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How to detect sensor glitches and improve building performance

Published October 03, 2014
How to detect sensor glitches and improve building performance

In a previous article, I discussed the significance and potential impact of accuracy of various types of sensors in building systems. This article explores the various options of how to identify faulty sensors and manage their impact.

Electrical surges, environmental extremities (such as excessive dust, noise, smoke or vibration) and simple aging are just a few of many reasons sensors fail.

Ideally, all sensors in a building should be connected to the building management system. Through the BMS, you can find whether the sensor is functioning, and you can capture the reading or output of the sensor. However, this most likely will not give you any indication as to the reading's accuracy.

You can detect and diagnose sensor accuracy problems in three methods: physical inspection, statistical comparison and online fault detection and diagnostic.

1. Physical inspection

In this method, you check the performance and calibration of each sensor manually. Most buildings have hundreds of sensors, many in difficult-to-reach places, such as within false ceilings or inside air ducts. This approach can become cumbersome, time-consuming and expensive.

Most periodic maintenance protocols usually contain some sensor inspection routines; but unless there are obvious issues with the sensors, technicians pay little attention to this part of the routine. Unfortunately, if your sensors are not connected to the BMS, this is your only choice.

2. Statistical comparison

You can resort to statistical comparison to find out whether a particular sensor connected to your BMS is giving erroneous results.

To start, you need to capture and model a large number of normal operating conditions of the various systems connected to the sensors. In the example of the HVAC system discussed in the previous article, you must store values of the various temperatures, chilled water flow, power consumption by chiller and other variables under different conditions of the building operations and at different times of the building's operation. Whenever you see a deviation of a sensor reading from an expected reading as per your statistical model, it could indicate a faulty sensor.

This approach, too, has difficulties. Because the comparison is between present and past data, all the other variables must be extremely similar. In this example the chilled water flow, power consumption and ambient temperature have to be same.

[Learn more about next-gen buildings at VERGE SF 2014, Oct. 27-30.]

Replicating similar operating patterns requires huge data sets. Because so many things can change in a building, this type of statistical approach can challenge the reliability of the comparison if you do not have the exact same operating conditions in your stored data set.

3. Online sensor fault detection and diagnostic

The final approach, called sensor FDD for short, builds upon the statistical approach. This involves two steps: modeling the sensed value and evaluating the difference between expected and actual behavior to identify faults.

To model expected sensor output, we rely on the physics of sensor operations. This involves creating complex algorithms to predict a sensor output under various scenarios of operation based on its design. To do this, one needs to have deep understanding of science behind the sensors working as well as advanced statistical and programming techniques. We then monitor the actual sensor values from the BMS, which is easy. The difference between the modeled and monitored value of the sensor output is usually called "residual." The residual value will lead you to potential abnormal conditions.

This approach can be more reliable, but you need to complement your BMS with the right advanced sensor FDD engine. This is a very specialized technical area, and you need to be careful about your choice.

With rapid proliferation of Internet of Things and devices which subscribe to the IoT philosophy, we will see greater population of sensing devices coming with inbuilt fault-sensing capabilities. Cost is still an issue in most cases, but is expected to reach affordable levels in a relatively short time.

There are also some early exploratory initiatives to investigate whether any alternate proxies are possible for traditional sensing devices. For instance, can we use mobile phones for many of the sensing functions? With growing focus on the significance of sensing physical and environmental phenomenon, we can expect to see more innovative approaches coming up in future.

Which is best?

In the end, it doesn't matter which method you choose. All are valid and help you achieve better results saving energy and improving building sustainability. The important thing is that you pay attention to this vital topic to further your sustainability initiatives.

We see many regulatory and nodal agencies becoming active to drive sensor accuracy in built environments. Singapore Building Construction Authority, ASHRAE and many other consulting firms are creating standards and guidelines for sensor performance.

You have an opportunity to get ahead of the curve and reap the benefits early.

Top image of thermostat by Danylo Samiylenko via Shutterstock.



How the Apple Watch could save energy everywhere

Published October 03, 2014
How the Apple Watch could save energy everywhere

Tim Cook recently unveiled the Apple Watch, "the most personal product" Apple has made, says the company, "because it's the first one designed to be worn." The watch joins other products such as bracelets from Fitbit and Jawbone in a category called wearable technologies or wearables.

Beyond decorating your wrist, these products primarily are worn to send, receive and process information through cellular networks, WiFi, Bluetooth or — unique to Apple's Watch — near-field communications. The Apple Watch can monitor your heart rate, track your location (through an accelerometer, gyroscope and GPS) and recognize your voice.

The wearable difference

Smartphones and their apps already have been doing great things for users managing their energy (and much more, including fitness), for example through connected thermostats, electric vehicle charging, solar panel output monitoring and sharing-economy services. So why would you wear Apple's Watch when you have an iPhone? What extra value do wearables unlock that already isn't accessible through other technologies?

First, wearable technologies can collect biological data — such as your heart rate and body temperature — that a phone in your pocket cannot. These data sources can tell a more complete story about your physical state than data from your phone. Second, wearable technologies are less likely to be separated from the user. Unlike phones, most users will wear their Apple Watch in the shower or in bed. In other words, it's always with you.

