Monday, February 27, 2017

How to do a water audit

We live in a desert so we should be especially careful with our water. Over the decades, our use of river and ground water has depleted river flows. So what can you do?

Arizona Water can do a water audit for their customers but their budget is tight for this service so get your name in early in the calendar year. What follows is a simple audit anyone can do.

(Photo courtesy Darcy Hitchcock)

1. Identify all the water-using fixtures and estimate their monthly use.

Below is a list of typical water-using fixtures and the standards for low flow or Energy Star. You'll have to estimate how many times your employees use the bathroom, how many loads of dishes, etc.

  Fixture               Number of units            Est gallons each/month     Total expected. monthly use

Bathroom Sinks 
(1.5 gpm)

(1.6 gpf)


(2.0 gpm)

Washing machines 
(residential front-loaders 13 gal per load)

(see your manual) 


(multiply emitters and flow rates)

2. Compare your estimates with actual water and sewer bills.

If you are using a lot more water than you think you should, investigate. You can also compare your usage with industry benchmarks. This manual has a lot of information about benchmarks, etc.

Where is your biggest water use and what can be done about it? Do you really need grass? Could it be replaced by native plants?

3. Do a walk-around, checking flow rates and leaks

Check for leaks. Do you see any dampness under sinks or calcium stains under faucets? Put food coloring in the toilet tank and see if it shows up in the bowl. Walk around outside when the irrigation is on.
Check flow rates. With a stopwatch and bucket you can see if sinks and showers are low-flow fixtures.
Check the meter. When no one is using water in the building, check the water meter two hours apart. If it's moving when it shouldn't you have a leak. You can also use this method to estimate irrigation usage.

4. Take action

Fix leaks: According to EPA's WaterSense website, a leaky faucet dripping once a second will waste 3000 gallons a year. Households are known to waste 10,000 gallons a year. According to the American Water Works Association,
"Every single day, nearly six billion gallons of expensive, treated water is simply lost. Why? Crumbling infrastructure. Leaky, aging pipes and outdated systems are wasting an estimated 14 to 18 percent of our nation’s daily water use." Source.

Behavior change: Of course, you can't tell employees not to use the bathroom! But you'd be surprised what a little education can do. Let employees know you care about water use and publish your bills. Sometimes just posting the water bill in the bathroom stalls will cause change. Ask them to report leaks.

Retrofit fixtures: Some changes are really inexpensive. Your local water utility or electric utility may have rebates for replacing inefficient fixtures. They may also have free aerators that can slow water flow in sinks and showers. Can you use moisture meters for irrigation?

Reuse water: Cottonwood is building a ring of "Purple Pipes" around the city and requires builders to use their reclaimed water in construction. Graywater from showers and rainwater collection systems can replace irrigation.

Minimize irrigation:   Plant only drought resistance, low water-use tress or pants in your landscaping. Surround the plants in your landscape with a bed of  mulch or other organic material or gravel, the bed will slow evaporation and discourage weed growth. Water  during the coolest part of  the day. If possible set your automatic sprinkler and bubbler system to operate during the night, reducing the loss of water due to evaporation.     


Water Efficiency and Self-Conducted Water Audits at Commercial & Institutional Facilities:

Friday, February 24, 2017

Colorado River in more trouble than previously thought

According to research done by the University of Arizona and others, the Colorado River flows are already almost 20% down from the averages last century and are projected to drop 50% if climate change is not abated. This is very bad news because water rights were established during a period of high volume, so we allocated more water than the river had....even back then. And legally Arizona is in a subordinate position, meaning we could be forced to stop drawing water so that other states could still have theirs.

Colorado River Flows Will Keep Shrinking As Climate Warms, Research Shows - National Parks Traveler

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Girl Scouts troop recommends kids resource for Go Green

I just got a sweet email from Brook K...

"My Girl Scout Troop and myself wanted to say thank you for your page, ! My troop found your resources to be so helpful while they are working very hard on earning their Go Green badges!

The girls would like to suggest another page, as a thank you for being such a big help: They thought that other people (and possibly other Girl Scout Troops) would find it as helpful as they did! I was hesitant to email at first, but the girls have been asking me if I have emailed you about it yet.
Thanks again and please let me know if you include it...they would be so excited to see it up!"

You go, girls! We are so delighted that you found something helpful on our page. You didn't mention where you're located. If you're in the Verde Valley, we would be glad to meet with you to see if there are ways we can support your efforts. We recently started a Facebook page so if you're on FB, you could like us there as well.

How to do a waste audit (7 easy steps)

Sedona Recycles can do a waste audit for your business if you operate in their service territory. Contact Jean Turocy at

Whether you get help you or do it yourself, it is really instructive to involve your employees in the process. Shocking them about what is thrown away is all part of the process.

