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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 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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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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Back in January, my amazing wife, Emily, and I were asked to be honorary co-chairs of the Inclusive Communities Humanitarian Dinner; a request that completely blew me away. When you see the list of past honorary chairs, it’s pretty clear we don’t belong on the list. Nevertheless, when we learned our co-chairs were Michael and Laura Alley of Alley Poyner Machietto Architecture, two of the greatest people we’ve ever met, we couldn’t resist the opportunity to work with them and support the organization.

It’s an entirely new experience for us. I’ve helped raise a little money here and there, but this is a much bigger and more intimidating deal. The goals are to raise $280,000 and get 1,000 attendees at the event. Those are huge numbers, and even though this is the second longest running philanthropic dinner in Omaha, hitting those goals is by no means a layup.

Fortunately, there is a great support system in place to get us there. The staff at Inclusive Communities is a-ma-zing. Beth Riley and Maceal Norvell have stayed on top of things from day one. We also put together a Solicitation Committee that is tasked with hitting our goals. They’ve worked tirelessly since February, and I’ve been extremely impressed with their energy and passion for Inclusive Communities.

Inclusive Communities is celebrating their 75th anniversary this year, and Omaha is a much better place because of their work. I’ll save you from “the speech,” but suffice it to say they are working day in and day out to build a community that respects and values diversity and equality. Their mission: Inclusive Communities is a human relations organization confronting prejudice, bigotry and discrimination through educational programs that raise awareness, foster leadership and encourage advocacy for a just and inclusive society. Take some time to visit their website and learn more about the really important work they’re doing.

In an attempt to give our planning team a one-stop shop for tracking our two goals, we thought it might be helpful to use the Verdis Dashboard. While the categories aren’t a perfect match (Dollars Saved = Dollars Raised and Volunteers = Attendees) it serves as a nice, easy-to-understand means by which to gauge how we’re doing. (Shameless plug: the Dashboard is a great tool for organizations to communicate their progress towards achieving sustainability goals. See: our work with Omaha Public Schools). Here’s how we’re doing so far. Not bad, eh?

Finally, and let’s be really clear about this, you should consider attending. Cory Booker, the charismatic, social-media savvy Mayor of Newark, New Jersey and a rising political star, is doing the keynote address. He was in Omaha a few years ago for the Young Professional Summit, and from what I’ve heard, he killed it. Most people I’ve talked with said it was one of the more moving addresses they’ve ever heard. So be there; you will support a great organization and be inspired. It’s a win-win and you won’t regret attending.

Onward and upward.


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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I’m in Washington, DC for a few days this week attending the School Sustainability Leaders Summit. It’s a three-day focused discussion on greening K12 schools hosted by the United States Green Building Council’s Center for Green Schools, and I am really excited to be representing the Omaha Public Schools and Verdis Group while here.

The first day was very much intended to build some rapport amongst attendees (there are just over 40) and establish a foundation for the discussions that will be held on days two and three. One of the first things that struck me about my fellow attendees is that they are all so intensely passionate and excited about the work they’re doing. It was inspiring to hear all of the achievements that many schools and school districts have accomplished, and I’m looking forward to getting into the weeds on a few projects that piqued my interest (students doing energy audits, revolving loan funds, city-wide coalitions, etc.).

We went through an exercise where each attendee wrote two achievements, two visions, and two barriers on post-it notes and then stuck them on the wall. Once organized into categories, a brief discussion ensued where people offered observations. The crux of our conversation was actually focused around the idea of culture change and how to move a school district towards a culture that embraces sustainability.

The Post-It Note Exercise Outcome

It’s not much of a surprise, at least in my mind, that so many were having such a difficult time getting it done. It’s hard and complicated. In my view, there are a few keys to making it happen:

  1. Leadership Commitment. It’s a must and if it’s not there, having a meaningful sustainability program is immensely difficult. Success may occur in the short-run, but in the long-term it will likely fizzle.
  2. Tie Sustainability to Student Achievement. Let’s not kid ourselves, school administrators, teachers, staff and students are (or should be) primarily focused on one thing: student achievement. In order to have a successful green schools initiative, everything happening must lead towards, at least in some way, student achievement. I appreciated the fact that Rachel Gutter, Director of the the USGBC’s Center for Green Schools, offered this issue in her introductory remarks. We have anecdotal stories, but we need unequivocal data that makes the connection.
  3. Quick & Measurable Wins. Several attendees suggested that their initial efforts were somewhat covert in that they didn’t necessarily ask for permission from senior leadership. They identified and pursued an opportunity, achieved success, and then leveraged it to earn a commitment from leadership and others. It’s a good strategy, but the key is not only achieving the win, but measuring it so that it is easier to “make the case” when the time comes.

