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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.


It’s time for us to stop dancing around the issue of whether or not humans are causing climate change. The overwhelming evidence unequivocally shows that climate change is real and is primarily human-caused. This is no longer up for debate. It’s time to move on to solutions and, dare I say, adaptation.

Internally we’ve been talking about when and how we discuss climate change with our clients, partners and collaborators. We have always been very careful when bringing it up because we fear doing so will immediately alienate the “disbelievers.” I think it’s time we start talking about it. First, a little background on why I’m a little fired up about it. Over the weekend I watched a film and read several articles that put me in a bit of a tizzy.

Chasing Ice
First, on Friday night a few Verdisians and I took in the film Chasing Ice. It’s a documentary following photographer James Balog’s quest to document the rapid decline in glacial ice. As he put it in the film, glacial retreat is the canary in the coal mine when it comes to climate change. The film did a wonderful job of showing the eye-opening loss of glacial ice while being absolutely beautiful thanks to Balog’s stunning photography.

Chasing Ice really reached a crescendo for me when a few of Balog’s colleagues witnessed the largest calving event ever recorded on tape. Glacial ice roughly the size of Manhattan broke away from the main Ilulissat Glacier for 75 minutes, a portion of which was shown in the film and can be viewed in the clip above. It was absolutely jaw-dropping to see. If you haven’t seen the film yet, it’s worth seeing in the theatre (now playing at Film Streams!).

National Climate Assessment & More
When I awoke Saturday morning, there were three articles on the back page of the Omaha World Herald all covering climate change; two of which summarized findings from the National Climate Assessment (NCA) draft report. The first article focused on what’s been happening in the Great Plains and highlighted the crazy weather we experienced in 2011 as a perfect case-in-point for what we should expect going forward (of particular note: $12 billion in damages due to the extreme weather).

The second article summarized national trends and specifically mentioned the NCA’s finding that ”warming of the planet is changing daily American life“. The report, which is a mere 1,100+ pages, cuts right to the chase and identifies the kinds of changes we should expect, region-by-region, and warns of the disruptions our society will likely experience as temperatures rise. While it’s not as epic as Waterworld predicts, the prognostications are a little scary.

The third article donning the back page of my Herald originally ran in the New York Times on January 10. Its focus was 2012′s worldwide weather and it noted that extreme weather is now the norm. Several extreme and highly abnormal weather events from all over the globe were cited. As was illuminated in the Times article, extreme weather is not uncommon, but the sheer number of extreme events that occurred in 2012 is what’s abnormal.

Where Do We Go From Here
Fortunately, many businesses are responding, which is becoming clearer every time a major consulting firm produces a sustainability-focused report. One indicator: more than 80% of the Global 500 responded to the Climate Disclosure Project’s 2011 request for carbon disclosure (PwC: Do Investors care about sustainability?). Additional good news is that those companies that are actually taking meaningful steps are often out-performing their competitors (MIT Sloan Management Review: Sustainability: The ‘Embracers’ Seize Advantage). 

Despite the clear evidence that 1) we are facing widespread institutional risk to all of our known systems due to climate change, and 2) implementing meaningful sustainable change is good for the bottom line, we still find that adoption of sustainable principles can still be a tough sell. Why? IBM’s recent report suggests that executive involvement and support is critical to success. We couldn’t agree more. Without the leader on board, it’s not worth doing, which is sad but true. Leaderless sustainability initiatives often struggle and face insurmountable challenges when attempting to make progress.

I think there’s more at play, though. The term climate change has become so politically polarized that some leaders will stop listening if it’s even mentioned, which means that when it comes time for them to understand the risks they face and the benefits they’re missing, they’ve already tuned out. It’s for this reason that we rarely talked about climate change in the past, choosing instead to focus on the more tangible benefits of sustainability initiatives: saving money, happier employees, healthier work environments, and more loyal customers.

