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Sustainability means trying to live within the means of our planet


 
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Dr Barry Manor, Sustainability Consultant, outlines some of the ways to achieve sustainability in a number of different settings. Dr Manor completed a PhD in the area of cognitive neuroscience and worked as a medical research scientist for a decade and a half. He then decided to change his lifestyle, buying 35 acres in a hidden valley near the Hawkesbury River where he lives off the grid. Because he is so passionate about sustainability he reinvented himself as a self-educated sustainability consultant. In the early days, he helped many low income families understand why they had high electricity bills. Visiting people in their homes helped to identify the problems and come up with practical solutionsNow he works for a large corporation that has publicly stated sustainability goals. 

 
Dr Manor commissioning customised energy-efficient heating jackets fitted to industrial pressure testing cells in Western Australia. 
His role is to identify opportunities within their real estate portfolio of 1,600 sites to help them reach those goals in energy efficiency, waste recycling, reduced water use and decreased greenhouse gas emissions. Corporations are switched on to the fact that sustainability is in current favour and are eager to be perceived as doing the right thing, building their social capital. If a bank, for instance, funds coal mining and clear felling of Tasmanian old-growth forests, that eventually damages their reputation. Some corporations have turned around and revised their investment strategies, also setting sustainability goals. If they actually practice what they preach, they avoid what is known as greenwash. Greenwash is not always intentional, as the corporations are so large that self-monitoring and cultural change is difficult. A genuine intent to change means putting money where their mouth is, thus avoiding greenwash. 

 
Funding sustainability-enhancing projects, for instance, ensures positive change that can be measured and verified. In terms of sustainability, it is better to focus on simple things and leave the complexities of climate change to climate scientists. 86% of Australia’s energy comes from burning coal, so using less energy automatically reduces greenhouse gas emissions.
This may also save money, so a win/win outcome is achieved. However, using less electricity does not guarantee monetary savings. Electricity companies are charging more for their fixed network costs to make up for the reduction in usage, preserving their revenue streams. They invest billions of dollars in the poles and wires of the electricity network, and are worried that when home energy storage batteries become 20% cheaper five years from now, people will go off the grid. In Spain, for instance, where up to 47% of electricity comes from renewable sources, a substantial “disconnection fee” has been proposed for those choosing to leave the grid.

 
The University of Western Australia's Future Farm program is intended to develop and successfully operate a self sufficient sustainable farm. ALVA House is the farm maiunager’s house is operating along these guidelines,     
Designed by Patrick Beale, from the Faculty of Architecture, Landscape and Visual Arts it has high thermal and maximum energy efficiency, full solar energy, and full rain water. Solar power includes two 5 Kw panel arrays and full battery storage (grid independent). Performance over several years is being measured externally by a solar energy engineer in Brazil who receives system data via the internet. 

 
People who live in residences want to keep cool in summer and warm in winter using a minimal amount of energy. In winter a hot water bottle under the doona can keep a bed toasty all night, much better than running a heater to warm the whole room. Alternatively, an electric blanket can be used to warm the bed before getting in, after which it should be switched off. Running an electric heater in a room overnight can add hundreds of dollars to the winter electricity bill. In an office environment, the main energy users are lighting, air conditioning and IT equipment. Office staff should practice “last one out turns off the lights”. Heating is not a major requirement in large buildings, because when the building is occupied people emit enough heat to keep it fairly habitable. Cooling in summer is often necessary and customers do expect air conditioning in shops, shopping centres, banks and the like. 
Air conditioning is often poorly controlled, for example running at night, when all staff have gone home, and also running on weekends when the space is unoccupied. A solution is to employ a mechanical contractor to assess the timer set-up and have them program it so that the air condition switches on an hour before opening and switches off an hour after closing. There will be residual cooling even for the night cleaners and the bill will be substantially reduced. Another problem is the temperature setting. People tend to set the thermostat at its minimum temperature (typically 18°C) on a hot day, while setting it at 25°C would still provide a comfortable indoor temperature and use a lot less energy. A rule of thumb is that for every degree the thermostat is set away from the outside temperature, the air conditioner uses 10% more energy.
IT equipment, including computers, monitors, printers, etc. should have standby mode enabled and avoid the use of screen savers. Fans are very effective at cooling by blowing air over your skin, evaporating perspiration. That type of cooling only works in climates where the humidity is low, because to evaporate, moisture has to go into the air. That is why you see evaporative coolers on houses in Melbourne but not in Sydney. 

 
Figure 2 – Interval data from a commercial site showing improved air conditioning energy management outside of business hours. The blue trace represents energy use of air conditioning equipment running 24 hours per day (horizontal axis shows time of day). The green trace shows energy use over the same 24-hour period after tuning the air-conditioning to switch on at 6:15 AM and switch off at 17:30 (5:30 PM). The 4.5 kW baseline load on the green trace (outside of business hours) is for computer server and other equipment that operates 24/7.    

 
Figure 3 – Graph showing a 52% decrease in energy use (compared with same period previous year) following tailored energy efficiency improvements at a commercial site. One of the key energy efficiency gains resulted from the air conditioning rescheduling shown in Figure 2.    

 

There are many ways to achieve sustainability in all sorts of settings. In the home, mindful use of heating and cooling can save money and reduce greenhouse gas emissions from coal-fired power stations. For businesses, employing a sustainability consultant can make good sense because return on investment from sustainability improvements is often far higher than most other forms of investment. For example, upgrading warehouse lighting from old inefficient mercury vapour fixtures to modern LED technology can save enough energy to recoup upfront costs in just a few months. LED fixtures also provide more consistent light quality over time. With a ten-year service life expectancy, the new lighting will reduce maintenance costs and keep delivering energy savings and improved occupant comfort for a long, long time!
Dr Barry Manor was interviewed for A Question of Balance by Ruby Vincent, Images from Dr Manor and Professor Martin. Summary text by Victor Barry, November 2016 

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