Question Everything

By Emily Artale and Hillary Dobos

In the television series, Cosmos, Neil deGrasse Tyson explains that one reason science works is because science requires that we question everything. And, through this process we uncover the truth. As you embark on new sustainability and energy projects and programs we encourage you to apply this practice in your search for the most effective, economic, and sustainable outcome.

As more and more people demand sustainable solutions, we see an increase in the number of sustainability options offered by a variety of private, government, and non-profit organizations. It can be overwhelming. How do we know what is a legitimate offering and what is too good to be true? Our proposed answer: QUESTION EVERYTHING. And, while you are at it, document everything.

For we all want a more sustainable and low-carbon planet, but no project, no matter how enticing, provides a 100% guarantee of project performance. One of the best things that we, as project managers, can do is to educate ourselves so that we may understand the projected performance and the implications of project risks. Furthermore, it is our responsibility to ensure that:

1)   Project performance is based on sound and realistic assumptions and assumptions are clearly defined and documented;

2)   Our expectations for project performance are reasonable and clearly communicated and understood by all direct stakeholders; and

3)   Performance risks are properly identified in the beginning of a project so that we may be adequately prepared in the event that a modification occurs (for it most likely will).

Consider applying the following quasi-linear approach when evaluating the reasonableness and effectiveness of new or relatively new programs and projects.

As you develop and implement new programs to improve your sustainability and the sustainability of your community, we encourage you to ask lots of questions and do not stop until you get clear and definitive answers. Create a legacy document for future staff by documenting your questions and the responses. Identify performance risks and understand the implications if such issues were to occur while preparing your staff for the impacts. Clearly communicate this process with your direct stakeholders to set expectations and to get buy-in from the group. As required, this process may need to be repeated.

No matter how attractive a project may seem at first it will only be as successful as shown by its performance after the project is completed. And in some cases, we may not understand a project’s performance until a year later.

To encourage the success and development of sustainable technologies, programs, and projects we need to be sure that our programs are robust and transparent. We can accomplish this by using one of the fundamental principles of science – question everything.

Not sure which questions to ask and/or which responses are reasonable and align with general best practices? Contact us: or“Questioning everything” is our job.


Visiting the Energy, Utility & and Environment Conference in San Diego, February 2015? Be sure to connect with Emily Artale while you are there. Emily will be participating on an NREL panel of industry experts to present on community solar gardens. She will demonstrate how you can apply the practice of “questioning everything” to uncover the risks and opportunities of solar gardens. 


Emily Artale is Principal and Owner at Lotus Engineering and Sustainability, LLC. She has been working in the industry for nearly a decade and she has a background in energy management, sustainability planning, and water quality. Emily helps teams develop action-oriented solutions that will improve efficiency and integrate sustainability into current processes. She received her undergraduate and graduate degrees in environmental engineering from the University of Colorado at Boulder. She is a Colorado native and spends most of her time outdoors with her family.

Hillary Dobos is Principal and Owner of Merrill Group, LLC. Hillary brings both expertise and creative thinking to working with clients which she draws from her experience as a consultant advising public and private clients throughout the United States, as well as the one tasked with embedding sustainability throughout a 25,000+ person organization (Colorado State Government). Hillary earned her B.A. in Art History and Economics from Bowdoin College in Maine and her MBA from the University of Colorado-Boulder. Hillary was born and raised in Denver, Colorado, where she currently enjoys life with her husband, son, and moderately trained canine, Mr. Smiles.

Disclaimer: The information presented above is based on the opinions and experience of the authors. The authors are not liable for any errors or omissions in this information. The owner will not be liable for any losses, injuries, or damages from the display or use of this information.

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