It’s no longer enough. It’s time for us to start talking about the risks that organizations face as well. It’s not going to be easy, but if we’re going to do our job and do it well, they must be knowledgeable of and prepared to respond to the challenges that climate change is going to bring. These aren’t scare tactics; it’s reality. And if we aren’t prepared and helping our clients prepare, we aren’t doing our job.

Onward and upward.

 

 

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I went to hear Bill McKibben speak Saturday night at the Joslyn Art Museum.  McKibben is an author and the founder of an organization called 350.org.  They are working to bring the world’s carbon levels down to the safe level of 350 parts per million (ppm), a measure currently at 391 ppm.

As an accountant in my previous life (or career), I really liked and appreciated the lecture’s title – “Do the Math.” My colleague, Daniel, wrote about McKibben’s related article in Rolling Stone this summer.

 

So here’s the math – in only 3 numbers:

2 Degrees Celsius – Why is this number important?  Leaders from countries around the world have been working for years and years to address climate change.  This issue is so difficult because countries like ours (the developed world) have emitted so much carbon dioxide already, yet there are many countries around the world that are still developing.  Developing countries want our way of life and thus believe that it’s fair that they develop as we did (often requiring significant emissions).  A 2 degrees Celsius rise in the world’s temperature was the only hard number “the world” has agreed on thus far, in Copenhagen in 2009.  Here’s an excerpt from their statement:

“We agree that deep cuts in global emissions are required according to science, and as documented by the IPCC Fourth Assessment Report with a view to reduce global emissions so as to hold the increase in global temperature below 2 degrees Celsius, and take action to meet this objective consistent with science and on the basis of equity.” 

Nearly all heads of states from Albania to Zambia, including the U.S., Russia, India and China signed this Copenhagen Accord.  Science tells us that this is a good target. Unfortunately, the International Energy Agency (IEA) currently projects a long-term global temperature rise of 3.6 Celsius in its central projection scenario.

565 Gigatons – Scientists tell us this is the amount of carbon that can be added to the atmosphere before it is expected the earth will warm another degree Celsius; thereby getting us to the 2 degrees mentioned above.  The earth has warmed around one degree Celsius already compared to pre-industrial time, and if the extreme drought in Nebraska and throughout the country this year doesn’t give us a good example of what’s to come, one can look eastward.  Hurricane Sandy’s force and damage was a result – in part – because of climate change.  The destruction to New York, a city I called home for more than a decade, was unprecedented.  When I talked to my friends out there, they said this storm was different than any they have experienced before. The devastation was much worse and much farther reaching than anything in the past. My sister is on the ground cleaning up the mess, and she says that in places, it is like nothing she has ever seen before.

McKibben said that it will take ONLY 15 years for the world to emit 565 Gigatons at our current projected pace.

But McKibben saved the worst number for last.

2,795 gigatons – This is the estimated emissions that will result from the use of the fossil fuel that companies currently have in their reserves.  From my accounting days, McKibben said all the right things on how they computed reserves – looking at SEC filings, etc.  Reserves are difficult to calculate because you never know exactly what’s in the ground until you take it out, but SEC filings are going to be the best source for estimates, because the company’s auditors will have vetted them to some extent. The International Energy Agency adds credence to this number in its most recent World Energy Outlook 2012.

 

So let’s do the MATH.

If 565 gigatons gets us to an increase of 2 degrees Celsius, the fossil fuel companies have 5 TIMES that amount in reserves.  The business plan and goal of these companies is to sell all of their reserves to generate profits. The emissions from extracting, producing and using all of these fossil fuel reserves will mean chaos for our planet. The climate change the earth will experience from our collective human action is the most significant issue our generation and possibly humankind has ever faced.

But it wasn’t the math that really got me, even though I am still an accountant at heart, it was the picture of children standing in their flooded street in Haiti – holding signs that said:

 

YOUR ACTIONS

AFFECT ME

 

This picture and many others McKibben showed the crowd of at least six hundred on the Saturday night of the BIG TEN Championship football game, demonstrated that people around the world understand climate change, and that many Nebraskans care.  But can they do something about?