This connectedness between wearable tech and the wearer opens up at least three categories of energy management opportunities: at home, at the office and personal.

Energy use in your home

Wearable tech can help better match our homes' energy use — especially heating and cooling — to our needs. For example, Nest's Learning Thermostat has a built-in motion sensor. It'll put your home's HVAC system into an energy-saving "away" mode after a period of inactivity. But imagine how much energy could be saved if a device on your wrist signals your thermostat to go into "away" mode the moment you leave your home or neighborhood.Apple Watch display by Houong Stephane via Flickr.

Similarly, programmable thermostats can be set to pre-condition your house so that it's a comfortable temperature when you wake up and roll out of bed in the morning. Some smart thermostats even detect when you typically wake up during the week and create a fixed start-up time for your thermostat based on that. But wearing a device on your wrist — which is either connected to an alarm to wake you up, or which detects your sleep cycles and learns when you're likely to wake — more accurately can tailor your home's pre-conditioning to match your actual wake-up time, rather than a weekday thermostat program set to the same time, on average, you're likely to get up.

Energy use in your office

Have you experienced working in a ridiculously frigid office in summer, because the building control system does not know how people feel? Or an overly hot office in the winter? Even an office that's conditioned well to a target temperature could feel too hot and/or too cold (even at the same time!) given one person's preferences vs. another.

Wearable technology can provide information such as body temperature, heart rate and respiration, giving a more complete picture of physical comfort. Voice recognition software even could detect when people are complaining about feeling too hot or cold.

Even more, wearable tech and other more personalized devices can help to condition the person, rather than the entire space — in fact, that's the very principle behind heated seats and a heated steering wheel in the Nissan LEAF; it's more efficient to make the person feel comfortable, rather than heat or cool the entire cabin. In an office setting, think of office chairs with heating elements, wristbands that cool your wrist like that from Wristify, or vents that determine personal air flow like those from Ecovent.

Beyond the office, wearable tech can have other applications when out and about, too. At the product launch, Cook described how the Apple Watch can replace a hotel keycard to unlock your room as you approach the door. Similarly, your watch can connect to your hotel room's thermostat, to delay room cooling until you have checked in. No energy is wasted cooling an empty room, while ensuring a guest's room is comfortable as they enter.

Apple Watch paired with an iPhone

A coming era of personal energy profiles?

In a coming era when energy use becomes not just highly personalized, but attached in fact to individuals, it's not hard to imagine developing personal energy profiles of our demand and consumption. That could open the door to personal energy bills.

Usually we bill our energy use to our energy-consuming assets — electricity and natural gas billed monthly for our home, for example. But imagine if instead of assigning energy consumption to our assets, we re-assigned that energy consumption to ourselves? Gone could be the arguments between roommates about how to equitably split the utility bill (a top source of friction among roommates in places such as New York City).

Or what if wearable tech, in addition to sending personal information to the systems around us, also could receive signals back to us, such as from your utility? Could wearable tech further open the door to a personal version of demand response? For example, similar to how utilities use demand response to cycle off air conditioners during times of exceptionally high peak demand in summer, could they instead signal a Wristify bracelet to cool a person instead of an AC unit cooling a whole house, or could your Apple Watch receive a signal from the utility asking you to have an ice-cold tea instead of turning up the AC at 4 p.m.?

Privacy vs. personal comfort

Many comfort-improving, energy-saving features above are enabled by more information about you being shared with computers. This, of course, opens up another set of issues around Big Brother watching and the privacy of potentially very personal information, who can "see" that information, and how will they be allowed to use that info.

Whether having the option to turn such data sharing on or off, or another solution such as anonymizing the data, the face remains that wearable tech could be another front line in the grid's evolution toward more distributed energy resources. Those DERs could include not just things such as rooftop solar panels and batteries in your garage, but also wearable technologies and the people who wear them.

This article originally appeared at RMI Outlet




Titiaan Palazzi

Special Aide OCS
Rocky Mountain Institute
Titiaan Palazzi works as the scientific aide of Amory Lovins at the Rocky Mountain Institute. At RMI, Titiaan helps companies to radically reduce resource consumption in buildings and industrial processes through whole systems, energy-efficient design, engineering, and technologies.

One week later, 4 reasons to keep thinking about Climate Week

Published October 02, 2014
One week later, 4 reasons to keep thinking about Climate Week

Last week I was in New York City for Climate Week 2014 and Ban Ki-moon's Climate Summit before heading to Montreal for the U.N. Principles for Responsible Investment. It was a fantastic week with lots of progress, promises and positive action from governments, cities, businesses, investors and citizens on climate issues and responsible business practices.

Now it is Thursday, and it's time for us to get working on keeping those promises. I am very optimistic and here's why.

1. Top management and boards of directors are being asked by investors to take an active role in ensuring the long-term viability of companies

As a global facilitator to the U.N. Global Compact LEAD Board Programme, I was encouraged to hear leaders speaking about accountability and the role of the top management and the board of directors. At the PRI conference, it was clear that investors see a need for boards to ensure the long-term viability of the company.

Investors increasingly expect that the board will have knowledge of sustainability and climate change — and that they will actively use that knowledge to integrate sustainability into the strategy, operations and incentive systems of the company.