All in all it was a really good start to what I’m sure will be a great few days. I already have a healthy list of ideas to bring back to Omaha, yet we’ve only been together for half a day. Hopefully my head doesn’t explode before the remaining two days conclude…although if it does, I think it would be a good sign.

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We are immensely excited to report that three schools from the Omaha Public Schools were nominated by the Nebraska Department of Education to be Green Ribbon Schools. They are King Science & Technology Magnet Center, Lothrop Science and Technology Magnet Center, and Miller Park Elementary. All three are now eligible to be among the 50 schools that will be named as Green Ribbon Schools by the U.S. Department of Education on April 22.

This is the pilot year for the Green Ribbon Schools program, which rewards schools that meet criteria in three goals:

  1. The school facility (grounds and building) has a “net zero” environmental impact;
  2. The school environment has a “net positive” impact on the health and performance of students and staff members; and
  3. The school’s graduates are environmentally literate.

We have been working with the Omaha Public Schools on their Green Schools Initiative for almost three years now and couldn’t be more impressed with the great progress the district has made. We’re helping the district with initiatives that run the gamut of sustainability programs: energy efficiency and conservation, waste reduction, water, recycling, and engagement at all levels. A few examples of the district’s achievements:

  • energy costs in 2011 were $730,000 below what the district paid in 2010
  • the district-wide average ENERGY STAR rating has climbed ten points in the last twelve months
  • there are now 20 buildings with ENERGY STAR ratings 75 or higher, up from seven just over a year ago
  • over 85% of schools have active green teams
  • district progress towards achieving many of its other goals can be seen on the OPS Tracker Tool

We are immensely familiar with each of the three OPS schools and are so proud they’ve been nominated. They have been leaders in the the OPS Green Schools Initiative and deserve every bit of recogntion they are receiving. Quick highlights from their Green Ribbon applications:

King has an excellent focus on science and the environmental through its magnet curriculum.

Lothrop has one of the district’s only cafeteria waste composting programs and is a two-time winner of the Green Omaha Coalition‘s Green Schools Award.

Miller Park‘s ENERGY STAR rating is the highest in the district at a stellar 94.
Congrats to all three schools. Well done!!!

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How do you get people to change their behavior so they act in a more environmentally-friendly way? This is a question that we frequently get asked by our clients who are attempting to shift their organizational culture and motivate employees to reduce the amount of energy and resources they use. As with anything behavior related, there is no simple explanation or answer. Behavior is complex and so is changing it. However, one thing is clear based on research in this field—in order to change and sustain behavior, it’s important to move beyond traditional approaches that strictly focus on boosting awareness and fostering a positive attitude about the behavior.


It is a common misperception that simply informing people about why a specific pro-environmental behavior is important and fostering a positive attitude about the action will directly lead to engaging in and sustaining the behavior. Research has repeatedly shown that general awareness/knowledge and positive attitudes do not highly correlate with environmental behavior change. For example, employees frequently report that they feel it is important to conserve paper (i.e., have a positive attitude). They also claim that they are aware of the positive benefits of double-sided printing and that it’s an option at their workplace (i.e., are generally aware and knowledgeable). Yet, they still do not duplex print at work. But why is this?

As with any behavioral explanation, it depends on the situation and could entail a myriad of reasons. Assuming double-sided printing is available on all machines, it may be that people don’t know how to actually select duplex, and they want to avoid looking foolish or incompetent if they try and fail. People may also think that no one else in their department is duplexing so why should they do it, or they may perceive that their efforts really don’t make a difference given the total amount of paper used by the organization.

Regardless of the reason or combination of reasons, the aforementioned example demonstrates how many people often fail to adopt a pro-environmental behavior even if they see it is as important and are keenly aware of the benefits. This is not to say that generally educating people and trying to instill positive attitudes about environmentally-friendly behaviors are unimportant—these elements are definitely valuable. However, in conjunction with disseminating benefits information and promoting awareness about the behavior, it is critical to also include details and tactics that address human nature, social influence, and any perceived barriers connected to the targeted action.


