Sustainability: A Better Investment Than Stocks

September 27, 2012

We’ve actually known this for a long time. It’s actually cheaper and more profitable to do the right thing.

Tyler Elm and Jim Harris in HuffPost:

It is surprising just how big is the “sustainability” opportunity is.

In just the energy efficiency (EE) field McKinsey & Company estimates that $2 trillion can be invested in EE by 2020 with an internal rate of return (IRR) of 17 per cent. To put that into perspective: that rate of return is better than investing in the stock market or in real estate over the long-term — the two investments we’re always told give the best long-term returns.

The net effect would be equivalent to cutting the need for 64 million barrels of oil a day — about one and a half times today’s entire U.S. consumption.

In a separate McKinsey study, “Reducing US greenhouse gas emissions: How much at what cost?” shows that 40 per cent of the CO2 emissions reduction strategies are highly profitable. Jon Creyts, the US McKinsey partner in charge of the study, notes that if these profits were re-invested in the next least-cost solutions, the U.S. would achieve all of its Kyoto reductions at no cost to society!

It’s important to note that these two studies come from one of the pre-eminent management consulting firms worldwide — so business leaders should pay attention.

Amory Lovins, the founder of the Rocky Mountain Institute, and one of the world’s leading energy efficiency experts, has documented how North American firms could cut their energy use by 70-90 per cent using existing, proven, practical technology — all in a way that profitable.

Here’s another surprising one: if every roof worldwide was white, it would eliminate $2 trillion of carbon emissions. Black roofs are the industry standard. Because black surfaces retain the sun’s heat, on a hot32°C day a black roof will be 88°C while a white roof will be 43°C — a staggering 45°C cooler. And where do engineers put the air handling equipment? Yes, on the roof! So fresh air is being drawn in at 88°C and having to be cooled to a comfortable temperature. On installation there’s no difference in capital cost between a black and a white roof, and on resurfacing there is no cost difference. So imagine being able to save $2 trillion for free!

We could triple the efficiency of Ontario’s electric grid by using combined heat and power (CHP). Conventional power plants, whether coal, gas or nuclear vent two-thirds of the energy as waste heat. By contrast CHP — also known as co-generation or district heat — uses this “waste” heat to heat buildings. This increases the efficiency up to 90 per cent. Denmark generates a staggering 54 per cent of it’s power from co-gen.

13 Responses to “Sustainability: A Better Investment Than Stocks”

  1. rayduray Says:

    McKinsey & Co. must be on a reputation rehabilitation campaign. A few years ago they proved that the stock market can be very, very lucrative. For insiders.,_Anil_Kumar,_and_Rajat_Gupta_insider_trading_cases

    I’ll admit to being more than a little jaded about advice or projections from consultancies. Though in this case the “facts” presented by McKinsey seem entirely believable. And certainly in keeping with my view that we slothful Americans who constantly praise “efficiency” do so in a highly hypocritically fashion because it is grotesque waste and inefficiency that is the primary driving engine of our capitalist system.

    As to Combined Heat & Power (CHP) I was living in California when that state converted to an open market system for electricity via the California Independent System Operator. At the time, I had a friend who was an engineer for Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E), one of the utilities that was forced into bankruptcy by the machination of the Enron crowd and their marketing madness.

    What my engineer buddy pointed out to me was that co-gen, co-generation or CHP has been broadly endorsed by a large number of California industries since the 1980s while the old school utilities such as PG&E, SCE, SDGE and other private for-profit electric utility monopolies fought CHP/co-gen schemes on every front and most effectively before the Legislature and the C-PUC. Their claim was that CHP would bankrupt them because they needed stand alone generation stations such as San Onofre, Diablo Canyon, Moss Landing, etc. if they were to remain profitable. So an entire industry was set up on the basis of squandering energy to power stand-alone power generation stations because the electric utilities were adamant that no California industry should generate power on its own premises. The very notion of feed-in tariffs if say, a Central Valley dairy were to use biogas to generate power and heat was anathema to the utilities.

    My point in writing all this is to say that there is no practical reason that the vision of McKinsey’s sustainability argument is wrong. I’m only trying to indicate that it will be fought tong-and-hammer by the troglodyte utility industry which sees its profitability lost if America were ever to become less than extravagantly wasteful.

  2. andrewfez Says:

    Not just white roofs – Super Therm Roofs. Super Calk, Super Base and Super Therm are the way to go:

    Super Therm blocks like 95% of the sun’s energy, helping countless big businesses around the world save energy, but it also has the equivalent of R-19 insulation which also blocks heat from getting out in the winter. It’s tons better than just a white roof. Google it and read the studies, applications, and money savings, then watch the YouTube videos on it.

    • rwegrzen Says:

      Here’s something else to read as well – an FTC complaint filed against one of the manufacturers of these ceramic roof coatings:

      Click to access crcff_ftc_vs_kryton_coatings_ceramic_claims.pdf

      Acrylic white roof coatings perform as advertised. The ceramic claims are wildly inflated.