2. Over 100 World Leaders sent a strong message about the need to take action now

I participated in the U.N. General Assembly, listening to heads of government pledging their commitment to action in the morning. I heard business leaders make even stronger commitments in the afternoon. I must admit that, for a time, I thought and feared that words would come much faster than action. However, UNFCCC Executive Secretary Christiana Figueres — a fantastic leader that I know is working hard to bring us a climate-deal in Paris in 2015 — shared that all leading governments at the moment are tasked with putting their commitment on paper.

Credit: United NationsI believe that an international community of governments, mayors, premieres, business leaders and concerned citizens will ensure that no one lags behind. This map shows the countries' announcements Sept. 23 at the Climate Summit.

3. A clear message about putting a price on carbon

In my masters thesis, written over 20 years ago, I suggested putting a price on externalities and including the cost of pollution in the price of goods and financial accounts. Today, a rapidly growing number of leaders from businesses, provincial governments and municipalities agree that we need to price carbon.

Some investors, such as the Rockefeller Brothers Fund (which made its fortune in oil), are divesting from fossil fuels. Other investors are talking more about investing in businesses that have a sustainable business model, with boards that are taking action on the issues that are critical for long-term viability.

4. The voice of many concerned citizens

The Climate March that took place Sunday started small, but it grew and grew. World leaders marched with actors, nurses, moms, dads and children. They marched together to show those who were absent that the voice of concerned citizens would be heard. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, as well as actor Leonardo DiCaprio, Executive Director of the U.N. Global Compact Georg Kell, former Irish President and U.N. special envoy for climate change Mary Robinson and President Barack Obama, all gave great speeches, but the very best speech came from concerned mother and Marshallese poet Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner.

Conclusion

I heard leaders from business, government and civil society call on all of us to be responsible and accountable leaders and that we can, we will and we must commit to act and report on what we do. I also heard and saw that several leaders are putting action behind words, asking their business partners and advisors to stop lobbying against their sustainability commitments and instead start advertising the better choices.

Great words. Now let's get to work and commit to accountability.

Top image of New York City by Matt Clark via Flickr.



New York State goes big on microgrids

Published October 02, 2014
New York State goes big on microgrids

New York did not disappoint. The state showed off its green energy cred in a big way last week as hundreds of thousands of climate marchers made their way through Manhattan, and United Nations members convened to talk about greenhouse gas emission goals.

With the spotlight on for Climate Week, New York produced several pieces of green energy news likely to influence microgrids.

The New York State Energy Research and Development Authority proposed a $5 billion Clean Energy Fund to advance cleaner, more resilient and affordable energy. The program includes a wide range of energy efficiency and renewables programs, including microgrids. The plan is designed to advance the state's move toward more local energy, its Reforming the Energy Vision, or REV.

About 70 companies and organizations submitted written comments to the state about REV, in hopes of influencing the final shape the new distributed energy market takes as the New York Public Service Commission works on its rules in the coming months. REV is expected to spur more microgrid and distributed generation in the state.

New York City committed to reducing its greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent over 2005 levels by 2050, a plan that includes energy efficiency retrofits for public and private buildings, more renewables and less fossil fuel use. New York said it is the largest city to commit to the 80 percent reduction by 2050.

Dive into the details

First, NYSERDA's $5 billion fund distributes the money over a decade as the state weans clean energy, where possible, from state subsidies. The plan is not so much a new one, but a reconfiguration of New York's energy efficiency and renewable portfolio standard programs that end in 2015. It encompasses the entire clean energy supply chain — researchers, developers, equipment wholesalers, financial institutions, building managers and construction contractors and consumers.

[Learn more about resilient cities at VERGE SF 2014, Oct. 27-30.]

Echoing REV, the plan tries to animate the market and bring more private dollars into clean energy. Such animation already is present for home automation technologies, with companies such as Apple, Google, Honeywell and Samsung selling smart thermostats and similar equipment. The market also has taken off in solar and other forms of distributed energy that use the power purchase agreement model, which spares businesses and consumers upfront costs for installations.

Of course, not all barriers to clean energy are financial. Regulatory blocks and delays also are holding up development. To that end, the program will work with utilities to identify and remove the barriers, NYSERDA said.

NYSERDA intends to align its programs with REV to reduce market confusion and meet long-term state goals. Microgrids come into play as the state tries to increase storm resiliency. In particular, the plan notes the need to install microgrids that can island portions of the grid using distributed energy and advanced controls.

Doing so will mean creating regulatory reform that offers time-sensitive rate options, evolution in utility planning models and alternative regulation of community microgrids, NYSERDA said. It also requires an evolution in technology, particularly digital microgrid controls, automated distribution system controls, communication protocols and data analytics and asynchronous inverters. The Clean Energy Plan intends to support advancement of these technologies through various strategic initiatives.

In the REV proceeding, the New York Independent System Operator contributed a report that provides a look at the distributed energy landscape in the state.

Prepared by DNV GL, the report noted that microgrids are a growth technology. GTM research found 81 operating microgrids and 35 more planned in New York, the report said. Nationally, about 1 GW of microgrids has been installed so far, ranging in size from 1 MW to over 50 MW. Navigant Research estimates the number will grow to more than 2 GW by 2017.

