Net Zero Forum Wrap-Up - Diversified Communications

Commercial, Energy Efficiency, GHG Emissions, Industrial, Sourcing Renewables  -  October 12, 2022

SED's Net Zero Forum Wrap-Up

Smart Energy Decisions' inaugural Net Zero Forum lived up to its promise to be the most successful event in SED history. Held in September at the JW Marriott Desert Ridge, Phoenix, the Forum featured pre-conference workshops, peer-2-peer conversations, general sessions, new sector-specific track sessions and a Supplier Solutions Center, countless opportunities to network and 450 one-to-one meetings between energy customers and suppliers to discuss the road to net zero and other sustainability strategies. 

Why Net Zero and why now? "When the goalposts shifted from renewable energy targets to emission reduction targets, the game really changed," said John Failla, SED's Founder and CEO. "With the foundation of our mission - to accelerate the adoption of best practices in energy conservation and renewable energy procurement - in place, we were able to expand to bring our community of energy and sustainability customers and suppliers together to help them develop and execute net zero roadmaps."

Following are brief highlights from the Net Zero Forum general sessions:

 Opening Keynote: “Bank of America’s Approach to Zero”

What does it really mean for a financial institution to pursue net zero? In her opening keynote, Beth Wytiaz, Net Zero Strategy Executive, Bank of America, explained, “The way we are going to reach Net Zero is intertwined with our clients and customers.” Wytiaz said, “In addition to our 2050 net zero target, we also have a $1.5 trillion target to mobilize capital towards the UN Sustainable Development Goals. $1 trillion of this is specific to the environment, so we tend to think about these two goals as being supplemental to each other.” The Approach to Zero framework, rolled out in April, features five key pillars: assist, advocate, analyze, align and attest.


“Building the Right RE Strategy for Net Zero”
In his interactions with customers, Greg Kandankulam, Director, Sustainability at NRG, reports “definitely a conservative uptick in the approach and adoption of science-based targets. With impending SEC rules around 10-K reporting and disclosing climate risk, it seemed like a good time for a lot of companies to enter into the SBTi realm. We're seeing a lot of push from investors, as well as from other stakeholders, to have companies commit to those types of targets.” However, he warned, the process is not an easy one. “It’s a two-year application process. In working with our clients, we try to get all our ducks in a row within that first year and spend the next year back and forth with SBTi on a variety of material issues.”


"Peer-2-Peer Wrap-Up"
While visiting each of the Peer-2-Peer sessions, Peter Kelly-Detwiler, SED's Director of Educational Programs (far right), noted some definite similarities in the discussion among energy customers regardless of sector. "One common thread among energy customers is that the C-suite doesn't always understand the limitations of the technologies we're dealing with or even our day-to-day activities, and we have very limited resources. And yet, we are tasked with delivering on these sustainability targets." 

Michal Shepard, Director of Maintenance, Energy, and Engineering at Harris Teeter and Group Leader for the Buildings sector (far left), elaborated on this thread, noting "the distinction between goal setters and those tasked with execution. It causes us a lot of heartache." Education,  his group surmised, is key "from our level up and down as well. Also, goal setters need to be mindful of what they are committing to from a financial standpoint. They need to understand the intricate pieces that we have to put together and articulate their investment tolerance. 

Marianella Franklin, Chief Sustainability Officer, The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley and Group Leader for the Institutional sector (left), noted the importance of "having al stakeholders at the table. "When it comes to higher education. It's not just one person. We need to make sure that we have everyone from contracts and legal and procurement and facilities and the VP of Finance and his entire budget office all involved. And we must speak everyone's language. We must help everyone understand what is coming, what is out there, what is coming, and what it's going to take."
Ryan Spies, Vice President of Sustainability at Clayco Corp. and Group Leader for the Industrial sector (right), reported that Scope 1 remains a big challenge for manufacturers. "There doesn't seem to be a pathway for Scope 1 in terms of technology that's available  and the cost of that technology." Another issue is "resources - not just cash to do projects, like energy efficiency or upgrading equipment but people. That's the real challenge, whether that's bringing people that you already have on board to understand what your goals are and help you achieve them or bringing on new people to understand how to implement sustainability strategies."

"An Update from the City of Phoenix"

Mark Hartman, Chief Sustainability Officer for the City of Phoenix, explained that the city's goal and vision is to be "the most sustainable desert city on the planet. We want to continue to supply clean and reliable water, transportation efficiency, and zero-carbon transportation." He added, "We have some ambitious goals, with we have $65 million worth of electricity that we need to make carbon neutral by 2030 in a regulated market, which is really very challenging. " The biggest opportunity, from a city perspective, "is always buildings and transportation - the two areas where you want to decarbonize to become a carbon neutral city."

