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Tech Savvy
Tech Savvy writer Stephen Lacey is senior editor at Greentech Media. Previously, he worked as a reporter/editor for Climate Progress, and was an editor/producer with RenewableEnergyWorld.com.

Improving employee engagement with a mobile nudge

By Stephen Lacey
Digital app from Nudge Rewards bridges the gap between management and workers.

Employee engagement, a term coined in the early 1990s to help measure satisfaction in the workplace, has taken on new meaning in the digital age.

The reason: the ubiquity of mobile devices, which now gives companies limitless ways to interact with their employees. While constant connection can be a driver of stress, this new link between workers and employers is driving an increase in employee engagement – and, in turn, sustainability.

In 2015, engagement “exploded onto the scene” as the top priority for companies, according to researchers at Deloitte. In a survey conducted by the consulting firm earlier this year, 87 per cent of corporate executives said it was their most important goal. And now countless startups are rushing in to fill the need.

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The future of cities: from social sciences to data standards

Forward-looking cities are beginning to use data to support city goals and objectives.

The “city of tomorrow” has been an object of fascination throughout history for artists, futurists and architects.

As the centre of rapid change, cities are commonly used to imagine how society will be influenced by new technologies. The design archetypes are numerous: the floating city; the bubble city; the space city; the vertical city; and, more recently in the era of environmental awareness, the eco city.

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A CoClear approach to lifecycle analysis

CoClear helps companies reduce emissions more affordably than traditional approaches.

In the late 1960s, Coca Cola pioneered the idea of a ‘lifecycle analysis’ by becoming one of the first major consumer-facing corporations to review the environmental impact of materials used in its containers. But it took rival PepsiCo to take that lifecycle analysis to the next level.

Seven years ago, with public and investor interest in carbon accounting on the rise, Pepsi undertook its own mission to map the resource intensity of its Tropicana orange juice.

The company turned to Christoph Meinrenken, a mathematician and physicist at Columbia University who had shifted his attention to environmental engineering. Meinrenken and a team of engineers at Columbia were working on a new technique – called “fast” lifecycle analysis – for measuring resource use, carbon emissions and supply chain costs. Pepsi was intrigued, so asked for Columbia’s help.

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Tech savvy: eRespond

Can startups like eRespond bring fresh ideas to utilities?

Utilities in North America are facing an aging problem on two fronts: aging infrastructure and an aging workforce. Can a new generation of entrepreneurs and engineers help utilities address both?

The Canadian Electricity Association estimates Canada will need to spend nearly $294 billion by 2030 to upgrade old equipment and accommodate more distributed resources. The American Society of Civil Engineers says the U.S. needs a $94-billion upgrade by 2020 in order to modernize its grid. Meanwhile, in both countries, more than half of the utility workforce is nearing retirement age.

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Tech savvy: Ecova

By Stephen Lacey
A software company serves up sustainability management as a combo.

Fast food restaurants can only do so much to cut calories from their sandwiches. But with energy con­sumption 10 times greater than av­erage commercial buildings, they can always do more to reduce their kilowatt-hours and fuel use.

That’s what executives at Arby’s Restau­rant Group figured out in 2012 when they reviewed yearly expenditures and saw that electricity and water were some of the sand­wich chain’s biggest controllable expenses. But even with that knowledge, the company had no comprehensive plan to reduce re­source consumption across its hundreds of company-owned restaurants. Executives on the financial side of the business were talk­ing a different language than the employees managing the stores.

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Tech savvy: Local Motion

A new company helps companies manage their fleets using the sharing economy.

As the sharing economy expands, consumers now have seemingly endless options for borrowing cars, bicycles, housing and furniture without the hassle of ownership.

Sharing is becoming second nature to consumers armed with mobile phones and constant connections to the Internet. But it’s not just limited to individuals.

Collaborative consumption is also becoming more important for large corporations looking to make their operations more efficient and less costly. Some of the products used by companies are a natural extension of the web: document sharing, project management tools and sales software are just a few. But sharing is also extending to physical assets.

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Why big data is going green

Data centres are notorious energy hogs, but more are realizing that energy efficiency and profits go hand in hand.

The “digital universe” is very similar to the physical universe in its construction. There’s the matter we can easily see: computers, mobile phones, television screens and software. But behind every text message, embedded video, streaming song or recorded television show lays a vast network of data unseen by the physical eye. It’s like the “dark matter” that scientists believe makes up most of space. The digital universe, coined by the consulting firm IDC, is expanding at an astonishing rate. The firm’s latest estimates show a 300 per cent increase in data creation by the end of the decade – growing from 1.3 trillion gigabytes to 40 trillion gigabytes.

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Utilities under threat

How distributed energy is changing North America's power sector

For a glimpse at the legacy of yesterday’s electricity business, one can travel to the Southeastern U.S., where two massive nuclear reactors are being constructed at the 2,400-megawatt Vogtle power station in Georgia.

When completed, they will be the first nuclear units constructed in America since 1979. But getting them built is the problem. The expansion, which will consist of two 1,100-megawatt generating units, is 14 months over schedule and nearly $1 billion over budget. It could be 2018 before either reactor finally starts feeding the grid.

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Cleantech & Obama: Round 2

Just how much Obama's administration can accomplish depends on his willingness to flex his executive muscles.

The 2012 election season proved just how much Americans support cleantech. Case in point: Solyndra. After the solar manufacturer went bankrupt in September 2011, renewable energy became an election-year flashpoint. Because the Obama administration had put so much stock into the cleantech sector as a job creator and economic driver, the failure of a high-profile solar firm that received substantial backing from the government was a perfect opportunity for opponents to attack the president.

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Obama’s energy report card

By Joe Romm and Stephen Lacey
Joe Romm and Stephen Lacey from the Center for American Progress review the President's clean energy record.

Grading President Obama on his clean energy policies is no easy task. Ask a conservative, and they’ll say Obama has invested far too much in the industry. Ask a progressive concerned about climate, and they’ll tell you he’s done far too little.

Outside of those lenses, it’s important to keep in mind that this Administration has done more to lay the groundwork for a clean energy revolution than any other president in history. However, a number of major factors have dragged Obama’s grades down. Some of them are a direct result of the Administration’s actions and others are just market realities.

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