As the consulting world has expanded into the green market, many people are still trying to understand what is a “green” consultant (often also termed eco- or sustainability consultants), and how do their services aid businesses, organizations, households, and individuals make decisions about green products, practices, and technologies?
As a company specializing in these services, we don’t just want you to just take our word for it that green consultants can be an important, and often crucial part of the greening process. This page includes articles that shed light on ways that green consultants provide a valuable service.
Make Me Greener, Please
Published: June 10, 2009
SORTING THINGS OUT Among other things, Stephanie Gregerman suggested that Sal Scamardo pay extra for wind power, take shorter showers and switch to compact fluorescent bulbs. More Photos »
They had hired a consultant to tell them how they could do better at home in helping the environment, and although they did very well on energy use, water was another matter.
“I do a lot of thinking in the shower,” Ms. Sanchez offered as a possible explanation. (The culprit turned out to be the sprinklers.)
Environmental savings can be elusive, and the benefits and costs confusing. To help households wade through the information, consultants armed with stepladders and gadgets are selling advice on energy efficiency, indoor air quality and even methods for creating an eco-conscious wardrobe.
The field of personal and home eco-consultants is relatively new. GenGreen, a Colorado company that offers a national directory of businesses marketing themselves as green at gengreenlife.com, says it has just over 3,000 listings under the umbrella term environmental consultants, up from 657 when the database was started in 2007. They include energy auditors, health and wellness experts, interior designers and “eco-brokers,” real estate agents who specialize in green homes. While real estate agents can get training and certification as “eco” or “green” by trade organizations, and states like New York run energy audit programs with accreditation rules, there are no industry standards for most eco-consultants, who can range from environmental engineers to the self-taught.
Dr. Urvashi Rangan, the director of greenerchoices.org, a Consumers Union Web site that gives information on environmentally friendly products and labels, said that homeowners should exercise caution, and that if they are thinking of hiring such a consultant they should do some research first and decide which areas they want to focus on before deciding if they want to pay for visits that can cost hundreds of dollars.
Mr. Bryson and Ms. Sanchez, business owners in their 40s who own a three-bedroom house in Los Angeles and who recycle and compost, said they hired Jason Pelletier, a co-founder of Low Impact Living of Los Angeles, to identify what they could do to be more environmentally sound. His three-year-old company offers eco-consulting and runs a green resource Web site that is supported by payments for advertising and for listings.
They were considering insulating their garage — where she has set up her office and which he wants to also use as a music studio — and wondered about the best environmental options.
Compared with doing their own research on the Internet, they said, a consultation offered the advantage of analyzing their needs in a short time.
“This is specific to us,” Mr. Bryson said. “It’s a great check-up, and it gives you a baseline for improving things going forward.”
Two and a half hours and $200 later, after an inspection of the 1,446-square-foot home they share with their two children (in addition to the 3,000-square-foot backyard and the garage), Mr. Pelletier gave them suggestions such as switching to low-flow shower heads and to compact fluorescent light bulbs, and later followed up with a detailed report that compared the couple’s consumption with the average for their region. He advised them to cut the use of sprinklers by 30 to 40 percent, insulate the attic and replace the old water heater.
In addition, Mr. Pelletier said the couple would save $1,200 a year in gas and cut their car-related emissions by 50 percent if they sold their cars — his, a 1997 Saab, and hers, a 1998 Volvo — and bought hybrids instead. Mr. Bryson and Ms. Sanchez said they were holding out for electric cars some day. In spread-out Los Angeles, their daughter’s school is a 20-mile round trip, they said, and they are often caught in traffic.
“I sit on the freeway and I see all these cars,” she said. “I feel we don’t have an option,” for avoiding gas.
Frank Ackerman, an economist with the Stockholm Environment Institute, a research organization affiliated with Tufts University, said that people fret over their choices — install solar panels or unplug electronics? — but that not all efforts are equally beneficial for the environment.
There is no “1-2-3 order” of priorities for every person, because much depends on where and how people live, said Dr. Ackerman, who is co-writing a consumers’ guide to the actions that most benefit the environment with the Union of Concerned Scientists. But about a third of the country’s carbon dioxide emissions come from generating electricity and another third from transportation, most of it from the gasoline powering cars, the Environmental Protection Agency says.
