omaha, nebraska (402) 681 - 9458 |

Our home to share our thoughts and host an (e)discussion about the opportunities sustainability presents and how our world will be changing as a result. From savvy strategies for clients to our fleet of Schwinn 10-speeds and everything in between; we invite you to the conversation and hope that we can explore together.

OPPD is considering a rate restructuring, which the Board of Directors will discuss November 12th. The proposed change would increase the basic service charge for residential and small business customers from $123/year to $420/year in fixed charges while slightly decreasing consumption costs.

To give this ‘basic service charge’ some context, the Wall Street Journal reported a typical rate of “$5 or so” per month ($60/year), and the ACEEE reported fixed fees of $5-10 per month ($60 – $120/year) as of late 2014 for average residential customers.

The proposed rate structure is bad policy for the following reasons:

  • Low use customers will pay more ($60 – $180 annually) including many low-income residents and fixed income seniors, while high use customers (higher income) will pay less by roughly the same amount;
  • Apartment & small home dwellers who conserve will pay more for the same energy;
  • Reduced incentive to for all customers to be more energy efficient and conserve;
  • Increased wasteful use of energy, adding to air pollution and climate change;
  • Makes investing in renewable energy harder to justify economically.

I urge OPPD to strive to live their new slogan – “Leading the way, we power the future.” Lead our community in its battle against poverty and its goals to care for the natural environment. With the Pope’s recent encyclical in mind, OPPD’s rate restructuring is a real life decision where care for the poor and care for the environment go hand in hand.

The proposal to lower the cost of a kWh, the rate you pay for the electricity that you actually use, is counter to the future power-generation plan OPPD recently approved. Lowering the rate a customer pays for the electricity consumption reduces the incentive to conserve energy. Often, customers and small businesses look at how long a technology investment will take to recover its upfront cost in energy savings – financial payback. Lower rates result in poorer paybacks, which will slow investments in energy efficiency and renewable technologies that are important for our planet’s long-term health.

UNO’s report, “Nebraska Energy Burden Study: 2013 Update” provides the following statistics for Nebraskan’s energy expenses:

  • For households making less than $30,000, the average cost of energy was $1984 per year.
  • For households making more than $40,000, the average cost of energy was $2451 annually.
  • Households making more than $100,000 had an average cost of energy of $2738 per year, more than $750 above households making below $30,000.

This data demonstrates that low-income households pay less for energy than high- income households, as they should. They use less, they should pay less. The new rate structure begins to shift the current, rather equitable distribution of costs so that the poor, elderly, and environmentally conscience pay for large homes or other homes that consume larger portions of the energy load.

I’d like to see a map from OPPD that shows which customers’ bills are going down and which are going up. Real data, real addresses, mapped over the OPPD territory. Board members and OPPD leadership should be asking for this to ensure they fully understand the impacts of this change. Such an exercise will quickly tell who is paying for whom in the community under the new rate restructuring.  I can’t help but think that the map would look something like this one.

As an accountant who cares about both the poor and the environment, here are my thoughts:

  • It doesn’t matter whether a business has fixed costs or variable costs. The customers are not responsible for the costs. Customers pay for the products they purchase. A business’s executive leaders, accountants and finance folks are in charge of managing both fixed and variable costs, and that’s one of the many reasons accounting and finance is sometimes complex. It’s also why it’s great that Nebraska has public power, which shouldn’t feel the same pressures as shareholder-owned utility companies to meet quarterly earnings projections.
  • Customers are not buying a part of a power plant, part of a power line, nor are we asking to take on a week’s salary of an OPPD employee. Customers are buying electricity delivered into their homes. That’s it, nothing more, just kWh.
  • If OPPD has missed budget targets or future purchase forecasts have changed, they should adjust the price of the product being delivered, kWh. If I built a house that’s too big for my budget, I don’t go to my boss and say, well gosh, I’ve got a big fixed mortgage now, I need a raise.

The reality is that OPPD has a pretty significant budget shortfall. So rather than solely poking holes in their proposed plan, I’ll offer three ways for them to narrow that budget gap:

  • Increase kWh rates for all users, which lets everyone share the load equally.
  • Do what you do with your large business customers, charge a demand charge to residential customers and small business customers too. Demand charges continue to incentivize energy efficiency, because consumers can affect the amount charged by reducing consumption.
  • Move to a time-of-use pricing structure, where electricity costs more when it is most expensive to produce, usually during the late afternoon hours of the summer.

