Universal Benchmarking And The Climate Change Crisis

Guest Author

Dr. Ron Dembo is one of the world’s leading authorities in risk management. He is also the Founder and CEO of Zerofootprint. Dr. Dembo has also had a distinguished ten-year academic career at Yale University, where he was cross-appointed in Computer Sciences and Operations Research. He has published over sixty technical papers on finance and mathematical optimization, and holds a number of patents in computational finance. Dr. Dembo is the author of three books.

In 2007, Dr. Dembo was made a lifetime Fields Institute Fellow. This fellowship is awarded to individuals who have made outstanding contributions to the Fields Institute, its programs, and to the Canadian mathematical community. In 2009, Dr. Dembo was appointed to the Steering Committee of the World Urban Campaign, coordinated by UN-Habitat.

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Benchmarking is the process of comparing your performance metrics to industry best practice and/or best practices of other industries. The primary goal is to make improvements that lead to doing things better, faster and cheaper.

Benchmarking involves identifying the best performers and comparing your results to theirs in order to learn how well the best in class perform and, more importantly, how they do it. Almost every commercial firm routinely uses benchmarking to guide its practice.
Most governments today agree that global warming is a huge challenge, with a potential for disastrous consequences if we don’t act. They also agree that our use of water and energy needs to be more efficient and needs to have less of an environmental impact.
Our homes and city buildings and the way we move between them are a big part of the problem and represent 82.3% of the environmental footprint of the Greater Toronto Area.

A recently released report “The Living City Report Card 2011” put out jointly by Greening Greater Toronto an initiative of the Greater Toronto CivicAction Alliance (CivicAction) and the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority (TRCA) indicates that the combination of homes and buildings generate 43.4% of the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) CO2-e emissions. When you add the burning of diesel and gasoline for transportation within the GTA, add another 38.9% to the total.

– and yet we don’t know how cities compare to each other, or how buildings and homes compare individually with one another. There are no benchmarks.

Do you know if you use a ‘normal’ or ‘large’ amount of electricity in your daily life? What is a normal amount? What is normal in Canada? What is normal in the U.S.? What is normal in Europe? How big is the difference? Why is there a difference? Do you use more water than the average in person your city? Do you throw out much more garbage? Does your home or office require more energy than its neighbours to operate?

These are the first questions a business would ask if it were given the task of becoming more environmentally efficient. Yet, with all the discussion on global warming, we have no benchmarks to guide us to a more efficient lifestyle.

When Zerofootprint benchmarked schools, we found some with energy footprints per square meter that were 30 times worse than others in the same district. We have also seen new buildings that have a LEED Gold environmental building certification underperform buildings that are older and have no such rating. Guess what a manager in a Fortune 500 company would do with such information?

If we are to deal effectively with energy and water and their environmental impact on global warming then we need universal benchmarking to give people the tools they need to guide their efforts.

We propose starting with buildings for two reasons — the wealth of utility/energy data available and the fact that they are such a big part of the problem. And we propose taking an 80/20 approach.

Let’s get 80% of the way there on all buildings rather than 100% of the way on just a few buildings. This will enable us to achieve massive coverage quickly and cheaply and dive into greater detail (the last 20%) when and where it is warranted.

Something as simple as universal benchmarking could have a major effect on behaviour. And since reducing energy consumption is synonymous with reducing cost, it could have a major effect on cost as well.

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