductions are real and valid. Monitoring and verification should occur at all levels and phases, both for individual components and for the organization as a whole:
Verifying individual components - This might include tracking utility bills, metering the electricity used by buildings or equipment, and monitoring the output of a solar array or a biodiesel generator. For a number of reasons, energy efficiency installations often fail to perform to maximum levels following installation, adding greater significance to the measurement and verification process. A chilled water plant, for example, may be designed and installed correctly, but operated in a manner that partially counteracts the efficiency gains.
Verifying organization-wide GHG emissions – GHG emissions for the whole organization must be monitored and checked against the reduction goal. Unlike data gathered from a single emissions reduction project, this type of measurement can present a sizeable data management challenge. A multi-national corporation, for example, must obtain energy usage information for sites around the world, requiring collection, validation and analysis of utility bills from hundreds of utilities and in dozens of languages.
Monitoring and Verification ultimately feeds back into the initial GHG Inventory, showing progress against the baseline. These efforts can be greatly facilitated by the use of sophisticated data-gathering and analysis software and technology. A metering system, for example, could collect data from various sites and operations and route it to a central database for analysis. A chart might be generated that displays both the business-as-usual projection versus the energy saved in a specific building or piece of equipment. By networking across the enterprise, monitoring and verification can be done for the organization as a whole, providing continuous tracking of the progress toward the carbon emission targets established earlier in the cycle.
Technology is improving, leading to more options for greenhouse gas managers to enhance their decision-making through accurate and timely information. To be fully effective, this process and analytical framework must enable and empower real stakeholders and decision-makers as they take action – measuring emissions, setting goals, and implementing a successful carbon management plan.
1 Institute for Building Efficiency, International Facility Management Association (2010) “Energy Efficiency Indicator for North America.” Survey conducted of over 1,400 commercial building decision-makers in U.S. and Canada.