U.S. Department of Energy Announces Five BetterBuildings Case Studies That Highlight Key Lessons to Improve Energy Efficiency Programs Nationwide

The U.S. Department of Energy today announced the release of five case studies from a series spotlighting some of the most innovative projects funded under the Department’s BetterBuildings program. BetterBuildings is a national program that is working to transform the marketplace for energy efficiency upgrades in homes, businesses, and institutions. More than 40 state and local governments and partnering organizations received over $500 million to lay the foundation for a sustainable energy efficiency market in the United States. The case studies released today will help program administrators and their partners develop and optimize energy efficiency programs to help consumers and businesses save money and reduce their energy use by making affordable energy-saving improvements.

The first five BetterBuildings case studies represent a significant first step by the program to share best practices, effective tools, and data about the performance of energy efficiency approaches. These case studies will be used as blueprints for future energy efficiency programs, and will help achieve DOE’s goal of providing energy efficiency upgrades to one million homes by 2013. The release comes as a follow-up to the first What’s Working in Residential Energy Efficiency Upgrade Programs Conference that took place in Washington, D.C. last week.

The case studies focus on four BetterBuildings partners in Seattle, Washington; Austin, Texas; Michigan; and Rutland, Vermont. The featured partners represent a diverse range of climates, participating partners, federal funding levels, and varying levels of local experience with energy efficiency upgrades. Each case study focuses on one vital element in the execution of an energy efficiency upgrade program—Getting Started, Program Design, Workforce, and Driving Demand. The case studies are designed and written to highlight the most successful and replicable components of the BetterBuildings partners’ programs.

Two “Getting Started” case studies on the Seattle and Austin programs examine different innovative approaches to achieve a successful program launch. The city of Seattle focused on building strong partnerships to expand their program’s impact, while the city of Austin used a short-term promotional effort to jump-start interest.

The Michigan “Program Design” case study explores the fast and effective roll out of an innovative delivery model—neighborhood sweeps. This approach uses intensive, neighborhood focused house-by-house campaigns to test consumer responses to different outreach methods, financing options, and incentive offerings. Under the program, the organizers are constantly evaluating results to facilitate real-time program improvement.

The “Workforce” case study, on the Austin program, explains how to work collaboratively with contractors, respond to contractors’ needs, and build partnerships for marketing and program delivery.

The “Driving Demand” case study on the program in Rutland, Vermont showcases how the program encouraged partners to think creatively about engaging consumers. By understanding the community and local resources, the program leveraged relationships to deliver its message through local peer and neighborhood networks.

Developed by DOE’s Building Technologies Program (BTP), BetterBuildings is a flagship program to improve the nation’s energy efficiency. BTP works to save energy, reduce costs, and improve comfort for American homes, businesses, and institutions. Learn more about DOE’s Building Technologies Program.

Learn more about BetterBuildings.

National Action Plan Offers Framework for Green Schools Initiatives

ICLEI Local Governments for Sustainability USA, the U.S. Green Building Council, and the American Institute of Architects have released a five-point national action plan that local governments can use as a framework to develop and implement green schools initiatives. The action plan builds on discussions during the Greening of America’s Schools Summit, held in November 2010 in Sundance, Utah.

The major steps outlined in the plan are:

  1. Connect with the green schools movement;
  2. Engage stakeholders and raise awareness;
  3. Build community support and capacity;
  4. Make it happen: benchmarking, policy and financing and;
  5. Celebrate success.

The action plan report also provides a review of the benefits of green schools; a summary of local, state, and federal policy solutions; leadership profiles of green school advocates; and case studies from large cities and small communities.

Local Leaders in Sustainability: A Special Report from Sundance is available free of charge from http://www.centerforgreenschools.org/actionplan.

How raw sewage becomes biodegradable plastic

Read the full story at SmartPlanet.

The California-based company Micromidas has a two-pronged environmental mission: reuse sewage that usually ends up in landfills to create biodegradable plastic. I spoke this week with Ryan Smith, the company’s chief technical officer, about the process — and the future of plastics.