"SED Sustainability Update"
Alexandra Failla, SED's Director of ESG and Administration shared an update on what SED is doing to realize its sustainability goals that were announced earlier this year. "We are proud to be the first energy-focused business-to-business media company to showcase our progress across three key sustainability dimensions, environmental, social, and governance. Our sustainability strategy highlights how helping others navigate the energy transition is central to the mission and values of SED." She added, "We're extremely proud to announce that the net zero forum is SED's first carbon-neutral event." 


"Trends in Zero Emissions Mobility"
Why are decisions being made to move towards zero-emission vehicles? Meghan Weinman, Managing Director, of Transportation Electrification summarized the following trends. "First, at the federal, state, and local level, policies are forming and have already been passed that encourage, and in some cases, actually mandate that electric vehicles and zero-emission vehicles will be necessary." Second, market demand is also increasing. "Organizations and, individuals are saying, 'Hey, we have confidence that electric vehicles can be a solution for the future." The third trend is "automakers making a commitment to actually making these vehicles available. And finally, the last bucket is investment. Billions, if not trillions, of dollars are being spent in terms of encouraging the market around zero emissions. It's coming from utilities, it's coming from states, the federal government, and the private sector. And all of this is leading to cash on the table for organizations to make that transition to zero-emission vehicles.


"Keynote: Achieving Net Zero Across Cisco’s Value Chain with Andy Smith"

“Our purpose as a company is to power an inclusive future for all, and that aligns very well with our environmental sustainability goals and programs,” said Andy Smith, Cisco's Senior Manager, Global Energy Management and Sustainability, "because frankly, you can't achieve this mission, this purpose, without a healthy planet where we can all live and thrive." As a result, he explained, "we have a lot of engagement across our business units across, up to the highest levels of the company that supports our efforts when it comes to sustainability as well as our net zero journey." As part of the journey, the company has gone through the SBTi certification process. "One of their requirements is around achieving a 90% reduction as part of your net zero goal, so you can't just buy your way out of this target with offsets. Frankly, that's a good thing. It forces companies to focus on reducing emissions, as opposed to just offsetting them."

"Making Sound Business Decisions on the Road to Net Zero"

Melisa Johns, Vice President of Distributed Energy Solutions and Regulated Renewables Development, Duke Energy offered advice on how to execute a path to net zero while still making sure to take care of your core business. "When we work with customers, we first need to establish that core non-negotiable. Is it delivery of a product? What are the metrics that make you successful? Then we want to understand if you are willing to look at something different than what you've done in the past? So, for example, you know, if you've had gensets, behind the meter, do you still want to own and operate those? Or are you interested in a partnership where you could shift that responsibility to free up resources to focus on your core initiatives?  


"What Do We Do While Waiting for the Grid to Go Green?"

Brad Christensen, Vice President of PowerFolio Services, Calpine Energy Solutions, posed a question at the start of his presentation:  "What has been our journey as a nation in terms of where that grid evolution is today and where it had been in the past? Looking at 2023, the projection is that from a national perspective, about 24% of our power is going to be generated from renewable resources. When we think about that transformation, it's remarkable for a developed economy, to have seen that kind of change as rapidly as it has occurred over the last 10 years. That 24%, however, is being contributed regionally very, very differently. And so, we see a lot of differences to that US average, based on the geographies of the intensity of the carbon-free build-out." Pointing out that the West Coast, Rockies, Northwest, and California tend to be overachieving, while the Southeast and Florida markets tend to be underachieving compared to the U.S. average. "The challenges going forward going to be different, based on where we are concerned with our existing exposures."

"Women in Smart Energy (WISE) Panel Discussion"
Inspired by SED's WISE Awards, presented in March 2022, we continue the conversation on highlighting the challenges and achievements of women in energy and sustainability with our second WISE panel. Setting the stage, Shonique Banks, Director of Development and Workforce Initiatives, Philadelphia Energy Authority said, "When you talk about diversifying energy, bringing women into the space, you're really talking about creating equity and access for women that will allow a different perspective." She continued, "Equity is about intentionality in practices and policies of the culture of an institution."

