March 29, 2022

Sustainability Series 12: Normative Competency

As we learned last week, the normative competency of sustainability is about understanding the emotions, experiences, and priorities brought to the table by different parties in sustainability problem-solving. A sustainability problem that everyone has to face- from corporations to organizations to individuals- is the question of how to power our activities. We know that electricity generation is a huge contributor to our carbon footprint. But there is no one-size-fits-all solution to reduce the environmental impact of energy consumption. Finding the right approach requires understanding the system (and unintended consequences of some electricity generation methods), finding an integrative solution, and collaborating with other actors. Having normative competency makes all of these things easier.

Case Study: UGA Power Portfolio

The University of Georgia has a mix of fuel sources for powering campus operations. And while the University wants to reduce its carbon footprint, they must balance many different priorities along the path to a cleaner energy mix.

The University of Georgia buys electricity from Georgia Power, whose generation mix in 2018 was 46% gas and oil, 25% coal, 22% nuclear, 5% renewables, and 2$ hydropower to generate campus electricity. While the University cannot control how Georgia Power produces electricity, it can work with the company towards a more renewable portfolio, as well as increasing the efficiency of electricity use on campus so that less power is required overall. In an excellent example of the utility of normative competency in addressing power generation, UGA partnered with Georgia Power in 2015 to install a 1 MW solar array next to the UGA Club Sports Complex that generates about 1,600 MWh per year. UGA also independently installed solar panels on the Jackson Street building, providing 30 MWh to that site per year. The University has also worked to improve the efficiency of electricity use on campus, including decommissioning  a coal-fired steam plant boiler, replacing outdated water chillers, LED retrofits, and making sure that new construction is designed with energy-efficiency in mind. All of these improvements have required the school to balance budgetary needs, employee and expert time commitments, and actors’ opinions about the best path for reducing UGA’s carbon footprint.

Electricity mix at CIRT

As part of the B Corp Certification process, CIRT has begun measuring and reducing our carbon footprint. For in-house operations we are enrolling in the Georgia Power Simple Solar plan, where we pay an additional one cent per kWh to match 100% of our electricity consumption with renewable energy credits. However, as a small company our office space is on par with a small home for electricity consumption. The greater portion of our carbon footprint comes from our web infrastructure. To address this, we have migrated our cloud-based infrastructure from Amazon Web Services to Google Cloud Platform (GCP) after learning that GCP has better transparency for carbon offsetting goals, sustainability goals, and pledges for a net zero future. We can also make our web technologies more sustainable locally by employing principles of sustainable web design, which include utilizing lightweight programming frameworks and minimizing file sizes and data transfers. We have also joined, a group of like-minded technology businesses sharing ideas and progress in the greening of web technologies.