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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.


Nebraska’s businesses and economy face a great risk due to climate change, according to a new risk management study that assesses the impacts of climate change on jobs, crop yields, infrastructure, and energy production.

A bi-partisan group including former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, former Wall Street titan and Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, and other prominent businesspeople and public officials launched the Risky Business Project that developed this study called “Risky Business.”

Our current economy and society have been organized and built around normal weather patterns with some resilience to occasional extreme weather events. Due to climate change, weather events that are today considered “extreme” will soon be considered “normal.” This increase in extreme weather poses risks to our current economy and societal structures.

Through a risk assessment, the study looks at the likelihood of possible future scenarios and the risks associated with each. If we continue with carbon emissions associated with business-as-usual, the risks for Nebraska by 2050 include 2x-3x more days over 95°F each year than currently and average summer temperatures increasing by 1°-3°F.

Nebraska is likely to see anywhere between 22 and 46 days over 95°F each year and average summer temperatures between 75-78.6°F by mid-century.

Nebraska is likely to see anywhere between 22 and 46 days over 95°F each year and average summer temperatures between 75-78.6°F by mid-century.

This rise in temperature could increase the demand for electricity, primarily from air conditioning, by 2.2 – 6.7%. With increased electricity demand across the region, Nebraskans could see energy expenditures increase by 2.0 – 10.6%. The heat will also reduce labor productivity by as much as 1%, primarily for outdoor workers in such industries as construction, utility maintenance, landscaping, and agriculture.

By mid-century, Nebraska farmers could see crop yields either slightly increasing by 1.5% or dropping as much as 24%. By 2080-2099, crop yields look even worse with a decrease between 10-57%.

From the defense industry, to insurance companies, to healthcare, several of Omaha’s largest industries are studying the impacts of climate change on their organization in order to manage risk. The report indicates we must take action immediately:

“If we act today to move onto a different path, we can still avoid many of the worst impacts of climate change, particularly those related to extreme heat. We are fully capable of managing climate risk, just as we manage risk in many other areas of our economy and national security—but only if we start to change our business and public policy decisions today.” -Risky Business

So what can we do?
The value of a risk analysis is to help prevent or minimize negative surprises and unearth new opportunities. With climate change, there are two necessary approaches to minimizing risk: mitigation and adaptation.

Carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases stay in the atmosphere for hundreds of years. What we emit today will impact our climate for at least another 100 years. To mitigate risks associated with future climate change, we must reduce or eliminate emissions today.

Organizations in Omaha have begun to take steps to reduce emissions. OPPD has taken a bold step by outlining its plan to reduce electricity demand while simultaneously increasing renewable energy generation, both of which reduce greenhouse gases.

And we have clients that are taking major steps forward as well. The University of Nebraska at Omaha is working on a Sustainability Master Plan that will outline steps the university can take to reduce emissions and improve its bottom line. Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium has already cut energy use per square foot by 7%, while saving over $100,000 each year, and the Omaha Public Schools have cut emissions over 42,000 metric tons and saved $2 million in the last four years. Just to name a few.

Adaptation is also necessary, because the impacts of climate change are already being felt from coast to coast.

Many businesses are developing adaptation plans that include both addressing new challenges as well as discovering opportunities they didn’t know existed. Farmers continue to shift to sustainable agricultural practices and use technology to adapt to changing weather. Irrigation research and technology continues to enable farmers to use less water while maintaining or improving yields, and the Land Institute cultivates perennial crops. Each of these practices saves farmers money while improving resilience to the risks of climate change.

For more systemic change, the report authors say “it is time for all American business leaders and investors to get in the game and rise to the challenge of addressing climate change.” This includes investors incorporating risk assessment into capital expenditures and balance sheets, and the public sector instituting policies to mitigate and adapt to climate change.

Ultimately, this is a problem of today, not some far off generation. Every decision we make today will either increase the likelihood of negative climate impacts or will help us manage the risk so we can thrive in Nebraska.

How does your organization plan to mitigate and adapt to climate change impacts?

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Last week was Climate Week in New York City, and I wish I could have been there. Around 400,000 people marched by my old apartment, bringing the world a message: The public cares about the issue of climate change and wants action from our global leaders.

Nebraskans made some great strides moving the public’s understanding of climate change forward and addressing the issue as well.

