MEASURING OUR CARBON FOOTPRINT
Mon Dec 09, 2013
Whenever possible at SMC, we like to measure how we’re doing. Like other businesses, we have a collection of ways to measure our financial progress – profit and loss, annual budget projections and actuals, cost tracking of each of our projects, value of our several funds (pension, equity, and reserves) and more.
We consistently track (measure) our work backlog to help us plan for our near-term future.
We also measure social factors: employee education costs, compensation ratio top to bottom, length of employee tenure, average employee age, charitable contributions, and community service.
We try to predict our longer-term future, too – by doing strategic planning, creating five year plans, projecting organizational charts, and making succession plans.
In design and project planning, we do extensive measuring (engineering) to ensure good performance in our buildings. On our completed projects, we monitor energy use in our buildings and other factors (like relative humidity) to help us learn what works and what doesn’t.
And, of course, building is a process of constant measurement (and when we build we try to observe the old saying, “Measure twice. Cut once.”)
This desire – to measure whatever we can as a means of understanding who we are and what we do – led us recently, to decide to measure our carbon footprint. Despite our efforts to build durable, high performance buildings with low environmental impacts, we recognize that all of our buildings have significant impacts, as do our operations as a company.
We asked ourselves the question, “While we are working so hard to make zero energy buildings, how are we doing with energy and waste in our company operations?”
The answer, of course, is that we really didn’t know, so we set out to find out – to learn where our impacts are greatest and where the best opportunities exist to reduce those impacts. By gathering baseline data and measuring impacts, we now have a means to track our progress.
When we first imagined this project, we assumed we would find many models and templates. Surprisingly, we were unable to find small companies that are currently measuring their company carbon footprint (we still think they must be out there; we just haven’t found them yet). So we developed a methodology, gathered the data, and produced the first phase of our carbon footprint assessment. Our director of engineering, Marc Rosenbaum, was largely responsible for the methodology. My daughter Sophie, who works with us part time while she is working on an MBA in Managing for Sustainability, collected the data from various places and was the primary author of the report.
We have now completed the first phase. Here’s a snapshot that shows that by far the largest source of energy use in our company at present is employees getting to and from work and driving around (hopefully not aimlessly) doing errands during the day!
We have just completed a project to make our offices, shop, and storage facilities zero energy. We added a large solar array and replaced our oil heating with electrically driven super-efficient air source heat pumps. Because of this, we assume that our carbon footprint will diminish when all the data is in next year. Now we will prioritize the reduction of transportation energy.
We will also begin the second phase of our assessment, which is complicated. The materials that we use in our projects are a big part of our impact. In the first phase we only measured their transportation from Woods Hole (the other side of the water) to their destination, and the waste they generated. The second phase is to dig into a Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) of the materials we purchase for our projects – from the extraction phase through processing, manufacturing, distribution, use, and disposal. This requires extensive research and new learning.
For 20 years we have had the goal of reducing carbon emissions, but it has been an abstract goal to which we have only given episodic attention. It may take another 20 years to reach our zero energy and zero waste goals, and we are only beginning to learn how to do that. But this first phase of our Carbon Footprint Project – this initial inquiry – has served its intended purposes. We identified the areas in which we are already doing well, found the areas that are most ripe for improvement, and specified the aspects which need further inquiry.
There’s always something new that needs to be measured. Numbers tell stories. Stories teach. This metric feels like one that will be teaching us a lot for a very long time.
While there will be no end to this project, we are no longer at the beginning. It’s part of a path to a more sustainable future. Soon the complete report will be posted on our website. I’ll let you know when that happens. We also plan to distribute it to some of our peers for review – both to get feedback about ways to improve it and to help others begin this practice.
AARON’s HAND-FORGED SUMMER
Tue Nov 19, 2013
Our youngest foreman and Owner, Aaron Beck, is a very good carpenter (and manager too). He carves duck decoys with great skill. But his passion – these days – is metal. Aaron loves blacksmithing. Last year he spent a week in Mississippi living in a backwoods trailer and learning from an accomplished blacksmith there.