Discussing the importance of mentors and sponsors, Liz Lucente, Lead Program Manager, Energy & Sustainability, Target Corp. said, "Mentors can be anyone in the industry, even outside your company," said Liz Lucente, Lead Program Manager, Energy & Sustainability at Target. "It doesn’t matter if they are older or younger - you just need to have enough rapport so they can tailor whatever golden nuggets of truth and wisdom they can share to your goals and what you want to achieve.” She added, "I love working for Target because they encourage you to find a mentor or sponsor to maximize professional development."

"Working Together in Pursuit of Decarbonization"
In a discussion with SED's John Failla, Troy Doughman, Vice President, Sustainability Solutions, Shell Energy discussed his interaction with customers. "Goals are becoming more aggressive for the companies I'm talking to. They are sorting through how to transition from measuring megawatt hours and RECs on an annual basis to now measuring carbon intensity with ambitions to tighten the intervals they are reporting with an ultimate ambition to reach 24/7." He added, "I see smaller companies, in particular, struggling with not having resources or budget. They generally don't have a load size to be able to efficiently and effectively develop a roadmap to net zero, and then deploy what's necessary to achieve it." He notes that the challenge is especially acute in addressing Scope 3 emissions." 

"What Comes After Energy Optimization? Demystifying the Steps to Achieving Net Zero"
Noting the unique challenges faced by Vail Resort in meeting emissions reduction goals, John-Ryan Lockman, Sustainability Manager, Vail Resorts (middle right) said, “A big portion is our Scope 2 emissions that are difficult to decrease on the demand side. So right now, we're currently focused on our facilities, like our hospitality properties, where we can implement energy efficiency and use data-driven opportunities to decrease our energy usage.

Susan Freed, Energy and Sustainability Project Manager,  County of San Diego (far right) discussed the evolution of the County's sustainability plans. "We started our journey to sustainability and emissions reduction in 2008." She described the initial plan as just a collection of ideas without targets or metrics. “We replaced that in 2017, with what we call our Zero Net Energy Portfolio Plan, which did have actual data-based measures.” The latest plan is one that “we're calling our Zero Carbon Portfolio Plans. Instead of focusing on energy as a proxy for greenhouse gas, which everybody has done for the past 20 years. We're now really getting to the meat of the measure, which is carbon emissions. Where is it coming from? How are we going to deal with it? Our new plan is focused on greening the grid and electrifying our buildings and fleet. That's our journey  - by 2030, we hope to have 90% of our emissions reduced”

David Adams,  Director, Operations, Climatic, LLC (middle left) noted "two sides of reporting. We have a corporate side with (parent company) Bosch. Then, for our11 branch offices across the U.S., we have to report the carbon footprint obviously because that goes to the bigger picture for Bosch." He added, "We don't have a full sustainability group at our level, and Bosch," with a mix of owned and leased buildings," which complicates the issue of collecting and reporting data.

 "When you look at steps over the next couple of years, everyone will be stepping on the scale and understanding where they need to be, looking at options for procurement of offsets," said Andrew Blauvelt, Director of Product, Atrius at Acuity Brands (far left). "But ultimately, with the demand that we'll see for renewable energy credits and such, I think you'll see more focus on what David and his team does, which is more demand side behind-the-meter optimization." He adds, "The paradigm will shift to where the ROI is much higher on actually making things better rather than offsetting. There are a lot of exciting things to come."

"Closing Keynote: Higher Education as a Catalyst for the Energy Transition with Ellen Stechel, Arizona State University"

Ellen Stechel, Director and Professor of Practice at Arizona State University - Center for an Arizona Carbon-Neutral Economy stressed the importance of collaboration during her closing keynote. "At ASU, we take fundamental responsibility for the economic, social, cultural, and overall health of the communities we serve. We aim to work very closely with the communities which is a mandate." Discussing her work with ASU's LightWorks®, she explained, "We envision a resilient and equitable energy future supported by innovations, and not just in one or two disciplines - we really do span technology, policy, law, governance, and markets. Universities are in a great position to use convening power to facilitate bringing people together with that diverse perspective, and having healthy dialogues." She added, "I like to say that we love our collaborations with like-spirited, not just like-minded people because we really value diversity. And that includes the diversity of thought. We can argue we can disagree, but those dialogues push us forward."

Smart Energy Decisions' next event is the Renewable Energy Forum/Winter Edition, set for December 6-8, 2022 at the Hyatt Regency Resort, Huntington Beach, California. Buyer registration is limited; for more information, click here. Suppliers may click here for information on sponsorship opportunities.

Note to Smart Energy Decisions readers: Following the event, SED Founder John Failla announced the acquisition of SED by Diversified Communications, a global media and events company headquartered in Portland, Maine. You can read the full announcement here.


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