presentation Daniel Pink proclaims this to be, the age of the Creatives.  The big thinkers, big picture approach will pull us through these transitional times.  They will guide us from our somewhat broken reality into a smarter, richer, and cleaner future.

Ron Dembo, has always been a big thinker.  His previous career saw him start-up and grow to be the largest enterprise risk-management software company in the world.  He’s had a ten-year academic career at Yale University, where he was cross-appointed between the Department of Computer Science and the School of Management; in addition to an excess of sixty published papers, and numerous books. These ventures have allowed him the richer, smarter future; now he’s using those skills to work on the cleaner.

Ron founded Zerofootprint in 2005.  Zerofootprint is an organization dedicated to the mass reduction of global environmental impact.  They provide software and services to individuals, governments, universities, and corporations that measure and manage carbon footprints, thus engaging employees and citizens worldwide in the struggle to combat climate change.  Their approach is three point; engage people where they live and work, offer solutions in the form of software to measure the results, and provide carbon offsets.

Yesterday Mayor Miller, activist and author Margaret Atwood, amongst others, helped to announce Zerofootprint’s latest initiative, Zerofootprint Building Re-skinning Competition.  Ron is not known for doing anything half way, and the $1 Million dollar Z-Prize speaks to that. 

This competition will have all eyes on Ontario and our leadership in the global battle to bring the carbon footprint into check; we will become the destination for re-skinning. The focus of this competition is to develop a smart, reproducible, beautiful, cost effective, energy efficient solution for the re-skinning of existing buildings. 

We know how to build new buildings with a low carbon footprint, but little attention has been paid to the thousands of existing structures worldwide that are extremely inefficient.  The statistics are surprising; these buildings are responsible for 40% of North America’s greenhouse gases; in Toronto it’s 63%, New York 79%.  To put this into perspective, SUV’s count for just 3% of emissions in North America.

Mayor Miller recognizes the gravity of these numbers and has committed to re-skin 1000 existing buildings in the GTA, 750 city-owned.  These 1000 buildings will represent a 10 Million dollar reduction in Asthma costs by 2030. 

A new skin provides another layer between these inefficient buildings and the outside.  It also allows for a less expensive retrofit.  We can retrofit as needed and simply cover the workings with a new, prettier layer.  The question of iconic structures came up.  The Empire State building for example is undergoing a re-skin, from the inside.  They are simply insulating every area possible, adding new double -layer glass with a thermal film between those layers and putting a new efficient cooling system in the basement.  They will see a 38% reduction in energy use which translates into a savings of 44 million dollars annually, at a re-skinning cost of just 20 million dollars.  This re-skin will also mean 100,000 tonnes of carbon out of the environment annually. building1Ron’s vision is to re-train and re-purpose Ontario as the center for re-skinning.  The benefits of this initiative not only do as it’s focused and reduce the carbon outputs dramatically, but will create jobs in the building, manufacturing and architecture industries. As Mayor Miller noted, “When we get creative about environmental issues, we create jobs, we do the right thing for the environment and we have some fun too.”

The Zerofootprint competition will see entries from around the world.  They are judged on aesthetics, energy efficiency, smart technology, return on investment and potential as a solution for a large number of buildings.

The winning five entries will be monitored for 3 years.  This data will determine the overall million dollar Z-Prize winner, but more importantly will be scalable to a large number of buildings and deployed globally.  It will also create new school curriculum to start teaching these skills as an integral part of our designs and lives.  A travelling exhibition of the competition will engage the global community and begin to shine the spot light on Ontario and Canada as global leaders in environmental interventions and solutions.

As we all know the seemingly small gestures, add up to a massive impact.  Deborah Kaplan, the executive director of Zerofootprint, offered me some simple suggestions that we can start now, in our own homes.  By adding window coverings, we keep our homes cooler in summer and warmer in winter.  Do an assessment of your home and insulate every area possible.  This ensures energy leakage is kept to an absolute minimum, which saves you money on your energy bill, and reduces your carbon footprint.

Zerofootprint offers a one minute carbon calculator on their site that gives you a quick and dirty tally of how you stack up.  There are also more extensive carbon managers for several major Canadian cities which allow you to enter all you data, be it car, home, or food and in turn assigns you a carbon output number.  The software allows you to track your progress and compare yourself with other cities and countries globally. 

One Minute Calculator: Personal Carbon Manager:

In his presidential campaign, Barak Obama set out a goal of making all US buildings carbon neutral or zero emissions by 2030.  Creative thinking has shown us many great changes this year, and allowed some belief in the possibilities.  The big picture is set out for us, all we need do is commit ourselves to the leadership, and allow that smarter, richer, and cleaner future to unfold.

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