Top image of electricity shield by Tesla314 via Flickr. This article first appeared at Microgrid Knowledge.



Here's what's on Olive Garden's sustainability menu

By Mike Hower
Published October 02, 2014
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Tags: Agriculture, Food & Agriculture, More... Agriculture, Food & Agriculture, Waste, Water Efficiency & Conservation
Here's what's on Olive Garden's sustainability menu

It hasn’t been the best year for Darden Restaurants, parent company of such iconic brands as Olive Garden, LongHorn Steakhouse and, until earlier this year, Red Lobster. For nearly a year, Darden has suffered fallout from the demands of activist shareholders, which led to the announcement of Darden CEO Clarence Otis’ resignation in July.

Despite these distractions, Darden is well on its way to realizing several of its sustainability goals — including reducing per-restaurant energy and water use, as well as sending less waste to landfills. Altogether these efforts have saved the company $25 million since 2008, and Darden expects to save an additional $10 to $12 million by 2016.

Saving energy through building design, efficiency

With over 1,500 restaurants, Darden's physical carbon footprint is one of the most significant ways it impacts the environment. To address this, the company has incorporated environmental considerations into how it develops and remodels its restaurants.

In 2009, Darden launched a green building initiative to add eight restaurants designed to meet LEED standards to its three largest brands — Olive Garden, Red Lobster and LongHorn Steakhouse. The goal was to use each of those restaurants as a learning lab to develop knowledge and experience with sustainable design. By the end of 2012, 13 newly-built Olive Garden, Red Lobster and LongHorn restaurants had either received or were in pursuit of LEED certification. Likewise, Darden’s new LEED gold-certified corporate headquarters also now consumes 31 percent less energy per square foot than the former.Clarence Otis, former CEO of Darden

Darden says investment in LED lighting in kitchen and dining rooms has reduced energy use in its Olive Garden and LongHorn Steakhouse restaurants by 12 percent since 2008. This was achieved by replacing most "front of house" lighting with LED light bulbs and "back of house" lighting with compact florescent bulbs. The company is also installing new smart energy management systems to help increase energy efficiency.

Reducing water usage with technology

Most of the Darden’s direct water use comes from what you’d expect; in kitchens for preparing and cooking food, hand washing and cleaning, in restaurant restrooms and for landscape irrigation. It uses water indirectly through purchasing foods that require inputs of water to produce and process.

In 2009, Darden set a corporate-wide goal to reduce its direct water usage by 15 percent per restaurant by 2015. Although the company achieved its 2015 target in 2011, its per restaurant water use increased between 2012 and 2013. Darden says it is still working to understand the factors that contributed to the increased water use, while continuing to implement new water-saving initiatives.

Olive Garden and LongHorn Steakhouse are using heated dipper well equipment — perpetual-flow sinks used in restaurants to rinse food-preparation utensils — to save an average of 82 gallons of water per day per well (or 30,000 gallons per well each year). LongHorn Steakhouse alone has 250 heated dipper wells in use and has saved an estimated 15 million gallons of water in the past two years.

Darden has made modifications to its pasta cookers in Olive Garden restaurants in an effort to conserve water. Prior to the equipment changes, pasta cookers were configured with a hot water and cold water inlet valve. Darden converted both valves to hot — one to serve as a fill valve and shut off and the other to serve as a skimmer throughout the day, restricted to half a gallon per minute. Since the modifications were completed in November 2011, Darden’s annual energy savings have totaled $2.4 million.

The company has also recently expanded a water-saving irrigation pilot program from two restaurants to 50 additional restaurants in Florida and California, where drought is creating major strain. The program uses drip irrigation systems in landscaping to help conserve water — leveraging special landscaping sprinkler heads that monitor temperature, humidity, rainfall and wind to determine the most efficient amount of water needed. Darden’s restaurants also have each saved more than 32,000 gallons of per year after switching to all-natural floor cleaners.

Cutting waste through expanded recycling

In the past two years, Darden has more than tripled the number of its restaurants able to accommodate single-stream recycling that includes glass, plastics and aluminum — more than 800 restaurants are able to recycle these materials. However, the company’s landfill diversion rate was only 29 percent in 2013, a long way from its goal to eventually achieve zero waste.Longhorn Steakhouse

Food waste is the largest single component of Darden’s waste stream, making up more than one-third of its total waste, by weight. This is why Darden supports the Food Waste Resource Alliance, an initiative launched by the Grocery Manufacturers Association, National Restaurant Association and the Food Marketing Institute aimed at reducing food waste. Darden has also recycled 13,467,184 pounds of cooking oil since November 2010. To help build knowledge and experience with composting, the company is currently piloting organics recycling projects in select restaurants in Orlando, Fla.

Rather than using rolls of carpet in its restaurants, Darden uses carpet squares that reduce unnecessary material waste and can be easily replaced and recycled. After old carpet tiles are removed from restaurant floors, the used squares are returned to the carpet manufacturers to be recycled into new carpet tiles. In February 2014 alone, more than 60,000 pounds of carpet tiles were returned from Darden restaurants for recycling and new production.