Here’s what caught my eye this past week or so:

  • For the first time in five years (since Copenhagen 2009), world leaders came together to discuss climate change at the Climate Summit on September 23rd. One hundred twenty heads of state, hundreds of business leaders, activists, and celebrities were at the United Nations in New York City for the Summit. The U.N. Secretary-General started the meeting with a statement that included:

“… Science says they [emissions] must peak by 2020 and decline sharply thereafter. By the end of this century we must be carbon neutral. … I ask all governments to commit to a meaningful climate agreement in Paris in 2015. … We are not here to talk, we are here to make history.”

The poem Dear Matafele Peinem (linked below) set the stage for the meeting with a standing ovation, and France led the statements by countries by committing $1 billion to the global Green Climate Fund. The intent of the meeting was to move global leaders toward a legally binding global agreement to address climate change at the meeting in Paris in 2015.

 

  • The People’s Climate March in NYC drew three or four times the number of expected participants, a number nearly equivalent to the population of the City of Omaha! Imagine that. I was surprised and happy to see Ban Ki-Moon, the Secretary-General of the United Nations join this march himself, marching with singer Sting, actor Leonardo DiCaprio, activist Bill McKibben (the environment’s rock star) and 400,000 others.
  • On Saturday, September 27, I attended the Harvest the Hope Concert in the middle of a northern Nebraska cornfield. It showed me that Nebraskans do care about their environment, and that our farmers, ranchers and Native Americans are willing to stand up for our land, clean water, and their property rights. The Willie Nelson & Neil Young concert was a fun afternoon for my family, and I was proud to have three generations there to support Bold Nebraska and the thousands of bold Americans working to stop the construction of TransCanada’s Keystone XL pipeline. These individuals appreciate how climate change will affect our children’s lives, and they are doing something about it.
  • Global average temperatures over land and ocean surfaces for August 2014 were the highest on record for the month of August, at 0.75 degrees Celsius (1.35 degrees F°) above the 20th century average.
  • A new report out by the Global Commission on the Economy and Climate challenges the idea that addressing climate change will be costly, indicating that climate fixes will cost effectively the same as forecasted investments in needed infrastructure.
  • At a meeting just last week, I was reminded of the great work being done by the Omaha Public Power District (OPPD). Leaping over many other U.S. utilities, OPPD plans to supply 33% of its retail load generation using renewable power (mainly wind power) by 2018.  OPPD is also positioning itself to stop burning coal in Omaha by retiring three units at the North Omaha coal plant in 2016, and retrofitting two other units to use natural gas (a cleaner fuel) by 2023. Way to go OPPD!

Even though all of these actions are wonderful news for our environment, they are not enough.

Without global participation in the effort to limit green house gas emissions, climate change will have dramatic effects on our planet within your children and grandchildren’s lifetime. In the United States, our greatest efforts should be around eliminating coal use, but if still developing countries like China and India are building more coal plants than we retire, progress on this truly global issue will not be possible.

The simplest, cheapest solution is clearly understood by economists: put a price on carbon (greenhouse gas emissions). NPR’s Marketplace did a good job explaining how and why this would work. Yale University professor William Nordhaus explains it in his book The Climate Casino. He says that putting a price on carbon for the top 100 countries by per capita income, plus India and China, would cover 90% of the globe’s emissions. This price could then be enforced through a country’s policy mechanism of choice. Prices drive choices made by corporations and individual consumers alike. More expensive carbon-intensive practices (due to the carbon price) would be replaced by the least expensive, cleaner solutions.

And voilà, climate change is no longer the greatest challenge of our century.

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I started working at Verdis back in October 2014 and, as the new guy, I was (and still am) continuously understanding more and more about all of the great work we do. The nature of our team’s responsibilities requires that, on any given day, I might work on projects related to only three or four of our clients. The same can probably be said about my five colleagues. So it’s easy for each of us to get laser-focused on the specific work we’re doing for particular clients. Thus, we occasionally need to take a step back and celebrate what we, collectively, have helped our clients achieve.

I asked the rest of the team to assist me in highlighting some recent and noteworthy accolades we’ve helped some of our clients accomplish. Here’s what we came up with.

 

Omaha Public Schools

Client since July 2009

As we enter into our fifth year partnering with OPS, we are happy to report the district is receiving the recognition it deserves. On Earth Day 2014, the U.S. Department of Education announced that OPS was one of only nine school districts in the country to receive a Green Ribbon Award. The numbers back up the awards: we have helped OPS save over $2.5 million through its sustainability efforts. Click here to read more about our work with OPS.

