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Buildings

Notes From Climate Week NYC 2019: Climate Change & The Human Factor — CleanTechnica Interview

The human factor is front and center when the topic turns to energy efficiency in buildings, the unsung hero of action on climate change.

Climate Week NYC is here again, which means that scores of the world’s top clean tech companies, non-profits, and governments are taking advantage of the Big Apple media spotlight to announce their latest news. It’s easy to lose sight of the human factor in all the hub-bub, but CleanTechnica had a conversation with ENGIE Impact today that brings the race to prevent catastrophic global warming down to the level of people power.

energy efficiency climate change

Sustainable buildings courtesy of ENGIE Impact

Connecting The Dots To Scale Up Action On Climate Change

The global energy firm ENGIE Group has deep roots in the 19th century and it still has foothold in natural gas, but it has been rapidly ratcheting down its coal holdings.

Last summer the company took a major step toward accelerating the global low carbon future when it launched ENGIE Impact. The new organization was formed to provide tailor-made sustainability roadmaps for businesses and governments, including water and waste management as well as energy.

As an umbrella organization, ENGIE Impact pulls together talent, experience, and value from its parent company’s network of clean tech resources including ENGIE Insight (formerly Ecova), Ecova U.K., Red Engineering, and the Advisory and Advanced Analytics division of the solar company Tractebel.

The Human Factor

That’s a lot of firepower right there. ENGIE Impact launched with a portfolio of 1,000 clients already under its belt, including 25% of the Fortune 500.

More to the point, those companies collectively control more than 1,000,000 sites around the world, many of which would benefit from a clean tech makeover.

That’s where the human factor comes in. CleanTechnica spoke with ENGIE Impact’s Chief Operating Officer for Resource Data Management, Paige Janson, and COO for Sustainability Services Marty Sieh, both of whom emphasized that technology is only part of the solution.

Even a relatively new building packed with clean tech bells and whistles can quickly begin to under-perform, Sieh explained. The building’s original specifications are one thing, but keeping up with maintenance and adhering to the correct operational procedures are a whole ‘nother kettle of fish.

“The people factor is critical,” Janson emphasized. “People may not understand how the building is meant to operate, and with turnover there is a constant need for education.”

Outright abuse of equipment is also a common problem when it comes to taking action on climate change at the person-by-person level. Janson cites the example of retail stores that blast their air conditioners with the front doors wide open, or restaurants that fire up their whole kitchens when only some of the equipment is needed.

In other words, to accelerate action on climate change there needs to be an awful lot of boots-on-the-ground, one-on-one conversations with millions of people who work in and around buildings.

That kind of corporate culture evolution doesn’t come easily, but it can happen when top executives take the lead.

The GE Example

With that in mind, let’s take a look at ENGIE Impact’s newest client, GE Renewable Energy.

In a deal announced earlier today, the two companies have embarked on a mission to meet GE Renewable Energy’s ultra-ambitious goal of achieving carbon neutral status by 2020.

As an expert in wind and solar as well as hydro and energy storage, GE has a bit of a running start in terms of using renewables to power its offices and manufacturing facilities. However, it is also zeroing in on energy efficiency.

That’s a tall order. Hotel chains, food franchises, and big-box retail companies can apply similar strategies across similar properties, but in the manufacturing field, every facility poses a unique set of challenges and opportunities.

So, is carbon neutral for GE by 2020 doable? Time will tell, but ENGIE Impact is confident that its network of experts can get the job done. Here’s the explainer:

“ENGIE Impact blends data and analytic-driven strategic engagement with technical capabilities to deliver comprehensive, tailored recommendations and solutions. This includes deep site-level and regionalized expertise, renewable assessment and analysis (both for onsite and offsite opportunities), and rich resource and expense data and analytics that provide quick, accurate insights to drive action – all of which accelerates its clients’ transformation and eliminates the barriers to achieving sustainability at scale.”

Got all that? Energy efficiency in buildings hasn’t been the most headline-grabbing topic in the clean tech field, but with top players like ENGIE Impact and GE Renewable Energy accelerating the trend, buildings could be ready for their closeups.

In addition to technology improvements, new financial instruments are also providing building owners with new pathways for investing in energy efficiency, without the up-front cost.

The light bulb wars may wax and wane, but much more activity is bubbling up under the field of energy efficiency in buildings, so stay tuned for more.

Follow me on Twitter.

Photo: Courtesy of ENGIE Impact.

 
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Written By

Tina specializes in military and corporate sustainability, advanced technology, emerging materials, biofuels, and water and wastewater issues. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on Twitter @TinaMCasey and Google+.

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