Could solar panels become mandatory in Japan?

Read the full story at SmartPlanet.

The radiological disaster at Tokyo Electric Power Company’s Fukushima Daiichi earthquake-damaged reactors has compelled the Japanese government to draft plans to require all new construction to be outfitted with solar panels by 2030, according to press reports.

Public outcry against nuclear power in Japan following the incident has been significant, drawing thousands to protest as well as apologies and resignations by public officials.

Japan’s Prime Minister Naoto Kan isn’t politically tone-deaf. Kan will spearhead the new energy plan, which he is expected to announce later this week. It would not exempt private residences, but the government will outline steps to make the panels more affordable.

New Mileage Stickers Include Greenhouse Gas Data

Read the full story in the New York Times. I posted the EPA press release yesterday.

The federal government unveiled new fuel economy window stickers on Wednesday, for vehicles starting with the 2013 model year, that for the first time include estimated annual fuel costs and the vehicle’s overall environmental impact.

What Women Really Want in Green Products

Read the full post at GreenBiz.

It’s important to make the distinction between environment and health as consumer motivators. People may not buy a product because of the amount of plastic or kilowatts of energy saved, but they are willing to buy a product they know will protect their health. Contrary to the belief that “green marketing is over,” I see an opportunity for companies to capture a larger slice of the dark green consumer market, grow the green leanings of the average consumer and empower the customer to make wise decisions, which would help the sector across the board. That opportunity is women’s health.

NCAR and the Green Supercomputing Facility of the Future

Read the full post at GreenerComputing.

It’s been a busy month so far for green IT conferences — I’ve been at the Uptime Symposium and SAP Sapphire Now already this month — even if those events have been either not entirely green-focused (Uptime) or not entirely IT-focused (SAP). Coming up this week is one that promises to be both.

Starting today, San Francisco is hosting the Green Data Center Conference, put on by the Global Strategic Management Institute. The three-day event is focused on green IT and the cloud, and a glance at the event’s program, it looks like for once the cloud presentations won’t be overshadowing the green presentations.

In the run-up to the event, I got a chance to talk with Krista Laursen, the Project Director for the National Center for Atmospheric Research’s NCAR-Wyoming Supercomputing Center. Laursen will be presenting at the conference about the project, which aims to bring a new level of energy efficiency to NCAR’s supercomputing facilities.

E-Waste Remains the Biggest Risk to Green IT Efforts

Read the full post at GreenerComputing.

Every so often — a couple of times a year, maybe slightly more — the issue of electronic waste seems to pop up on the radar of the IT industry, and there follows a confluence of news, reports, exposés, etc. etc. And then it usually fades into the background for a while.

The last such appearance was just over a year ago, but it sure looks like we’re in the midst of another one right now.

There are a number of items pushing the latest round of e-waste discussions forward, but among the most interesting — and widely discussed, as near as I can tell — is research from the Computer Sciences Corporation that calls e-waste the biggest challenge facing the IT industry.

How to Choose Product LCA Software To Resolve Supply Chain Challenges

Read the full story at GreenBiz.

The past five years have seen supply chain sustainability creep up executives’ list of priorities.

Multinationals, such as Walmart or Unilever, have already extended their sustainability strategies so that they trickle down through the supply chain. Suddenly, their suppliers are drawn into these global giants’ sustainability agendas, and these suppliers must comply with their sustainability goals, or risk falling off their list of providers.

Governments are also putting supply chain concerns on executives’ desks with revised legislation and rules that force firms to be more accountable for the environmental impact of their products. Examples include the European Union’s Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and restriction of Chemical substances (REACH), and the Restriction of Hazardous Substances (RoHS) Directives. While in the U.S., the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act and the Toxic Substances Control Act regulate environmental product compliance.

So where should executives start to assess supply chain sustainability? Given that many firms’ sustainability strategies are in their infancy, adding supply chains to the carbon footprint equation is a challenge, to say the least. But recent Verdantix research finds that a growing number of new product life cycle assessment (LCA) software offerings are responding to this demand.