George Monbiot is beside himself. He writes in his post Death Denial: "There is no point in denying it: we're losing. Climate change denial is spreading like a contagious disease. It exists in a sphere which cannot be reached by evidence or reasoned argument; any attempt to draw attention to scientific findings is greeted with furious invective. This sphere is expanding with astonishing speed."
The editor of a reputable Architect's website asks "As global temperatures fail to warm, is the heat going out of climate change?" and twitters ""Basically believing in man made climate change is a bit like hoping that fairies live at the bottom of the garden."
Fortunately, among the people who pay the architects, opinions are going the other way. Siemens Building Technology commissioned a study by McGraw Hill and found that there is a growing concern among the senior executives of big corporations about about energy, waste and generally going green.
Key findings in the study include:
- Three-quarters (75%) of firms view sustainability as consistent with their profit mission and are engaging in activities. This is a doubling of activity over the past three years.
- Activity in green building has dramatically increased over time, with over a fifth (21%) expecting to green Over 60% of their building portfolio in 2009, up from less than 10% in 2006.
I interviewed Ari Kobb, the Sustainability Director at Siemens Building Technologies about the report.
Why did you commission this study?
This is the second round of this study. We published it because at the time we did the first one in 2006 our real interest was in finding out when was the green building market going to take hold and where was corporate America in its thinking. We focused on the private sector because our the public sector will be using a legislative approach, but for the market to really grow the private sector has to embrace it. Based on the fundamental belief when corporate America sees profit and benefit, top line bottom line, then markets move.
When we did the study in 2006 we were trying to find, when is that tipping point going to occur. In 2006 we saw it was coming, so we did an update to get trend data and see how quickly that market has moved. And it has moved a lot.
When I look at this slide, at what is driving interest in green building, all that seems to be driving anything in the states is increased energy costs, and when costs are lower like they are now, do they care about anything else?
I agree with you that in times of high energy prices we do have a more concerted effort, purely driven financially, and it is driven by the culture of how we view the for profit economy. But if you look at some of the other pieces of information, which are, what are the expected benefits that are going to come out of sustainability and green building strategies, almost as important as reduced operating costs are things like differentiation in the market, attracting and retaining employees.
The challenge for us is, why isn't more being done. When we look at how many LEED certified buildings, we see the growth but it is still quite small. You are worried that if energy priced drop, then so will interest in green building. We are seeing that, even in parts of the country where energy prices are historically lower, we are still seeing an interest in sustainability.
We are starting to see people asking "what are you doing about sustainability? Is it only about selling more stuff or is it about being an environmental steward?"
There are 36 billion square feet of existing space that we have to retrofit, and such a small percentage of companies that are at stage five, that have a serious commitment to sustainability.
We wholeheartedly agree that we are not going to new construct our way out the environmental issues we face globally, let alone in the United States. We can design the "building of the future" and it might be a zero energy building but what about everything else? When you correlate that back to the issue of energy efficiency, the harsh reality is that the savings from energy efficiency often fund those other things that align with sustainability.
Another slide that really bothered me was the Sustainability Practices and Budget- 72% don't even bother looking at their carbon footprint. Their biggest sustainability practice is waste reduction and recycling, which is a no-brainer with the cost of dealing with garbage these days; That's barely green it's just good business.
What we have seen is a lot of the focus on the low hanging fruit. What I have seen in our company is that people will do the low hanging fruit because they can more easily, but we take the approach that if we get people to do things that are easy, what will happen is people will move up the ladder. Over time they will find that they can do more, and think wait, I can save money if I do an energy audit. People get engaged and find it to be beneficial.
Where do you think the area of greatest growth in green buildings will come from?
We think the opportunity is in smart buildings. How does the smart building connect to the smart grid? You are using technology to your advantage to more effectively manage energy and environment. The easiest way to save energy is to just turn everything off and make everyone sweat or freeze, but that is obviously counterproductive when it comes to worker productivity. From our standpoint, we think there is going to be technology evolution to make buildings smarter, and that the biggest gains will be conservation. People driving to work and plugging in their cars: at some points the cars might be powering the buildings, at others the buildings charging the cars, balancing between building needs and the smart grid.
The first takeaway from our study is not "lets reduce carbon emissions", it's "lets reduce energy consumption." The benefit of carbon reduction comes with that too. Renewable energy is important, but it is really small. How do you grow that when the costs are high? When you look at energy efficiency as the new technology, it is going to save a lot more carbon than today's renewable energy.
What is your sense about where we are in America compared to the rest of the world.
We have an entrepreneurial spirit in this country and we like to find local solutions to problems. We might be a bit further behind on a legislative side, but we will ultimately find creative and entrepreneurial solutions that work. We are at a great convergence of opportunity where the guys at the top say, we can make money out of this, and then they say, this is what my employees and shareholders want, and then young people coming in say "lets to more". When you get pressure from the top down and bottom up, you move the middle.
Download PDF of the executive summary here.Greening of Corp America Executive Summary 9-16-09.pdf