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ESII Tool Unveiled!

Yesterday, at the GreenBiz Conference in Scottsdale, Arizona, the ESII (Ecosystem Services Identification & Services) Tool was introduced to the world.

The ESII (pronounced “Easy”) Tool is the result of a collaboration between Dow Chemical and The Nature Conservancy. They’ve been working on it since 2011. Our involvement has been in the past year. It’s a project we are very excited and proud to be a part of.

The ESII Tool has the ability to transform the way businesses view the environment. That sounds like a lot of hyperbole, but for the first time ever, there is a comprehensive tool that allows businesses to identify and measure the benefits of nature on the land that they own. Not only does it give businesses the opportunity to see what is currently there, but it gives them a planning tool to play around with alternative scenarios. 

To find out more and to download the free iPad app, go to esiitool.com.

Congratulations to everyone who worked so hard on the ESII Tool!

https://twitter.com/molnar_jen/status/702663529103405056

We are Golden!

Sustainability at Work GoldGold Certified for Sustainability

We are very excited to announce that The Gartrell Group has been Gold Certified through Portland’s Sustainability at Work program! This means that we have gone through their certification process and met all of the criteria to warrant a Gold Certificate. We actually enjoyed the certification process – the Sustainability staff were great to work with and the endeavor provided some valued opportunity to reflect on our work practices and their environmental impact. Check out their program if you haven’t already. A few notes on practices and results that figured into our certification follow.

A Green Team!

Our office space incorporates natural light in such a way that it is rare for us to turn on lights, and when we do, they are of the compact florescent variety. Our staff saves money and energy by brewing our own pots of delicious Portland roasted coffee and pouring the life giving nectar into their favorite, reusable mugs. We drink the best water in the world, straight from the Bull Run Reservoir in our favorite pint glasses - that happen to be sitting on our desks when the day ends and the laptops and other electronics are tucked in for the night.

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Our (work) world exists almost entirely in the digital realm, however, on the occasions when we do need to produce hard copy, we attempt to use 100% post-consumer recycled paper to the greatest extent possible. We compost food waste and use exclusively green-certified cleaning products assuring not only a clean work space but one free of environmental toxins. We have also implemented and formalized procedures to track and measure our recycling and “tip volume” of garbage/waste.

Through the certification process which included an on-site audit and interview, some of these metrics have been given a finer point and have become more prominent in our thinking.

Bikes and Gettin’ Around the Green Way!

No less that 25% of our staff commute by bike daily. Of course they do, we live in Portland! Our building has covered, secure bike parking as well as shower and locker facilities. In addition, we have an office bike available for use. Any meetings held in Portland are generally ridden or walked to. Riding across the bridges together as a team is far more fun than piling into a car and looking for a parking spot!  When work demands commuting between offices, we have incentives to help employees opt for greener transportation modes – we’ve standardized the bus, bike, train routine for getting to and fro to Seattle clients and our ImpactHub shop which shares many similarly enviro-conscious amenities and attributes with our Portland office. We’ve also been known to challenge each other to participate in various “green” commuting competitions and programs, the more playful or absurd the better.

Recycling Electronics!

Our developer Ben and his three monitors.

Like any modern office, we use a lot of electronic equipment (most of our staff rely upon multiple monitors, and we develop applications for use on mobile devices). While we try our best to extend the lifespan of these goods, there’s only so much we can do. Once the time comes to retire electronics, we find proper homes. Electronics have been donated as well as recycled (and maybe a few have been dismantled by our children, in an attempt to understand what makes them work).

A way of life

Meeting the City of Portland’s Sustainability at Work program at the Gold level was not an onerous challenge, as the recommended sustainability best-practices were, for the most part, pretty well embedded in the daily habits and routines of our staff. Growing consciousness and increases in recycling, composting, riding bikes, favoring hybrid cars and alternative means of transport, and generally monitoring energy use are observable trends in our company culture and extend to people’s private lives as well. Iron Eyes Cody clearly had a deep impact on how we live our lives.

We expect that other businesses might have a similar experience, but would also find the process rewarding, as we did, for the light it sheds on things that could be done better or small changes that could be made that could have a large cumulative impact. We encourage our peers to give it a go and hope for us all that more and more businesses will take pride in sporting the cool “Sustainability at Work” seal.

 

 

 

 

Building an ecosystem services software solution for Dow and The Nature Conservancy

Two Unlikely Partners

esii_partnersSeveral months ago, we wrote about our involvement with a project that has brought together two seemingly unlikely allies: Dow Chemical and The Nature Conservancy (TNC). These two organizations, working with guidance from EcoMetrix Solutions Group (ESG), have spent the better part of the past four years developing a program called the Ecosystem Services Identification and Inventory (ESII) program. The collaborative effort seeks to quantify the value of environmental reforms. The ultimate goal is to provide tools to help companies track and consciously improve their environmental stewardship.

