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Commercial property maintenance dilemma  RSS feed

 
Josef Theisen
Posts: 236
Location: SE Wisconsin, USA zone 5b
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I am the maintenance supervisor for a complex covering 110.45 acres of land with almost 1,000,000 square feet of retail space. It's a good job and, if I could go back to the blissful ignorance of my days believing in the future of the status quo, life would be great. However, there are a lot of things I do in the course of my duties that make my brain hurt and my soul weep.

Every morning starts with cleaning up the detrius of modern life, which I won't go into great detail about but can get pretty gross. The cleanup involves a street sweeper with 2 diesel engines and a gas blower, and we spend about 3 hours at it every morning. About 80% of my job involves water. 1/2 the time I make water go away, as in maintaining extensive drainage systems and retention ponds as well as snow removal. The other 1/2 I am putting water down, mainting irrigation and fire sprinkler systems, and hand watering. At home I pat myself on the back for saving a little energy. Then I come to work and throw the switch on 178,230 Watts of exterior lighting and turn on electric heaters to keep pipes from freezing in uninsulated mechanical rooms with 20' cielings. After close to 20 years in operation, there is almost no soil on the property. Acres of green grass and tortured trees are kept alive with chemicals and fertilization. I think of it as a 100 acre hydroponic setup. The excess fertilizer drains into the ponds which then are treated for algae growth with chemicals that prevent the pollutants from being cleaned up by plants. It's enough to make a person crazy.

I am not trying to bash my employer. These are standard practices, at least in the US, no different than any other type of commercial development I have seen. I just want everyone to know where I am coming from when I propose some questions. I am sure you can imagine the inner discord I am subjected to daily as a permie making my way in this bass-ackward enviornment. I would love to hear suggetions or especially find examples of permaculture in action on large commercial setups. Do you know of any examples? Do you have ideas about how your local shopping centers could do things differently? I am open to all suggestions, though I won't even try to sell an idea unless it can be made to look good in dollars and cents.

I have already made a couple of attempts at personal redemption for my role here. My passionate 2 page memo on why we should start an on site composting facility fell on deaf ears. Oh well, I wasn't expecting any kind of promotion anyway, so why not be a wierdo. Suprisingly though, my boss sounded interested when I suggested that we cound save money by converting the area around one of our retention ponds from lawn into native prairie. He thinks it might be a good idea to do during a highway reconstruction project slated for 2019. It's far from a done deal. I will need permission and assistance from the local fire dept. to do a controlled annual burn in the city. I will need the blessing of the local planning department. I will need some assistance in planning the seed mix. I was thinking of trying to add swales on contour and cutting the drain pipes back so they flow into the swales instead of directly into the pond. Lastly I will need to put all these details into an awesome proposal and sell my corporate overlords on it.

I have enough time, and it would be so worth all the effort if I could make just one positive change to business as usual. So I also want to ask for suggestions and input on this particular project. As well as ask the question; Could you see yourself donating a day or a weekend to building swales on a commercial property?
 
Dale Hodgins
garden master
Posts: 6685
Location: Victoria British Columbia-Canada
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Hi Josef. I see that this thread has sat for a year. With most commercial properties, the owners are quite concerned with public perception. They want to look like they're doing the right thing and for Joe public to have a positive image of that place. As you know, completely artificial green space is part of that.

They are unlikely to respond to pleas for conservation on any grounds other than money and image, since that leads to money. The place where I see the greatest opportunity to save money, is with the elimination of ponds in favor of rain gardens. Cattails and other plants will gobble up excess nutrients. There are input costs in maintaining the ponds that would be greatly reduced if a natural leach pit replaced each of them. These things have gotten lots of good publicity, so they'll be able to wrap themselves in a green flag while saving money. There would be savings in both water and sewage costs. Ponds come with some risk to children and others. Savings on insurance cost could be part of selling this idea.

The other biggie is lighting. Search out the best LED choices and present the long term cost reduction.

Those heated pipes could probably use more insulation. Properly insulated pipes seldom require heating.

In this thread, I show some of the improvements being done in Victoria. Some of this stuff saves the city and business owners money. All of it tends to give the public a positive view of how they're handling environmental concerns. http://www.permies.com/t/28372/community/Good-Happening-Community
 
Josef Theisen
Posts: 236
Location: SE Wisconsin, USA zone 5b
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Thanks for the reply Dale,

The ponds are built according to a slew of strict specifications required by local government, so converting to rain gardens would be quite a battle. I have taken it upon myself to replace failing fixtures with led lighting whenever I can, and insulate where possible, but I feel very limited by overall design of things. The pipes I am talking about are kept warm by heating the large rooms they are in with electric wall pack heaters.