Employee engagement key to success

As is often the case with successful sustainability initiatives, Darden relies on employee engagement both to implement top-down policies, as well as suggest and execute bottom-up programs. Employee-driven “safety & sustainability teams” carry out programs to reduce waste and energy and water usage within each restaurant. They are also responsible for many of the ideas Darden has used to improve sustainability at its restaurants.

Last spring, almost 12,000 employees responded to the company’s first sustainability survey, which provided feedback about the effectiveness of Darden’s sustainability efforts and opportunities for improvement.

Darden says it has made sustainability is a core pillar of its overall corporate strategy because it makes business sense in the long-term — and so far this seems to be holding true. In 2013, Darden's sales from continuing operations were $8.5 billion, compared with $8.0 billion in 2012.

But things are not looking as good for Darden’s board of directors, which faces a potential guillotine at the company’s shareholder meeting on October 10. If the current board members are indeed thrown out, one can only hope their replacements will remain committed to the company’s sustainability initiatives.

Top image by  via Shutterstock

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Recyclebank at 10: What we've learned

By Joel Makower
Published October 02, 2014
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Tags: Consumer Trends, Gamification, More... Consumer Trends, Gamification, Waste Reduction & Recycling
Recyclebank at 10: What we've learned

In 2004, a startup called Recyclebank launched with a simple idea: use incentives to increase residential recycling. In the decade since its launch, the company has created programs in more than 300 U.S. communities, which in turn recycled nearly 1.5 billion pounds during 2013 alone. While not all that tonnage is directly attributable to Recyclebank, its inventive programs have no doubt played a significant role.

How to you inspire and incent Americans to recycle? On the occasion of Recyclebank’s 10-year anniversary, I spoke to Javier Flaim, the company’s CEO, to glean some of what the company has learned over the past decade about engaging consumers around environmental behaviors.

That original idea of Recyclebank remains very much intact, began Flaim, who joined the company three years ago as head of marketing and is now its third chief executive. However, he says, “Lots of things have changed in the marketplace, from how we engage with residents offline, leveraging things like social media; how we partner with the city to leverage all the different assets that they have at their disposal to create real-world change; how we have continued to learn around what really motivates behavior change.”

The company’s path has taken some twists and turns, as that of any start-up is certain to do. For example, the company dabbled with motivating the citizens of London to move away from driving in favor of public transit and other modes. Recyclebank has made forays into getting consumers to conserve energy and water. But such efforts have met with limited success.

Since taking the helm last October, Flaim is bringing the company back to its core proposition: increasing recycling and waste reduction. “That original idea still remains very, very much intact,” he told me. “Though how we execute on that vision has changed quite a bit,” citing social media, deeper relationships with cities and new kinds of incentives. The company also has conducted attitudinal research of its members that has informed its business strategy.

“We still very much believe and now empirically can prove that incentives and education can change behavior,” said Flaim. “If we collaborate with multiple constituents — cities, private sector, et cetera — we can create real-world impact.”

Here are three key lessons Flaim says the company has learned.

1. People need nudges to take action. “One of the key learnings from our insight study shows that consumers don’t necessarily wake up thinking about sustainability. They have other issues that they’re trying to deal with, whether it be health or children or economic issues and opportunities of their household.

One way of making it relevant is providing nudges, rewards, incentives to make sustainability matter. Information, too. “We’ve found that a lot of the issues that stand between consumers and greener lifestyles aren’t just infrastructure and incentives, but also knowledge,” says Flaim. “This is what makes it go from a one-off to a habit.”

When it comes to incentives, people want to feel they are a part of a team or community, he says, and this provides a greater sense of ownership and accomplishment — and ultimately drives more action. “We often use gamification strategies to enable participants to spread the word, to share their personal stories and collaborate online and offline with others in their community. These ‘nudges’ from people they know personally, along with direct messages, reminders and educational information from Recyclebank and community officials have proven to be successful.”

2. Incentives have to be relevant. Nudges and incentives need to be well thought out. Recyclebank members accumulate points based on how much they recycle and other green actions they’ve pledged to take, but their motivation to do so is directly linked to the nature of the rewards. “Cities continually ask us for better and better ways that their residents can use those points,” says Flaim. One effective way is through a green schools program where residents can donate the points to a local school, which can use them to buy supplies.

“We’re very open about the fact that behavior change is an evolving business,” says Flaim. “We don’t have all the answers. We love to listen to their ideas and implement them. Sometimes they’re going to work, and other times not going to be as successful as we may want.”

A 2011 research study conducted by Recyclebank in partnership with consumer insights agency ROI Research and Google found that 68 percent of respondents feel ease of redeeming rewards and rewards that they "need" are the top two most important attributes of a rewards program. “This illustrates how important relevant incentives are to any reward program, but specifically Recyclebank,” says Flaim. “We also saw that discounts on everyday purchases and green lifestyle items were the No. 1 most important items for people.” That insight led to Recyclebank’s creation of One Twine, a website that aims to attract consumers looking to buy environmentally conscious goods across a range of categories, from health and beauty to gear and gadgets and pet supplies.

