Green Building: Geothermal Heating & Cooling Options

geothermal-heating-and-coolingAs we continue to seek out more efficient and more environmentally friendly ways to heat and cool our office buildings, the geothermal heating & cooling systems available today are paving the way.

If you have been thinking about one of these solutions, you may have a few questions.

Is the Geothermal System Efficient?

Yes. Geothermal has 50% efficiency rate in heating and 20% to 30% increased efficiency in cooling. These percentages are in comparison to typical heating and cooling systems on the market today. This percentage of efficiency also translates directly into cost savings on the energy bills.

Are They As Comfortable As Typical Systems?

Yes. Using your existing ductwork in most cases, these systems utilize heated (90 to 100 degrees) air in greater volumes which results in more even heating.  You may be familiar with traditional systems and the occasional cold air spots in buildings. Geothermal systems will remove that problem completely as heating is more thorough.

Are Geothermal Systems Expensive?

Yes. Geothermal installations are expensive. However, they can bring significant savings over a period of time.  The International Ground Source Heat Pump Association’s website informs us that the Geothermal systems usually provide 25-50% savings on energy consumption and offer lower peak demand resulting in lower operating costs.

Are Geothermal Systems More Environmentally Friendly?

Yes. By using a naturally sustainable heat source it lowers the carbon footprint of operations.

As you search for energy efficiency in your business practices, we can help you determine if Geothermal system might benefit your situation. We can also recommend other ways in which you can lower the carbon footprint of your small business. Please contact us for more information.

Boxed water packaging – is it a better solution than plastic?

Here’s a statistic that you can’t water down: About 67 million plastic water bottles get tossed out each day, and, according to a piece by Dr. Joseph Mercola, “only 10 percent of these water bottles are ever recycled.”  The remaining 90 percent end up in landfills, and plastic takes thousands of years to decompose.

According to Dr. Mercola, drinking boxed waterwater from a plastic container “poses serious risks to you and your family.” Choosing plastic exposes you to chemicals like BPA and phthalates that have been linked to, among other things, to a wide range of developmental and reproductive problems.

What resources go into producing all that waste? According to, about “1.5 million barrels of oil – enough to run 100,000 cars for a whole year – are used to make plastic water bottles.” That does not include the fuel burnt in transporting the empty bottles to the water source and the filled bottles to the consumers.

One Grand Rapids, Mich., company, with the eponymous title, “Boxed Water Is Better LLC,” manufactures and sells boxed water containers.  Their claim is that their container is far more eco-friendly: “About 76% of the box is from a renewable resource, trees.”

They harvest their raw material from “certified, well-managed forests,” and their boxes are recyclable. The Carton Council, a group of carton manufactures, whose goal is to keep valuable carton empties from ending up in landfills, would welcome wider use of boxed water, because over 74 percent of most cartons are made from recyclable paperboard. Given these facts, boxed water is a more environmental friendly packaging material than plastic bottles.

Four Packaging Design Considerations to Improve Sustainability

packagingChoosing sustainability packaging can have its challenges. Businesses want packaging that protects their product that also is environmentally friendly and reduces waste. When choosing sustainability packaging, there are four areas to consider:

  1. Material Type. Consider packaging that is made from recycled content, is compostable, or recyclable. According to a Dupont study of packaging professionals, 65% say their efforts are focused on design for recyclability or use of recycled content; 57% are focused on weight reduction; 41% rely on renewable or bio-based materials and 25% say they are focused on compostable materials.
  1. Elimination and Reduction. Determine whether packaging materials can be reduced or eliminated to increase efficiency. Other ways to impact material efficiency are to design reusable and recyclable packaging.
  2. Production Process. The production process is another critical consideration. This includes renewable energy use, efficient water use, and efficient manufacturing processes, throughout the production of the packaging.
  3. Package Formats. It is important to consider package format in packaging design such as bottles, cartoon, pouch, cans, or bag in the box as some examples. In choosing packaging materials, more and more companies are looking at options with greater recyclability, such as bottles and cans.  Currently, non-recyclable packaging currently has very limited end of life choices outside a landfill or incinerator, and leaves consumers with fewer options for environmental stewardship.

For more information on sustainable design considerations, download Sustainable Packaging Coalition’s Design Guidelines for Sustainable Packaging

Environmental Sustainability Resources for Small Businesses from EPA

An essential small business resource is the Small Business Environmental Home Page. Funded by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Asbestos and Small Business Ombudsman (ASBO), the Small Business Environmental Home Page was developed in 1996 and serves as a comprehensive directory of sustainable business information and environmental compliance specifically targeted to small businesses and assistance providers.SBA Resources

The collection of resources is extensive and organized per the following:

Environmental Compliance. Locate updates, publications, and factsheets regarding environmental compliance regulations and new rule implementation. This includes links to state specific regulations, timelines, and agencies.

Sector-Specific Compliance. Sponsored by the EPA, sector-specific, web-based National Compliance Assistance Centers were formed to assist regulated entities (e.g., combustion processes, automotive recycling, food processing, paints and coatings, printing, etc.) with issues and language unique to each industry. The Small Business Environmental Home Page links to each of these assistance centers.

