Salty, but sweet…

In this season of food fascination (what with Diwali, Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, and Christmas all involving sweet and savory cuisine), we couldn’t help but notice this delicious little tidbit in the Cape Cod Times of all places.

The story describes how the Massachusetts Department of Transportation (DOT) recently announced that it had developed a new system that will allow it to deal with icy roads, using the preventive application of brine – method that is both economically and environmentally sound.

The new brine system can pre-treat roadways before the snow accumulates.

From the article:

“This is not the first time a preventative approach has been tried; for years, Mass DOT has favored liquid magnesium chloride as a pre-storm treatment. One practical problem with this compound, however, is that it has a limited working life; it can only be applied a few hours before a storm is slated to hit.

In contrast, the brine solution does not use chemicals. It also uses less sodium, and costs only 55 cents a gallon, compared with 89 cents per gallon for the magnesium chloride. When you apply between 20,000 gallons and 30,000 gallons of the stuff, as the Massachusetts DOT does every year, that cost difference can add up quickly.

But the real savings may be found in the fact that brine can be applied two or three days, rather than hours, before a storm hits. This means that, with a little bit of planning, the state can substantially reduce the number of overtime hours it has to pay to employees and contractors.”

The system, from Brine Xtreme (see their web site here) costs about $250,000 but, as a preventive measure, has the sustainable effect of reducing the salting and sanding needed, saving lives, and putting less harmful materials into the local aquifer.

The article goes on to argue for regional, multiple-town collaborations:

“(This) represent(s) yet another example of how a regional approach can accomplish more than individual towns can on their own. A centrally-located brine machine in the mid-Cape area could potentially become a Cape-wide clearing house for ice clearing.”

It also mentions – and we need to mention this for our project management readers – that the implementation of this steady-state solution (pun intended) is the outcome of a pilot project in Western Massachusetts.  So once again, we see the intersection of sustainability and project management in a very real, salt-of-the-earth sort of way!


If trash could talk…

First of all, we would like to give full credit to the Cape Cod Times for an outstanding editorial which they published yesterday.

Next, we’d like to make that available to you.

And finally (of course) we have our own editorial comment on their editorial comment.  Bear with us, it’ll be worth it!

So first – on with the editorial.  Note the highlighting – it’s ours.  Pay attention to these areas in particular.


Trash talk

Thinking green keeps us in the black

September 09, 2012 2:05 AM

Every town on the Cape will soon be paying a lot more money to dispose of its trash. Beginning in 2015, the Cape’s contracts with the SEMASS Resource Recovery facility (incinerator) in Rochester will begin to expire, and there is every indication that the charges per ton of trash from each town will more than double. Although no one likes higher bills, this looming increase is an opportunity for individuals and municipalities to better focus their efforts on recycling.

Right now, it costs Cape towns $37 to dump each ton of trash at SEMASS. Brewster, the only local community to negotiate a new contract, will pay $70 per ton. All evidence suggests that Brewster got a bargain: bids from six other vendors ranged from $78 per ton to $90 per ton. When you take into account that the Cape annually generates approximately 200,000 tons of trash, that translates into a price jump of between $8.2 million and $10.6 million per year.

When it comes to trash, the math is more than a little simple: The more trash that goes to SEMASS, the more it costs taxpayers. Therefore, anything that reduces that waste stream heading off Cape reduces the revenue stream heading in the same direction.   And yet, as simple as that is, Cape municipalities continue to struggle to increase their recycling rates.
Last year, Sandwich recognized the need to control waste costs and instituted a pay-as-you-throw policy. Under this approach, residents purchase a transfer station sticker for only $55, half the previous year’s price. They must also buy town-issued trash bags at a set cost. These are the only bags accepted at the town landfill. Recycling remains free. In general, the new system has been a resounding success. Again, the personal math is pretty direct: reduce your trash, reduce your costs.

Certainly, there are those who have tried to get around the system. Some in Sandwich have said that they now bring their trash to friends in neighboring communities who still pay a one-time fee for a sticker and then can dump an unlimited amount of trash. It remains to be seen just how much weekly trash runs might stretch the bonds of friendship.
More importantly, however, circumventing the system simply shifts the problem rather than solves it. The fact is we generate far too much trash and we treat that which we generate far too casually. One could argue that we live in a disposable society, where individual-sized packaging offers us conveniences about which our predecessors could only dream. But such convenience comes with a cost.

Perhaps it is because most of us no longer bury our trash in the communities in which we live, but we are now more removed from the consequences of our waste than at any time in human history. We can look at pictures of SEMASS, but without that direct contact, the scope of trash, and our individual role in the problem, can remain comfortably distant.
What needs to happen is a fundamental shift in terms of how each of us regards our contributions to the waste stream. The old mantra of reduce, reuse, recycle remains the battle cry when it comes to keeping the planet as green as possible. If that is not enough to prompt us to shift our attitudes, perhaps we should recognize that the same phrase will also help keep our communities out of the red.