There are multiple strategies that can be employed and details to consider when trying to promote and sustain behavior change. Having said this, I’d love to talk about them all (yes, I am a behavior nerd). However, for the sake of this blog post, I will only highlight a few (five to be exact) that research has shown to be particularly effective and that take into consideration human nature and perception, as well as social influence.

1. Provide Clear Procedural Instructions: Lack of “how-to” knowledge tends to be one of the most significant barriers for people who are generally willing to engage in a specific pro-environmental activity. Regardless of how motivated people are to perform a given behavior, they typically will refrain from trying it out if the process to complete the action is not clear. In light of this, it’s important to always provide clear procedural steps about how to complete the behavior even if the action appears to be relatively simple.  For example, with the double-sided printing situation discussed earlier, it would be beneficial to post step-by-step instructions on how to select duplex copying near all of the applicable copiers.

2. Model the Behavior: In addition to providing static “how-to” instructions, it can also be beneficial to have someone demonstrate the actual behavior. People are typically more willing to try something when they observe someone else do it first and can subsequently test out the behavior at their own pace and in a “safe” environment where they won’t feel publicly embarrassed if they fumble in their attempts. Video recording someone going through the steps of completing the behavior and making the file accessible online for people to independently view at their leisure is often an effective approach. Referencing the duplex example again, an IT person could video record someone going through the on-screen motions of selecting double-sided printing on their computer. Following promotional efforts that note the availability of the video online, an employee could then access and view the video via his or her own work computer, rewinding as necessary to catch each step.

3. Communicate the Norm: Even though individuals are generally unaware of it, they are strongly influenced by what the majority of people around them are doing or what is perceived to be common behavior. Considering this, if a survey or structured observation indicates that a targeted behavior is generally supported or exhibited by a majority of people in an organization, it is highly beneficial to incorporate this fact into all educational efforts. Communicating this “norm” will strongly influence people who are not engaging in the behavior; the more these individuals perceive themselves as not being a part of the majority, the greater the probability that they will adopt the behavior. Granted, there is a caveat with this behavioral tip. If less than half of the group supports or demonstrates the target behavior, do not advertise this since it will often have a counterproductive effect. This strategy is more about capturing the remaining few that are still not engaging in a targeted behavior versus trying to promote a behavior that is only exhibited by a small minority.

We recently worked with The Nebraska Medical Center (TNMC) to incorporate this strategy into the organization’s Lights Off campaign, which was focused on motivating people to shut off the lights when leaving unoccupied rooms and workspaces. Based on an initial survey of the organization, we found that an overwhelming majority of employee respondents agreed that it was important to save energy at work by shutting off the lights. This “normative fact” was then incorporated into TNMC’s promotional efforts. Mixed with other strategies, such as placing reminder stickers above light switch plates, this approach of communicating the norm helped significantly increase the percentage of employees who regularly shut off the lights.

4. Leverage the Consistency Principle: Generally speaking, people like to act in a consistent manner. Keeping this in mind, it can be very beneficial to ask people to sign some type of informal pledge form indicating that they will engage in the targeted behavior. By signing a pledge and demonstrating an initial level of commitment, there is a good chance people will actually follow through with the behavior due to a general tendency to be consistent with what they have previously promised to do. To further increase accountability and the likelihood of follow through, it’s also advantageous to publicize the names of pledgees in some fashion (assuming you receive their permission). Periodically thanking them for agreeing to engage in the behavior can also help serve as reminder of their commitment, increasing the likelihood that they will follow through and continue engaging in the behavior.

We leverage this consistency principle by creating an online pledge tool for our clients. This tool allows people to select and commit to a few simple pro-environmental behaviors. The name of each pledgee is then placed on a digital wall of honor and grouped with other departmental colleagues who completed the pledge. Automated emails are also periodically sent out to pledgees thanking them for their participation and tactfully reminding them of their commitment to engage in their selected behaviors. An example of this online pledge tool and the wall of honor can be viewed on the University of Nebraska Medical Center’s green team website, entitled UNMC LiveGreen.

5. Provide Feedback: People inherently like to know how well they are doing at something and feel successful. Consequently, providing consistent feedback about progress and advertising the collective impact of people’s efforts can be incredibly beneficial in motivating and sustaining behavior change. In fact, providing individual and/or group feedback is often more effective at sustaining pro-environmental behavior change than providing incentives—a topic I plan to discuss in more depth in my next blog post (in a nutshell, incentives can be great at inciting behavior change, but they often stink at maintaining it).

