omaha, nebraska (402) 681 - 9458 | info@verdisgroup.com

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 true.green. together.


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

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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!

 

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Park Arbor Day - 4

(above) Students from Kearney Public Schools participate in a tree planting event to celebrate Arbor Day. (April 2015)

 

Spring is probably my favorite time of the year. The weather improves, nature becomes prettier, people seem more energetic and happy, and two of my favorite sports (track and field, baseball) are in full swing. Spring is also a time when we seem to pay more attention to the environment and environmental issues. Thank you, flowering plants and Earth/Arbor Day.

As people check back in with the environment, I would like to take a few moments to allow you to check back in with our work. Here’s what’s new and exciting at some of our clients:

 

Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo & Aquarium

Due to successful investments in sustainability projects during the past four years, the zoo’s revolving Green Loan Fund currently sits at an all-time high amount, and the zoo is avoiding energy and water costs of over $385 thousand annually. The zoo is also busy constructing its new African Grasslands exhibit, which will incorporate sustainable features that conserve energy and water. For example, the elephant barn floor will be made of sand and natural materials instead of concrete, thus requiring little or no water for cleaning.

 

Omaha Public Schools

The U.S. Department of Education recently named Wilson and Gomez schools winners of the 2015 Green Ribbon Schools award. Meanwhile, the district has established new goals related to energy, water, recycling, and emissions. New estimates indicate the district has achieved $4.9 million in energy savings over the past four and a half years.

 

University of Nebraska at Omaha

Since rolling out its Sustainability Master Plan several months ago, UNO has earned Omaha by Design’s inaugural Access & Mobility Award. UNO has also launched its online dashboard widget that showcases the university’s progress towards its sustainability goals.

 

University of Nebraska Medical Center & Nebraska Medicine

UNMC and Nebraska Medicine recently celebrated their 5th annual Earth Week to engage students and staff in environmental stewardship. In June, UNMC and Nebraska Medicine will launch the TravelSmart program. This transportation/parking demand management program will encourage/incentivize staff and students to bike, carpool, use transit, and walk to the 42nd & Dewey campus. The program will include subsidized bus passes and free rides home in emergency situations.

 

University of Nebraska at Kearney

UNK is currently finalizing goals for its Sustainability Master Plan and will soon begin prioritizing strategies for achieving said goals. While that planning is underway, UNK has started a Recycling Task Force to improve its campus recycling program. Recently, several campus groups partnered to conduct the annual waste audit, in which volunteers sampled UNK’s waste and recycling streams. Also, led by the student group Enactus, UNK is researching a bicycle sharing program.

 

Kearney Public Schools

Thanks, in part, to this school year’s Green Schools Challenge, the district has accomplished exceptional decreases in electricity consumption in most buildings and increases in measured levels of sustainability engagement.

 

We are so proud of our clients’ sustainability achievements. As spring warms into summer, I look forward to ice cream, and our Verdis Group team looks forward to continued success with the organizations we serve. -BR

 

 

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We are extremely excited to announce that on May 12, at the Greater Omaha Business Excellence Awards, we will receive the Greater Omaha Chamber’s 2015 Small Business of the Year Award. It’s a huge honor to be recognized with such an award; we are truly thrilled!

In the spirit of giving thanks and giving back, we’re offering small businesses a deep discount on our work. For a limited time, your small business (this includes you, nonprofits) can get our multiple-award-winning team of experts involved in quickly advancing your sustainability efforts.

Through our Small Business Sale, we’re offering the following scope of work. We will:

  • Facilitate a kickoff meeting with your project leads
  • Collect and analyze 12 months of data and other information
  • Conduct our proprietary Sustainability Engagement Index survey of your organization
  • Develop baseline performance metrics and recommended measurable goals in the areas of energy, water, waste/recycling, emissions, and employee sustainability engagement
  • Conduct two interviews with key personnel
  • Facilitate a two-hour workshop with select employees; includes pre-workshop reading assignment
  • Deliver key findings, goals, and sustainability recommendations (the deliverable)

It’s a streamlined scope of work that is comparable to what we’ve been doing for much larger clients like the University of Nebraska at Omaha, UNMC & Nebraska Medicine, and Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo & Aquarium. The end-result is a succinct and straightforward document that will provide your organization with a clear action plan for capitalizing on all the opportunities that sustainability presents.

All this for $3,000 – 5,000! Yes, you read that right. A similar scope of work would normally cost $8,000 – 10,000, but for a limited time, we’ve cut the cost and would love nothing more than to help several Omaha small businesses advance their sustainability efforts.

It’s pretty amazing that the business community recognizes the value that we bring, and we hope to graciously accept the award and turn right around and give a little back to the small business community.