3. People are motivated by different things. Recyclebank members get feedback, points and recognition, though these aren’t the only motivators, says Flaim. “First, people are inspired and tend to exert more effort when they learn about the direct impact of their actions. Package this with an element of competition and you have a powerful motivational force. However, you may need more than that to create sustainable long-term engagement. Any effort is bound to gain broader engagement if the reward is tied to something meaningful for the individual in the real world, like the personal affirmation that comes with sharing your eco-deeds and the impact currency, where the actions are measurable and trackable so people understand the effects of their actions.”

There’s certainly no one-size-fits-all reward system. Flaim calls it a find-your-own-adventure approach. “Some members want to accumulate all of their points and go after that $10 gift card. Others are motivated more by the social sharing and social impact, posting on their website how many points and how much impact they had so a little more of the sharing. Some are altruistic and just like accumulate points and that’s their badge of honor. They have 11,500 points and they will refuse to use a single point because that’s their badge of honor. That’s the total impact they’re having.”

I asked Flaim where Recyclebank goes from here — what’s the plan for the next few years? “Leveraging our platform to get into more urban settings, such as multi-family settings,” he responded. “That is an innovation that we will look to launch in 2015. And beyond that we can look at other arenas of density that we may be able to apply this platform — think about small businesses or commercial enterprises or university campuses.”

That’s one of the beautiful things about Recyclebank: They’ll never run out of raw material.

Top graphic by GreenBiz Group.

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Timothy Carter

President
Second Nature
Timothy L. Carter, Ph.D., is President of Second Nature. Dr. Carter received his Ph.D. in Ecology with distinction from the Odum School of Ecology at the University of Georgia (UGA) and completed his B.S. in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville.
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How a decaying Swedish city became an eco-friendly hub

By Laurie Guevara-Stone
Published October 01, 2014
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Tags: Cities, Clean Tech, More... Cities, Clean Tech, Renewable Energy, VERGE
How a decaying Swedish city became an eco-friendly hub

Learn more about smart cities at VERGE SF 2014, Oct. 27-30.

Sweden has one of the highest per capita electricity consumption rates in the world (15,000 kWh per person per year) due to the relatively high heating costs caused by the cold climate (60 percent [PDF] of residential energy use is for space heating and domestic hot water), a sparse population distribution pattern, greater need for individual transportation and generally high levels of income. Yet the country emits very little carbon dioxide (5.1 tonnes per person per year) due to 78 percent of the country’s electricity being generated by nuclear power and large hydro. Swedes, however, are starting to sour on their two largest sources of energy, partly due to Fukushima and the move of several other European nations to phase out nuclear power. And the city of Malmö (pop. 307,000) is taking the lead by incorporating solar, wind and biofuel technologies through efforts to make it one of the most sustainable cities in the world.

Malmö, in southern Sweden, is the third largest city in the country. Various neighborhoods throughout the city are transforming from brownfield industrial sites into eco-friendly enclaves through the use of renewable energy, energy efficiency, green building and alternative transportation.

From dirty and decaying to clean and carbon-neutral in the Western Harbor

The district of Västra Hamnen (Western Harbor) was a decaying industrial area that was once a shipyard. When the shipyard closed in the early 1980s it left 6,000 people without jobs, an abysmal economy and soil highly contaminated by oil residues. The city of Malmö decided to rebuild the area, converting it from an industrial center to a knowledge and residential center, to be supplied by 100 percent renewable energy. In 1998 the University of Malmö was built in the Western Harbor and in 2001, a residential housing project of 350 apartments was built in conjunction with the European Housing Exhibition, Bo01 Expo.

The Bo01 houses were all built with sustainable materials and are powered by a 2 MW wind turbine that provides 99 percent of their electricity, plus a nominal 8 kW of solar PV. Daniel Skog, City of Malmo communications officer, told RMI, “Without hesitation I can say that the energy system in the first phase of the Western Harbor was world unique in 2001 and still today it is one of the largest urban local renewable energy systems in the world.” The area attracts around 3,000 technical visits every year.

Western Harbor also has an innovative district heating and cooling system. In the summer, cold water from the previous winter — stored 90 meters underground in aquifers — is pumped up (by wind-powered electricity) and run through a heat pump for district cooling. Once the water is heated it is pumped back down into the aquifers where it is stored for heating buildings in the winter. Over the course of a year over 5 million kWh of heat and 3 million kWh of cooling is produced.

The Western Harbor is home to 4,000 people and very few cars. The district is built so that residents can park their vehicles outside the residential area and walk to their homes. Buses connect the area to the center of Malmö every five minutes, and a car-sharing system reduces the number of car trips as well. Fewer parking lots are built and the money saved is invested in car sharing (all people moving into the area have five years of free membership in the car sharing network). Approximately 50 car pools are in Malmö, in which several people share a number of cars that are booked using a smartphone and paid for only for the time during which the car is used.

Green roofs for Augustenborg

Another district in Malmö being redeveloped is Augustenborg, originally developed in the 1950s. During the '80s and '90s it experienced a lot of flooding. In 1998 the city revitalized the neighborhood, and one measure taken to reduce the flooding issue was to introduce an open storm water runoff system to divert runoff into canals and ponds. Ninety percent of the storm water now runs through the canals and ponds, and is cleaned by natural flora before reaching the ocean.

