Monday, March 21, 2011

Proteus Consulting on San Diego Daily Transcript: "Proactive, multipronged approach needed to secure water sources, experts say"

Enclosed is the link to the article where we were quoted. We sincerely hope that articles like this will generate public awareness and enthusiasm in developing Value Based Water Management solutions for San Diego and pave the path towards Water Security. Economic sustainability and prosperity can be achieved and maintained in San Diego by treating energy, water, and land use as prime security issues.

Proactive, multipronged approach needed to secure water sources, experts say (San Diego Daily Transcript)
(If this link does not work, you can email me to request a copy.)

Friday, March 18, 2011

Sustainability is to this decade as what Quality was in the 70s

The 60s saw the birth of The Quality Revolution and it took couple decades to get into the mainstream thought. Companies like Toyota and Motorola had embraced it in the 70s. They treated quality as an opportunity for process improvements rather than cost and benefited dramatically. They shot way ahead of their competitors and the latter are still playing catch-up requiring costly bail-outs from the government every now and then.

Today we are at the threshold of the Sustainability Revolution. The infancy decade for Sustainability is past, we are now on the second phase. Those who embrace it now will shoot ahead, and those who do not will fade to the background. Lip service will not be enough, this is a revolution and it calls for action, measurable action.

Companies who will derive competitive advantages from their sustainability programs will have to treat these programs as an opportunity and not simply an added cost to absorb, another risk to manage or one more regulation with which to comply with. Commitment is the key with action to follow.

Ambiguity still surrounds the term sustainability. We are bombarded with several terms - greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, carbon footprint, global warming, water footprint, cleantech, bio mimicry, eco-engineering, etc. Most companies now have vision statements that encompass Sustainability, but the leaders of these companies are usually a bit concerned and confused on how to implement these initiatives. Here are a few pointers:
  • We need a strong determined CEO to champion this cause and be highly visible to the company. He/ She sets the tone and promotes a change of thinking.
  • Next he/ she needs to install carefully selected leaders in the organization who will lead and bring about continuous improvement towards sustainability - these leaders will have to come from all sectors in the company organization.
  • Multi-disciplinary teams will have to be inspired to come up with sustainable operation ideas not only in products but also in processes.
  • Focus on integrating sustainable processes deep into the work culture of the company. 
  • Link sustainability performance indicators directly with professional growth and encourage innovation.
Sustainability is not a buzz word anymore, it's time for action. If we do not act now we only have ourselves to blame when  we lose the competitive advantage in the coming years. Proteus Consulting is committed to helping our clients achieve the next break through and surge ahead by embracing Sustainability.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Rainwater Harvesting

When San Diegans hear of Rainwater Harvesting eyebrows go up. The speaker is first labeled a left-leaning-extreme-thinker. Then the reasons why we cannot do rainwater harvesting start popping up - usually talk of perceived safety concerns of unclean water and reduction of quality of life.

Well here is how the ancient people made it work and cities lived comfortably as a result.

Note the following theme:

  1. Desert civilization - dry climate similar and at times worse than San Diego
  2. Respect - water was treated not as a commodity, but with respect
  3. Local solution - water not shipped from thousands of miles away
  4. Conservation - people used very less water per capita so everyone can use the precious resource
  5. Common purpose - everyone abides by the watershed boundaries and invests sweat equity
Yes, we can do Value Based Water Management in San Diego too. We need to will it. Rainwater Harvesting is just one such option. We can do this on a house to house level as well as on a community and regional  level. We just have to think outside the box. The water insecurity in San Diego right now is appalling with more than 80% of our water coming from outside the county. We have to move towards water security if we really want to see economic prosperity and quality of life.

On a house-to-house level, we have to install rain barrels to meet our irrigation needs. Contact your local entrepreneur for ideas and solutions.  Rainthanks is one such local micro business and they do a fantastic job. Of course, moving to attractive colorful xeriscape is a good option as well.

On a community level, we need to ask the policy makers to issue programs like this one in Oakland, CA. San Diego has a program, but it's not promoted at this time. In Brisbane, I have seen how effective these programs were. It's surely worth copying. And after this starts working, we need to start looking at harvesting stormwater in our local watersheds on a regional level to enhance our water security.

Water-Energy Nexus – It’s not a pie-in-the sky anymore – It’s happening!

Proteus Consulting is implementing the Water-Energy Nexus! We have teamed with Viridity Energy to identify avenues of energy savings at water and wastewater facilities. Our team undertakes a thorough evaluation of the use of energy resources at water and wastewater facilities and develops a management algorithm to optimally schedule energy management a day-ahead and real-time energy markets. This is called Dynamic Energy Optimization.