The other point that struck me as critical to appreciate is that the United States is where many of the large fossil fuel companies are headquartered or have significant operations and significant investors.  Exxon Mobil is currently the world’s largest company, headquartered in Texas. As a side note, its largest shareholder is Vanguard, a mutual fund many Americans invest in personally or through their retirement accounts. Royal Dutch Shell is the fourth largest company, BP is 11th, and Chevron is 12th, headquartered in California. Not only are the people of the U.S. emitting more greenhouse gasses per person than any other large country in the world, our citizens work at and control many of the largest suppliers of the fossil fuel reserves to be burned.

 

So what action is 350.org calling for?

Simple. Taking our money, and any money we can influence, out of the equity shares of the top 200 fossil fuel companies. The 350.org campaign is working to have students affect their university endowment investments, church-goers to get their places of worship to divest, and anyone who has a pension to get their future financial security disconnected from these fossil fuel companies.  It is perfect.

These companies are driven by share price; it’s something that their Board of Directors and their leadership cares very much about. It is how the worth of their company is valued. Creating a sustained and ongoing sell off of these companies will force the share price down… and possibly, hopefully, cause these companies to become energy companies, rather than fossil fuel companies.

I worked in the financial services industry in New York for more than a decade, and this action, if taken by a collectively large group, could be what needs to happen to redirect our climate future. We need to harness the sun, wind and geothermal power to change our direction, but talking alone with these fossil fuel companies has not convinced them that this direction is imperative. Taking our money out of these entities that are suppliers of the problem needs to happen to motivate their leaders. It is time to move the money.

 

So what would I tell a client?

Divestment of investments in the fossil fuel industry is just like any other strategy to be considered when trying to make one’s institution more sustainable. Verdis works with clients that are committing to becoming sustainable for different reasons and at different paces.  I would tell a client interested in the financial benefits of energy efficiency to consider moving money from fossil fuel investments to a green revolving fund (GRFs). GRFs are internal investment mechanisms to fund energy efficiency projects, and they use energy savings resulting from such projects to replenish the fund. Established GRFs reported a median annual return of 28%, compared to Exxon Mobil’s annual growth rate during the last decade of only 10.4%.

Even if a GRF is not a good alternative, there are many other non fossil fuel investments with excellent returns: Investments without a core business plan that is working against the efforts of all of the other sustainable strategies being implemented at one’s institution.  After all, changing an investment portfolio’s guidelines, in theory, is as simple as changing the list of allowable investments.  The impact could be substantial, and if it is, an institution won’t want to be left holding the stock of a company with a falling price.

 

Why I will act

Droughts, floods and storms are affecting so many people around the world already. Nebraska is even starting to see how droughts and floods will impact our businesses and lives. Droughts are destroying our crops here and around the world. We know rising sea levels are forcing people to relocate. And so many of the people directly affected don’t emit any carbon in their daily lives.  Many of these individuals around the world could work their entire lives and never be able to afford a plane ticket to see our developed world, let alone live it.

This is a huge global, moral issue. And because we are here, in the U.S., we can do something about it. So many, so far away, with scare resources, will feel the affects of our actions or inaction.  Our time is now.

We should care and we should act – for those who cannot act themselves. For those who are the future. For our children and our grandchildren. For those little children in Haiti. I will act for my daughter, who was born the very day this photo was taken in Haiti. There is no debate about the science. The debate is over.  It is time to change the course of our planet before it is too late.

 

 

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McKinsey & Company is a world-wide management consulting firm that happens also to provide consulting services related to sustainability. In support of that aspect of its business, McKinsey periodically surveys companies to learn more about how they incorporate sustainability into their businesses. Last year it published a report (free registration required to download) based  on that survey. The report is rich with information about how companies and CEOs view sustainability, and shows that recently more and more companies are embracing sustainability.

Page 13 of this report addresses how companies put sustainability into practice, particularly when it comes to capturing value from sustainability. Exhibit 1 specifically illustrates this concept graphically:

This diagram, created by McKinsey & Company, illustrates the mechanisms by which companies create value using sustainability.