OPPD has made great progress in the past few years, with wind power purchases and decisions to retire three coal units in North Omaha. I am truly amazed that our power company will likely be 1/3 wind and 1/3 nuclear by 2018, both very low carbon and affordable power sources.

This is a public power state. We, the people, own our utilities, and we are represented by elected officials that are supposed to represent the consumers by definition.

The OPPD Board will hear from staff and the community at their November board meeting on Thursday, Nov 12th at 10:00 a.m. The public will have an opportunity to make 3 minute statements to the Board or you can email the Board at their website.

Speak up residents and small business customers – speak up and help OPPD lead us in the right direction!


For more information:

Meeting tonight with OPPD, Nov 9th

Rocky Mountain Institute – Fixed Charges don’t “Fix” the Problem

News on fixed charge changes – approved in Wisconsin, rejected in Minnesota

Similar rooftop solar fixed fee news

Featured Image courtesy of Watie White.



When you hire exceptional people, you should expect that they’ll be regularly presented with offers for other jobs. It’s something we expect to happen. The alternative – hiring a bunch of monkeys that nobody wants – may mean we don’t need to worry about employee poachers, but it also means we’re not going to perform at a high level.

So when Chris Stratman broke the news that he’ll be leaving the firm, I found myself immensely disappointed but also not surprised. On November 16, Chris will start as the new Executive Director of Keep Omaha Beautiful, a nonprofit organization dedicated to litter reduction, beautification, and education on recycling and solid waste issues. You know that disappointment I mentioned earlier? That quickly faded when I learned about Chris’ new job.

Keep Omaha Beautiful has been around since 1959, and one of its focus areas – waste reduction and recycling – is really important in Omaha, which has a historically poor recycling rate. We have several ideas for how to increase recycling in Omaha, but we’re not particularly well set up to independently move the needle. Chris’ expertise, strengths, focus, and results-focused approach will undoubtedly have a positive impact not only on the city’s recycling rate, but on the city’s overall success as well. He’s really well-suited to the job, and he’s going to knock it out of the park.

Chris has been with us since early 2010 and has played a major role in nearly every one of our projects. Most notably, he has been our project lead with UNMC and Nebraska Medicine for the last few years consistently providing great leadership to our project team and impeccable service to our friends at the Med Center.

We will miss Chris. I will miss Chris. I’ve spent the last five years sitting about four feet from him. He’s an exceptional human being and our success as a firm is due in large part to his dedication to our purpose.

As they say, change is the only constant. Mr. Stratman’s (he asked that I start calling him that now) last day is slated for October 23. We wish Chris nothing but the best, and I look forward to working with him in a new capacity to make Omaha a thriving, green city.

Onward and upward.

Leave a Comment »

We are thrilled to announce a new partnership with Methodist Health System and its three hospitals!







The project includes

  • Identifying sustainability strengths, successes, and achievements
  • Developing a sustainability vision to inspire and motivate change
  • Benchmarking and analyzing sustainability performance as it relates to emissions, energy, water, waste, mobility/transportation, and engagement
  • Developing measurable and strategic sustainability goals
  • Recommending a short-term course of action

Within the next few weeks, we will begin analyzing data, surveying students/employees, and meeting with key personnel and stakeholder groups.

We can’t wait to help Methodist Health System develop and formalize its sustainability plans!

If you have questions or thoughts about this project, please contact



I’ve been a member of Omaha’s Business Ethics Alliance for over five years and was quite excited when we agreed to be a sponsor of the BEA’s most recent Executive Breakfast.

The breakfast featured a conversation with Coca-Cola’s water sustainability program manager Jonathan Radtke with a special appearance by Mace Hack, the Nebraska state director of The Nature Conservancy. The two entities are partnering on an interesting project promoting new technology that helps Nebraska farmers along the South Platte River irrigate with less water.

The conversation took a number of twists and turns, and thanks to the always exceptional moderation of the BEA’s director, Beverly Kracher, an exceptional conversation unfolded.

Coke is doing some exceptional things as it relates to water conservation and replenishment of waterways. They are well ahead of schedule in working to achieve their 2020 100% water replenishment goal.

