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.


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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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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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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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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I’m spending some time decompressing from CleanMed 2012 earlier this week; reflecting on what I learned, who I met, what I saw and how it changed me. From what I could tell, the conference was yet another rousing success. Attendance was high and everyone there was extremely engaged, passionate and knowledgeable. That’s great news for an industry that has such a big impact on the environment.

I was still suffering from a 2011 Aspen Environment Forum hangover, which distorted my view a bit. I found myself constantly comparing CleanMed to the Aspen Environment Forum, which is completely unfair and misguided.  They are two totally different animals geared towards achieving very different objectives.

At the Aspen Environment Form, nearly every session and subsequent conversation was really high-level, which is to say the focus was more about theories and ideas and less about strategies and actions. That’s not to say there weren’t tangible takeaways from Aspen. There were, but I found myself thinking about ideas that were pretty tough to wrap your head around: how can and will the earth’s population growth impact our lives, or why Gross Domestic Product is a bad measure of how our economy grows and what a new, better metric should include. It was big, heady stuff, and in most cases I couldn’t necessarily put much to use right away. I loved it nevertheless and hope to get back there soon…it’s Aspen, after all!

CleanMed = Implementation + Networking

CleanMed, on the other hand, seemed to focus on two things: implementation and networking. Sessions (at least those that I attended) zeroed in on what healthcare facilities should be doing and how they should be doing it. Topics ran the gamut and included such concepts as greening the operating room, reducing water consumption, composting, safer chemicals, energy conservation, employee engagement, etc. etc. A lot was covered, and it was the brass tacks of greening a hospital. I found myself taking copious notes on many tried and true strategies for success. It was, in most cases, really rich content that is immediately applicable in our work.

The other focus was networking. During the two and a half days, over nine hours wasn’t “programmed”. Such an approach allowed attendees to dive a bit deeper in their conversations. We were able to share stories about what was working, what wasn’t, and generally kick around ideas about how to be more effective in our work. Every time I spoke with another someone, the conversation was always meaningful and illuminating. Time after time, I was impressed with everyone I talked with, regardless of where they were from or what their job title was.

Major Takeaway #1: Mission Alignment

One theme came up time and time again: sustainability initiatives align with their nearly every organization’s mission to improve health. Many unintended consequences of running a healthcare facility negatively effect human health. To name just a few (and there are many): air pollution, food insecurity, aggravated pre-existing conditions, increases in infectious diseases, obesity, and death. Yes, even death. There are clear connections to all of them, and it was refreshing to hear so many healthcare professionals not only acknowledging those connections, but also strategizing about how to lessen their negative impacts. One shining example was Jeffrey Thompson, CEO of Gundersen Lutheran in La Crosse, Wisconsin. I was thoroughly impressed with his vision and tenacity for greening their hospital.

Major Takeaway #2: Energy is King

The sessions that drew the most attention were typically focused in some way on reducing energy consumption. This is no surprise given the industry’s operational requirements (you can’t exactly send everyone home at 5pm and shut everything down). Hospitals have more than 2.5 times the energy intensity and carbon dioxide emissions of commercial office buildings, and the EPA estimates that a $1 savings in a hospital’s annual energy costs equates to an increase of $20 in annual revenue, based on a 5 percent net operating margin. Not a bad exchange rate.

Further underscoring the importance of energy efficiency, energy costs are going nowhere but up, which presents a significant risk to a hospital’s bottom-line. And oh, by the way, the majority of the energy being purchased is emitting some pretty unhealthy stuff, which is contrary to the mission of these facilities (see takeaway #1). The good news is that there are so many opportunities to conserve energy, and many of them require no investment whatsoever.

Major Takeaway #3: From Greenhorn to Green Expert

The differences between where hospitals are in their sustainability journey is pretty stark. I met several people who were just getting their initiatives off the ground while others had been taking strides for several years. The greenhorns were busy developing strategic plans and picking low-hanging fruit while the green experts were contemplating the installation of a co-generation plant onsite. Despite the varied levels of experience, everyone felt there was more to do in their institution.