To view an example of a feedback mechanism that we use with our clients, check out the Omaha Public Schools’ (OPS) tracker tool on the OPS Green Schools Initiative website.  This feedback tool helps OPS visually demonstrate the district’s progress toward its sustainability goals, such as increasing the district-wide ENERGY STAR rating and reducing the total amount of waste produced. Feedback is also provided at the individual school level via quarterly snapshot sheets that are provided to each school, highlighting the progress they’ve each made toward OPS’ overall sustainability goals. As a result of integrating school-specific and district-wide feedback mechanisms with other behavioral strategies, OPS has been able to significantly reduce the amount of energy and resources that the district consumes.


As noted previously, changing behavior is hard. Sometimes really hard. However, this can be viewed as a positive (I realize you may think I’m crazy at this point). If we can get people to change, they will often maintain that change simply due to behavioral inertia—their innate tendency to keep on acting in the same way. In essence, once they make the change, their natural inclination to remain consistent can set in. To promote this initial change and set the stage for maintaining the behavior (i.e., behavioral inertia), it is important to keep in mind that basic information and awareness campaigns are often insufficient at provoking and sustaining behavior change. People typically will not change simply because they are aware of the benefits of the behavior and generally have a positive attitude about it.  In light of this, promotional and educational efforts should incorporate research-supported strategies that take into account social influence and human nature and perception. However, even with some of the more effective strategies that I’ve mentioned, incorporating just one additional strategy is often not enough. Integrating several of these strategies tends to produce the best results and increase the likelihood that people will not only make the change, but also sustain it—the true goal of any campaign focused on promoting environmentally-friendly behaviors.


Electrons are difficult to see, so talking about electricity can sometimes be confusing for people whose everyday job does not involve measuring kilowatts (kilo-whats?) and kilowatt-hours (did you fall asleep just reading that sentence?). But just about everyone uses electricity everyday. If you are a commercial or industrial customer, then it is really important to understand electricity demand.

Understanding that you pay for the electricity you use in a given period of time is pretty straightforward. Understanding demand is a little trickier. Demand charges are based on the fact that electricity generators and transmitters must match electricity production and delivery to the instantaneous demand for electricity. Thus, they need to have the capacity to deliver all of the electricity needed at the point in time when the total demand for electricity is highest (typically in the summer months due to air conditioner use). Utilities must maintain this capacity even at times when demand is not at its highest. The demand charge helps to pay for the infrastructure that isn’t being used all the time so it is available when needed during the peaks. Customers that have a greater contribution to that peak end up paying a higher demand. Typically, only commercial and industrial customers are large enough to individually affect the peak, which is why residential customers do not see demand charges.

Pretend for a minute that you bake pies and I buy and eat only your pies. Your oven can only bake one pie at a time, but you also have to have a pie ready for me whenever I want to eat one. As long as I eat pies at the same or slower rate than you can bake them, you don’t need another oven or any more pie-making equipment (e.g., pans, mixers, or ladles (are ladles used when making pies?)).

Anyway, if I start to eat pies faster than you can make them in your single oven, you will have to invest in a second oven and more pans and equipment because you must have a second pie ready when I finish the first one. I will eat pies faster for a while, but eventually I will slow down again and one oven is all you need to keep up. But now you have a second oven and extra equipment you aren’t using anymore. As your only pie consumer, you could start making me pay more for my pies now. After all, I caused you to need a second oven even though it is just sitting there. I was the reason you had to buy it, so it is reasonable for me to help pay for it.

The electric demand charge is like the extra cost of that second oven, except that electric utilities spread that cost among many customers. Utilities also figure out who is eating the most pies and causing most of the the need for extra ovens. Utilities charge those pie eaters even more than the rest of pie eaters.

Depending on how your company uses electricity, it might save as much energy from demand reduction as it could from energy efficiency improvements (energy efficiency is like eating fewer total pies, regardless of how fast you eat them). Although it is clear that the energy efficiency market has been attracting smart money, and that efficiency improvements can reduce demand, many companies fail to consider how strategic demand reductions can save money.

In Verdis’ own work OPS has made significant progress with energy efficiency improvements (lighting retrofit, building system improvements, behavior change). Thus, Verdis is starting to explore whether and how targeted demand reduction can help OPS save additional dollars. Although the main driver for demand reduction in many organizations is cost savings, there is an environmental benefit as well. The longer we can help keep that usage peak low, the longer we can delay construction of the next big utility plant. And until every next utility plant will be something other than coal- or natural gas-fired, we have an extra incentive to keep demand low.


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