As I was reviewing this portion of the report recently I realized there is another way to organize the information in this chart. McKinsey has essentially organized the areas by contemporaneous functions. However, I think it makes more sense to organize the areas into three planning domains: Strategic, Reputational, and Operational like this:

Modification of the relationship among the areas in which McKinsey sees the opportunity for businesses and organizations to capture value.

Let me first explain these new categories.

Strategic

The strategic category includes functions that address the where, what, and when of the organization: Where are we going? What should we be doing? When are we going to get there or do that thing? These are all forward and future thinking functions, so in the modified version I used fuchsia (or at least what I think is fuchsia) for “Strategic” because it sounds like “future.”

Operational

The operational category includes functions that address the how of the organization: How are we going to get where we are going? How are we going to do what we should be doing? (Notice how I referenced the questions from the strategic category?) This is orange because it starts with the same letter as “operational.” Interestingly, this was the only category that included functions from McKinsey’s diagram that actually use the word “sustainable.” Historically, the bulk of Verdis’ work with clients has focused in this area, because this is often where organizations see the largest opportunity for financial benefits. Therefore, it is probably not a coincidence that McKinsey listed them in the “returns on capital” category.

Reputational

I think “reputational” may not officially be a word, but it sounds good so I’m running with it. The reputational category includes functions that address the who questions: Who is the business? Who knows about the business? Who cares about the business? Who does the business care about? Interestingly, McKinsey’s graphic included a reputational function in each of its three areas. This really shows up in my version where each of the three shades of brown from McKinsey’s graphic fall under the red (R = red, R = reputation, get it?) group.

I think there is one more aspect to this. The why questions. Why are we doing X instead of Y? In my view, the why questions fall under both the reputational and organizational categories and help to drive the strategic functions. The reverse is also true. Strategies and strategic plans tend to drive operations and help make decisions that affect the company’s reputation.

One other way to visualize the strategic, operational, and reputational aspects of a business is in this little sketch I made:

A diagram to show the dynamic interaction of strategy (S), operations (O), and reputation (R).

Here, you can see the forward-thinking strategic functions (S), the internal ongoing operational functions (O), and the reputational functions (R) that influence how the organization interfaces with the outside world. Obviously this grossly oversimplifies many organizations, but provides a framework for thinking about sustainability. As I mentioned, most of our work focuses on the operational aspects, but we constantly encourage our clients to consider how sustainability integrates into the larger strategic plan. Most organizations that can successfully incorporate sustainability at a very high strategic level find that the operational savings and reputational benefits follow naturally.

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The American Institute for Cancer Research has produced a very helpful infographic that illustrates how incorporating small breaks throughout the workday and a period of moderate to vigorous physical activity can reduce the cancer risk indicators. The great thing about this is that not only will adding short breaks every hour help you reduce the risk of cancer, it will help you be more productive, energized, and focused throughout the rest of your day!

The connection to sustainability is obviously that healthier, happier employees have a much more positive impact on the company, and by encouraging frequent short breaks, the company is also more attractive to employees. This bolsters both the “people” and “prosperity” legs of the three-legged sustainability stool. It is a simple easy way for employers to incorporate sustainability into their corporate culture.

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Trees, and the value they add to our community, have been on my mind lately. I’m extremely fortunate to live in a neighborhood where mature trees are the norm and my neighbors sincerely appreciate and adore their trees. As evidence of this love, see exhibit A below.

Exhibit A: This sign appeared a few weeks before a 70+ year old pine was removed from a neighbor's yard.

An adoration and appreciate for beautiful trees isn’t a new thing. Nor is the realization that trees add value to our lives. I’ve heard so many stories of people receiving fulfillment through the presence and beauty of their favorite oak tree. Similarly, there are plenty of stories of heartbreak due to the loss of a tree; it’s not quite the loss of a pet, but it can be comparable.

