A Personal Small Step to Sustainability

By: Anderson Lewis

When someone makes a conscious decision to live more sustainably, it is easy to get discouraged by the mindset of “I’m just one person. What difference can I really make?” But when it comes to being sustainable, the Axiom “ the little things make the biggest difference” can certainly hold true.  Don’t get me wrong; I still think much has to be done before humanity can reach a state of benign or regenerative interaction with our natural environment. However, it is dangerous for us to assume that our seemingly small actions do not have a meaningful, positive impact.  For example, it is easy to equate turning the lights off when you leave the room to saving a few cents. No big deal, right?  However, when you factor in the process energy used to harvest and transport the raw material used to create your energy, the transmission losses from power lines, and all the carbon emissions associated with this overall process, it makes turning off the light seem more important.
Having the ability to measure the positive impacts of your sustainable actions and track your progress is a great motivator to continue being more sustainable.  Knowing where you started from (your initial energy usage, water usage, etc.) gives you a baseline to compare improvements against (aka benchmarking).  This allows you to see if your changes (actions, energy retrofits, etc.) are indeed positive and can help guide your decisions on where to focus future actions to make the largest impacts.  Lastly, associating your sustainable accomplishments (energy saving, water savings, etc.) with an easily comprehensible reference can make them more palpable and rewarding.  For example, it is hard to know if saving 1 kWh is good or not, but when you consider that 1 kWh could power a T8 fluorescent lamp for 31 hours and 15 minutes, it gives greater context to your accomplishments.
At IBE, we have been diligent about tracking information from the projects we have worked on.  This historic data is helpful to us in multiple ways.   First, it allows us to compare and contrast different project types and their performance and to monitor how the sustainability of our projects has progressed over the years. This helps us know that we are on the right track to higher levels of sustainability. Second, this historic data acts as a marketing tool for the IBE, allowing for us to more easily convey the benefits of our services to clients and more accurately predict what type of performance and savings our clients should expect. Lastly, when this historical data is put in easily understandable terms or comparisons, it can really act as a motivator for IBE staff/project stakeholders and affirm the fact we are making a meaningful positive impact.  For example, in total, projects that the IBE has been involved on have diverted over 15,000 tons of waste material from the landfill (the equivalent weight of 60 statue of liberties).  These materials were recycled and reused in various ways and reduced the amount of raw materials that would have been harvested to meet the needs that this recycled material filled. In addition, the aggregate of IBE projects on average save approximately 95 million gallons of water a year (enough to fill 143 Olympic sized swimming pools (assuming a 2 m depth).
If these aforementioned accomplishments seem large, well, it’s because they are! And this is before considering the added energy/carbon savings that come from not having to harvest, transport raw materials to produce new materials or to treat and transport the water saved.  At IBE we are proud of our accomplishments but recognize that there is still so more to be done.  We will not rest on our laurels and encourage you to do the same.
In the global scheme of things the changes we have helped instate might be small but they are far from insignificant. If everyone were to view their own actions in this way then all these small actions will add up to one big change.