Interested? If so, give me a shout at craig@verdisgroup.com or (402) 681-9458.

Onward and upward!

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At Verdis we are all driven to reduce our impact on the environment; at work and at home. Everyday, we work with clients to develop and implement changes to reduce energy use, reduce waste, recycle more, and simply reduce our collective impact on the natural environment. Beyond working with our clients, all of us individually pursue our passion to make the environment healthier in other ways. Craig chairs the group Mode Shift Omaha working to broaden active transportation options in Omaha, and Daniel serves on the Metro Transit Authority Board. I’ve been working on my personal impact on the environment, and have been building my dream home in the most sustainable manner we could.

House

What were we able to accomplish from a sustainability perspective on our new home?

 

My husband and I are quite proud of our HERS 32 Rating.  A Home Energy Rating System (HERS) rating is a score that compares a home’s energy use to a modeled house that is the same as your house, but built to 2004 International Energy Conservation Code. For a HERS rating, the lower the better. A home that scores zero is a Net Zero home, meaning it produces as much energy as it uses, typically through solar or wind power. Our HERS score of 32 means that our house is 68% more efficient than the HERS reference/modeled home. The U.S. Department of Energy determined that a typical resale home scores 130 on the HERS Index, so we are 98% more efficient than a typical resale home! My understanding is that only a handful of homes in Nebraska receive a HERS score this low on an annual basis, and once we add solar – net zero here we come!

 

Here are the highlights of changes we made from a typical home, which make our home more energy efficient and lessen our environmental impact:

Mechanical Systems

  • Open loop geothermal heat pump uses the 52 degree ground water temperature to heat and cool the home. We don’t need an air conditioner! And we expect our heating & cooling bills to be only $39 a month on average. The cost of this system is significantly supplemented by the Federal Tax credit.
  • Hybrid heat pump water heater uses the energy in our basement’s air to heat our hot water (along with electricity). This water heater is twice as efficient as a regular hot water heater (expecting to cost only $9 a month for hot water heating).
  • A variable frequency drive (VFD) on the well pump allows the pump to use only the energy needed to pump the amount of water needed at the time, instead of only having two options of “on full speed” or “off.”
  • A desuperheater transfers excess heat from the geothermal system to the water heater to preheat the water.
  • An Energy Recovery Ventilator (ERV) acts as the home’s lungs bringing fresh air into the house, while recovering some of the energy in the stale air before its removed from the house 

Construction Methods

  • rigid foam2×6 framing of the walls to allow for two extra inches of insulation (57% more), compared to traditional 2×4 construction
  • One inch rigid foam insulation used continuously on the exterior (instead of plywood) provides additional insulation and air sealing (see image at right)
  • Borate only treated blown in cellulose insulation in wall cavities, mainly used for health reasons, but also because cellulose is a great insulator and made from recycled paper. We used Green Fiber insulation made in Norfolk, NE
  • Energy efficient windows by Gerkin made in Sioux City, NE
  • Some Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) wood during construction, bonus from Millard Lumber – thanks!
  • Caulking the top and the sill plate before insulation to seal air gaps
  • Capillary breaks under and around foundation (plastic under the basement floor and waterproofing spray between the foundation walls and footings) minimizes the water that can enter the basement through the concrete
  • Passive radon mitigation system that allows radon under the home to exit through closed pipe that goes out the roof
  • Rough in for future solar, hopefully installed before the tax credit expirescarpet tile

Lighting, Interior Finish, and Other Sustainable Choices

  • LED lighting, we found screw in bulbs in traditional fixtures were the most economical, especially when bulbs were purchased in Council Bluffs.
  • A detached garage (attached garages often bring unhealthy air into the home)
  • East and south windows to warm the house in the winter, and larger eaves to keep the sun out in the summer
  • Energy Star appliances
  • No and low VOC paints/stains
  • Low flow water faucets, toilets and showers
  • Recycled carpet tile samples in our office / guest room (see image at right)
  • Products made close to home to minimize transportation emissions. For example, pre-finished wood floors are often finished in Asia with significant emissions from that transport; ours is wood floor from the United States and manufactured in the United States.

Implementation Evaluationsblow door smallestestest

  • Blower door tests evaluated air sealing. We did this before paint, trim and floors were installed, to see if the house was sealed well at a point – it was!
  • Personal inspection of the items that were different from what our builder usually used, like the blown in cellulose insulation

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So with all of these great energy saving strategies – What can I tell YOU about saving energy at your home?

  1. If you have incandescent lights in your home, go to Home Depot in Council Bluffs ledsTODAY and buy LED light bulbs to replace all the lights in your home. REPLACE them TONIGHT.