The fact that trees improve property values is also not a new concept. This 1980 study summarized in the Journal of Arboriculture  showed that in the area studied (Manchester, CT), if a house had good tree cover, as much as six to nine percent of the total sales price of that home can be attributed to good tree cover. A more recent broader study on the value of nature from the University of Washington’s Green Cities: Good Health program found that the presence of larger trees adds value to residential values, directly relates to higher commercial rental rates, and could cause shoppers to spend more. There are several more studies with similar findings on property value and the like. The case is pretty clear.

Similarly, we’re now starting to see evidence that there’s a correlation between income levels and tree cover. Tim DeChat, who blogs at Per Square Mile, recently highlighted a two-year-old study that found a strong relationship between higher tree cover and higher income. In essence, the better the tree cover in your neighborhood, the more likely it is that incomes are higher.

The explanation, posit the authors, is that wealthier property owners and city governments can afford to plant more trees. Makes good, logical sense to me. I don’t foresee a causal relationship between tree cover and income (you’re not going to start earning more simply because you moved to a dense forest). Nevertheless, I think it’s immensely important that cities look for ways to increase tree cover. There are several benefits trees provide, above and beyond what value they add to our property or income levels. Just a few include:

  • Provide shade from the boiling hot summer sun (duh)
  • Clean the air and sequester carbon
  • Serve as a traffic calming devices
  • Reduce stress
  • Fight crime
  • Provide an in-your-backyard opportunity to learn about nature (I’ve been taking “nature walks” with my daughter since she was only a few months old)
  • Trees were the original jungle gym

DeChant took the study’s results a step further and grabbed two Google Earth images from a few cities to do a little unscientific compare and contrast of their higher income neighborhoods versus lower income neighborhoods to see if he could tell the difference just from the images. The results were pretty clear, which got me thinking about the same exercise in Omaha. I compared my neighborhood (Midtown) to what is largely considered to be the poorest section of town, North Omaha. The images are below. Can you tell which is which?

Option One: Midtown or North Omaha?

 Or…

Option Two: Midtown or North Omaha?

The answer: the top image is from North Omaha; bottom image from Midtown.

A couple things jump out at me. First, it’s difficult to measure tree cover when the images were taken in winter. The leaves are gone and you don’t get a good sense for the true tree cover. (If anyone has a better mapping system with spring, summer or fall images, please share.) Secondly, the noticeable difference between the two areas was the number of vacant lots in North Omaha. That’s another topic for another day, although there are some pretty interesting things you can do with vacant lots to ensure that they’re adding value to a community, rather than detracting from it.

Needless to say, we love trees. I love trees. I used to live in West Omaha in a brand new home with only one little ash tree in the front yard. I now live in a 1920s home surrounded by a cornucopia of tall, beautiful trees. I’m lucky to live where I do, but I also hope that we can find a way to continue giving the gift of trees throughout Omaha.

Tonight is a particularly good night to start discussing the topic when I’ll be attending another great event hosted by our friends at Emerging Terrain. It is the first in their ET Talks series and the topic is Public Space and what it means in Omaha. It promises to be a fascinating discussion, and I hope, at least once or twice, we talk about how important trees and the natural environment are. If I have anything to do with it, we certainly will.

Onward and upward.

 

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As I strolled back into the office after a week of completely unplugged vacation-hood, I couldn’t help but notice that The Go-Go’s timeless classic Vacation was playing overhead. Ahhhhh. Nothing like a little Belinda Carlisle to bring me back to reality.

The transition into and out of a vacation can be tough. For me, it’s always been more difficult on the front-end, and it took me a few days last week to get into my vacation zone. My wife, daughter and I were lucky enough to spend five amazing nights on Star Island, which lies neatly in Minnesota’s Cass Lake. The majority of the island is in Chippewa National Forest, which means the 980 acre island is rigidly managed and remains a nature-centric place with no vehicles, many historic cabins, and wildlife galore.

