Smart Energy Voices- Episode 74

Smart Energy Voices- Episode 74

Today's Net-Zero Challenges in Real Time

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This episode of Smart Energy Voices is a panel conversation from Smart Energy Decisions' recent Net Zero forum, moderated by SED's Director of Education Programs, Peter Kelly-Detwiler. The panel covers real-time challenges that companies face on their road to net zero. This conversation is a compilation of comments and notes from peer-to-peer discussions at the event. Peter is joined by Ryan Spies, VP of Sustainability for Clayco, Marianella Franklin, Chief Sustainability Officer at The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, and Michal Shepard, Director of Maintenance, Energy, and Engineering at Harris Teeter.


You will want to hear this episode if you are interested in...

  • Educating higher management [03:52]
  • Challenges in building sustainably [09:33]
  • Aligning the culture for success [13:07]
  • Goal setting in manufacturing [18:42]


Communicating data

A common theme in sustainability is that those setting targets need help understanding the implications. The solution is educating higher management through financial analysis and building a solid business case around sustainability. Such an analysis requires accurate, agnostic data.

For stakeholders and management to understand data, it must be either on a single platform or somehow otherwise digestible. Some stakeholders need to be able to view data in terms of sales, while others need to view it through the lens of efficiency or ROI. In the case of a supermarket - a business with a low margin - the CFO understands sales, so equating data to business sales will translate better for them. Sustainability teams need to find commonalities with stakeholders. New energy managers can build trust with the people in their organizations by choosing one or two good projects that make an impact. As energy managers build more confidence with others in the organization, they will gain more traction.

Understanding goals fully

Some of the challenges around sustainability are in the setting of goals. Someone in the C-suite or higher will set a goal without knowing what is necessary to achieve that goal. Goal setters need to be mindful of what they're committing to from a financial perspective and know their long-term investment tolerance. They need to understand the intricate pieces that have to be put together.

All the stakeholders need to be at the table regarding higher education. Everyone from contracts, legal, procurement, and facilities to the VP of Finance with his entire budget office needs to be involved. Sustainability teams need to speak everyone's language so everyone can understand the goal, what is available, and what is required to achieve said goal.  

Setting ambitious goals

Internal governance is a struggle across any industry. The push is to have science-based targets, and the science is showing that there's a lot of work to be done. However, organizations need the structure to support those efforts. Developers and solution providers must discuss options for a solution to be found. While they won't have all the answers, they can work towards figuring them out.

How does a plant change from using natural gas to using hydrogen? The solution is complex and is not even available in some markets. That type of situation is common. However, organizations can share challenges and learn from each other. Because each company does business differently, the solutions peers share will differ from one manufacturer to another. Working together means that more obstacles will be overcome.

Goals need to be ambitious enough to stretch the company. Many corporations want a safe goal that they know they can achieve. Some don't set goals because they don't want to be held accountable on the other side. The ESG or energy manager should take ownership of challenging goals in an organization. Occasionally that will mean falling short, but almost reaching a higher goal is better than reaching a low, safe goal.

Resources & People Mentioned

Inflation Reduction Act of 2022


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Connect with Michal Shepard

Connect with Ryan Spies


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