So among his top consumer choices: living in smaller spaces to cut the use of electricity, reducing air and auto travel to diminish transportation-related carbon emissions and eating less beef, because its production is highly energy-intensive.
David J. C. MacKay, a physics professor at the University of Cambridge and author of the new book, “Sustainable Energy — Without the Hot Air” (UIT Cambridge, 2009), said gestures like unplugging the cellphone charger when not in use should be seen for what they are — tiny.
“It’s like bailing the Titanic with a teaspoon,” Professor MacKay said. “The energy saved by unplugging the cellphone charger for one day is the same energy used when you drive your car for one second.” Topping his list: turning down the thermostat in the winter, flying less and buying less “stuff,” which he noted comes embedded with the energy it takes to make it and transport it.
Eco-consultants sometimes make it seem as if every possible change can be and should be adopted. That leaves some of their customers resistant to some of the recommendations.
Sal Scamardo, a 46-year-old independent film producer in New York, had hired a consultant even though he began with many environmental advantages — only 650 square feet of living space to heat or cool, no lawn or daily automobile use. But he wanted to reduce his electric usage and improve indoor air quality, he said, adding, “I liked the idea of someone coming in and analyzing your lifestyle and taking a look under the covers.”
In April, he guided Stephanie Gregerman of Green Irene, a company with about 300 consultants in 45 states who get online training and offer $99 “green-home makeovers” (along with the company’s products), around his one-bedroom condo.
After a 90-minute inspection of the apartment, Ms. Gregerman discovered several green-home no-no’s: nine incandescent light bulbs, a cabinet full of chemical-laden cleaning products and seven pieces of electronic equipment sucking power while not in use.
“Don’t take my lava lamp,” Mr. Scamardo pleaded, only half-joking.
Ms. Gregerman, who has had a long-term interest in environmental issues and formerly worked in marketing for a record label, gave him a long list of recommendations: use compact fluorescent bulbs, get a power strip with an on-off button, pay extra for wind power from the local utility and set a five-minute egg timer while taking a shower.
The lava lamp was spared, but Ms. Gregerman also suggested using cloth instead of paper towels, giving up plastic bags and plastic water containers, replacing $40 worth of cleaning products with nontoxic alternatives and composting food scraps.
Mr. Scamardo did not buy any products during the visit, and he rejected composting, which would entail saving leftovers until they could be dropped off at the nearest composting collection site.
“I don’t see that working with my lifestyle,” he said. He has, however, applied most of the energy-saving recommendations, including no longer shaving in the shower to try to keep his showers under five minutes.
“If you’re serious about, it is worth it,” he said of the consultation. “It was customized to my way of living and I could ask questions.”
Ms. Gregerman was understanding about his rejection of composting, saying later that only clients in their 20s seem open to the idea. “Typically most people are not going to compost,” she said. “It’s either a space issue or it seems kind of crunchy.”
There is also debate about whether individual action matters at all, with some experts noting that the most effective greening people can do is in the voting booth. No individual action could compare, for instance, to the emissions avoided if the government found a way to replace coal with other technologies to reduce dependence on fossil fuels, said Michael Shellenberger, president of the Breakthrough Institute, a research organization in Oakland, Calif.
He is among those who argue that the impact of individual reductions in emissions is largely irrelevant. “People just want to feel good about themselves,” he said.
But that is not to say there’s no environmental benefit from reducing energy consumption. Dr. Ackerman said it is also important that the United States, which produces more emissions of greenhouse gases per capita than any other country, serve as an example to others.
“Growing countries like China and India are looking to copy us,” Dr. Ackerman said. “So it’s of particular importance for us to develop a low-carbon version of a comfortable life, instead of a gasoline-fueled, high-energy lifestyle.”
Clients come with varying needs and motivations, said Mr. Pelletier, the consultant.
Three years ago, when Mr. Pelletier, an environmental engineer, started out in the field of eco-consultancy, most clients were not only worried about the environment, but also “wanted to keep up with the Joneses,” he said. “Some would say, ‘My neighbor has solar panels and a Prius, and I want solar panels and a Prius, too.’ ” But times have changed. “Over the last two years, that group has been replaced by those saying, ‘I want to save money on my energy bill,’ ” he said.
