Want your business to go green? Leverage data transparently to make smart decisions

Want your business to be green? First you need to know green you aren't. And then you've got to tell your employees. All of them.
Written by Andrew Nusca, Contributor on

Want your business to be green?

First you need to know green you aren't. And then you've got to tell your employees.

All of them.

At least that's the approach favorited by Ari Kobb, the sustainability director of Siemens Building Technologies. To Kobb, it's a matter of data -- first learning how green your business isn't, measuring what it takes to get there and telling the whole company about it to drive the behavioral change that can make it happen.

I caught up with Kobb on the floor of the GreenBuild conference in Phoenix, Ariz. to discuss the latest trends in green building technologies and Siemens' GreenTouchScreen, an interactive kiosk that tracks your business or institution's energy usage in real time for the public.

SmartPlanet: What are you showing at this year's GreenBuild conference?

Ari Kobb: This year, we're highlighting our information management tools. From a green building standpoint, we're really good at designing them.

Green is about managing data to make smart decisions. Our booth at the show -- it's interactive -- has tools made for facilities managers, including public facing portals and touchscreen technology.

Organizations can display what they're doing and how they're progressing on green and LEED features, and can show energy consumption data so people are aware of what's going on in their facilities and the long-term trends.

Any employee in the building can have access to this information. It allows you to customize it to what's happening in the building and provide energy-saving tips.

The value [of making information publicly available] is the transparency piece of the sustainability movement. The more you inform your constituents on how your building is performing -- and at the same times using it as a means to educate and drive behavior -- the more you have the ability to evoke change.

Telling people about it gives you internal public relations value, so to speak, and allows you to share successes with people who come into the building.

SP: What green building trends are you seeing at the conference?

AK: We're dealing with major customers -- cities and counties in California, for example -- and what we're seeing is that the "Walmart effect" is driving sustainability throughout the supply chain.

Walmart is driven by energy and sustainability in their supply chain through reported metrics. One of those is energy consumption. As they're driving that into the market, people are gaining more visibility in their own practice.

That's the tip of the iceberg.

We see it from both angles because we're both a supplier and have a large supply chain.

In fact, a lot of what we saw in the marketplace made us improve our own projects, actually. It might be a cliché, but we had to walk the talk.

Two years ago, we published a report [Siemens' 2009 Greening of Corporate America Report; view it here (.pdf)] with McGraw-Hill Construction that's a survey of 95 C-suite executives. Where does corporate America see value? We were interested in finding out that tipping point, and we projected that to be coming in 2009 and 2010.

In the 2009 study, we found that corporate America has embraced sustainability as part of the profit motive. It's shifted dramatically. On a scale from one to five, where "one" isn't very engaged and "five" is, in 2006, 18 percent were "four" or "five." In 2009, that was 37 percent.

SP: So green awareness is growing. What are the hurdles facing organizations right now? What's driving the sustainability movement at the corporate level?

AK: The challenge that the market faces is that we all believe that green is a good thing, but we're in a tough time, a recession, and budgets are tight. The primary driver for going green remains energy savings, cost savings, operational savings.

They see the value in reduced costs, employee engagement, and customer satisfaction. Competitor advantage, too. In the declining economy, this is one of the few bright spots.

But the market needs to translate more of that belief into action, especially in a slowdown.

The Chief Sustainability Officer is a new role. Where do they sit within the organization? Over the past few years, these people are now involved in decision-making. We think that's going to evolve pretty quickly over time.

SP: So what's Siemens' part in this movement?

AK: We're an enabler to achieve green building goals. At the end of the day, you can plug our systems in and pull information out of a traditionally back-room system and making it readily available.

We've seen that, in the higher education market, sustainability has taken off. Universities are making broad promises for climate neutrality, but also making sustainability promises, too. The University of Arizona has 80,000 people. They're making it visible to that community and leveraging them to do it.

In the public sector, where it's mandate-driven, we're seeing growth on the small scale. New construction is a small piece of the puzzle, and we all recognize that you have to address existing buildings -- green them, more energy efficient, more water efficient, better air quality. Increased productivity due to green. Corporate America sees increased productivity as an output of going green, but I think the industry has to get better at measuring it.

The cost of going green is not significantly higher anymore. It's astounding how the business community has adapted to provide more low-flow toilets and shower heads and sustainable flooring. The cost premium is not that high.

SP: But you've got to know how green you aren't before you can address how green you want to be.

AK: Right. You can't manage what you don't measure. From an energy standpoint, do you have the systems in place? Do you know how much energy you're actually using? Do you know where it's coming from? Say you spend $1 million per year on energy. Many of these buildings aren't metered or sub-metered. You need to survey your building, audit.

LEED is a great framework for existing building sustainability.

Active energy management is good corporate business strategy, at the end of the day. More information is going to be provided to people who are going to make decisions. When a university president says, "I'm going to go carbon neutral," it sets the direction.

I think the argument of whether you should or shouldn't address this is long gone. I think the issue of climate change has passed, especially for those [organizations] who operate on a global basis. The real challenge is: I know it's the right thing to do, now how do I do it? Who will help me? How do I get there?

You can address energy efficiency through a number of ways. We'd like to see LEED take hold in the public sector for existing buildings.

I think we're seeing a sea change in attitudes of people. The young people coming into the world want to work at companies and want to know what they're doing [to be green and sustainable].

We're all very busy. We often don't have time to think about whether a building is energy-efficient or not. To make it available, you can start to spur change.

GreenTouchSCreen images captured from the kiosk at the Cold Climate Housing & Research Center in Fairbanks, Alaska, which monitors real-time photovoltaic and electrical data.

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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