I couldn’t have asked for a better place to unwind and re-energize. We’ve always preferred vacations where we are immersed in nature and Star Island was no different. Awaking to the sound of a loon call is far superior to the iPhone vibration I’m used to. My morning cup of coffee was better while strolling with the little one along the trails outside the cabin. And I never felt more relaxed than when I was quietly swimming alone in Cass Lake while turtles climbed along the shore and bald eagles flew overhead. Jealous? You should be. It was great!

LL "hiking" amidst the white pines on Star Island.

While I always knew that nature had a restorative power, I’m learning more about the science behind it. Last week I started Richard Louv’s latest book, The Nature Principle. Louv is author of the national bestseller Last Child in the Woods and has been a leader in helping to define and draw awareness to “nature deficit disorder.” In a nutshell, Louv draws strong, direct connections between access to nature and human health (physical, mental and spiritual).

Although I only managed to get about halfway through the book (I preferred to sit back and enjoy nature rather than reading about how I should be doing just that), the connection between humans and nature is already abundantly clear. We are far better off when we have regular access to the natural world. That doesn’t mean we need to live in a national forest, though. It need not be that intense. But it does need to be present in some way.

Now that I’m back at my desk, I’m kicking around ideas to get our clients and Team Verdis out into nature more. Student performance improves with increased access to nature. Patients recover quicker. Employees are more productive. Yet it’s often easier said than done. For our part, we’re going to start having meetings somewhere other than in a conference room. Although that’s going to have to wait a few days until this nasty hot spell passes through Omaha.

Onward and upward.

Note: If you’re interested in learning more about Star Island, check out Star Island: A Minnesota Summer Community available in paperback. I haven’t read it yet but my curiosity about the island’s history and what will happen going forward has been piqued. It’s a very unique place to say the least.

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It is summer in Omaha, which means it’s also commuter challenge season. This year we have the opportunity to participate in two challenges: First is Activate Omaha’s well-established and highly popular Bicycle Commuter Challenge, which runs for five months and is singularly focused on biking. New to the fray is Metro and MAPA’s Metro Commuter Challenge, which asks participants to carpool or take the bus from July 9–August 3.

I have mixed feelings about participating in these challenges.

On the one hand, it draws great attention to a few excellent and sustainable means by which to commute. In Omaha, approximately 96% of commuters move about alone in their traditionally-fueled vehicle. That’s preposterously high and clearly shows why the quality of our air is declining*. These programs also get people thinking about their commute and how they might pursue a more sustainable, healthier and less expensive alternative to their normal, lonely drive.

On the other hand, as someone who often commutes by bus and bike, I almost feel like I’m being punished by having to log every trip. Maybe we should consider asking the other 96% to log how many miles they travel, how much they’re spending on gas, and what their emissions are. As someone who used to almost exclusively commute alone in my car, I can reasonably assume that most people don’t track the financial or environmental impact of their commute. Doing so might open a few eyes.

The timing of the Metro Commuter Challenge is interesting in light of the Brookings Institute report that was released yesterday, which found that 76.2% of jobs in Omaha are accessible by public transportation, but only 28.5% of metro-area workers can get there in 90 minutes or less. Yes, you read that right: 90 minutes. How long is your commute? And we wonder why more people aren’t using public transportation in Omaha.

Metro's system provides access to 76% of Omaha businesses

To Metro‘s credit, they’re doing a great job with the ridiculously low budget they have. And the access figures referenced above are right on par with what Brookings found when studying the service provided by 371 transit authorities nationally. That doesn’t make it right, it just makes it normal.

The Nebraska Medical Center and the University of Nebraska Medical Center (yes, two separate entities…the hospital and the university) are particularly interested in seeing Omaha’s alternative transportation landscape improve. They’re expecting a major pinch on their parking infrastructure in the next five years, and we’re excited to be helping them think about how they can minimize that pressure without immediately defaulting to building new surface lots or structured parking. Both are helping fund and participating in the Midtown Transit Alternatives Analysis, further evidence of their commitment to improved transit in the area.

When all is said and done, I’m happy to participate in both of these challenges, and I truly hope that it’s one small way that we can continue to improve the alternative transportation landscape in Omaha. But if that #11 bus doesn’t show up once more, I’m not sure what I’ll do.