This spring he came to us and said he had a great opportunity: a well-known blacksmith in Montana, Jeffrey Funk, had agreed to take him on for a three month internship. He asked if he could take a sabbatical. We said yes. He needed to finish a house he was working on by the end of June; then he could take off for three months.
Part of Aaron’s interest – and part of our interest in his interest – is the idea of setting up a blacksmith shop at SMC to complement our woodwork and enhance our architecture. Might this happen? We don’t know, but it’s a topic of some consideration these days. Continue reading »
Fri Oct 25, 2013
For several years our 100’ steel tower stood here without a wind turbine on top. We took the machine down for repairs and never put it back up. We decided to save it for parts, for the several other similar turbines we installed years ago in other locations.
Meanwhile, we have covered the roofs of our building here with enough solar panels to take care of all the energy needs for our shop and offices. Having just switched our heating and cooling to all-electric air source heat pumps, we’re pretty much at Net Zero for the entire facility (we’ll find out for sure after a year of monitoring).
We’re not in the wind business any more (as important as we think it is), and our experiment had not been particularly successful, so it was time to take the tower down, pack it up, and prepare it for its next home. Pete D’Angelo and Phil Forest orchestrated the project.
But before it came down, Phil, who was always responsible for servicing the machine, felt the need to experience the top of the tower one more time.
Here’s what Phil had to say, and what he saw, and what we saw:
“While I sat comfortably on top of the wind turbine tower, waiting for the crane to arrive, I took in the fall foliage of the oak forest and I saw water in Lake Tashmoo brought in from the last tide. I thought about the impermanent, ever- changing nature of things.
Continue reading »
BUILDING ENERGY BOTTOM LINES
Thu Sep 26, 2013
Next week’s SMC tangent handrail class is full, with people coming from around the country, and from right here on the Vineyard as well. Now, as we slide into one of our busiest fall/winter seasons ever, we are still trying to find time to concentrate on other aspects of this theme of training and education.
We are very excited about Building Energy Bottom Lines (BEBL), a new initiative that has emerged from a few age-old questions:
• How can we make a difference?
• How can we insist on the future we want rather than accepting the future we get?
• How we are going to assure a better world – or even a tolerable one – for our grandchildren?
• Are we being good ancestors?
For more and more of us, these days, and all of us at SMC, the answers to these questions are embodied in our business careers. We are business people with passion for our craft.
But we live in complex times. Our country is experiencing more mood swings than a teenager. The future is unpredictable. And yet, despite all that, we carry on.
But is that enough?
We try to use our business to create the world we wish for. We try to use our business to create better lives for our families and our employees. We try to use our business to enhance and stabilize our communities.
BE Bottom Lines is designed to help us get better at doing those things.
It will consist of a group of regional (New England) peer group networks of architecture, engineering, building, design/build, energy efficiency, and renewable energy companies dedicated to high performance building.
Each network will consist of 8-12 geographically diverse businesses. The scale of the individual businesses may be similar; they may vary. The networks will meet several times a year and communicate online year-round.
The central idea is that each network will use a variety of techniques to help the individual businesses within to learn from each other and sharpen business skills and capabilities.
The focus of the endeavor will be Triple Bottom Line (TBL) business practices – a way of thinking and practicing that assigns equal weight to “People, Planet, and Profits”:
• People: social change & justice, employee well-being, governance, ownership, community involvement, philanthropy, legacy, and service to our clients;
• Planet: building performance standards, resilience, company carbon footprints, and environmental restoration;
• Profits: financial success and stability, capitalization, sales and marketing, investment.
TBL practice is a fundamentally different kind of commerce that is growing exponentially in the business world. We can learn from each other about doing business this way – and about finding strategic alignment and improving capacity in all three domains. Groups will agree on useful metrics in each area and share performance data, experiences, and stories with each other.