If you have a large home, this could add up to a couple hundred dollars investment, but the investment will pay for itself in electricity savings over the course of a year or less if you are replacing incandescent bulbs. The payback if you are replacing compact florescent lights (curly cue ones) is not as good. This Home Depot has the best prices I’ve seen for LEDs; a 60w-equivalent bulb is usually $5-7 each. On sale for $3 a week or two ago… After the first year, you’re saving lots of money in electricity each year! Here is a handy calculator to see this savings.

  1. If you are building or want to do a more significant project in your home, air sealing and insulation are the most cost effective ways to save energy. I would suggest getting your home’s HERS rating calculated. Then I would talk to the rater that does this calculation to see what you could do to improve your specific home in a cost effective way. I used American Energy Advisors (AEA) here in Omaha for this, and was very happy with the work they did for us and the advice they provided throughout the building process.
  1. If you are installing new insulation, take the day off and oversee the installers. The installers my builder used had never installed blown in dry cellulose and were given insulationno instruction on how to do so. When the ‘finished’ insulation was reviewed by the manufacturer representative to ensure it met manufacturer specifications (at my special request), it was short about 25% of the needed material. I’ve heard of other installers in town just skipping entire wall cavities. My advice here is to get lots of references before you choose a company, spend 20 minutes learning what you need to on the internet about how things should be installed, and then be there while the job is happening to actively review the installer’s work.

At the end of the building process, when AEA brought their infrared gun to check wall temperatures on a very cold December day, I was happy with the temperatures on the walls at this point. We’ll see a few years down the road, whether the insulation settles or not, a check we can do with an infrared gun that reads wall temperatures.

  1. If you want to build a green home, make sure you find a builder in the area with some experience with this, and just as importantly, a builder that is interested and willing to learn. Based on my research and conversations with others in the green community, there doesn’t seem to be a go-to green builder in Omaha.

We asked Landmark Performance Homes to build for us, and the owner Steve Faller was great throughout the entire project. Whenever we had a green practice in mind that Landmark had never done before, we talked through it. Steve gave us his insight based upon years of building experience and together we chose the best path forward. This was critical to keep our costs under control and to ensure that best practices in green building were incorporated whenever possible. I found Building Science and Green Building Advisor to be the most helpful websites when sorting out detailed questions on what to do.

  1. If you are buying a new home, check out the HERS scores before you buy. Here is the Residential Energy Services Network’s (RESNET) database of all HERS scores. Also, keep an eye out in realtor descriptions for HERS scores; local builders are working to get HERS scores included as part of the Multiple Listing Service (MLS) system where all realtors share listing information. If you are buying a home with a lower HERS score, this will save you money every month and should tip the scales when selecting between homes.

 

In the end, we love our dream home, and we are proud to have built a home that will stand for hundreds of years, making a small ongoing impact on our environment.

And if you wake up to this view everyday, how can you not want to protect our environment.

sunrise 11 inch

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Verdis Group is seeking an intern for this upcoming summer!

The full-time, paid intern will get hands-on experience at our sustainability consulting firm in Omaha. His or her specific responsibilities and projects will vary based on interests, needs, and priorities, but the intern should expect to gain experience related to sustainability practices, data analysis, communication, and project management.

Application deadline: February 28, 2015

Click here for more information and application instructions:

Internship Info & Application Instructions

 

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We are thrilled to announce our newest client, the University of Nebraska at Kearney. We will be collaborating with UNK to develop its comprehensive sustainability master plan. The project is set to kick off in January, and we can’t wait to get started!

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UNK is a public, residential university with an enrollment of nearly 7,100 students. This will be our third sustainability master planning project with the University of Nebraska system (University of Nebraska Medical Center; University of Nebraska at Omaha) and our second sustainability master planning project in Kearney (Kearny Public Schools).

 

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ZacharyStading

“My name is Zachary Stading. I have worked as an intern with Verdis group since August of this year. It is a very hard-working, but light-hearted group.

Everyone likes the satisfaction of crossing something off of his or her to-do list. One of the enjoyable parts of working with Verdis Group was that I was constantly getting small projects out of the current work that other team members were doing to supplement my personal projects. Examples include pulling together the acknowledgements page for UNO’s Sustainability Master Plan, helping analyze some of the data from surveys, compiling lists of sustainability strategies as a reference for clients, and researching alternative methods for sending out online surveys. This gave me a break from my own projects while providing great work experience, a sense of accomplishment, and made me feel like part of the team.

I had three big projects that I worked on independently. The first was researching universities in the region to assess which ones Verdis Group could potentially partner with in the future. The second was compiling survey data for the University of Nebraska Medical Center. The third was performing a greenhouse gas emissions inventory for Verdis Group.