Onward and upward.

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*Special note: The June 8, 2012 Omaha World Herald article regarding Omaha’s air quality included this list of “Things you can do to lessen ozone:”

gas up your car and mow your lawn after 7 p.m.; stop filling your vehicle when the nozzle first clicks off; and avoid using gasoline-powered small engines. In other words, sweep your driveway and rake your leaves rather than use 
a leaf blower.

Seriously!?! No mention of getting out of your car and walking, biking, bussing, carpooling, working from home or otherwise limiting single-occupancy vehicle trips. While I’m pleased the Herald covered the story, it’s ridiculous that the reporter didn’t offer better options for Omahans to make a difference.

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I’m on the plane headed home from D.C. after a torrid and invigorating few days at the USGBC’s School Sustainability Leaders Summit. My mind is simultaneously racing and completely at ease. Yes, I know that sounds a little impossible. Let me explain.

Mind Status: Racing
Why: Opportunity Overload?

I just finished reading my copy of “The Impact of School Buildings on Student Health and Performance,” which sheds light on the critical need for research around how the school building impacts the health and performance of the students in those buildings. Once I finished, I flipped to the back cover and started doodling. Doodling turned to mind-mapping about the 2012–13 school year at the Omaha Public Schools, and an hour or so later the graffiti on the back cover completely took over. Here’s what it looks like now:

OPS Plan for 2012–13: If you can make sense of this, please call me.

It’s all pretty clear, right? Yeah, um. Maybe not.

The conversations at the Summit were so rich that I’m having trouble really zeroing in on what is most important for us to tackle first. Actually, that might not be true. The hard part is deciding what to leave on the bench. In a school district as big as OPS (50,000 students), there is much work to be done, and I couldn’t be more thankful for the opportunity I enjoyed the last few days with some great green school thinkers and doers. I’ll be spending the weekend revisiting my heavily-doodled white paper and thinking about refining our plan for the next twelve months. I suspect my mind will be racing all weekend.

Mind Status: At Ease
Why: We’re on Track

We have been working with the Omaha Public Schools since this little dream of a company became a reality in July, 2009. The district’s sheer size meant we had the opportunity to have a big impact right out of the gate, and I’m happy to report the results have been good.

Over the last three years we’ve developed an Energy and Sustainability Action Plan (the vision), created a quasi-governance structure with key focus teams, activated change agents in pretty much every school, removed barriers, measured results, provided feedback and recognition, and kept everyone reasonably focused. In essence, the steps the district has taken the last three years align nicely with much of what was informally outlined the last few days. In other words, we’re on track.

While I was in DC, Patrick McAtee sent me and the rest of the team the most recent version of the graph below, which plots OPS’ district-wide average ENERGY STAR rating versus the district’s rolling 12-month energy costs for the last few years. More good news.

ENERGY STAR vs. Energy Costs: Does it get any sexier?

The district-wide ENERGY STAR rating has climbed 15 points since hitting the low point in September, 2010. Relatedly, financial savings related to energy costs have piled up as well. Thanks to the efforts of many, many people across the Omaha Public Schools, great results are being achieved, and we are immensely happy that we’ve been able to work with such a great partner in OPS.

The strategies we’ve been implementing for the last three years not only align with what green school experts like Dr. Jennifer Cross and Dr. Brian Dunbar recommend, they’re working. And that puts my mind at ease.

It’s Time to Make the Doughnuts

While the results have been great thus far, we’re not resting and are not satisfied. We still meet new opportunities every time we walk around a corner. It’s not much of a surprise, really. In a school district this size, there are always going to be ways to improve. We’re particularly interested in how we can engage students in a more meaningful way in 2012–13. That’s a tough nut to crack, but it was an overriding theme at the Summit, and I can’t get it out of my head: engage the students, tie to curriculum, engage the students, tie to curriculum. It’s a mantra I’m taking to our upcoming planning sessions. We’ll see where it goes from there.

Onward and upward.

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