Chris Gammell's Analog Life

Analog electronics and everything else between 1 and 0

The Sustainability/Renewable Energy Jumble

I get it. Some of you out there don’t give a hoot about sustainability. I figured that out when people started unsubscribing from email subscriptions to my post feed. Sure, it could have been people switching over to an RSS feed reader, but it coincided with my posts about the Sustainable Cleveland 2019 summit (I may have gotten carried away with the writing).

For a while I was writing only about analog stuff, electrical engineering stuff and workplace stuff. To be honest, when the recession hit it was difficult to think of much else; when our security feels threatened (job, personal or otherwise), we revert to more basic creatures. It’s funny that we care most about the environment (the population as a whole) only when there is nothing  wrong with the economy. That is, if you don’t include gas prices; it seemed like we definitely felt threatened at $4 a gallon for unleaded. Anyway, I focused a little more on the electrical side of things whereas this site started out more on the renewable energy side of things.

And then I had the opportunity to attend the summit and it was really great. I met some awesome people and really got to see a side of Cleveland I never thought I’d see. It renewed my interest in renewable energy applications/technology and got me excited about the prospects of working on it in Cleveland. But I wasn’t completely satisfied with the summit. I found my experiences a few weeks later at a wind energy talk with Larry Viterna of the Great Lakes Energy Institute to be much more satisfying. Sitting and discussing the technical issues involved in a renewable energy system is much more appealing to me than going out in the community and rallying support for the idea (though I definitely understand the importance of doing so). I always feel that I am getting more done when I discuss the technical aspects of a project than the logistical aspects; it is not realistic to ever ignore one or the other, I just feel that I can contribute more to the technical side, due to my interest.

As a result of all of those experiences, I think I figured something out: I am much more interested in renewable energy and the technology behind it than the sustainability movement and working on how best to implement the methodologies. I completely agree with the concept of sustainability and try to lessen my personal impact by improving the energy efficiency of my house and changing my personal habits. However, I view sustainability as a management field whereas I view renewable energy as a technological field (a simplification I’m sure); right now, I am much more interested in technical matters than management matters.

As for the jumble of sustainability and renewable energy talk on this site and others, it’s important to realize they are different topics, yet intertwined. One cannot exist without the other: sustainable businesses require low cost, non-polluting power and renewable energy has greater demand when sustainable companies want a renewable source of power. As such, I plan to write only about the renewable energy topics, unless there are implications with sustainable business/life practices.

So while I do not plan on going out and knocking on the doors of businesses and homes to start pushing them to adopt sustainability practices, I do want to relay why I think they are important. Moreover, I want to point out the concepts I would embrace when I start my company (someday in the future). And even if I was completely detached from the business world, I feel that the benefits of adopting sustainability are relevant in my personal life and can have some serious implications for the future.

  1. It saves you money — The zero-waste concept is a powerful one; it also can save a ridiculous amount of money for you or your business if you properly plan an execute a plan of action. If you don’t have to pay for waste removal, don’t have to pay extra for unused raw materials and possibly even get paid for recycling some of your spent resources, you can save or net a significant amount of cash.
  2. It makes you less of a burden on the planet — This point doesn’t have any immediate benefits, but makes sense. Look all around you at every living thing: they all give back to their environment in some way. Humans aren’t great at matching this performance, but there is a movement to begin consuming less and being less of a burden on the planet.
  3. It’s not hard — Yes, you will have to watch your production processes and make sure you aren’t unnecessarily creating waste. Yes, you might have to pay a little bit more for clean energy from the electric company or have renewable energy capability installed at your facility/home. Yes, you will have to recycle instead of sending it to a landfill. But once the mindset is in place it becomes second nature.
  4. It saves you money — I can’t stress idea enough. Sustainable business practices make money. That’s why you see corporate giants like Walmart joining the party and delivering added value to their shareholders.

I plan to continue to focus on renewable energy research and applications, as it is where my greatest interests lie in the whole scope of the sustainability movement. I know there are many many more components that I will not be able to contribute to as a leader but will be able to adhere to as an ecologically concious citizen. What do you enjoy more? The renewable energy side of things, the sustainability side of things or none of the above? Let me know in the comments!


  1. I like the idea of sustainability, but I like the idea of saving money even more. In Ottawa, there’s a toilet replacement program so that if you replace your old 13 litre per flush toilet with a 6 litre of below one, you’ll get a $75 rebate. If you get a home energy audit, the provincial and federal gov’t will kick in another $150 for your new low flush toilet. Given that you can get a new 6L toilet for $150, one can actually make money by replacing toilets at home (of course, you do have to pay for the home energy audit). Now that’s incentive!

  2. Both sustainability and renewability are important. I can’t imagine an engineer objecting to sustainability b/c sustainability is about increasing efficiency. Something that is very efficient assuming unlimited cheap energy might not be efficient if all the costs of energy are taken into account. The world wants door-to-car service for all and food from distant locations, and it can’t happen without finding sustainable (efficient) use of energy.

    I have been to renewable conventions full of people who write grants, sell policies, lobby politicians, finance projects; where I feel like I’m the only one who actually knows the first thing about the basics of energy. I wholeheartedly agree with avoiding such events, unless you have a specific need such as capital to expand a business. There’s no point in going where politicians, bureaucrats, and salesmen go to talk to each other. Those people have a boondoggle somewhere every week you could go to, while engineers don’t get together as much.

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