Palo Alto: A Case Study in Sustainability

A soup-to-nuts example of how a municipality can adopt sustainable practices in a way that's ultimately beneficial for the bottom line.
  • Transcript


Question: How did you help the city of Palo Alto develop a plan for sustainable practices? 

Amit Chatterjee: The city of Palo Alto is about a 60,000-resident area. It is a unique municipality in that it also owns its own utility. So, the breadth and depth of what it does actually enables us to really provide a comprehensive view of a multinational organization but within the confines of a 60,000-resident municipality. 

With the city of Palo Alto, what we chose to do was look at the comprehensive deployment of Hara Solution. So, there are four modules to Hara. The first is called, "discover," which is, know the size of your footprint. Right? So if you consider in a conceptually a car, you look at your rearview mirror to identify where you’ve been. That’s roughly what "discover" does. 

The second—the next three phases—are "plan," "act," and "innovate." Those are generally what you call going forward ideas. Right? You drive out your windshield. So, "plan" allows you to look forward to where some of the issues are, "act" is actually the activities that you’re doing to identify the best ways to lower greenhouse gas management, to lower your wastewater, and to lower your solid waste outputs. And "innovate" is as things change, new alternative energy technology's going to emerge, rebates for incentives from the federal government or municipalities, or states come available. You want to ensure that you’re using the best practices. Also, as new success stories come out. If someone else in another region, let’s say in Spain suddenly deploys a solar panel farm, a solar farm, that actually generates higher return on investment, than they had seen previously, you’d want to be able to access that best practices content. 

So the notion was that city of Palo Alto knew that they had to go through the "discover, plan, act, and innovate process." So what they first did was they drove—they looked at the rearview mirror. They wanted to understand what their baseline footprint was. How had they done over a number of years and what was the opportunity that they saw going forward? So they wanted a forecast of where they would be under assumptions that city of Palo Alto is going to grow to “X” amount of residents, therefore they were going to consume “Y” amount of resources. 

So once they created that footprint, they could now begin to actually identify what they do next. That is where they moved into the plan and act stage where they actually distributed the notion of a carbon budget to each department inside the facility. That meant that they would look at the police department, the fire, administrative services, etc., and allot them not only a financial budget, but also a carbon budget, and energy budget. And so these are how many kilowatt-hours you have, or this is how much CO2 you could actually deploy. This allowed them to identify a very complex set of strategies that they’d want to move out.  

My favorite story actually is one that is probably the most sort of simple, but highlights the type of change management behavior that sometimes can occur when you start to just think differently around the environment. When the city of Palo Alto was thinking about this, "How do you find ways to reduce energy?" the Chief of Police actually looked at it and saw the canine unit and realized that the air conditioning was on. He realized that if I could turn off the HVAC and put on fans, the dogs would see no change, but I would no longer have to be reliant on HVACs to cool that system. That actually turned out to be a very successful project and they actually saw a return on investment by simply moving out that story. But you can visually picture those wonderful German Shepherd that served the city continuing to remain cool in the summer months, but there’s no HVAC system that’s generating CO2s into the environment. 

The city of Palo Alto seen from about anywhere from $600k-$800k in savings on an annual basis using our platform and that’s allowed them to be able to continue to innovate on the future series of where they’d like to go forward.

Recorded on May 19, 2010
Interviewed by Jessica Liebman