Step 1: Plan the waste audit

If you have more than a few trash cans, you want to avoid having to do a full head-first dumpster dive! Instead you can sample your waste.

Who's waste? What buildings or departments will be involved? Are you assessing both recycling and landfilled waste? What about waste oil from your garage or waste oil from the cafeteria?

When and how to get a representative sample? Are there days or weeks that are more representative than others? How is trash and recycling picked up now? Can you have facilities count the number of bags or dumpsters they fill in a month and then randomly grab a few sample bags to sort?

Determine how you want to report the data. Do you want to be able to compare departments or facilities? Do you want to estimate glass, plastic, metal and paper as recyclables as well as contaminates in the recycling and recyclables in the trash? Is it going to be easier to measure and report weight or volume? (There are conversion charts if you have to do some of both.) Create a worksheet that can be used when you do the sort. You will likely want to have separate sections or worksheets for recycling/compost and waste. There are many examples online that you can use or modify. Here's one.

What materials will you need? Puncture proof gloves, protective eye-ware, and old clothes are a must. It can be helpful to have a scale and a bunch of 5 gallon buckets or trash cans to sort the materials into. A luggage scale is helpful so you can hang the buckets to weigh them; the scales cost around $20 at Ace Hardware.

Step 2: Do a trial sort

Grab one bag of garbage or recycling and begin to separate it. Does your system work? This is when you start to get questions like, "Do I put the squeeze pack of Ketchup in liquid or food or non-recyclable waste?" Update your worksheet accordingly.

Step 3: Gather data on the overall waste stream

For a typical month or similar period, figure out your total waste volume or weight. (If your dumpsters get picked up full, it might be as simple as counting the cubic feet of trash picked up.) If your operations vary a lot (eg, a school that has summer break or a church that occasionally hosts wedding receptions), you may identify a couple representative waste streams.

Step 4: Sort a sampling of the overall waste stream

Gather staff or students and tear apart a random sampling of garbage bags. Sort the trash and recyclables separately and have each person or station use the worksheet created and updated after your trial run. Do a debrief afterward. What were they shocked about? What ideas do they have for improving their performance?

Step 5: Analyze the data

If you have more than one sorting station, you'll have to compile the worksheet data. Use your sampling sort to extrapolate your monthly or annual waste stream. Create charts that show how your waste breaks down into types. If you do this year after year, you can use stacked bars like the example below to show progress over time. Note how trash is black and a negative number and recyclables are separated into material types collected. The progress from year to year can easily be eye-balled.

Step 6: Plan and implement ideas for improvement

With input from employees, come up with ideas for improvement. Implement the best idea(s).

What you buy: Can you reduce your purchasing? Can you buy in bulk? Can you choose recyclable packaging vs non-recyclable. For example, the padded envelopes made of paper and bubble wrap are not recyclable but the plastic envelopes may be in your area.

Separate and reuse: Separate at the source is almost always better. Make double sided printing the default on the copier. But have a stack of used paper by the copier for drafts or make note pads from one-sided paper. (You may also want to have a shredder for sensitive documents you don't want used this way).  One of my clients realized that 40% of the food waste at the cafeteria was ice and left over soft drinks, so they created a way to dump it down the sink. They also realized their outdoor trash bins funneled rain into them. They were hauling off rain water! So they got covers that kept the rain out.

Signage and systems: Better signage can cut down on mistakes people make, what goes in recycling and what is trash. Consistency matters. Do it the same way everywhere in the building or your town. Put recycling containers first (ideally with lids that make it hard to put in the wrong thing), and trash last. One office switched the garbage cans in everyone's cubical to recycling. There was one trash can down the hall. It made employees think about their choices and it was the same amount of work for the janitorial staff.

Switch recycling services: Not all recycling is the same. Systems where you dump everything into one container typically can only recover 10-20% of the recyclables. Recycling systems separated by the customer or at the curb can get close to 99% recovery rates.

Create incentives: If you can sell recyclables, can you create a kitty for fun events with the money? Or can you create an incentive in your hauler contract that gives them an incentive to improve recycling?

Compost or vermiculture: Worm bins can be kept under sinks. Some people may be willing to take coffee grounds home to their rosebushes.

Trust but verify: When you set systems into motion, you have to go back and verify if they are being followed. Too many times, office workers separate their recycling only to find out that the janitors dump it all in the trash! People come and go; sometimes they get lazy. Managers must show they care.

Step 7: Do another waste audit

See if your actions made a difference. Diagnose. Remember to train new people and develop systems to make sure they are done. Rinse and repeat.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Your business can be climate neutral

It's actually feasible now to be climate neutral, for a business to have no net negative impact on the climate! You just have to:
  1. Calculate your carbon emissions
  2. Reduce what you can and then 
  3. Purchase "carbon offsets" to eliminate what's left

To find out what climate impact your business has, you need to do what is called a Greenhouse Gas (GHG) Inventory. For small businesses, it's a simple set of calculations. There are official 'protocols' and standards for doing these inventories and reporting results. This article explains what a small operation would need to know. (If you are a large business or a community, please refer to the appropriate protocol and reporting requirements for you.)

