Achieving Substantial Sustainability Goals: You might be doing better than you think

By Hillary Dobos and Emily Artale

Many sustainability professionals have inherited far-reaching sustainability goals that they did not create or they have aligned their goals to meet national goals such as the Better Buildings Challenge with little understanding of how to actually achieve their goals. This can pose an intimidating proposition that can result in entities giving up on their goals because they are seen as impossible to achieve. However, before giving up on goals or setting less lofty new ones know that there are many external trends that are already helping you and you might be doing better than you think.

Greenhouse Gas Reductions: Utilities Might Help You Achieve Your Goal

Due to increased (actual and projected) regulations, cheaper renewable energy and natural gas, and grid improvements the CO2 emission factors for electricity have reduced almost universally across the US. Therefore, when calculating your GHG emissions for electricity you will most likely see a decrease in emissions over time even if your electricity use remained constant or increased slightly. Sometimes this CO2 emission factor decrease is so substantial that an entity could meet much of their GHG reduction goal based on the reductions in the emission factor alone. For example, Xcel (Colorado subsidiary) reduced their CO2 emission rate per MWh generated by 22% between 2005 and 2013 and expect to see a 35% reduction by 2020 compared to 2005. Therefore, an entity with facilities in Xcel’s territory will experience a substantial decrease in GHG emissions even if their electricity use remains constant. 

Renewable Energy is Cheaper and Easier to Purchase

Historically, many entities have shied away from purchasing renewable energy to meet their goals because of procurement costs. However, due to large leaps in technology, tax benefits, new financing mechanisms, and competition renewable energy is quickly becoming or is already cost effective. See our past blogs An Overview of Solar Power Procurement Options, Increasing Transparency of the Solar Garden Process, and Renewable Energy Credits (REC): A Review of the Basics and Questions to Ask before Utilizing RECs as a Way to Meet Renewable Energy Goals for a review of how to purchase renewable energy.

Cars in the U.S. are more Fuel-Efficiency than Ever

Almost every year the United States hits a new record for fuel efficiency. This is driven by consumer demand, new technologies (hybrid vehicles, lighter vehicles, gasoline direct injections, etc.), international competition, oil prices (current and expected), and strict new fuel-economy standards.  As such, many fleets have become fuel efficient without even intending to and, as with electricity CO2 emission factors, this universal increase in efficiency has led to reduced transportation CO2 emission factors.

Normalize Data: Don’t be penalized for success or growth

Many goals do not take into account growth (population, employees, building stock square footage, etc.). Without normalizing goals for growth an organization can be unfairly penalized for success. For example, if a company’s building stock grows by 20% during their energy reduction goals timeline they will be unfairly penalized for this growth unless they normalize by square feet.  While we still encourage an overall reduction in resource usage, if a company or public entity is having trouble meeting their goals, it is important to see if some of this is caused by growth. If so, normalize the data and you might not be as far away from your goals as you had thought.  

If you are trying to set, achieve, or calculate your sustainability goals, we are here to help. For more information please contact us at or


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.


Emily Artale, PE, CEM, LEED AP 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, sons, and moderately trained canine, Mr. Smiles.