There are many energy auditors who review facilities and identify capital improvement projects to reduce energy usage, for example, implementing VFDs on pumps and fans, or adding efficient blowers. Usually these measures have a return on investment of two to four years with subsidies from the energy companies and the government.  Then what? Well, the Proteus-Viridity Team goes a step ahead. We help create a continuous revenue stream back to the utility by real time monitoring and management of energy use and then working the energy market.

Currently, the Proteus-Viridity Team is assisting New York City Department of Environmental Protection (NYC DEP) to enable energy optimization at their wastewater treatment facilities that treat 1.3 billion gallons of wastewater in the five boroughs of the great city.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Value Based Water Management

Value based water management is a topic that I think of often. I believe that there is an intrinsic link between human values and what humans do to the water scape. Science and technological advances have enabled us to be better manipulators of our natural environment and made our lives more comfortable. We no longer have to walk five miles everyday to get a bucket of water and enjoy acres of lush green lawns and rain forest recreation in the middle of a dessert. We have indeed come a long way from how our ancestors lived. While we have devised new ways to secure a cocooned life, we have lost our symbiotic relationship with nature. That hurts us now in more ways than we can comprehend. In some ways, I think, in spite of all the technological advances, we have become 'stupider'!

Man is a part of nature, not above it. All ancient cultures recognized this. Be it Native Americans, the Tribes in Africa and Asia, or the Aboriginals in Australia... All these cultures had the same underlying principle (or philosophy) - "Respect nature". It was this respect that also allowed them to manipulate the environment, BUT with the emphasis on not doing any harm. Living in those days meant understanding and existing in harmony with the environment rather than dominating it. Nature was not the enemy, nor was it a commodity that can be exploited for wealth and power. Nature had a value of it's own in day to day life where every living thing (and sometimes non living thing as well) were interconnected and had a special function. Plants nourished animals, animals were then hunted for food, and then when humans expired, it became food for the pants. It was the circle of life. Yes, every ancient culture truly believed in this philosophy and practiced it diligently.  Yes, they all sought to "improve" their natural world all the time, but they limited such improvements to what was necessary. The operative words here are "as necessary", and not the indiscriminate slaughter and wasteful gathering. This material life was abhorred by ancient cultures through spiritual tenets, and these tenets were very sensitive to the balances in delicate ecosystems. They recognized that adverse interference in ecosystems threatened their own existence as wells as the natural world on which they depended and of which they were an integral part.

Where are we now? We are sitting in a big luxury motor home, cruising along a highway with no destination in sight. We are not in the driver's seat, we are just a passenger. We do not know where we are going, we don't even care. We love the comfort of this padded home and as long as the truck is moving, the scenery is good, there is fuel, water, and air conditioning, why do we have to care about anything else? Well, we have lost touch with the fundamental concept that no matter how much we think we have 'grown up', our umbilical cord is still attached with nature. There is no escape, and you cannot cut it off.

A friend put it another way: "We are like a bunch of youngsters, who got high on alcohol and drugs one night and decided to rent a boat and take a ride up and down the river. We pushed the boat into the water and started paddling away. We were drunk and drugged, mind you. We passed out after a while - it was a lot of work to just keep paddling! Dawn broke, we woke up.  We realized that we had not gone more than couple yards from the shore. What? How? Well, we forgot to lift the anchor! So there we were, paddling through the night, all drunk and drugged up and imagining a beautiful scenery go by."

Every decision and choice we make comes at a cost. We have been seasoned to not look at "total solutions" but only to put the brackets where it seems to fit us the best right now. This conditioning did not happen overnight. We all have evolved from the nature-loving ancient cultures very slowly, over 6,000 years. First we started looking at nature as a resource to be exploited, primarily for community, and hence for nation building. We justified it by saying that the common good and mutual benefits ranked higher than individual self-interest. Then, slowly that cause got morphed to a spirited individualism and an appetite for a perceived profit that heightened the exploitation of nature to new levels. Land, energy, and water got colonized in political and legal institutions generating colossal conflicts and social turmoil.

Oh well, we are where we are! What can we do now? We have to reverse engineer our way back to nature-loving humans again. The first thing we need is the will to do so. That will has to come from within each individual. The pendulum has to swing back from individualism to harmony with nature. And this swing can be accelerated by the terrific brains we already have. The brackets have to move further out, from individuals to community, and then to the whole world encompassing the entire life cycle of each element. For water, we will have to look at total water management - effectively manage every drop we have and use it most efficiently while not exploiting the natural resources. We have to become more creative on how to capture, use, and reuse water with zero discharge and waste. We also have to move away from central facilities to micro / community level facilities. We have to learn to appreciate the rhythms of nature and work with it to create opportunities, not fight it.

In subsequent blogs I will lay out my vision and plan of sustainable water management that will be synchronous with the values learned from ancient cultures. It will by no means be easy, and I am not saying that you have to go to a primitive hunter-gatherer lifestyle. We have to respect nature for what she is, and not fight her, but harmonize with her. We have the brains to do it, we just don't seem to find the will.