1. Calculate your climate-related emissions

Start by deciding on the scope of your inventory. Are you only doing one retail location or your whole business? Are you going to include employee commuting or students flying to your boarding school? Then you look for activities that generate greenhouse gases. For most businesses, this primarily involves fossil fuels (electricity, natural gas, and transportation fuels.)

The Greenhouse Gas Protocol identifies two scopes you must include and one that is optional:
  • SCOPE 1 (required): What you burn or emit directly in your operation. (Natural gas, propane, diesel, gasoline and refrigerants)
  • SCOPE 2 (required): Electricity you purchase from non-renewable sources
  • SCOPE 3 (optional): Everything else (eg, air travel, commuting, transportation of materials to your site, embodied GHGs in the materials you buy, energy involved in the use of your product, methane coming off landfills for the waste you produce.)


How do you get everything into the same unit?

As you can infer from the sources of greenhouse gases above, you'll look through bills which may show kilowatt hours of electricity, therms of natural gas, gallons of gasoline and miles of airline travel. How do you compare these very different units?

Fortunately, all of these different sources have been assigned a carbon-equivalent factor, a CO2-e, a multiplier that converts each of the disparate units into what is used as the base, carbon dioxide. So, for example, one gallon of gasoline is equivalent to roughly 19 lbs of CO2 and diesel has a CO2-e of 22. Here's a list of accepted conversion factors.

Typically greenhouse gases are reported as pounds or metric tons of CO2-equivalents. (1 mT=2204 lbs.) Since those units are hard for people to visualize, the EPA has a web page where you can convert your greenhouse gases into something more familiar like cars on the road, kilowatt hours, or gallons of gasoline.

For example, imagine a retail store that uses 500 kWh of electricity each month which translates into about 3 mT of greenhouse gases a year. According to the EPA equivalency calculator, that's equivalent to:

Do I have to create my own spreadsheet?

You certainly can and there may be benefits for doing it so you can dig deeper into the numbers. But a number of different groups have created GHG calculators.
  • The EPA has a simple GHG calculator for business.
  • The Greenhouse Gas Protocol has a number of calculators for industries and materials.
  • Carbon Footprint Calculator includes one for air travel.

2. Reduce your carbon emissions

Analyze your results and take action to reduce your GHGs. What contributes most to your greenhouse gas emissions and what can you do to reduce those sources? Here are some ideas.
  • Electricity: Where are your biggest uses of electricity? Can you switch to LED bulbs or let in more natural light? Can you change the temperature range for space heating and cooling? Don't forget 'phantom loads,' all those boxy plugs and appliance clocks that draw energy even when you're not using them. Many utilities offer green power. Businesses can for a small up-charge buy green power from APS instead of putting up their own solar panels.
  • Travel: Can you do more virtual meetings? Can employees use alternative transportation or carpool more? Can you buy locally so materials don't come from so far away? Some travel sites like Expedia let you purchase carbon offsets when you purchase your airfare. And sometimes the answer seems too simple: UPS saved 10 million gallons of gas per year by eliminating left turns.
  • Waste: Can you reduce the waste you generate (eg, through changing buying habits, buying in bulk, reducing packaging, reusing packaging)? Recycling many materials saves a lot of energy. Composting organic wastes (food and yard debris) still generates CO2 but that's a lot better than putting it in a landfill where it generates methane.
  • Refrigerants and industrial gases: Can you switch to environmentally friendly refrigerants and gases? For example, at one point Nike used SF6 in Air Jordans, until they realized that gas had a CO2-e of 23900!
Looking at energy through the lens of GHGs can often result in surprising opportunities that would not have appeared if you just looked at cost. For example, at a boarding school, the air travel of their international students to fly to the school may represent half of the school's climate impact.

3. Purchase carbon offsets

Where you can't eliminate sources of GHGs, buy carbon offsets. Economists consider greenhouse gases an 'externality,' a problem caused by a company or party that creates consequences someone else has to pay for. You may not be able to eliminate all your greenhouse gases but you can, in effect, pay someone else to reduce theirs for you, taking responsibility for your externality. Nature doesn't care who does the work; she only cares about total GHGs in the atmosphere and ocean.

There is a voluntary market for trading carbon offsets and it was modeled on the very successful cap-and-trade air pollution trading system for NOx and SOx emissions, which reduced air pollution quickly at a low cost. 

Carbon offsets/credits are offered through brokers that connect you with projects that can reduce GHG's. This is an evolving market, still kind of the Wild West, so look for projects certified under one of several standards (eg, Gold Standard, Green-e) so you can be sure that you are getting what you are paying for: real, additional and permanent reductions in greenhouse gases.