My favorite quote from Jon was his reference to Coke’s internal view that their sustainability initiatives really leverage “the power of ‘and’ ” which is to say there are multiple benefits to everything they’re doing. They save money and help the environment and attract customers and engage employees and…you get the point.

There was a great discussion that included attendees that centered on what motivates organizations to be more sustainable. Responses were a bit across the board, with references to the Pope’s recent encyclical, our collective moral obligations to future generations, and the fact that it’s ultimately good for businesses.

Interestingly, Coke is now more than happy to pay more for the water they use so long as it leads toward a more sustainable water system and all water users pay their fair share. Publicly articulating that you’re willing to take on bigger costs is pretty unheard of, but Coke understands that it’s necessary in order for them to succeed longer term.

Radtke suggested that companies need to look beyond their quarterly income statements and should consider the long view with a reference to the 7th generation principle taught by Native Americans that says every decision should consider how it will affect descendants seven generations into the future. Not many other corporations are thinking out that far.

In talking with several other attendees over the last few days, many were challenged by the tension between Coke’s great sustainability practices and the fact that they primarily sell products that result in health challenges for consumers. I get it, but I don’t put that on Coca-Cola. In my view, it’s on consumers to change their behaviors. If society wants healthier beverages, then start drinking them. Until then, I’ll see you at the vending machine – let’s split a Coke.

Onward and upward.

Leave a Comment »

Recycling is getting a lot of attention in Omaha these days. The Omaha World Herald ran an extensive story (Why is Nebraska Recycling in the Dumps?) in the Sunday, July 12 edition that summarized the challenges Omaha and Nebraska more broadly speaking have had with recycling. The key indicator is the recycling rate, which has hovered around 11% in Omaha since 2006, a figure that’s well below the national average (34%) and lagging that of the surrounding states.

Let’s not kid ourselves, managing waste streams is more difficult than most people imagine, even at the residential level. I just took my family’s trash and recycling to the curb tonight, and while doing so pondered all the different streams that leave our house in a given week (landfill, mixed recycling, glass, plastic bags, reuse items, my daughter’s to-go applesauce containers (I think she’s addicted), and compostable waste). Each one of them requires a separate staging area in our house and/or garage. It’s no wonder that I conduct a monthly educational campaign at home to ensure we’re all on the same page.


Moody family outgoing trash and recycling. The volume in those two (yes, we have two…ssshh) green bins is more than what’s in the black trash container. I suspect if most Omahans had the opportunity and were properly educated, the same would hold true. The EPA estimates that 75% of residential trash is recyclable.

There are unquestionably advantages to recycling more, and the good news is that there are benefits that excite both fiscal conservatives and tree-hugging liberals alike. The financial savings alone are noteworthy; if Omaha improved to a mere 26% recycling rate (a very achievable figure), the city would be saving roughly $1 million per year. Certainly not chump change.

So how can Omaha improve its recycling rate? The Verdis Team spent an hour kicking around a few ideas, some of which are offered below. First, a caveat: we have not studied the situation (but would love to!). The recommendations below are based on 1) our materials management work with all of our clients, 2) our experiences as Omaha citizens, and 3) the knowledge and information we’ve gained through community involvement with efforts such as Environment Omaha. When we’re given the opportunity (the power of positive thought, right?) to really study the issue, we would most certainly refine and add to these recommendations. OK, with caveat in place, let’s get to it.

