ICYMI: Why small buildings are key to big energy savings

In Case You Missed It

ICYMI: Why small buildings are key to big energy savings

ICYMI ("In Case You Missed It") is a regular GreenBiz feature highlighting some of the biggest stories in corporate sustainability from the past week.

Dear readers: Although it finally feels like school's out and summer's on -- and at the same time I feel a strong urge to flee my computer for long stretches of the day -- the news continues unabated, as always. In addition to some huge stories that we covered over the past week -- Plan B, AFIRM and M2M, among many others -- there is always more than we can possibly cover. Which, just like sitting out on the lawn and trying to get work done amid the best weather of the year, is a good problem to have.

Let's begin with some big commitments and success stories from the past week:

Notable Achievements and Goals

• Ford makes big cuts in per-car emissions, aims for more: Ford has reduced the amount of GHGs per vehicle by 37 percent since 2000, and has set a goal of lowering them by 30 percent more by 2025.

• Some of the world's biggest clothing manufacturers and retailers released the second version of the Joint Roadmap toward Zero Discharge of Hazardous Chemicals. Despite laboring under an unwieldy moniker, ZDHC is led by the likes of Adidas, H&M, Levi-Strauss, Nike and others and aims to replace hazardous chemicals in the clothing manufacturing process by 2020.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg says protecting NYC from storms carries a $20 billion price tag, as it builds flood walls, levees and bulkheads to protect against rising seas and damage from storms such as 2012's Hurricane Sandy.

• We covered in great detail the release of the Best Global Green Brands rankings earlier this week, but the Canadian version came out this week as well, as Maclean's released its Top 50 Socially Responsible Firms this week. There's a good deal of overlap on the lists, with Ford, IBM, Pepsico, H&M, Philips Electronics, Starbucks, Cisco and many others appearing on both rankings.

• In what marks a major milestone for both aviation and biofuels, United Airlines has committed to buy 15 million gallons of biofuels for flights out of its LAX hub. The cost will be competitive with traditional jet fuel, and United's investment will allow its supplier to scale up production to potentially serve other airlines flying out of Los Angeles.

    Main Street photo by Kenneth Sponsler / Shutterstock.com    

Groundbreaking Reports & Research

• When it comes to making big savings in U.S. energy use, small buildings -- and small businesses -- will be the key to success. A new study from the National Trust for Historic Preservation's Green Lab finds that widespread efficiency efforts among the 4.4 million small buildings across the country could save $30 billion per year in energy costs.

• In other energy efficiency news, Johnson Controls released its 2013 Energy Efficiency Indicator, the latest annual survey of more than 3,000 corporate energy-users worldwide. This year's survey finds that companies with publicly stated energy efficiency targets and programs are more likely to be early adopters of energy-management technologies and to invest in renewable energy projects. These energy efficiency leaders also say they've seen increased brand value and property value as a result of their public goals.

• As prices for electrical vehicles fall, and EV makers start to gain superhero status, the cost of owning an electric vehicle is becoming comparable with traditional gas vehicles as well as hybrids, according to a new study from EPRI. The study finds that the Nissan Leaf can be cheaper than a conventional car -- but only if gas prices are quite high where you live -- and that a Chevy Volt is more consistently comparable to purely ICE vehicles.

• A coalition of very different partners -- Dow, Swiss Re, Shell, Unilever and the Nature Conservancy -- teamed up to publish a new white paper that explores the benefit of green infrastructure: ways to use natural systems to support industrial processes. Similar to corporate efforts to place value on natural capital or ecosystem services, the paper lays out four key recommendations for how to best implement green infrastructure projects, and relies heavily on case studies from the research partners, such as Shell's use of reed beds to treat industrial wastewater, and the Nature Conservancy's project to build oyster beds to protect coastal facilities.

• We've long been skeptical of the results of consumer surveys around these parts, but a new study conducted by the Ryan Partnership suggests that companies that talk more about their sustainability efforts earn at least a couple of benefits. Not only does more green messaging encourage shoppers to make a purchase, but it also helps them attract young talent, because the much-sought-after Millennials want to work for what they perceive as responsible companies.

Odds 'n' Sods

• I'm not sure if this Nivea sunscreen ad that includes a solar charger is good news (because hey -- solar is becoming cheap enough to bundle in magazines) or just a ridiculous waste of resources.

• The Sustainable Forestry Initiative  last week announced that it has begun the process of updating its certification standard. Although this is a process that occurs every five years for SFI, it will be the first time stakeholders have been able to formally weigh in on the certification since the heated battle between SFI and FSC certification went mainstream.

• When  Google  bought Waze for $1.1 billion last week, it underlined the power of mobile data in just about every aspect of life. But a post on the Waze blog highlights an unexpected benefit: Disaster recovery. When a bridge on Interstate 5 collapsed in Washington, and when tornadoes hit Oklahoma City, Waze users almost immediately updated the map to provide safer, alternate routes around the disasters. And with climate-related disasters almost certain to increase, this could be a bigger benefit than even Google expected.

• It will come as no surprise to hear that America has a huge food waste problem, as The Food Journal points out in its latest issue. But what is interesting is the laundry list of stories in this issue, including ways that businesses are working to reduce food waste -- for instance, changing the "buy one get one free" overconsumption model to something slightly less wasteful.

• And speaking of what to do with food and other waste, Puerto Rico this week earned final approval for a 77-megawatt energy-from-waste plant, which will take 2,100 tons of garbage per day and generate enough electricity for 76,000 homes.