 

The Nebraska Medical Center; University of Nebraska Medical Center

Client since April 2010 and July 2012, respectively

For the past several months we’ve been working with both The Nebraska Medical Center and UNMC to create a new, integrated Sustainability Master Plan. The plan will potentially launch as early as fall 2014 and includes joint goals for energy, water, waste & recycling, parking & transportation, campus planning, and campus engagement. We recently helped the two organizations establish the Office of Sustainability, which included hiring a full-time Sustainability Manager to implement the Sustainability Master Plan and fully integrate sustainability into the operations of the two organizations. Also, we worked with the two organizations to expand and standardize the mixed recycling program. They deployed 675 additional recycling bins and achieved a 40% increase in collected recyclables as a result. Click here to read more about our work with The Nebraska Medical Center and UNMC.

 

Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo & Aquarium

Client since January 2012

From lighting retrofits to recycling expansion and a revolving green loan fund to support innovative ideas, we have helped the zoo take major steps to embed sustainable action and decision-making into its culture, and the impact has been huge. The zoo has cut energy use intensity by 7% in just two and a half years, water use is down nearly 19 million gallons per year, and recycling has nearly doubled. Additionally, the zoo is developing a compost action plan to prepare for the additional compostable materials generated from the forthcoming African Grasslands exhibit. Click here to read more about our work with Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo & Aquarium.

 

Kearney Public Schools

Client since June 2013

We completed the first phase of our work with KPS in late 2013 when the district approved and rolled out its Sustainability Master Plan. Since then, our work has focused on coordinating the district’s efforts, including developing an energy reduction incentive program that incorporates several operational and behavioral best practices. Most recently, the KPS Board of Education solidified their commitment to green schools by unanimously passing a Sustainability Statement. Click here to read more about our work with Kearney Public Schools.

 

Beatrice State Developmental Center

Client since June 2013

We are partnering with BSDC to help them develop a Sustainability Master Plan. We have assessed their resource streams, and they now have a sustainability vision and preliminary improvement goals. In June 2014 we performed a waste assessment in which we sampled BSDC’s dumpster waste and measured the composition of landfill-bound trash bags. This has helped BSDC to identify opportunities for improved recycling, composting, and waste reduction. The next step in our planning process is to develop strategies that will help BSDC achieve its sustainability goals and vision.

 

University of Nebraska-Omaha

Client since February 2014

The University of Nebraska at Omaha (enrollment 15,000+) recently brought us on board to develop a Sustainability Master Plan. With an emphasis on widespread engagement of students, employees, and community members, we have used numerous methods during our discovery phase to inform the university’s sustainability vision and goals. In the coming months we will be mapping out the steps UNO should take in order to achieve the bold vision it has set. Click here to read more about our work with UNO.

 

That sample of highlights emphasizes to me that, though Verdis is small, we are quite mighty: our clients are making huge, positive impacts. Stay tuned for more accolades to come…


 

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Team Verdis just turned five years old, and if there’s one thing five-year olds love it’s pancakes. Actually, let’s be honest, everyone loves pancakes. They’re fluffy, they taste delicious, and you can make funny shapes with the batter and garnishments. What’s not to love!

We aim to serve you pancakes that are this beautiful and happy.

We aim to serve you pancakes that are this beautiful and happy.

So in honor of our fifth birthday, we’re celebrating by throwing a pancake party. Yup, that’s right, Team Verdis will be flipping cakes for your dining pleasure on Friday, September 12 from 7:30 – 9:30am at Verdis HQ (1516 Cuming St. in the Tip Top Building).

Come on down to say hi, have a bite, and pet the office dog. We’ll have pancakes (including a gluten-free option), all the best garnishments, OJ and coffee. Hope to see you there.

An RSVP would be appreciated if you’re planning to attend. Please do so here.

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My family has a tradition that is probably not all that unique. When one of us has a birthday, the lucky gal/guy is bombarded with phone calls wherein the only sound heard is a terribly out-of-tune rendition of the Happy Birthday song. I always put a bit of a twist on it though, by singing the Spanish version. It’s about all I really learned in three years of Spanish class.

So when Verdis Group turned five on July 20, 2014, I was absolutely in the mood to belt out a really bad and loud version…FELIZ CUMPLEANOUS A TI!!!! But I didn’t. It was a Sunday, and it would have been awkward to call the rest of Team Verdis at 6am, even though such a call would have been in line with a five year-old’s development milestones.

But, alas, we are now celebrating. It’s been pretty crazy to reflect back on what this little experiment called Verdis Group has become, especially given where we started.