  1. Deploy larger bins with lids. Everyone acknowledges that this would have an immediate impact. Let’s make it happen. (See the July 13 OWH story for more details.) And, yes, the up-front cost ($6 million) is a bit much, but as the OWH reported on July 19, there are funding alternatives such as the Closed Loop Fund. The City should also consider the Nebraska Environmental Trust and the Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality grant programs as sources of funding.
  1. Overhaul branding and communication. There are multiple layers to this one, so let’s bullet them out:
    • Develop a sophisticated brand around Omaha’s recycling program
    • Reboot the website
    • Develop a one-page summary that’s easy for residents to review, pass around, print and post at home
    • Offer several materials in other languages, especially Spanish (the recycling rate per capita was worst in Southeast Omaha)
    • Rename and redesign the Wasteline publication that’s mailed to residences regularly
    • Do NOT over-emphasize the 11% rate. Doing so conveys a subtle social norm that only 11% of waste can be recycled and/or only 11% of people do recycle. Rather, focus on the fact that the majority of Omahans support recycling.
    • Messaging also needs to tap into multiple motivating factors – catching everyone from liberals to conservatives
    • Ramp up the social media platform (Verdis has more “likes” on Facebook, and we generally stink at social media)
    • Invest in other awareness and media efforts such as billboards, radio, and so on
  1. Start delivering bins again. Assuming that we really do need to wait five years before the large bins with lids are deployed, the City should reinstitute the program where the current curbside bins would actually be delivered to households that request them, which was in place several years ago. (Today, citizens must go to one of six locations to pick one up.) Partnerships could be explored with neighborhood associations, schools, a nonprofit such as Keep Omaha Beautiful, and maybe even churches to facilitate the distribution process.
  1. Connecting with the binless. We kicked around a handful of ideas to engage those households that don’t have a bin today. Here are a few:
    • Employe and send SummerWorks Omaha employees door to door on trash/recycling day. Have them contact (leave flyers or little yard signs) at every residence that does not have a recycling container out. Heck, give them a truck full of bins so they can distribute as the come across households that want one.
    • Automatically provide bins to all of Omaha with an opt-out alternative. With proper notice and an effective opt-out alternative, this could work.
  1. Ramp up recycling in public spaces. The City needs to walk the talk and deploy recycling containers in public areas with a goal to achieve a 1:1 waste to recycling container ratio in the city.
  1. Make recycling mandatory. Yes, I know this is a stretch and not likely to happen, but it still would be one of the single most effective means by which to increase recycling rates. In essence, recyclables would be banned from going into the landfill.
  1. Explore pay as you throw. A strong motivator for recycling more is charging fees for trash (known as a pay-as-you-throw system). Yes, there’s some concern about it being a regressive tax, but those issues can be overcome with a more sophisticated system design.
  1. Launch a composting facility. If the ultimate goal is reduce landfill tipping fees, then diverting food waste to a large-scale composting facility will have a huge impact. This is extremely complicated, and there’s a team exploring options now, as we understand it. But the implementation of as much would make a huge difference, especially for commercial customers.
  1. Address the gap in services to apartments. Renters like to recycle too, maybe more than homeowners. It would be great to address this gap in some way.

Team Verdis had close to a dozen more ideas that I’ll leave on the shelf for now. Suffice it to say there are undoubtedly ways to improve recycling in Omaha, and we’re anxious to play a role in making that happen. Because, and let’s be honest here, it’s a little embarrassing that the city has hovered around 11% for ten years. Let’s right that ship, shall we?

Onward and upward.


The mission statements of UNMC, Nebraska Medicine, and Clarkson College focus on patient care, healthcare education, research, and community outreach. Transportation—moving people around—is not a part of any of their respective missions. However, to achieve those missions, their people (employees, students, visitors, and faculty) must be able to move from one location (e.g. home) to another (42nd and Dewey campus). Thus, as the institutions continue to grow their positive community impact and add new buildings, the demand for transportation increases. Typically, this means more cars.

So what are these institutions going to do about the increased transportation demand?

They basically have three options (the first one doesn’t count):

  • Don’t grow. Not an option for a national healthcare leader.
  • Build out. Build more surface parking, which requires tearing down buildings and creates sprawl.
  • Build up. Build more parking garages at over $20,000 per parking stall.
  • Get creative. Find ways to get people to campus without using their cars every day.

If transportation is approached with the assumption that everyone will drive, parking becomes the obvious solution (Option #2 or #3). But when an organization sees transportation as fundamentally about moving people, driving a car and the parking that is required as a result becomes just a solution of many (and an expensive one at that as reported in Parking Problems? Transit Programs As a Cost-Effective Solution). When this comprehensive view of moving people is combined with an increased emphasis on wellness, millennials driving less, and a new Dodge St. BRT (Bus Rapid Transit), there is an opportunity to expand their positive impact without the burden of providing as much parking.

True to form in their leadership and innovation, UNMC, Nebraska Medicine, and Clarkson College got creative. We partnered with key stakeholders from all three institutions to design their new TravelSmart program, which was launched in June. TravelSmart is available to all employees and students at Screenshot 2015-06-24 12.24.26UNMC, Nebraska Medicine, and Clarkson College. The program promotes transportation options that will decrease parking demand, including activities such as walking, biking, carpooling, and taking the bus.

