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

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


We sure had some bam with our breakfast last Wednesday! On February 22nd, our team was delighted to convene a select group of Omaha leaders for a breakfast discussion on a leading-edge sustainability topic: net zero emissions.

The breakfast event was the first in a quarterly series of thought leadership forums we are hosting under the name “Green, Eggs and Bam!” Future topics will likely include sustainable transportation systems, waste reduction, biomimicry, resiliency planning and other cutting-edge sustainability topics. Check out the video highlights of the event here, and the full hour-long presentation here.

We initiated the Green, Eggs & Bam! series after contemplating how we can move sustainability initiatives forward in the Omaha region. As my colleague and Managing Principal Craig Moody explained, “As a consulting business, most of what we do is through our clients. This time we wanted to independently bring together the right people in the room to see what sparks we could generate to move net zero emissions forward in our community.”

We noted an important distinction between net zero energy and net zero emissions:

  • Net zero energy refers to a single building that is highly energy efficient and produces as much clean renewable energy onsite as it consumes over the course of a year.
  • Net zero emissions buildings are ultra-energy efficient and produce as much clean renewable energy onsite or offsite as they consume over the course of a year.

Here in Omaha, the University of Nebraska Medical Center (our client) recently announced a goal to achieve net zero emissions by 2030. Already, they have implemented aggressive energy-saving efforts that have saved them thousands of tons of CO2 emissions, millions of dollars, and aligned with their public health mission. Ken Hansen, Associate Vice-Chancellor of Facilities Management & Planning at the University of Nebraska Medical Center, described how their efforts led to an impressive 25% reduction in energy usage in just five years—and a whopping corresponding savings of $10 million. (We had a little bit to do with this success.)

Countryside Community Church (also our client) plans to build a net zero emissions church building to align with their faith and core values. Countryside is the Christian partner in the new Tri-Faith Initiative, which will bring together a Muslim mosque, a Jewish synagogue and the church on the same Omaha campus in 2018.

Senior Pastor Eric Elnes described the process the congregation went through as they reckoned with the environmental urgency of our time. The result was they decided to significantly expand their ministry around sustainability issues. And that dovetailed with the opportunity to build a new church on the Tri-Faith campus.

“We began to look at how far we could go to make our building sustainable,” Elnes explained. “We realized it was actually achievable to create a net zero building, maybe even a net positive building. And it was amazing what happened once we realized that was actually achievable; people just instantly kind of got it. They said, wait a minute, if we go net zero, or even net positive, suddenly our building is actually a mirror reflection of our theology and our beliefs: you give back to the world, you don’t take from it.”

There was a palpable sense of excitement in the room as guests shared their passion for bringing Omaha forward along these lines and their willingness to collaborate with one another to make it happen.

Mike McMeekin, president of Lamp, Rynearson & Associates, noted that in 2010 the city of Omaha adopted the Environmental Element to its comprehensive master plan, which set out broad energy and emissions goals such as meeting the goal of the American Institute of Architects (AIA) 2030 Challenge to achieve carbon-neutral buildings by 2030. However, this and many other energy-related goals and strategies from the Environmental Element have lacked leadership toward implementation.

Several attendees noted that the Midtown 2050 effort might present a unique and timely opportunity to create a net zero emissions district. Midtown 2050 is a nonprofit development corporation whose mission is to coordinate and accelerate the next phase of midtown Omaha’s revitalization and progression into a dynamic, transit-oriented urban community.

Sarah Gudeman from Morrissey Engineering noted how important it is to not just focus on a particular building, but on district and regional levels to take advantage of shared renewable generation resources. Zero Emissions Districts provide many more opportunities for achieving net zero energy than a single building.

OPPD is a critical partner for its customers to achieve net zero emissions. By 2018, OPPD will have over 30% of its energy coming from renewable, emission-free sources and according to their Integrated Resource Plan, OPPD will achieve 50% renewable energy by 2023.

The issue of cost for net zero improvements was raised. Ken Hansen noted that the Medical Center has been able to take advantage of federal grant funding in their renovations, he also made it clear that the financial case is extraordinarily strong even without any grant funding as part of the equation. He noted that energy efficiency improvements pay for themselves over a short period of time and joked at the fondness he has won from his Chief Financial Officer.

Attendees noted that strategic risk-taking is a necessary component of achieving zero net emissions. My colleague Daniel Lawse, Chief Century Thinker here at Verdis Group elaborated, “This is a rapidly changing environment in which all of us need to be innovating. We should embrace the concept of ‘failing fast’ in order to learn quickly and create the sustainable future we need. We don’t have time to wait,” he added. “If we don’t build zero-emissions buildings and districts, we lock in current energy and emissions patterns for the lifespan of a building: 80-120 years. On the other hand, if we get this right, we can change the world.”

Watch the full presentation here.

It was a heck of a breakfast. And no one seemed to mind that the eggs were not actually green.

Stay tuned to hear about our next forum tentatively planned for May 2017.

To find out more about how Verdis Group can help you achieve net zero emissions, drop us a line at craig@verdisgroup.com. Or give us a call at 402-681–9458.

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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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TINSTAFP In high school economics I learned that There-is-no-such-thing-as-a-free-lunch (TINSTAAFL)—basically that I can’t get something for nothing. Somewhere, someone pays for what I get for free. This brings me to TINSTAFP: There-is-no-such-thing-as-free-parking. But I bet most people probably think there is free parking all around them, especially in Omaha. How many times a week do you park for “free”?

