This Week in Sustainability: Week of March 5

| Josh Henretig

Reinventing Fire: How business can lead us beyond fossil fuels

This week, the Rocky Mountain Institute’s report Reinventing Fire drew attention as the focus of a story in GreenBiz and a column by the New York Times’ Thomas Friedman. Reinventing Fire, authored by physicist and RMI founder Amory Lovins, makes the case that the private sector can – and must – play a leading role in creating a clean energy economy, augmented by public policies that promote actionable solutions for four energy-intensive sectors of the economy: transportation, buildings, industry, and electricity. Citing Lovins, Friedman argues that society must abandon divisive politics to prioritize innovation over climate science debates; he points out that the renewable energy market is primed for significant breakthroughs and that a renewed focus on energy and resource efficiency can lead America off fossil fuels.

Lena Hansen’s GreenBiz story focused on the trend of investment in the smart grid and renewable energy technology, pointing to RMI’s report to back up her argument that a clean energy market is realistic and in our not-so-distant future. Hansen calls on businesses to be more active and informed consumers of energy, and to take advantage of integrated systems that can efficiently manage energy and other resource use. Like Friedman, she zeroes in on the role that technology and service providers like Microsoft can play in bridging conventional silos and integrating core technology with other parts of the electricity system. At Microsoft, we recently deployed a building management solution on our corporate campus in Redmond, Washington, to test our view that IT can radically cut energy use. What we learned supports Hansen’s premise that Microsoft (and by extension, many organizations with similar real estate portfolios) can make buildings dramatically more efficient by actively managing electricity use, and introducing software to harness and utilize the building systems already in place.

clip_image004Meanwhile, TreeHugger published an article this week from Gavin Starks, founder of environmental data company AMEE, describing the complexity and massive data requirements that come with accurately measuring and reporting the environmental impact of an organization’s supply chain. Stark notes (and we agree), that one “key to unlocking global environmental intelligence is interconnectivity.”

Microsoft Research has recently released a tool called FetchClimate (great video overview here), a fast, intelligent climate-data-retrieval service that operates over Windows Azure, and is designed to address the daunting challenge many scientists face of acquiring environmental data (locate data sets, negotiate permissions, download huge files, make sense of file formats, filter, interpolate, regrid, etc!). Now, with “the click of a button,” FetchClimate can retrieve environmental data at any grid resolution from global to a few kilometers, in a range of years from 1900 to 2010, on days within a year, and for hours within a day.

There is an immense opportunity to apply the promise of big data to environmental intelligence across virtually every economic sector. Set alongside RMI’s Reinventing Fire report, we may find that the demand for that environmental intelligence is accelerating at a surprising rate.

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