The program is being designed by two long-time friends and colleagues (Jamie Wolf of Wolfworks and Paul Eldrencamp of Byggmeister) and me.
We are collaborating with the Northeast Sustainable Energy Association (NESEA) and the Yestermorrow Design/Build School. The enterprise will become one of NESEA’s programs.
Where Did This Idea Originate?
Peer group networks are a proven way to improve business performance. Jamie, Paul, and I have all been involved, in the past, in peer group networks in which companies drilled into each others’ businesses year after year to help each other improve their financial performance.
Since 2007 I have taught a two day class at Yestermorrow – called The Art of Small Business – which is a crash course in triple bottom line practice. This is a photo of last years’ class.
The three of us have worked together for decades as organizers, board members, and presenters with NESEA and as collaborators and travellers along similar business paths.
In 2012 Jamie and Paul both attended my class; Jamie returned in 2013. At some point we decided we could expand what was happening in the class – the dynamic of companies coming together to share information about how to build businesses that are better for the world – to a larger audience with more on-going continuity. We agreed that the regional peer group network model is the right one. We presented the idea to the 2013 class and asked for their feedback. It was positive and enthusiastic.
Building Energy Bottom Lines was born.
The Heart of the Matter
Within the various NESEA and Yestermorrow programs we gain technical knowledge from our fellow practitioners. The willingness to share successes along with lessons learned from past mistakes has always been a NESEA core value. This has fostered a community that is truly a learning organization for developing broad-based mastery of technical skills.
But the three of us perceive a need and a strong desire among members of the NESEA/Yestermorrow communities to foster broad-based mastery of business skills to complement and support our technical skills. We share a sense that that technical mastery is not being adequately deployed due to the lack the business skills to increase capacity to do good work and broaden the marketplace. Teaming up in these peer groups will lead to more effective advocacy and practice.
Emerging from within the NESEA community, this initiative is already endowed with:
• The high levels of trust and collegiality that have been nurtured over the 40 years of NESEA’s existence (this cohort will have no problem sharing all kinds of information in small peer groups, because that’s what we already do!);
• A culture which takes for granted that we develop skills and share knowledge not just for our own benefit, but for the benefit of all — inside and outside our community;
• Humility borne of shared experience that makes us open to learning from a wide range of sources and people.
That’s a lot to start with. Plenty to build on.
Who Do We Expect To Participate and How Will It Launch?
BE Bottom Lines is targeted for small businesses in the design, building, and energy sectors. They may range in size from businesses with no employees to those with 75-100 employees.
We have already identified a number of interested companies. In March, 2014, at NESEA’s Building Energy 14 conference in Boston, we will offer two half-day introductory workshops to begin to collect more participants. In April 2014 we will convene a two day launch gathering.
At the April meeting we will discuss logistics, organize the networks, and BE Bottom Lines will be underway.
What Will the Process Be – How Will It Work?
Individual network self-governance is the goal. A steering committee will oversee operations. Each network will have a representative who will join other key stakeholders on that committee. Some key responsibilities of the steering committee will be to:
• Operate an online forum to connect the networks to share information;
• Provide facilitation and governance training for the individual networks;
• Maintain organizational supervision and financial viability.
The individual networks will decide when, where, and how to meet, how to organize their other communications, how to prioritize topics and metrics, and all other business of the network.
Each company will pay an annual fee to participate. Most of the fees will be used to fund the network operations. A part of the fee will go to BE Bottom Lines administration to finance the umbrella organization. We anticipate that BE Bottom Lines will be financially self-sustaining and will generate a modest income for its sponsoring organizations (NESEA and Yestermorrow).
And Finally . . .
As Paul says, “There are two kinds of small businesses in the NESEA community: those that I have learned a tremendous amount from from and those that I will learn a tremendous amount from when I get the chance.”
This will be that chance.