On July 20, 2009, we were a team of three. Actually, it’s probably more accurate to say we were 2.25; Daniel was full-time at Metropolitan Community College so we skimmed ten hours a week from him. Our unpaid – actually, we were all unpaid – intern, Karissa Bohlen (Pinkerton) and I spent each day at the dark and cold confines of the Halo Institute’s location at 1022 Leavenworth Street.

Daniel, Karissa and I at our launch party back in 2009. Seems like it was decades ago.

Daniel, Karissa and I at our launch party back in 2009. Seems like it was decades ago.

We had just inked our first deal with Omaha Public Schools and were racing to build our processes and systems so as to deliver. I think it’s safe to say that, while we still frequently hearken back to the OPS Energy Action Plan as a positive example of a high-quality deliverable, we’ve really come a long way since those invigorating startup days.

Team Verdis has grown steadily the past five years. I often refer to it as a nice, Omaha growth curve – one that Warren Buffett would appreciate. In the consulting world, it can be difficult to mitigate the highs and lows of revenue variability, but we’ve managed to do so (and can hopefully continue).

With such a stellar team in place and exceptional clients, I am proud to reflect on the phrase that Daniel and I kept coming back to as we sat at coffee shops, kitchen tables, and park benches working through the business plan: big impact.

Our desire has always been to have a big impact, and when I look at the list of organizations we’re working with and the results we (us + our clients) have been able to achieve, I think it’s fair to assert that we are moving the needle on all facets of the triple bottom line.

The industry is quickly evolving. New technologies are constantly popping up. New regulations are changing business models. Our partners and competitors are innovating. And our clients are setting ever-more aggressive goals. As things change, it’s our focus on a positive big impact that will ensure that we remain successful.

Finally, we owe a huge debt of gratitude to those that have advised us, partnered with us, hired us, pushed us, taught us, worked with us, and helped us in myriad ways. There is no way we could have built this little vessel of goodness without a bit of help from our friends.

As we ramble on and turn the page on a new chapter, we remain dedicated to the effort and will continue busting our humps to deliver high-quality work for all of the organizations with whom we partner. It’s our calling, and we couldn’t be happier.

Until then, I think I’ll do a little singing:

Aderyn's Verdis logo copy

 


   Feliz cumpleaños a ti

   Feliz cumpleaños a ti

   Feliz cumpleaños Verdis Group

   Feliz cumpleaños a ti!

 

 

Onward and upward.

 

 

 

 

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On Thursday, June 19, Omaha Public Power District’s Board of Directors approved their 20-year generation plan and took a serious and bold step forward with its energy generation portfolio.

There are three things that stick out as noteworthy:

  1. Three coal-fired units in North Omaha will retire by 2016, and the remaining two will transition to natural gas by 2023
  2. OPPD will maintain at least 33% of their portfolio in renewables once they hit that mark in 2018 (context: MidAmerican Energy is at 39%)
  3. OPPD plans to reduce demand of 300 MW through energy efficiency and demand-side management programs

The net result, according to figures from the Sierra Club:

  • 49% reduction in CO2 emissions
  • 85% reduction in mercury emissions
  • 74% reduction in NOx emissions
  • 68% reduction in SOx emissions

With such a bold, audacious, and dare I say pro-environment (gasp!) plan, one would expect that rate payers would have to pony up some cash to make it happen, right? Wrong! (said in Dana Carvey’s unbelievable John McGlaughlin impression.) Rate payers should expect an overall rate impact of 0–2%. Yup, you read that right; basically no net financial impact to rate payers.

So what does this mean for the average Joe? Less pollution, for starters. Levels of pollution, especially SOx, in and around North Omaha are above average. Cleaner air = healthier air = healthier people = happier people.

The reduction in CO2 is nothing to sneeze at either; by reducing these emissions so significantly, OPPD has really helped those organizations that set climate reduction goals.

Finally, the demand-side programs could reduce energy costs, especially for larger customers, if and only if they participate in them. I repeat, companies will need to take advantage of them. Lighting retrofit, anyone?

A round of applause is due to OPPD, its board of directors and management team. Their stakeholder engagement process resulted in a pretty exceptional outcome, which is not always the case with these types of efforts. And kudos to those individuals and organizations that advocated for clean and healthy energy policies; it’s a pretty exceptional feeling when all that hard work culminates in such a great outcome.

Now let’s get to work with implementation!

Onward and upward.

 

 

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I’ve had Andy Williams on the brain all week. OK – that’s a little weird. Let me clarify: I’ve been humming the tune, “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year”. Not because the kids are jingle-belling or there are marshmallows for roasting. It’s better. It’s Earth Week!