So there are, in effect, four parties to this transaction:
  1. You, the company that emitted greenhouse gases
  2. Another party with a project that, with the help of your money, can reduce greenhouse gases (eg, by replacing an inefficient boiler, changing how rice is grown, giving more efficient cook stoves to the poor in underdeveloped countries or reforesting the rainforest). Some projects have social as well as environmental benefits.
  3. A certification body that audits the project to make sure it will reduce greenhouse gases by the amount advertised and then publishes projects in a registry.
  4. A broker who markets the projects and sells the offsets to you.

What do carbon offsets generally cost?

One example is TerraPass where you can purchase offsets for about $13 per metric ton, a typical market price these days. Locally, the GenIsis Project lets you direct your offsets to pay for solar panels on the school of your choice. Rather than being a market-based price, these offsets are based on the total estimated project costs. The Alliance currently estimates these offsets at around $126 per metric ton because it must pay for the total cost of buying and installing solar panels on the school. Obviously project-based pricing is more expensive, but there are public relations benefits (and potential tax benefits) to helping local schools. Depending on the mechanism you choose and your tax status, the cost of the offset would be a business expense or donation; check with your accountant.

At current market prices, paying to offset your greenhouse gases is very affordable!


Imagine the same a retail store mentioned above with electricity usage of 500 kWh per month and no company vehicles. (Not counting the GHG's in optional Scope 3 associated with their products,) they would generate a little under 3 metric tons of CO2-e a year. If they purchased carbon offsets, they would pay under $40 a year for market-priced carbon offsets or $375 toward putting solar on a local school.

This is a small price to be a Carbon Neutral company!

Need help?

If you need help doing a greenhouse gas inventory or identifying reputable offsets, please contact the Sustainability Alliance. Or see if you can get your analysis done by an intern or class project through the NAU Climate Science program.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Ink cartridges filled with air pollution?

It's no secret that air pollution in India is awful. This man figured out how to capture particulates from cars and generators and turn it into ink that can be used in printers or pens.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Coffee can do more than fuel your day; it can fuel your car

Think of all the coffee shops in town, all the coffee grounds they must have left over. Add the hotels and restaurants. That's a lot of damp brown granules that could be turned into fuel or even pellets for wood stoves.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

UPS increases solar 500%

George Monbiot wrote Heat, a book that explained how we could reduce our carbon footprint by 80-90% with existing technologies while maintaining our quality of life. In the chapter on retail, one of the main solutions was to buy online. It's much more efficient for UPS to deliver hundreds of packages on their route than to have each of us drive to the store. And warehouses have a much lighter footprint than retail stores with fancy lighting, shelving we can reach, and wide aisles.

I caution, this doesn't mean you can feel guilt-free for mindless consumption at the click of a button on Amazon. But it does mean there is a path for us to get what we need without steaming the planet.

UPS is one of the transportation companies working hard on reducing their environmental footprint. Years ago they gained attention by eliminating left turns. That saved them money and gas while reducing accidents. They have also been delivering packages in cities on electric vehicles and even tricycles.

Now they are going to increase solar on their facilities by 500%. Read more:

This is the technology utilities will use to store renewable power

There's a lot of engineering work on batteries because we need a way to store renewable power from wind and solar. Flow batteries appear to be the best solution for utilities.

Nova has a great program on the development of batteries.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Sweden plans to have zero carbon emissions by 2045

Sweden has been arduously eliminating fossil fuels since the oil crisis in the 1970's. Several years ago I went on a study tour to Sweden and Denmark where I learned of their sustainability initiatives. (You can read an article about my trip here:

In addition to having wind and solar, Denmark is so serious about biking that they clear snow off bike lanes before the roadway. (In the US, that's where snow plows pile the snow.) Sweden uses district heating where waste heat from industrial processes or waste-to-energy plants is sent to commercial and residential buildings. Passivhaus (different from passive solar) building techniques are so efficient they don't need a heating system.

So Sweden has announced with confidence that they can eliminate their greenhouse gases (presumably from fossil fuels vs other sources) by 2045.

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Charities for each Sustainable Development Goal

Are you worried about the problems of the world? Make your donations count. This article points you toward a charity or two that has a strong strategy regarding each Sustainable Development Goal.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Inoculating people against fake climate news

Climate scientists aren't confused about climate change, but some members of the public and politicians are. In my view, the topic became politiziced when Al Gore became a major spokesperson for the issue. Often the messenger is as important as the message. But those in the oil business have been caught funding a confusion campaign. And many are subconsciously or consciously afraid of the policy and moral implications if they accept climate change as real and human-caused.

So how do we teach the public and our kids how to distinguish fact from self-serving fiction? This study shows that 'alternative facts' do in fact work to confuse people. But you can inoculate them by first deconstructing politicized messaging.