Our Role

An integrated software solution is the centerpiece of the ESII program. Our team was brought in to help shepherd the ESII Tool from vision to reality.  We have collaborated with TNC, Dow, and ESG to design and build a software system that allows users to define and track their natural resource assets and to score their individual and collective environmental benefits. The tool allows for the tracking and valuation of nature in a manner that is analogous to how companies have traditionally worked with capital assets in their business operations.  Users are provided with tools that help them develop and refine property management and enhancement strategies by exploring alternative management scenarios and their associated scorecards for ecosystem services and functions.

An Ecosystem Services Software Solution

esgOur team has built a software package that includes a front-end iOS application (targeting iPads), coupled with a web tool and that harnesses a connected series of ecological models. These models are used to take inputs from the iOS app and compute scores that are presented to users of the web tool. A process that used to take months can now happen in minutes!

We’ve been in the development and testing stages since the spring. Throughout the summer and fall, we have progressively released editions of the solution for review and field testing by team members. This agile approach to software development allowed us to test, fix, and refine the functionality in chunks, and to work out what would be the optimal approach to meeting functional requirements and to provide the ideal user experience. This process resulted in some major refactoring of some of elements of the software (the survey component, for instance, got a major overhaul based on tester feedback).

iPad app

The ESII tool iPad app is the main tool for field work. With it, users can go out into the field in order to define and characterize areas of a property in terms of observed ecosystem services and functions. The main part of the tool is a survey, where users indicate the types of habitat, vegetation, surface conditions, and other data that helps give an inventory of the properties current ecology. In addition to the survey, the iPad app allows users to draw new map boundaries around parcels, or edit existing maps. They can also take photos and add notes and other media.

Because so much field work is in areas without connectivity, we built the iPad app to allow the user to work even when they are not connected to the Internet. The app will download the maps and survey data into its cache for disconnected editing. Once the user gets back into network range, their work is synced with server resources (see “Web Tool” below) and their peers iPads. This is a key requirement for anyone doing remote work.

Web tool

The field data gathering starts with the web tool that we built - on the AngularJS platform. With it, users setup the data gathering projects (we call them Data Collection Efforts, or DCEs) and then, once the DCE is complete, run QA/QC on data gathered in the field. Once they’ve completed the QA/QC, they run the data through a series of ecological computation models.  Processed results are presented in reports that basically represent an environmental scorecard for the property.

Users may then use the “alternative analysis” functions of the web tool to create “what if” situations.

  • What if we remove this parking lot and replace it with a grassy meadow?
  • How does “scenario 2” compare with “scenario 3” in terms of carbon sequestration scores?

The web tool allows them to create such a scenario and then see how it impacts the scorecard. Using such a tool can inform changes in land management regimes and then allow companies to monitor the actual results and track progress according to defined metrics.

Models

An example of the type of ecosystem services scores reporting found on our web tool. We can present the data as charts, or a symbolized map showing values.

Within the web tool there are complex models that take field-gathered inputs and use them to develop scores for properties in subsection and in total. Scores range across a variety of metrics related to a defined list of ecosystem services and functions.  In particular, we are looking at the “regulating services” which consist of:

  • carbon sequestration and climate regulation
  • waste decomposition and detoxification
  • purification of water and air

The models themselves have been progressively developed and refined over years and through many field trials by experts at Ecometrix. In the past, using the models to produce scores was a tedious and largely manual task that involved a long sequence of data transformations and format conversions; it required great care, meticulous attention to detail, and great patience. Depending on the size and conditions of a field collection effort, the typical turnaround time, from data collection to viewing results, could range from weeks to months. By automating and deploying the models in private cloud infrastructure, we’ve turned that process into a single-day operation; go out in the field in the morning to collect data, and by the afternoon, have the results.  The models themselves can now process field inputs in a matter of seconds.

Version One!

There is now light at the end of the tunnel(!), as we prepare for a Version 1 release at the end of December. Our initial users will be Dow employees who will use the ESII tool (as it has come to be known) at Dow sites worldwide. Their use of the tool will start the process towards helping Dow realize the goal of the Ecosystem Services Identification and Inventory program; to help the company save money by enacting environmental reforms. Their use of the tool will also help us as we build Version 2, which is slated for adoption by other companies keen on realizing the benefits of making measured progress in tracking and enhancing their natural assets.