This week is when we celebrate all the great accomplishments that are creating a cleaner, greener and healthier earth.  For us, that means we live a bit vicariously through our clients, which has been a pretty exceptional experience this year.

Rather than offering a lengthy list of all the great events, awards, and recognition, I’ll hit the highlights.

Omaha Public Schools: Green Ribbon Award Winning District
On Earth Day (April 22), the U.S. Department of Education named OPS as a Green Ribbon Award winner. They were one of only nine schools school districts to earn the award this year. That’s a huge deal! Congratulations are in order for Superintendent Mark Evans and the rest of the team at OPS. This is a well-deserved honor for the district’s efforts.

In addition to the district award, Fontenelle Elementary  joined Miller Park Elementary, Lothrop Science & Technology Magnet (elementary), and King Science & Technology Magnet (middle) as recipients of Green Ribbon Awards.

University of Nebraska at Omaha’s Earth Week Activities
Our newest client hosted several events throughout the week. The new Center for Urban Sustainability held its first annual Launchpad on Earth Day. The Center, which was approved in October of 2012, is just gaining momentum with several projects underway and in the queue. On Friday, Mayor Jean Stothert joined several UNO staff to celebrate Arbor Day by planting a tree and acknowledging UNO’s Tree Campus USA designation. There were several other activities on campus throughout the week; read about them all here.

UNO is currently seeking community input on the Sustainability Master Plan that we are helping them develop. If you have a brief moment (3–5 minutes) and would like to share your thoughts, take the survey here, please and thank you.

Daniel Lawse leading a retreat discussion at UNO's Glacier Creek Perserve while I work diligently to capture the insightful thoughts of the attendees.

Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo & Aquarium Recognized by the Omaha World Herald
Also on Tuesday, the Omaha World Herald ran a great story that summarized recent efforts by the country’s best zoo.  Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo & Aquarium does amazing conservation work across the globe, and now the Zoo has really embraced sustainability on their campus as well.

The best quote from the article came from the Zoo’s CEO and director, Dennis Pate, who said, “It has involved a cultural shift for everyone. We had to change our way of thinking. The staff jumped in wholeheartedly.”

I couldn’t agree more.

Earth Week Activities at the Nebraska Medical Center’s Campus
The University of Nebraska Medical Center and The Nebraska Medical Center teamed up to create a great week of programs as well. There was a Lunch & Learn that educated attendees about the Zoo’s efforts, and a super-cool Do-It-Yourself Challenge wherein people submitted pictures of reuse projects (the winner turns colorful surgical caps into quilts for pediatric patients). Thursday brought an electronics recycling + confidential paper shredding event, and the week culminated on Friday with an Arbor Day tree planting ceremony and Tree Campus USA celebration.

Kearney Public Schools Tree Planting
Not to be outdone, students at Buffalo Hills Elementary in Kearney Public Schools helped plant 250 trees. That’s about 240 more than UNO and UNMC combined! Check out the story here. KPS also just rolled out their Sustainability Master Plan (led by us), and they’re really ramping up their efforts to contend for Green Ribbon Awards next year.

It’s the hap…happiest season of all!

Onward and upward.

 

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We are now accepting applications for our 2014 summer internship program. Interested candidates should submit all necessary materials to me by April 18. This 2014 Summer Internship Overview provides all the details, including application material requirements, compensation, and the hiring timeline.

We work really hard to find projects that align with the successful candidate’s strengths and skills. Generally speaking, the job description falls into the following categories:

Data Analysis: Conducts a variety of different numerical and theoretical analyses at the direction of senior staff. Collecting, managing, tracking and summarizing data is an important component of the Intern’s job duties.

Writing: Preparing communications that are intended for a variety of different audiences, including both internal and external parties. Contributes technical writing to client reports. Write portions of client reports as deemed appropriate and necessary by the Principals. Other report editing and formatting as deemed necessary.

Strategy: Involved in organizational discussions intended to identify strategies that help clients be more sustainable.

Miscellaneous Project Work: Provide assistance as needed on client projects, to include but not limited to: research, report writing, data collection, meeting facilitation, taking minutes, disseminating information, preparing presentations, brainstorming recommendations, and general project management.

Administrative Duties: General administrative duties may include scheduling meetings, purchasing office supplies and equipment, data collection and entry, maintaining adequate electronic and hard copy filing systems, running errands, preparing correspondence, editing and formatting documents and presentations, arranging travel, and other duties as assigned.

We’re looking forward to our next summer intern!

Onward and upward.

 

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