One of the easiest ways to save money and energy in your house was made possible when Warren S. Johnson invented the electric room thermostat in 1885. More than 125 years later, his namesake company, Johnson Controls, remains committed to sustainability in building efficiency.
Mechanical engineer Clay Nesler has worked for Johnson Controls for more than 30 years and is the company's vice president for global energy and sustainability. A co-inventor on 10 patents, Nesler is now responsible for energy and sustainability strategy, policy, and innovation, and the Johnson Controls Institute for Building Efficiency.
He has traveled the world speaking from Capitol Hill to the European Parliament and in such major forums as the Clinton Global Initiative, the U.S.-India Energy Partnership Summit, the World Climate Summit (Cancun, Mexico), the World Future Summit (Abu Dhabi), the U.N. Climate Change Conference and the U.N. General Assembly.
What do you say when people ask you, "What do you do?"
I am saving the planet for fun and profit.
What new idea or innovation is having the most significant impact on sustainability?
The emergence of software applications to help manage sustainability is starting to have a large impact.
Johnson Controls, like many companies, started using spreadsheets to track our energy use and emissions inventory. When you manage sustainability for a global enterprise with hundreds of facilities around the world, a spreadsheet doesn't really cut it. We are now able to manage our sustainability data on an enterprise basis and can even compute the energy, water, and waste used per unit of manufacture at each factory on a monthly basis.
What is even more exciting is the use of technology to integrate real-time data from different systems, visualize the data in customized dashboards, and then identify opportunities for further reductions. Within our own facilities, we have seen great potential to leverage these technologies to continuously improve our sustainability performance.
What's something that most people just don't understand about your area of expertise?
Most people believe that sustainability costs extra and that you are trading off financial returns for environmental or social benefits. In the area of energy efficiency, it is clear that you can achieve all three of the "triple bottom line" returns from a single investment. Energy efficiency investments in buildings are like bonds producing double-digit returns with the earnings (energy savings) guaranteed when implemented by a credit-worthy energy service company.
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What's an emerging trend that you think will shake up the sustainability world?
I am really excited about supply chain emissions reporting. I know that it is going to be challenging, but I think reporting direct and indirect emissions provides an incomplete picture of a company's total environmental impact. We are in a business that makes products that require more energy to manufacture but result in significant energy reduction through use. As we sell more of these products, our direct and indirect emissions increase (which looks bad on the surveys), but the planet's overall emissions decrease dramatically. We need to account for the total impact across the entire life cycle of products and supply chain of companies in a more rigorous and standard way.