One of the Cradle to Cradle principles is to power with 100 percent renewable energy as one means to maximizing an organization's positive environmental, social and economic impacts. Energy use provides one of the clearest examples of the Cradle to Cradle idea of moving beyond the traditional sustainability goal of only reducing negative impacts (eco-efficiency), to creating a wholly positive or beneficial footprint on the planet.
The energy-efficient use of non-renewable energy still saps resources, pollutes the planet and can harm local communities, although they do so more slowly than non-efficient operations. On the other hand, operations designed to be powered by renewable energy create green collar jobs, avoid climate change emissions and foster domestic energy production.
This does not, however, mean that energy efficiency isn't important. In fact, energy efficiency represents a vital path towards becoming renewably powered, as it reduces the amount of energy required to be 100 percent renewable.
Two examples of MBDC clients using the path of energy efficiency to reach the larger goal of maximizing renewable energy are furniture manufacturers Herman Miller and Steelcase. And their work has paid off, as both companies have been recognized nationally for their renewable energy leadership.
Herman Miller uses Green-e certified renewable energy certificates (RECs) and purchase agreements with energy generators to provide clean energy sufficient for 100 percent of its worldwide electricity use for manufacturing, offices and showrooms. Internally, the company used financial savings from energy efficiency gains to help fund its renewable energy purchases.
Steelcase is the sole investor in a wind farm in Texas, and the company's commitment enabled construction of the farm and was critical in bringing it online. The wind farm (right) has expanded the renewable energy available to the larger electricity grid by 35 million kWh - enough to power nearly 3,000 homes - and offsets the carbon footprint of Steelcase's operations. In addition, the company has reduced its greenhouse gas emissions by 37 percent since 2006.
Moving to the use of entirely renewable energy may seem like a daunting and even impossible task from where your organization stands now, but the goal is achievable and can build from your current efforts in energy efficiency as more and more companies are realizing.
Just last week, Procter & Gamble included transitioning to renewable energy as part of the company's sustainability goals: “As part of our strategy to grow responsibly, we will work toward a long-term environmental sustainability vision that includes: Powering our plants with 100% renewable energy. By 2020 [we will] achieve: Renewable Energy Powering our Plants 30% (from 2010 base).”
But how do you get there? The road to 100 percent renewable begins with establishing the goal for your organization, measuring your current mix of electricity sources (e.g., coal, oil, natural gas, solar, wind, geothermal, hydroelectric), and assessing the potential for generating renewable energy on-site or nearby. The next steps include implementing energy efficiency projects and investing the financial savings to develop your renewable energy program. Along the way, consider purchasing Green-e certified RECs to mitigate your existing carbon footprint and continuously monitor for new local or remote opportunities for directly harnessing renewable energy. As such opportunities are identified, begin implementing them as soon as they become cost-effective. Finally, complete the shift to powering your operations with 100 percent renewable energy, as costs and infrastructure allow.
Set the goal of becoming 100 percent renewable and become more energy efficient while utilizing more renewable energy. The result will be a tangible transition from only reducing your negative footprint to creating a positive footprint through your actions and leadership.
Tish Tablan is a project manager at McDonough Braungart Design Chemistry (MBDC) and has focused on enhancing public understanding of sustainability issues for the past eight years. Steve Bolton is a senior consultant at MBDC. He has been working on environmental and sustainability issues for over 15 years, assisting companies, nonprofit organizations and higher education institutions.
MBDC is a global sustainability consulting and product certification firm founded in 1995 by architect William McDonough and chemist Dr. Michael Braungart. MBDC assists clients in implementing the Cradle to Cradle design framework.
Images: Wind turbines - CC license by Flickr user _dougie; Wege Wind Farm - ©Steelcase, Inc. Used with permission.