The only number in sustainability is zero
By Ryan Kolar
Ask a hundred executives what sustainable design is, and more than likely, you’ll get more than 20 different answers. Most will probably talk about financial stability, others will mention the LEED certification of the building they work in, and still others will use buzzwords like “green,” “carbon footprint,” or “credits.” There is no consensus on what sustainable design is, how much it costs, or its true environmental impact.
The biggest problem is not the movement or its leaders. The problem lies in two truths: the lack of education to the masses, and that most people don’t care. Most of us are too busy taking our kids to school, hitting work deadlines and trying to plan that trip to the Caribbean to realize that simple behavior modifications can exponentially reduce our environmental impact. Take these for instance:
- Keep the appropriate air pressure in your tires (saves gas)
- Avoid bottled water and plastic cups (saves landfill space and the energy to recycle)
- Avoiding vampire draw (electronics plugged in when not being used still pull power).
Think about it. A few quarters, a stainless steel travel mug and a new surge protector, and you are helping change the world. It’s that easy.
However, the heavy lifting needs to be done by larger, more appropriate corporations.
Sustainability from the corporate level
I founded ARIISE™ the summer before applying to Northwestern. I developed its model as a student using what I learned at Kellogg.
ARIISE has one mission statement: “Change the World.” The team we’ve assembled and the Board we’ve built through the Kellogg innovation and alumni networks has set forth on a grand quest: To educate the masses on what the new sustainability is and what your place is within it.
ARIISE began as Iron Crown, a consulting firm trying to make institutions like McDonald’s, Sprint and even Northwestern listen to our sustainability strategies. We failed miserably.
“We already know enough.”
Large organizations simply weren’t listening. ARIISE changed our approach.
It was Kellogg and the strategy course led by Prof. Hubbard, the marketing classes taught by Professors Tybout and Sternthal, and the joint venture course taught by Professor Zajac that created a paradigm shift in my business model. We would never be successful as a tiny firm telling mammoth, arrogant, glacial Fortune 500s they were wrong without the ability to prove it. Instead, we focused on one of companies’ biggest costs: facilities. Iron Crown was rebranded ARIISE, and we formed three distinct divisions: architecture, consulting and the ARIISE Development Fund. We sought to create a guerrilla education campaign.
By using the Kellogg network, strategy and marketing insights, and by leveraging our teams’ backgrounds in architecture, fund management and business growth, we began building a brand. Architecture to teach, consulting to coach and the fund to grow nationally. We’ve since signed 75% of our pitches, achieved market penetration in all three divisions and are building the fund to continue internal research and development of sustainable products and solutions. With our fund, investors now have something to not only profit from, but to believe in.
We ARE changing the world.
Our clients are taught one truth: The only sustainability is net zero energy usage.
To put it another way, if a building, process or system uses only renewable energy, it is net zero. Regardless of any certifications, your home and office is not net zero. Every piece of wood, glass, steel used to build it took energy to manufacture and install. Every strategy ARIISE teaches clients reduces energy use and increases the neutrality of their project. The goal should not be some government or third-party “certification” that you have to pay to receive. Instead, sustainability needs to be the pursuit of net zero/carbon neutrality in every home, office and activity through material choice, building process and life-cycle cost.
Solar panels, small-scale wind collectors and tank-less water heaters are installations that pay for themselves. Reduction of energy leakage around doors, windows and in your building envelope can reach 40, 50, even 70% efficiency. Your company is also well served to renovate the office using similar methods. Sadly, saving money is more motivation than saving the world, but ARIISE uses that strategy to build market share and educate more and more clients.
The best thing to do is hire the right architect, developer and contractor on a new build. LEED certification is not only obsolete, but expensive and useless. Technology has come a long way, and for a little more cost up front, net zero energy use is not only possible and affordable, but ethical. ARIISE teaches our clients, partners and investors that it is possible to change the world.
Slowly, those 100 executives are all learning there is only one answer to the question, “What is sustainable design?” The answer is net zero energy use.
Ryan Kolar ’15 (EMP 98)
The son, grandson, and great-grandson of Pennsylvania steelworkers, Ryan Kolar is a graduate of North Carolina State’s College of Design and has studied at Oxford, the Glasgow School of Art and Penn. He is an award-winning architect and developer, entrepreneur, published author, speaker on sustainable practices and a blogger on start-up strategy. www.ariise.com