The greenhouse gas emissions inventory was by far the most educational. I chose my own direction for the inventory such as what utilities and company activities I would try to account for. I had to make my own survey and send it out to the team to gather information. I was also able talk with other professionals to get information about our office expenses while working on my networking skills. Then I chose to compile that information into metric tons of carbon dioxide, which is the industry standard comparative tool. I wrote up my methods so this inventory could be replicated in future years and drafted a report for the team. Finally, I was allowed to present all of my findings to the team and get their responses, questions, and suggestions.

While working with Verdis Group, I found that I have a lot of learning left to do when it comes to using survey tools. I had never known the depth to which surveys could be analyzed or how critical surveys could be when it comes to making business decisions. Another important skill I learned was that not all business comes to you; you need a strategy for going to get it. I learned how to narrow down potential partners and clients by researching organizations’ previous activities. As someone who is struggling to figure out how to search for a post-graduate job over 1600 miles away, I found this to be a very helpful analytical tool. The last key thing that I learned was that who you work with is often more important than what you are working on. When you work with a nice group of people any project can be completed with little boredom and even less stress.

One thing that I was very happy to learn from this experience is that there are people out there, like me, who want to make the world a more sustainable place to live, while still being able to pay the bills. I was also happy to find that many of the simple programs and analysis skills that I have learned during my time at Creighton University can be readily applied to a work environment. I am very grateful for this internship because I want to work as a sustainability consultant for my career. This opportunity gave me confidence as a graduating senior that I will be able to compete for a position at a sustainability company and be a valuable member of the team.”

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Food waste is the loss of edible food that occurs in the food production process between post harvest and end use. The vast majority of this waste is currently sent to the landfill. Food waste is a social, environmental, and economic issue that negatively impacts producers, retailers, consumers, and communities. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that food waste accounts for approximately 14 percent[1] of the total municipal waste sent to landfills. Not only is this disposal expensive, it is harmful to the environment. When food waste decomposes in the landfill it creates methane, a greenhouse gas that contributes significantly more to global warming than carbon dioxide.

Food waste is sent to the landfill for a variety of reasons, including: crop over production, damage due to transport, cosmetic imperfections, and excessive purchasing. Over 30 percent of the food available for consumption goes to the landfill.[2] There is a significant opportunity to reduce waste and when you consider that over 14 percent of households in the U.S. were food insecure (not knowing where the next meal was coming from) in 2013.[3]

FoodRpng_700pxw Two opportunities stand out when discussing food waste: diverting food that is not purchased to where it is needed and diverting the remainder out of the landfill. The food recovery hierarchy (to the right) illustrates the preferred methods reducing food waste from top (most preferred) to bottom (least preferred).

To reduce food waste going to the landfill, the most preferred method is source reduction. For residential and businesses, this means do not buy what you will not use, saving money and preventing waste. The methods that are the most preferred get the most value out of food before turning it into compost or sending it to landfills.

The movement to reduce food waste is growing on a local and national level. In 2013, the EPA started the Food Recovery Challenge, giving individuals and organizations resources to reduce food waste. A number of cities and states have instituted organic waste bans, including: New York City, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Vermont, Seattle, San Francisco, and Portland. In Omaha, several organizations are working to reduce the amount of food waste sent to the landfill:

Recently, Douglas Country Environmental Services announced the idea of a pilot food waste composting operation food waste composting operation for local food waste. While the City of Omaha was not approved to use the landfill at 126th and State Street, the partnership is working to find another option.

 

What Can You Do?

There are several actions you can take to reduce food waste at home and at work:

  • Buy only what you will use. Be conscious of what you purchase and what you waste. Prepare for shopping by making a list of what you need. If possible, log your food waste and look for repeat offenders over time.
  • Be an advocate. Encourage your workplace to donate to local food banks if applicable. Food Bank for the Heartland picks up food weekly from retail locations and the Good Samaritan Act protects donating organizations by reducing liability.
  • Buy local. Long-distance bulk food transportation often creates food waste. Buying local reduces this waste (and reduces emissions associated with transportation).
  • After you have reduced or donated, divert. Once you have reduced most of your food waste or donated it to other uses, begin composting the food waste that still remains. If you have the space to do so at home, there is a variety of small scale composting options for your home. If you do not, WeCompost is currently the only company in Omaha picking up residential food waste.
  • Let Verdis Group help. If your business or organization is interested in taking a critical look at reducing their waste stream, we offer consulting services to analyze current practices and advise on opportunities for reduction.

Food waste is one of the fastest growing types of waste we send to landfills. By being conservative with purchasing, advocating for food waste reduction, and improving food waste management, we can divert a major portion of the municipal waste stream and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

 

[1] EPA Municipal Waste
[2] National Geographic food waste
[3] USDA Food Security

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