After a recent round of firings, the main (unspoken) message I am getting from the corporate overlords is "keep your head down, don't make waves, don't spend money and be grateful you have a job."

I am grateful, without it we couldn't keep the bit of land we are trying to work.
 
                    
Posts: 238
Location: AR ~ozark mountain range~zone7a
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I think the whole position from the management point of view of converting a dedicated commercial facility, into anything conservative of natural resources has been and will continue to be 'no'. This commercial entity at it's core is resting on the same roladex of excuses against environmental responsibility, that far too often in this country at least, has been and will be the normal operations practice: geared toward commercial production, environment be damned, except that required by law, even to the point of overlooking various laws.

Enter the fairly new notion of 'industrial carbon offsets' http://www.carbonneutral.com/knowledge-centre/carbon-offsetting-explained/

Now for the fun part, because it is nearly impossible to change the stubborn management point of view, would not it be in your personal interest to keep your job, but also become part of a green community that would include you & your personal green operations at home or ranch? At least if you become organized within a green community, that actually offers the carbon offset to the industrial sector...this seems to be the direction of the day. In this way at least, you can support your personal determination to do something. And if your green operations are within the rules, your management decisions do become viable to the environment, and most importantly the heavy commercial entities must pay for that conservation work.

Don't expect the governments to be consistent in the future with industrial carbon offset enforcement, nor justice, nor law. However I think creating or joining such a green coop and getting paid for your conservation management practice is one fairly new way to actually make a difference.

For every industrial pock mark upon the natural environment, the equalization of that operation within the environment must be paid for in riches, and I think carbon offsets become nothing if not enforced to the point of a sustainable equilibrium for industrial, environment, and people.

james beam
 
Matu Collins
Posts: 1976
Location: Southern New England, seaside, avg yearly rainfall 41.91 in, zone 6b
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Oh my, I can only imagine your frustration.

Certainly money could be saved by changing the design. If you could make a well thought out case for how to save money in these areas, with figures, that could sway the management. Maybe a permie with a PDC (permaculture design certificate) would like to give it some exercise and help you.

Also, if you had a total tally of all changes, and then itemized each one, perhaps you could start with one or two simple ones and when the initial savings are realized you could have something to show. Then, if you could get a local press story about saving money and being "green" at the same time they might be receptive to future changes.
Business is run by the greedy artificial forces of "the market" so even if individuals want to do the right thing they can't. Unless it saves money or makes money, which sustainable low- input low-waste systems do!
How are things going now? Keep us posted and best of luck to you.
 
Jennifer Wadsworth
Posts: 2679
Location: Phoenix, AZ (9b)
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Josef - that must be a maddening predicament to be in. But let's face it - few of us have total control over everything in our lives and so we make the best of what we have.

There's been some great suggestions on this thread so far. You WILL have to speak to them from their vantage point - and for them, it IS about money and perception. So for the money aspect, you're going to have to get some numbers together on the cost savings of say insulating the actual pipes as opposed to heating the entire room. For perception - getting publicity for "going green" might work. Keep in mind that it takes both time and persistence to make noticeable changes within government and corporate structures - which is exactly why it's important to make a start and celebrate the hell out of even the smallest victory.

Where are you in SE Wisconsin? I ask because I am an alum of UW-Madison and they are a huge resource for studies and research that may help you out. They also have several green business models that you could use as a basis.I would start there. Madison (or as Rush Limbaugh likes to call it - "The People's Republic of Madison") has always been pretty forward thinking around issues such as those you mention. There's also a pretty good resource base around the "Triple Bottom Line" approach to doing business (essentially a green business model).

Like you - I face a similar situation but I come up against local government instead of a corporation. The former Mayor of Phoenix just came out in support of desalinization to solve all our water woes here in the SW. I would disagree and wrote him with alternative suggestions (he is actually an acquaintance of mine) and asked if he would have any public input panels around this issue. Finally heard back from him that he WILL have panel discussions and asked me who I would recommend (besides myself) to be there. I say even being invited to the table to play is a huge step forward. Finger's crossed!
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