Finally…

When it was all said and done, I was really glad that I went. I have fifteen pages of notes that either reinforce what we’re already doing or are full of new ideas, new strategies and new approaches to greening the industry. I’m really excited to sit down with our friends at The Nebraska Medical Center (and anyone else in the industry that’s interested) to talk about where they want to go next.

The healthcare industry is in flux right now (for a variety of reasons). As it evolves into its new state of being, it’s clear that many in the industry are looking at sustainability as a means by which to achieve their organizational objectives. The connections are clear, the mission-imperative is there, and the business case is rock solid. Which makes me wonder, if you’re a leader and decision-maker in the healthcare industry and you’re not seriously contemplating how to take advantage of the opportunity, what are you waiting for?

 

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During these oh-so-cold months in the midwest, I love to begin thinking about the first thing we’re going to plant once the ground thaws. As such, I find myself gravitating towards articles that lean towards food and gardening.

A recent commentary from our friends at GOOD asked the question, “Will urban gardens wilt post-recession?” Oh what an excellent question. Urban gardening is a hot trend these days, especially in cities where vacant lots dot the landscape. They’re revitalizing the landscape of many neighborhoods, providing a place for neighbors to come together, and of course producing locally-grown food that is far healthier and more sustainable than most of what can be found in the local grocery store.

But I can’t help but disagree with the rosy picture that the article’s author paints. Yes, urban gardens have a multitude of benefits, and I firmly believe that they unquestionably belong in our urban fabric. I’m not convinced, however, that the multi-acre urban gardens are providing us what we need, especially in Omaha, to achieve the kind of density that will allow us to live more sustainably.

If urban gardens are to be a major part of the land-use equation, they’re displacing several households that could be living on that land. The big question is what happens around those gardens? If we simply continue to build McMansions surrounded by vast swaths of private turf lawns, we’re just going to perpetuate the problem of decreased density. Walkability goes out the window, as does connectedness with neighbors. When we’re spread out, we drive more, talk with our neighbors less, and generally live a less-satisfying life.

Our work with Metropolitan Community College was, at least in part, focused on ascertaining the viability and long-term trajectory of urban gardens in Omaha. They’re absolutely going gang-busters right now, and one organization after the next is jumping on the bandwagon, thinking about how they can improve community health, create jobs, build more cohesive neighborhoods, and decrease poverty. There’s no reason to think that the trend will not or should not continue. BUT planners need to be sure not to sacrifice increased density. Knowing Omaha’s City Planning Department, I’m sure we’re in good hands.

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It’s the holiday season, which never fails to spike my environmentalist guilt complex, and now that I have a young daughter I’m particularly aware of all the good and bad that the season brings. There is the ever-present tension between decreasing needless consumption and a stagnating economy, which is a big, broad issue that I’m not particularly interested in tackling…yet.

There is no getting around the fact that the gift-giving traditions of the holiday season result in an increase in waste. And I’m not talking about the useless gifts that never get used and end up in the landfill (Is this underwater cell phone system really for me? really!? thanks…honey). I’m talking about the peripheral stuff. This story on Marketplace this morning highlighted the fact that we see a 25% increase in waste over the holidays, which equates to a million tons per week. More specifically, it means:

  • 125,000 tons of plastic packaging
  • 744 million holiday cards
  • 8,000 tons of wrapping paper*

So what’s a person to do in this time of thoughtful gift-giving? The answer is not to stop giving, but rather, give experiences rather than things. It’s not only better on the environment, it’s better for you. As GOOD reported in their Winter 2011 issue, experiential purchasers report being more satisfied with their lives, less anxious, less depressed, and in better mental and physical health.

When it comes down to it, isn’t the annual membership to your local forest and the dozens of hours you spend there putting you in a better place than the new television you’ve been eyeing? Experiences form who we are. They become engrained into our being and, at least until dementia sets in, they’re with us forever. Give your family, friends and co-workers an experiential gift this season; the planet and those lucky recipients will thank you.

Happy holidays, everyone.

 

*Omahans: Please note that the Marketplace article indicated that wrapping paper is not recyclable. However, Omaha’s city-wide program does accept wrapping paper.

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