An interview with Katherine Hammack, Green Business Certification Incorporated
As part of its series “The Business of Climate Change,” which highlights the climate views of business men and women throughout the state, The Invading Sea spoke with Katherine Hammack, director of special projects for Green Business Certification Incorporated and former assistant secretary of the Army (Installations, Energy, and Environment).
Here are some highlights from the interview.
For people who may not know, what is green building and why is it important?
Green building really started, I would say, in the 1990s when we worked on “what is the definition of a green building?” It’s more than just a recycling can in your waste area.
Green buildings take into account how you use energy, how you use water, the materials in the building, where the project’s located, renewable energy—there’s a whole lot involved in a green building that really looks to the environment and ensures the building can fit into the environment in harmony with the environment.
What special projects are you working on currently?
There’s two programs that I’m working on. The first is called RELi, which is resilience certification for new construction—how you can build a building to be more resilient in the face of the challenges that we see coming, and certainly surging seas or rising sea levels is one of those challenges that many areas are already seeing.
The second program I’m working on is called PEER, and PEER works on microgrids—resilience and reliability and microgrids—which are new strategies for distributed-energy solutions, where if the main grid goes down, you’re still able to operate. Or the grid that services your building is more resilient and reliable so that it won’t go down.
But we are seeing hospitals, transit systems, airports, and many other buildings really evaluating whether they want to produce their own power for periods of time. And as we see the costs for renewable energy drop, and the costs for battery or energy storage drop, resilience in your power system is just as important as resilience in your building.
Your past work with the Army had a net-zero focus, not only with energy but with water and waste as well. How can these concepts be applied to communities here in Florida?
They can be applied almost anywhere. Net-zero energy is where you make as much energy as you consume on a daily basis. So for instance, in my house, I just had solar energy installed and energy storage, battery storage, installed, and there’s going to be periods of time where I’m going to be able to operate completely independent from the power grid.
I will use as much energy in my home as I’m able to generate from renewable sources. That’s net-zero. Net-zero water is where you consume as much water as is injected into the same water stream or aquifer as you’re drawing water. So where are you getting water from, and where is it going when you’re finished with it?
And too often we’re seeing potable water, desalinated water, that maybe needs some more filtering or some treatment before it could be reused as potable water, we’re seeing it put into the ocean where it becomes salinated and it’s much more difficult, much more energy-intensive, to recover.
So net-zero water keeps desalinated water desalinated so that you can use it in that environment at much lower environmental cost.
Net-zero waste is reducing or eliminating the amount of waste that goes to landfill. Because I think of landfills as future archaeological digs. Someone’s going to go into it, you know, centuries from now, and look at the kind of waste we had, what we threw away, and what could be recycled. I’ve even seen some companies start up that are mining landfills for metals or rare earth materials or other materials and reusing them.
So Net-zero waste is looking at materials as you buy them and reducing your amount of waste stream. In doing it personally, I’ve gotten down to one trash can a month and I think you can do that.
And so we all need to think of what our contributions are to the environment. Is our power generating adverse air quality? Is our water consumption 10 times or 100 times greater than the world average and we’re putting our water back into the salinated seas? And are we dedicating land to landfills for our waste products instead of putting them to a healthy use for agriculture?
Do you believe a carbon tax is needed?
Carbon tax is an interesting strategy in order to motivate industries to become more sensitive to the emissions characteristics. And so part of a carbon tax also has a thought that [some tax dollars go back] to the communities and goes back to the individuals. And we’re seeing it tested somewhere, so I think there’s a lot of viability in a carbon tax.
What can state legislatures like ours here in Florida do to help local governments and residents in regard to sustainability and resilience?
I would start with energy. I always look at energy first and ensure that you have net metering so that if individuals produce more energy from their local solar systems, they can put it back to the power grid to help others.
I think we also need to take a look at water. I think water is undervalued and we need to look at the whole water cycle. In many cases, it’s allowing rainwater capture so that can be used in a greywater system. So you’d flush your toilets with rainwater instead of treating water to drinking-quality standards and then using that drinking water to flush your toilets.
So I think greywater systems are something that we really need help from in the regulatory environment to handle. I think decentralization is something that we’re going to see. We’re all going to become more responsible—need to be more responsible—for what we do in our daily lives because it does have an impact.
Kevin Mims, a Florida-based freelance journalist, is the producer of “The Business of Climate Change.” He conducted this interview with Ms. Hammack.
“The Invading Sea” is the opinion arm of the Florida Climate Reporting Network, a collaborative of news organizations across the state.