The next measure was to implement green roofs. Over 9,000 square meters of green roofs absorb rainwater, clean the air and provide insulation in the district. Green roofs have spread throughout Malmö, helping to reduce the urban heat island effect during heat waves and providing habitat for migrating birds.

Another exciting initiative begun in Augustenborg district was a study separating food waste to make biogas. Residents have 15 recycling centers in the district to dispose of food waste that is turned into biogas to run the public buses. This initiative also spread throughout the city, and Malmö was the first major city in Sweden to require sorting of food waste. All homes, apartments, businesses, restaurants, offices and stores must separate out their food waste to be turned into biogas to fuel buses and city trucks. Currently 200 city buses run on a mix of biogas from household waste and compressed natural gas.

A smart city in Hyllie

A third district in Malmö undertaking exciting sustainability measures is Hyllie, the city’s largest development area. In 2011, the city signed an agreement with VA Syd, Malmö’s waste management company, and the utility service provider E.ON to make Hyllie one of the most climate-smart districts in the region. When fully built out by 2020, the district will have about 9,000 homes and nearly as many office spaces, all powered entirely by renewable or recycled energy from wind power, solar power and biofuels. It also will be the testing bed for smart technologies for all of Malmö, including a large-scale smart grid for both electricity and heating and cooling.

Some pilot projects (PDF) to be tested in Hyllie include allowing consumers to monitor and adjust their energy use through smart apps depending on weather forecasts and production from renewable energy sources, and flow meters for home water taps. VA SYD will use behavioral science theories to make it easy for people to recycle and sort waste — for example, homes may have transparent sorting containers to make it easy to see who’s “doing the right thing,” and there will be mobile recycling centers so people don’t have to transport their recycling by car.

The first pilot project is already in place, with all apartments in one area equipped with smart home systems that regulate and control power output and energy consumption. Each apartment also eventually will have a screen allowing tenants to monitor their energy consumption and the associated cost.

The Hyllie train station is also home to Malmö’s first bike-and-ride system with free parking for 1,000 bicycles, storage areas for helmets and rain gear, restrooms, showers, lounges, bike repair areas and bicycle pumps all accessible to cyclists. A new and larger bike-and-ride facility recently opened in Malmo’s central station, with room for more than 1,500 bicycles, spaces for cargo bikes and a shower.

Renewable electricity

Malmö is also home to Sweden’s largest offshore wind farm. The 48 wind turbines at the Lillgrund 110 megawatt wind farm provide enough electricity for 60,000 households. Sege Park in Malmö was transformed from a hospital complex to a residential neighborhood powered with a 166 kW PV plant, the largest in Sweden when it was installed in 2007. In 2009 the country’s largest building-integrated PV system at the time was installed in Sege Park, with 100 kW of capacity across two roofs.

Getting around Malmö

The city has made a large investment in transportation alternatives. Malmö has 490 kilometers of bicycle paths, and 25 percent of all trips in the city are by bike. Cyclists have priority at many intersections, where a sensor system is installed to turn the lights green when a cyclist approaches. In 2011, 2012 and 2013, the National Bicycle Association named Malmö the “Cycling Promoter City of the Year,” and in 2013 the cycling consulting company Copenhagenize rated Malmö one of the 10 best cycling cities in the world.

In addition, all city buses in Malmö run on a mix of biogas from local food waste and natural gas. By 2018 all buses will be powered by fossil-free fuels, the majority being by locally produced biogas.

Looking to the future

Malmö’s goal is to be run by 100 percent renewable energy by 2030. As of now, the city produces 30 percent of its energy needs from renewable energy mainly from wind, waste incineration and industrial leftover heat. The city runs all municipal buildings on 100 percent renewable electricity mainly from hydro. Over the years Malmö has transformed from a declining industrial center filled with brownfield sites to a thriving, efficient city. While Swedes become more skeptical of nuclear power and the government continues to work towards a national target of 50 percent renewable energy by 2020, the city of Malmö is leading the way.

This story originally appeared on RMI's blog and is reprinted with permission. Top photo of Turning Tower building in Malmö by \kimson via Shutterstock

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Climate Week is over. What do we do now?

By Nancy Hirshberg
Published October 01, 2014
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Tags: Climate
Climate Week is over. What do we do now?

Jolting us back to earth from the exhilarating high of Climate Week was the release of a sobering report that atmospheric CO2 has reached record levels. From 2012 to 2013, atmospheric CO2 increased more than any other time since 1984.

Despite the marches, business coalitions, divestment pressure and political shifting, greenhouse gas emissions have continued to climb on average 2.5 percent per year for the last decade. Inspiration? Got it. Awareness? Check. Meaningful deep reductions in CO2 emissions? Not so much.

Why have we not been able to turn our good intentions into greenhouse gas reductions? Yes, some companies are taking climate seriously, seeing the opportunity of mitigating greenhouse gases, and indeed are making progress. But far more action is needed. How do we build on the growing concern among the public and the business community to achieve real, significant and lasting reductions in CO2 emissions—and fast?

There are many barriers to action. Chief among them, however, is that changing behavior is hard. As Amory Lovins and others have shown, we have the technology to achieve massive CO2 reductions, but that's only one piece. Ben and Jerry’s CEO Jostein Solheim recently shared with me, “Technology gives us the ability to make changes. It does not give us the will. Will comes from an emotional connection.”

