Reduce, replace, and balance: a framework for your sustainability decisions
Andrew Yang, Bullfrog Power’s Director of Market Strategy & Innovation, shares his thoughts on today’s sustainability landscape.
As more organizations recognize the importance of sustainability, there have never been more strategies – coupled with any number of related products and services – for reducing your company’s impact on the planet. Even for the best of us, it can be a challenge to separate the snake oil from the real goods.
When I consider new products and services for Bullfrog Power to offer, I turn to an approach from the early days of the climate crisis: reduce, replace, and balance. This tried-and-true framework can help any organization evaluate the latest sustainability fad.
Reduce: use less and use better
Whether at home or in the workplace, it’s nearly always going to be easier and more cost-effective to reduce your resource consumption before seeking out greener alternatives. The holistic view of this encompasses both material and energy.
Emerging technologies like carbon capture might get all the press, but reducing our consumption shouldn’t be underestimated as a climate solution. The IEA’s Efficient World Scenario outlines what we could achieve if the world implemented all the cost-effective energy efficiency measures that already exist. They found that energy efficiency could deliver more than 40% of the energy-related emissions reductions that we would need to be in line with the Paris Agreement.
Let’s not forget that those massive emissions reductions would save us money, not cost us. An energy retrofit may be initially expensive, but it will pay for itself in the long run and there are plenty of government incentives to reduce the initial spend (we can even help you find them).
This is also an area where we’ve seen dramatic improvements in technology – what used to be state-of-the-art in lighting, windows, controls, and more have been replaced by cheaper and more effective solutions at a rate that few could have predicted. As technology continues to improve, energy efficiency will offer even greater emissions reductions.
Replace: choose greener materials and energy sources
Replacing carbon-intensive materials, processes, and energy with more sustainable alternatives should be your organization’s next priority. Fortunately, this becomes more feasible (and even cost effective) after you’ve reduced your resource consumption.
Recently, with dramatic improvements in the cost of solar photovoltaic systems, many customers have approached us about on-site renewable electricity generation. Replacing conventional power with solar is, in the right situation, a great way to shrink your carbon footprint. You may be wondering why your company should go to the trouble of a deep energy retrofit if you could simply replace your conventional power with renewable energy.
Considering scale and space, most customers will pay between 25-50% more for on-site solar compared to electricity from the utility. Depending on your province, you might also be displacing energy from a grid that already ranks as one of the cleanest in the world. But by focusing on energy efficiency first, many organizations can reduce their demand for heat, which typically translates to direct reductions in fossil fuel consumption.
Additionally, streamlining your energy usage before pursuing a replacement method like on-site solar will ensure that you don’t pay to green energy that you don’t really need. Replacing carbon-intensive resources will be cheaper and easier to implement if you’ve already optimized your usage. Follow the order of reduce, replace, and balance to take advantage of this synergy.
Balance: offset what can’t be reduced or replaced
Balancing emissions through carbon offsets is the final step, and should only be pursued once other options have been exhausted.
Let’s use corporate travel as an example. The most sustainable option is to reduce travel altogether by holding virtual meetings and conferences. If that isn’t possible, we can replace carbon-intensive air travel with a greener alternative, like a high-speed train. If there’s no viable green alternative, companies can purchase high-quality carbon offsets to address the emissions from air travel.
Like replacing, balancing works best in combination with the previous steps. If your organization has already reduced its resource usage and replaced its high-carbon processes, you won’t need as many offsets to balance your environmental impact. Better yet, you can use the cost savings from those initiatives to pay for the trickier balancing acts.
In a changing landscape, the best approach is consistency
Looking back at the early days of solar, wind, and electric vehicles, it’s amazing how much and how quickly things have changed. Yet, as much as the details of what we can do to reduce our impact on the planet continue to change, the best approach remains remarkably consistent: reduce, replace, and balance.
What topic would you like Andrew to cover next? Let us know in the comments or on Twitter @bullfrogpower.