This "Sustainable Jew" column originally appeared in the Canadian Jewish News March 17, 2011
I was recently in Israel to represent the company I am currently on contract with, and to speak at a renewable energy conference in Eilat, co sponsored by the UJA Federation of Toronto.
As part of a delegation, put together by Canada's National Research Council, I wanted to understand the current Israeli state of mind with respect to energy conservation and advances in renewable energy. At the same time I was tasked to determine if there was an opportunity to expand my client's energy consumption benchmarking software to Israel.
Having received no pre-briefing from the Canadian embassy, I started to assemble my own comparative study between the situation in Ontario/Canada and that of Israel.
Some of the factors I used in the comparison included a look at carbon inventories of both countries, electricity generation capacity and consumption patterns between residential, commercial, institutional and industrial users in order to establish a numerical baseline.
It was also important to develop a clear understanding of which ministries in the Israeli government had control of the various programs which would incent various stakeholders either to conserve energy or provide additional energy to the Israeli power grid coming from renewable sources.
To get a bit of a cultural grounding, I pretended to be a new immigrant. I used that perspective to gain an understanding of how the relationship between the customer and the utilities which provide electricity and water worked, at least theory.
I also looked for school based programs in Israel similar to the Ontario EcoSchools program which would teach elementary and secondary school students about environmental issues and allow them to select activities to implement at school in order to learn by experience.
When looking at the schools, it was important to establish whether the people responsible for school building operations were already measuring the total energy consumption of each school, understanding the major energy consumption contributors and then having the ability and financial support needed to execute appropriate energy conservation and/or renewable energy generation measures.
What was also critical was whether school operations had found a way to connect their actions to relevant parts of the school curriculum. Was there a way to show students not only what was done, but how the science behind the conservation effort worked. Were there lessons available to explain the economics behind the decision to implement the solution? Was there a clear connection made to help students understand how the schools actions would have an impact on the overall goal for energy conservation and renewable energy generation in Israel. Would students be inspired to come up with additional ideas and would the operations side be in a position to implement them.
However, what struck me the most was the grassroots effort in Israel to deal with these opportunities. Many Non Governmental Organizations were spending more time soliciting sponsorship, as opposed to executing against an organized plan to collaboratively bring their individual strengths together with the objective of inspiring measurable behavioral change in Israeli society around environmental impact.
Over the next few columns, I will be going into more detail on the discoveries made and how Israel and Canada compare.