So how do we create a deep emotional connection to climate change, deep enough to motivate broad change and action?

Climate change is particularly challenging because it feels distant, remote and huge, which can lead to a sense of powerlessness. It’s easier to keep doing what we’re doing. Compounding the challenge, climate action has all too often been framed as loss, sacrifice and cost. And of course in the United States, climate change has become one of the most politically polarizing issues of our time.

So where do we go from here? How do we motivate an increasingly aware and concerned public to act? These 5 key elements from the social sciences can be used to encourage behavior change with employees, stakeholders, friends, family or anyone else:

1. Create an emotional connection

Much of the communications around climate have focused on the science and impacts. For many of us, the science is compelling and strikes an emotional chord. But because human behavior is a complex interaction of social, psychological and environmental factors, logic and facts are not enough. If facts were all we needed, there would likely be few smokers and we’d all eat healthy food and exercise every day since the science could not be more conclusive. It’s important to appeal to the emotional, not just the rational mind. As Kotter and Cohen explain in The Heart of Change, change happens not when you make people think differently, but when you make people feel differently.

Inspire, don’t just talk scary science. Negative emotions such as fear can be motivating and do have their place, especially when an action requires an immediate decision such as whether or not to flee an oncoming hurricane; but fear can also overwhelm and disempower.

Solitaire Townsend of sustainability communications firm Futerra wisely notes, “Dr. Martin Luther King had a dream, not a nightmare.” Hope is a powerful, compelling emotion which is why so many political campaigns use it.

We are starting to see many groups talk less about the climate threat and more about the climate opportunity using solution stories—examples of what is working such as the rapid increase in renewables; amazing efficiency successes; economic opportunity through climate innovation; and cities being transformed by reducing carbon intensity, simultaneously improving the quality of life for the residents. People can get excited about being a part of something that is hopeful. For millennia stories have helped us create meaning and tap into emotion.

2. Make it popular

Research has shown that we filter information through our cultural lens. We use information to validate our existing world views. “Cultural cognition” is the conforming of beliefs to those that predominate in one’s group. If climate information is inconsistent with the beliefs of those with whom I share close ties, I am more likely to reject the information. It’s no wonder that the well-funded climate deniers meticulously documented in Naomi Oreskes' “Merchants of Doubt” were able to get such a foothold. We are hard wired to find ways to reinforce our existing world views and reject information that is in conflict with it.

If we are inclined to believe and accept information consistent with our peer group’s values and perceptions, then how does one make headway with someone whose peer group is disinclined or neutral to accepting climate change? Put another way, how do we talk to people whose views are different from our own?

The first step is to frame the dialogue so that it is reflective of the values and interests of the audience. If you’re talking with an evangelical Christian, frame climate as caring for god’s creation; a business person can relate to financial opportunity and risk; national security might resonate with a military hawk. Frames help people decipher meaning through their own beliefs.

Second, use key opinion leaders from their group to deliver the message. Research has shown that one of the largest drivers for the adoption of new behaviors is the behavior of peers. A great example of leveraging this concept occurred in June when Risky Business launched its report on the economic risks of climate change in the United States. They wisely led with three well-regarded co-chairs: a Republican, a Democrat and an Independent. That gave three diverse audiences credible opinion leaders whose messages they might be open to hearing.

Once a respected member of a peer group acknowledges climate change it creates a safer space for others to follow. When this happens, highlight examples so that others can see the growing popularity of the viewpoint.

3. Make it relevant

Because climate change feels to so many as a distant threat, it’s important to accurately localize the impacts to make it feel real. Whenever possible, connect what is happening locally to the changing climate. While individual climate events can rarely be directly correlated to climate change, a connection can be made showing the climate trend and the predicted future impacts. Use caution not to oversell the link between the weather and climate, or it could backfire, such as when a cold winter is erroneously interpreted as proof that climate change is not happening.

Related to localizing climate change is the need to demonstrate how an individual’s actions can make a difference. By doing so it helps people connect with the issue in a concrete way. It’s important to appreciate how the little actions add up to big change.

4. Make it easy

To make a behavior change easier, remove physical and emotional barriers. Barriers might include time, cost, complexity and perceived physical or emotional risk. Create an environment where it is easy to perform the desired behavior and harder to perform the harmful behavior. This is the fundamental logic behind a carbon tax replacing an income tax, adding cost to carbon pollution and removing the tax on what we want to encourage more of, income and wealth generation. By removing barriers and making a behavior feel easy, the hurdle to making the change is lowered

5. Nurture the change

Once a step toward change is taken it is vital to recognize and reward the change. How often have we seen positive change in our organizations only to see months later a slip back to doing things the same way it was done previously? Remember, change is hard. Be vigilant and nurture and support the change. Continue to give incentives, rewards and recognition. Report back and let people know how they are making a difference.

Ed Maibach of George Mason University’s Center for Climate Change Communications summarizes climate behavior change succinctly: "To change behavior, make it easy, fun and popular."

Sounds simple enough. Let’s do it.

Top image by Kate Evans for Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) via Flickr

 

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