Copyright © Cape Cod Media Group, a division of Ottaway Newspapers, Inc. All Rights Reserved.


The editorial speaks for itself, but we want to make sure you have the PM-Sustainability-Intersection twist that we are always so keen to point out.  Below are some of the lessons learned from this Editorial that you can apply in general to sustainability thinking and in particular to your projects, wherever they fit on our scale of greenality.


  1. Sustainability provides tremendous innovation opportunities.  In this case, the towns of Brewster and Sandwich took what could have been a threat and turned it into an opportunity to either innovate or negotiate savings.
  2. The fact that we are separated from our waste – not only physically, but mentally, can be a negative.  We don’t think about efficiency.  We don’t think about ways to stop generating waste in the first place.  Look to your projects with a mindset of a very closed loop and realize that removing waste (think ‘lean’ PM) from your project and ensuing operation is a good thing.
  3. Being green (or thinking sustainably) is not only about altruism, although it is that, too.  It is about moving from the red to the black.


What do you think?  How do you feel about the Editorial?  Are you getting from it the same strong messages that we see there?


A successful story of solar stimulus

A recent front-page story in the Cape Cod Times uncovered a situation where the American recovery and Reinvestment Act (the ARRA – remember that?) has been successful.  And since it involves sustainability and since the words “project manager” and “jobs” were featured heavily throughout the story, we thought we’d share much of it with you here.

Many have clamored against such stimuli, asserting that this is “big government” getting “on our backs” and riding taxpayers.

However in this case, utility-cost-reducing solar panels, thanks to the ARRA, are being installed at Cape Cod Community College.  That article – an interesting read in and of itself, can be found here:

One quote from that article, though, is what caught writer Sean Gonsalves’ attention:

“The total cost of all the (alternative energy) projects (at the college) will come to more than $4 million … an investment tax credit through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act helps make it affordable for the company.”

Gonsalves caught up with Allen Giles, president of Turning Mill Energy, the Sandwich-based company installing the college’s solar panels.

He asked Giles flat-out, does he think these alternative energy investment tax credits, or “subsidies,” are an example of “job killing” big government getting in the way of private-sector growth?

“Actually,” he told Gonsalves, “it’s the opposite.”

The section below is extracted from the article:

Giles (whose father named him after the Allen wrench) pointed out the difference between political rhetoric and reality.

“A tax credit allows successful businesspeople who have a tax burden to take their tax dollar and invest it in new projects, rather than the government giving out grants,” he said.

These sorts of tax credits, Giles explained, puts tax dollars to work directly into a project, which provides an “effective” economic stimulus.

“Traditionally, renewable energy projects were very large,” he said.

“Large investment firms invest in large solar farms and large wind farms because they get paid on putting the deal together. And let’s be honest, they’d rather get 2 percent on $100 million dollars than 2 percent on $1 million.”

The stimulus bill allowed Giles’ company to bring together individuals in the local economy who had a tax burden, and instead of sending taxes owed on investment income to the Internal Revenue Service, it let them reinvest that money in renewable energy projects.

“These tax credits can be used to offset federal tax obligations. That’s putting tax money straight to work, with no overhead associated,” Giles said.

“If I wanted to do the college project before the (stimulus bill), I would’ve gone to a large investment firm. And they pretty much laugh at me because the project wasn’t $100 million,” he said.

The backstory, Giles said, is that Turning Mill used to be a company that built cellphone towers, which was a booming business up until 2006-2007.

Then the recession hit.

“We had close to 25 employees from the Cape region. But, starting with the financial downturn, we had to lay folks off,” he said.

The company had to come up with a new business plan.

They started looking at renewable energy, Giles said, because “to us, putting up a wind tower is same process as putting up cell towers.”

Giles said the stimulus bill and the commonwealth’s 2008 Green Community Act, which allowed for renewable energy to be sold to electricity suppliers, “was kind of like the perfect storm.”

“We’ve hired back a lot of the people we had to let go,” Giles said.

And Turning Mill jobs aren’t low-wage service and retail jobs.

“We’re talking about permitting specialists, engineers and project managers. Also, we were able to hire our own crews — electricians and laborers,” Giles said.

The best part, he said, is that Turning Mill is diving into the local labor pool.

“We’ve found the local pool to have tremendous experience in this line of work,” he said. “We are the poster child for taking advantage of thoughtful legislation.”

Imagine, if the community college trained the specialists, engineers, project managers and electricians of tomorrow, helping to stave off the economically harmful demographic trend of young people leaving the Cape in search of jobs.

Of course, to understand the Cape’s economic interests clearly, we have to cut through the stormy rhetoric and see reality.

So in this case – and we would imagine that –  although Cape Cod is a nice and unique place – this scenario is, or could be repeated all over the US, if people would have the long-term thinking and creativity to do what’s being done at Cape Cod Community College with the ARRA tax credits.

More jobs, more projects, more project managers, and greater sustainability.  As Michael Scott, of The Office would say, “it’s all good”.