When you park at work? How about at the grocery store? Going out to eat? At the kids’ soccer game?

Chances are if you live in Omaha, you park for free (nearly) all the time. Two exceptions may exist in downtown and midtown Omaha where there are more places to live, more entertainment, and more businesses within a few blocks of where you park. Because of higher demand for land use, a parking spot is more valuable and one way to recover part of the cost is to charge for parking. But just because parking appears free doesn’t mean you aren’t somehow paying for it. Parking has real costs and someone somewhere is paying for it. When you park for “free” at the store, restaurant, or at the movies, you are still paying for parking in the form of slightly higher prices that the business uses to cover the cost of owning and maintaining the apparently “free” parking. When you park for “free” on a city street, you are still paying for parking in the form of taxes that fund road construction and maintenance. Like I said before TINSTAFP.

You’ve Got Questions

Between the widely held notion that parking is free and a desire to quantify the value of transit came the following questions:

  1. Do transit programs reduce parking in Omaha, Nebraska?
  2. How much does a transit program cost compared to parking?

These questions were answered by a study Verdis conducted to dig into the real costs of parking specific to Omaha and compare them to the cost of transit. A summary of the answers to these two questions is below. To dig into the data deeper, you can read the Executive Summary and the full report: Parking Problems? Transit Programs As a Cost-Effective Solution. The full study goes into details about:

  • Effectiveness of existing transit programs at colleges like Metropolitan Community College’s Pass to Class and UNO’s MavRide and at Omaha employers like Union Pacific and Pacific Life
  • Models for setting up a transit program at your organization
  • Tax advantages of transit programs
  • Details to nerd out on all the costs associated with building, operating, and maintaining parking lots
  • Along with all the supporting data behind the numbers

We’ve Got Answers

Existing Bus Pass Programs Reduce Parking Demand In short, what we found is that yes, transit programs do reduce parking demand at the organization that provides the transit program. In the organizations surveyed:

  • Students participating in their college-provided bus pass program are reducing the number of parking spaces needed by 172 spaces each day.
  • Employees that participate in and employer-provided bus pass program are reducing the number of parking spaces needed by 67 spaces per day.

Potential for Further Parking Demand Reduction: The study also found that bus pass programs are not reaching their full potential at colleges and businesses. There are still students and employees who would use a transit program, or would be willing to try it out, if they knew it existed or if the program was expanded.

  • At local Omaha employers, there is potential that over 45% of trips to work by employees wouldn’t need a parking space if transit programs met full program potential (chart 12).
  • At employers participating in the study, for every 100 additional participants, parking demand could be reduced by as much at 54 spaces per day.
  • At UNO, for every 1% increase in MavRide program participation, one could see a reduced need for parking by up to 25 spaces per day.

The nice thing about transit is that you don’t have to use it every day. Some people ride the bus a couple days a week and drive the others. It is about finding what works for you and the people at your organization. Remember, for every person who rides the bus even one day a week, that is a parking spot is freed up for that day. So you may be thinking this is no big deal, transit programs get more people on the bus and fewer driving their cars to school or work. The big deal is that each parking space saved means real dollars saved. For every parking spot that isn’t built, the organization saves over $20,000 for a single garage space and over $3,500 for a space in a surface lot. And when the monthly cost over the life of a parking space is compared to the monthly cost of transit, transit wins out nearly every time. How Much Does A Transit Program Cost Compared to Parking?

Through research of parking costs at several Omaha locations and the cost of existing transit programs, the study was able to pinpoint an apples to apples comparison of the cost per space per month to compare to a 30-day unlimited transit pass.

Bus Pass Program Costs: Regardless of who pays, a 30-day unlimited ride pass will cost between $42-$55 per pass. Organizations who become Metro Partners can receive bulk discounts reducing the cost of the 30-day unlimited ride pass to $42. Tax advantages can bring this cost even lower. Parking Costs: Parking costs vary based on several factors. Is parking provided by the employer or leased? Is it a garage or surface lot? Is there a shuttle provided between the parking lot and the college or business? Regardless of who pays, the following are the costs of parking in Omaha:

  • Employer Leased + Provided Parking: Monthly leased parking ranges between $48 per space for surface parking and $70 for garage parking.
  • Employer Provided Surface Parking: The cost for providing surface parking, including land, design and construction, and operations and maintenance, ranges between $73 – $163 per space per month. (20 years at 4% interest)
  • Employer Provided Garage Parking: The cost for providing garage parking, including land, design and construction, and operations and maintenance, ranges between $119 – $224 per space per month. (35 years at 4% interest)
  • Parking Shuttles: When needed, parking shuttles can cost on average between $13 – $28 per space per month.

Conclusion Simply put, transit programs reduce parking demand and transit programs cost less than providing parking for employees. Transit programs work for some employees and students, it never will be used by everyone, nor should it be expected to be. The point here it to provide better transportation options so those who choose to enjoy their commute on the bus can do so, making it more pleasant for them and for those who choose to drive on a now less congested road. So what are you waiting for, get a transit program set up at your organization today! Feel free to contact Daniel or Metro if you are interested in setting up a transit program.

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