        • andrewfez Says:

          OK, my bad: I hadn’t thought about Super Therm for months, and should have done some refresher info gathering before I made some of my claims, which after re-reading are misleading.

          Super Therm does have a University of Florida test (I don’t think it’s independent; I think the manufacture funded the test, but U of F designed and performed the test) and lots of Asian market before/after examinations of electricity bills and roof/interior temps. I haven’t read the U of F test, but I think Super Therm did a tad better than the white paint control regarding blocking solar radiation.

          The R-19 equivalent claim is where I gave bad information. SuperTherm does not work as an efficient conductive insulator at temps near what we have on the surface of the earth. There is a Bob Villa video where they paint Super Therm onto the middle section of a metal plate and Bob or someone holds one exposed end of the plate while the other exposed end is heated with a blow torch. There is some enthusiasm that the holder’s hand isn’t burnt to a crisp. Apparently Super Therm is an efficient ‘conductive’ insulator at temps of extreme magnitudes, but does nothing at ‘normal’ temps. One fella’s explanation for this is that is as follows:

          “Thus the first effect of the white ceramic paint is to simply reflect away much of the incident solar heat load- not “insulation”, per se, but cuts off the problem at the source.

          [In outer space there is no convection because there is no air- and insulation is relatively heavy and expensive to launch (which is why NASA pioneered featherweight aerogels). And most of the heat comes from solar radiation, which can be dumped into the vast coolness of outerspace. Thus the NASA heritage for SuperTherm].

          The unique quality of a white ceramic coating is the ability to emit heat as infrared light, so it radiates away energy before it enters the wall system. Such radiation follows a “T to the fourth” equation, which means the radiated power at 3000 degrees is (3000/300)^4=10,000 time more effective than at 300 degrees. (BTW 300 degrees is room temperature on the kelvin scale, the right temperature to use in the calculations).

          This is why the hot torch on a metal sheet was so easily diverted- the very high temperatures under the flame are very efficiently radiated away before conducting down the thin sheet (and thin sheets are poor conductors to begin with). Conduction, on the other hand, follows more of a “linear in T” equation, and is more important at lower temperatures. Like where we live and work.

          So the dramatic demo of a hot torch is great theater, but not particularly relevent to curtain wall construction.”

          From the site:

          So the R-19 equiv. claim can only be adjudicated as follows: It blocks the sun’s radiation and keeps an otherwise large heat load from occurring on the roofing members, which if such were allowed, would have to be blocked by R-19 insulation to own the same effect inside the home, regarding temperature.

          I totally blundered by saying it would lock in heat in the winter. The only way it could lock in heat, were if it were painted inside a room, and then it would only block IR radiation being emitted from a source or radiating sink (like a piece of furniture warmed by normal means). It would not, however, act to slow the conductive loss of heat through the wall of the room. In fact it might block the walls from becoming sinks in the face of an IR source, though how much of such is offset by conduction is another story. (So when one had their space heater on in a Super Thermed room, they might be snug, but once the heater was turned off, no more ‘insulating’ effect would occur and it could get cold fast.)

          Thus painting it on one’s roof would have no effect on heat retention in the winter. I think I was remembering a advertisement picture from the Super Therm sight that has IR heat being blocked from escaping the inside of a house. Also I was faintly recalling another of their products, which when painted onto pipes and such, is supposedly designed to act as an insulator, though don’t quote me on that.

  3. rayduray Says:

    Sweden, leading the way to Green Innovation:

  4. Better then stocks, Hi bid gets an island on eBay. Florida Atlantic intracoastal waterway private can be yours. Bid now on ebay until Sept. 30, 2012 here’s a link,,

    • andrewfez Says:

      There should be some sort of award for spamming a climate blog about purchasing an island that looks like its only a few feet above sea level and is right next to the Atlantic Ocean in Florida. Ain’t you heard? Ain’t you seen the sea level projections for the next 100 years?

      I’m gonna give a clue here. If you want to sell your island, you’re gonna have to spam these guys: They’ll buy the island out of spite against the IPCC.

  5. rayduray Says:

    Off Topic

    “Nemesis” breaks UK land speed record for electric cars:

  6. kinimod Says:

    This is all fine and well, but IMO the bottom line is the emission price. It’s not all the price, there is also lacking knowledge, the I-do-what-the-Jones’s-do-factor, attention focus distraction, plain habits and the like, also market distortions like described by rayduray, but the single most important factor is the GHG-emission price.
    If you turn that knob, there will be are real change always immediately. And this is why we see a lot of schemes and activities all over the world, e.g. here in Europe, which all avoid this decisive lever, meaning they are all more or less excuses and whitewashing.
    But for the time beeing, information like the one in the cited studies is very important to spread.

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