Ms. Sanchez and Mr. Bryson said they understood the limits of individual action, but still wanted to do something. After studying Mr. Pelletier’s report, they are reprogramming the sprinklers to reduce water usage, as well as considering car-pooling and a solar water heater, which Mr. Pelletier said could cost them $2,500.
“I think it’s more about living responsibly, even if I can’t single-handedly change the impact we have,” Mr. Bryson said.
Ms. Sanchez said, “It’s doing what’s right.”
Tuesday, June 23, 2009 (SF Chronicle)
Eco-consultants help navigate green minefield
Robert Selna, Chronicle Staff Writer
When Craig Bridwell bought a 1909 Bernal Heights flat, he wanted to emphasize the home’s rustic feel – turning an old park bench into a table and decorating with artifacts from junkyards – but he also wanted it to be green, conserving as much water and electricity as possible.
While Bridwell, 34, had heard about a lot of strategies for making homes more environmentally sustainable, as a busy lawyer, he believed he had neither the time nor the expertise to conduct his own green home makeover. But Bridwell found some help in the loosely defined but emerging field of eco-consultants who are filling a niche somewhere between energy assessors who might suggest adding solar panels and insulation and interior designers focused on aesthetics. “I’m not fanatical (about being green), but I was moving in here with almost nothing, and I figured this was the right time to do it,” he said. “I wanted to buy the right products and develop some good habits.”
An online directory of green businesses lists about 3,000 eco-consultants in the United States. They include designers who incorporate conservation into their services and real estate agents who get certified as eco-brokers. While formal degrees and standards do not exist for most positions in this new line of work, one national company offers freelancers education, training and a selection of products to sell.
Free online resources also are available for residents who want to do it themselves. For instance, Pacific Gas and Electric Co. provides a home energy analyzer and other Web services. Through acquaintances, Bridwell found Sara Mossman, one of a relative handful of eco-consultants in the Bay Area who are trying to make a living- or at least part of one – by shepherding people through a low-tech inventory and home improvement campaign. Mossman struck out on her own as an interior designer who specializes in feng shui after four years at a design firm where she had helped her employer achieve green certification in a city-sponsored program. Mossman focuses on homes and small businesses. She added a green component to her business during the past nine months after completing an online training course through Green Irene, a company that provides educational material, products and advice for consultants and a directory of where to locate them across the county.
Customers can find consultants on their own or through the Green Irene site ( http://www.greenirene.com). For quality control,clients are encouraged to fill out customer reviews after an inventory is complete, said Linzy Fromme, marketing coordinator at Green Irene. “San Francisco is very progressive, but in the past couple of years there has been an onslaught of green marketing terms, and it’s hard for people to get the truth and to know what really is healthy,” Mossman said. “I also wanted to help people go for the low-hanging fruit – the easy steps they can take that don’t interfere with their life, but can actually make a big difference.”
Bridwell’s two-bedroom, one-bath flat was a good case study. After inspecting the house for about an hour, Mossman identified small changes that could save an estimated 15,000 gallons of water a year and cut way back on his heating and electricity bills. An inventory of Bridwell’s cleaning products also revealed Brands containing bleach and phosphates, which can be replaced with healthier alternatives.
Mossman charged Bridwell $100 for about 1 1/2 hours and suggested aerators and eco-friendly cleaning products – both of which are available through Green Irene. Bridwell said Mossman’s results came as a pleasant surprise. “I would have thought I’d learn about four things I could do,” he said. “It turned out that there were about 34, and none of them are particularly difficult.” After a $100 review with an eco-consultant, Craig Bridwell of San Francisco learned he could drastically reduce his water and electricity use by following some simple tips. Among them:
— An aerator would reduce the kitchen sink flow from 4 gallons to 1.5 gallons per minute.
— A new showerhead could save almost 1 gallon per minute.
— Unplugging cell phone chargers, DVD players and other appliances cuts energy use.
— Turning the water heater dial from hot to warm leaves water comfortable and conserves energy.
— Low-wattage compact fluorescent lightbulbs are best for lamps with multiple sockets.
— An inflated bag in the toilet tank saves 0.8 of a gallon per flush.
E-mail Robert Selna at email@example.com.
Copyright 2009 SF Chronicle