We helped design and implement a comprehensive employee input and engagement process to ensure the TravelSmart program met the real needs of the their employees and students. It included surveys, focus groups, forums, and more to select and refine the right components of the program.

One key finding from this process was that active transportation isn’t for everyone, and that’s OK. Some employees or students have limitations on how they get to work based on where they live or their schedule. However, there are enough people willing to shift their travel mode to active transportation when the infrastructure and programmatic support is in place. This group is large enough to reduce the need to build more parking.

As a result, there are several ways the TravelSmart program makes it easy for people to use active transportation options:

  • Free online service to help connect carpool partnersScreenshot 2015-06-30 12.00.51
  • Free carpool parking passes
  • Free Omaha Metro bus passes
  • Free secure, indoor bike parking and access to lockers and shower facilities
  • Free guaranteed rides home in emergency situations
  • Daily-rate flexible parking for the days a participant needs to drive alone to campus

Already, employees are choosing to become TravelSmart participants and leave their cars at home.

TravelSmart saves money for employees and the institutions, improves employee attraction and retention, supports a culture of active living, and improves air quality in the city. There are great benefits for employees and students that participate –  a healthier lifestyle, less stress, fewer costs associated with driving and parking, and improved environmental conditions. Employees and students are not the only winners: patients, families, and community members also benefit when these institutions use their property to carry out their core missions, rather than for parking lots.






In early May, we announced our 2015 Small Business Sale to coincide with the Omaha Chamber of Commerce naming us the 2015 Small Business of the Year (did you know there are over 37,000 small businesses in Greater Omaha?!). Our hope was to return a little love back to all our fellow small businesses.

We’re taking this up (or down, actually, in price) a notch. The first small business to commit will get our suite of services for a mere $500, and the second small business in the door gets the entire package for $1200. Those are 94% and 85% off sales respectively. Kmart’s Bluelight Special doesn’t have anything on us.

This is a limited time offer. Act now.

Onward and upward!

Leave a Comment »

Just over a year ago (May 2014), we conducted our first Passion Projects. In a nutshell, all six of us are given a 24 hour period to do just about anything. At the end of that period, we convene at Fontenelle Forest and we each spend some time talking about what we did and what we learned. There’s no expectation or requirement that the activities directly align or relate to our work, although they always have.

We’ve since repeated the exercise in February 2015. Here’s a list of a few Passion Projects from the team:

  • Researched local ecological impacts of and potential policy solutions for climate change
  • Researched water issues specific to the Omaha region
  • Researched recycling behaviors for the apartment dwellers in our building (Tip Top)
  • Researched and prepared a list of the top 20 best practices for conducting an effective meeting
  • Researched biomimicry and how it relates to our work

I have an interest in and passion for Omaha’s physical design characteristics and how they impact our daily lives. My time spent on Omaha’s Urban Design Review Board really opened my eyes to just how much (or how little) our community cares about improving our urban environment.

The way we design and build our largest public spaces – our streets and the associated right of way –  have a huge impact on our community’s health, safety, ability to safely and enjoyably use active transportation, and our well-being. So I decided I wanted to measure the quality of six intersections in Omaha to see what I could learn about how our community’s urban form is faring.

I focused on intersections that are traditional main street environments, as I have a high expectation that they are the best, most-inviting places for anyone and everyone. I then created a scoring system after doing a little research and set out to take measurements and conduct observations. The results:

  1. 11th & Howard
  2. 24th & N
  3. 24th & Lake
  4. 50th & Underwood
  5. 64th & Maple
  6. 33rd & California

Screen shot 2015-05-22 at 5.34.18 AM

Rather than diving into the details via this blog post, I think it’s easiest to offer an actual summary of what I did, what I learned, and where these intersections excelled and fell short. Here are the results: Passion Project: Assessing the Quality of Six Omaha Intersections.

As noted therein, this is not necessarily my area of expertise. As such, many experts in the field will look to the methodology and chuckle. I’m cool with that. My hope was not to conduct a highly rigorous analysis. Rather, I wanted to learn something. And if what I did and the manner in which I did it sparks a discussion or could be used in some small way to improve Omaha’s urban environment, I’ll consider it a win.

Onward and upward!


Leave a Comment »