Sustainability Resources. Find helpful portals to EPA-sponsored resources related to recycling, landscaping, energy use, pest control, waste management, refrigeration and AC, and more. Users may also identify grants, funding, and incentive opportunities for sustainable business practices. Links to state-specific agencies, guidelines, and opportunities are provided when possible.

Environmental References. Extensive assistance is provided in the form of a searchable database of EPA publications and factsheets, videos, website links, funding opportunities, and more.

Performance Measurement. Small business owners and assistance providers will also find guidelines for performance measurement for measuring compliance, including logic models.

Shared Information, Events, and Conferences. The website includes a searchable database of upcoming events and trainings. Access state and national newsletters and listserves. Identify national conference schedules, including the SBO/SBEAP National Conferences and Trainings.

Five Recommended Business Books on Sustainability

The following short list is comprised of five books that offer real world guidance and advice on sustainability in business.  These books can help business owners, managers, organizational leaders and environmental managers/sustainability coordinators to improve their organization’s economic performance as well as their environmental impact.   All of these books stress how important this green evolution is for the future of our businesses, our people and our planet. We hope that you will find them to be valuable additions to your green library. If you would like to start employing green practices in your business, please contact us, we would love to help you.

The Business Guide To Sustainability: Practical Strategies and Tools For Organizations  Authors: Darcy Hitchcock and Marsha Willard

“This easy-to-use manual has been written by top business consultants specifically to help managers, business owners, organizational leaders and aspiring environmental managers/sustainability coordinators to improve their organization’s environmental, social and economic performance.”

Getting Green Done: Hard Truths from the Front Lines of the Sustainability Revolution  Author: Auden Schendler

“If we’re going to cut CO2 emissions 80 percent by midcentury, it will take more than a recycling program and some hemp shopping bags. We’ll only solve our problems if we’re realistic about the challenge of climate change. In this witty book, a sustainable business foot soldier with over a decade’s worth of experience illuminates the path.”

Natural Capitalism: Creating the Next Industrial Revolution Authors: Paul Hawken, Amory Lovins, L. Hunter Lovins

“In this groundbreaking blueprint for a new economy, three leading business visionaries explain how the world is on the verge of a new industrial revolution. Natural Capitalism describes a future in which business and environmental interests increasingly overlap, and in which companies can improve their bottom lines, help solve environmental problems and feel better about what they do all at the same time.”

Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things Authors: William McDonough and Michael Braungart

“Reduce, reuse, recycle” urge environmentalists; in other words, do more with less in order to minimize damage. As William McDonough and Michael Braungart argue in their provocative, visionary book, however, this approach perpetuates a one-way, “cradle to grave” manufacturing model that dates to the Industrial Revolution and casts off as much as 90 percent of the materials it uses as waste, much of it toxic.”

Green Project Management  Authors: Richard Maltzman, David Shirley

“Detailing cutting-edge green techniques and methods, this book teaches project managers how to maximize resources and get the most out of limited budgets. It supplies proven techniques and best practices in green project management, including risk and opportunity assessments.”

Sustainability Assessment Questions: Understanding Your Footprint

Although there are robust and technical environmental audits, often small companies don’t necessarily need such detail to understand their environmental impacts. Smaller companies can conduct sustainability assessments that are more geared to their business. Assessments not only review the footprint of organization operations but will also identify opportunities to improve environmental stewardship, save money, improve productivity and increase customer and employee loyalty.

To conduct your own sustainability assessment, reach out to each department or division of a company and hold informational interviews. Although more information can be gathered through in-person meetings, an organization can also conduct an assessment via an online survey. Develop a series of questions that ask specifically what each area is doing to reduce resource use and minimize environmental impact.  Some organizations also like to assess the social side of business and determine how employees are engaged in the community and the non-profit organizations they support.

Here are is a list of some sample questions to ask by each sustainability topic area:

Waste Management: Is recycling provided as an option? If so, what percentage of the employees participates in office recycling?

Suppliers and Purchasing: Are office supplies purchased made from post-consumer recycled material? How many of your vendors are local suppliers? Has your purchasing department developed in guidelines that take into account green businesses practices?

Paper Reduction: What paper reduction policies and/or practices has the company done? Is the company’s marketing giveaways made from recycled material and/or recyclable?

Energy Conservation: How has your company tried to reduce energy? Do you own any energy star equipment? Does staff turn off equipment in the evenings?

Water Conservation: How has your company tried to reduce water? What water saving devices are installed in your facilities?

Toxins and Chemicals: What types of cleaning chemicals are used in your office? Is there any toxic or hazardous material located at the facilities?

Transportation: If you have a transportation fleet, what measures have you taken to reduce driving?

Employees: Does the company have any communications educating employees about conservation of resources?

Philanthropy: How does your company contribute to the community? Donations? Volunteer programs?

Book Review: Ecological Intelligence

Daniel Goleman’s the author of Emotional Intelligence has written his new book called Ecological Intelligence. He discusses how consumers can change the world through their ‘ecological intelligence’ by making environmentally and socially conscious purchasing decisions. He reviews various sites such as Good Guide and Skin Deep that help educate consumers about the products we purchase. Not only which products are good for us but products that are good for the environment and made sustainably. He also discusses ‘radical transparency’ which encourages companies to disclose their products contents and manufacturing practises.  A good book for someone who is new to the ‘green’ movement.

Daniel Goleman did a 20 minute interview with Bill Moyers that provides a nice overview of his book.