Sustainability: The Importance of Doing the Same or More with Less
January 30, 2019
By Bret Moffett
President and CEO
This article was originally published in Currents, POWER’s quarterly Environmental newsletter.
Part of POWER’s vision is to “design and integrate sustainability into our projects as well as into our internal business practices.” Our vision reflects how important it is to use the natural resources of the world in a way that allows the generations of tomorrow to have the same, or even better, quality of life we have today.
As part of our vision, POWER understands the importance of internal sustainability practices. And that is why we have taken concrete steps to reduce our own carbon footprint in various ways across our 45 offices. Some examples include recycling, installation of LED lighting, and implementation of smart heating, cooling and lighting systems. Most recently, we purchased an all-electric vehicle, a Chevy Bolt, as part of our vehicle fleet.
But what I really want to discuss is the importance of designing and integrating sustainability into our projects. As engineers and scientists, we have the opportunity—and the obligation—to provide not only safe and effective solutions to our clients, but also solutions that meet sustainability criteria. We really can have a profound impact on the natural environment and the built world through the work we do every day.
But what do we mean by “sustainability criteria”?
Several attempts have been made by industry to define these criteria, beginning with the U.S. Green Building Council’s (USBGC) LEED certification, and, most recently, by the Institute for Sustainable Infrastructure’s (ISI) Envision rating system for infrastructure projects. Both are respected organizations with great systems and POWER has numerous employees that are accredited in both.
Certainly, the type of detailed criteria and guidelines set for by the USGBC and ISI are necessary for the complex technical projects we execute. On the other hand, POWER’s philosophy can be simply summed up as “do the same or more with less.”
Doing the same or more with less is critical because no project solution, no matter how “green,” is without a carbon footprint. Take, for example, a solar photovoltaic (PV) farm: while the electricity it produces from sunlight is virtually carbon free at the point of production, its total carbon footprint is far from zero when you consider the impact of mining, manufacturing, transportation and disposal associated with the whole lifecycle of the project from cradle to grave.
That’s why, no matter what, it is important to use less of everything to accomplish the same project objective. In the case of the solar PV farm, for example, we can use less of everything by siting the farm near the power grid (fewer poles and wires for the interconnection), using more efficient solar panels (fewer solar panels and collector system cables), and designing the arrays to simplify installation and maintenance (reduced transportation).
In addition to being more sustainable, one could argue this philosophy of doing more with less is also more cost effective than the alternatives. Obviously, fewer materials reduce the cost of equipment, both in terms of the initial purchase, but also in terms of spare parts and replacements. Installation and maintenance costs are likely reduced, too, with simplified designs.
This philosophy may also ultimately lead to more resilient designs, too. In so far as there are fewer places for things to go wrong, such designs are inherently less susceptible to problems such as natural disasters. And when problems do arise, it is easier and faster to remedy them and get operations back online.
Designing and integrating sustainability into our projects is a win-win situation. Not only is it good for the environment, but it is also good business that can lead to more cost-effective and resilient designs. As engineers and scientists, we have a key role to play in preserving the natural environment for future generations while building great infrastructure for today.
About the Author:
Bret is the President and CEO of POWER Engineers. He joined POWER in 2000 as a software engineer and project manager and applied his expertise to a wide range of projects across multiple POWER divisions. With a strong background in information technology and finance, Bret was asked to lead POWER’s back-office operations (Finance, Human Resources, Information Technology, Legal, Corporate Governance, and Marketing/Communications) in 2006. In that role, Bret has successfully helped POWER grow significantly through organic growth and 15 acquisitions. He was appointed Chief Executive Officer in May 2016. Bret’s current responsibilities include setting and executing the strategic vision for POWER Engineers, focusing on the mutual success of clients, employees and shareholders.