Smart Energy Voices- Episode 92

Smart Energy Voices- Episode 92

DEI Impact Awards Part 1

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At its recent Net Zero Forum, Smart Energy Decisions hosted the 2023 DEI Impact Awards, recognizing large power users’ company-wide efforts to advance diversity, equity, and inclusion while powering the energy transition. This two-part series will celebrate the winners of these awards and highlight their efforts. The DEI Impact Awards were sponsored by NRG.


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

  • Energy-saving programs for public housing in the US [02:05]
  • Funding opportunities for public housing programs [06:39]
  • Expanding access to energy programs [11:38]
  • Inclusivity in sustainability efforts [16:28]
  • UTRGV’s emphasis on DEI [17:52]
  • Mentorship and sustainability in higher education [20:55]
  • Diversity, equity, and inclusion impact at NRG [30:39]


Sustainable programs for housing

For the last 30 years, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has been using Energy Performance Contracts to allow housing authorities to retain a percentage of savings for energy efficiency initiatives. Savings through energy conservation measures can then be used to finance or pay the debt for implementing new energy measures within a bundled project. This program is being overhauled to make it easier to use and provide more opportunities for housing authorities. 

Because of the newer programs available, funds can be applied to other energy initiatives rather than having to be returned to the Treasury. Applying for programs offered by the Energy Branch has become easier with the introduction of online submissions and simplified rules. The focus now is to make such programs more accessible by communicating with housing authorities at the local level and sharing information with other industries. These efforts are helping to create awareness about the programs and their benefits. In the last two years, rate reduction incentive program requests have increased by 68%.

Mentoring for sustainability

The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley’s Sustainability Fellowship Program is a research-intensive initiative involving faculty and graduate students working collaboratively on sustainability and energy-related projects. The program focuses on mentorship and has received internal support from the Division of Research and the provost.

Working alongside professionals allows students to graduate with an incredible source of knowledge. Many students have a specific degree that may be connected to the environmental sciences, social sciences, or economic development, but they wouldn’t have an opportunity to work with other systems. With this mentorship program, students experience the impact of working with all three systems on a problem and creating a sustainable solution.

NRG and DEI Impact

NRG defines authentic and effective DEI efforts as ones that make a concentrated impact. One example is cultivating a space for people to share and discuss their perspectives, such as business resource groups, or reevaluating the evolution of the employee journey. Every element is purposeful so that the organization can collectively be what it aspires to be. NRG is determined to actively participate in its community and make a positive impact. The company wishes to ensure that employees feel heard and valued and remain an essential part of the actions and good work NRG is doing. 

The focus on DEI at NRG began in 2019 when it was elevated as one of the company’s core values. This decision was essential to becoming an organization where people can bring their full selves to work and be met with respect, acceptance, understanding, and celebration of their differences. This decision aimed to formally convey the significance of DEI internally and externally, emphasizing DEI’s role in fostering a thriving corporate culture and supporting business excellence.

Connect with Jennifer Brunelle

Jennifer leads positiveNRG, NRG Energy’s charitable giving arm, focused on creating a positive impact for employees, customers and communities. The program is reflective of the company’s values by empowering healthy choices, enabling community resilience and supporting environmental health. PositiveNRG establishes long-term relationships with non-profits and organizations that help our communities to flourish, co-creating a better future for everyone.


Connect with Marianella Franklin

Marianella Franklin is the founding Chief Sustainability Officer at The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, leading the institution's global sustainability efforts with 20 years in higher education. She is responsible for and focused on improving sustainable development and organizational effectiveness in education, research, operations and global engagement. Since she established the Office for Sustainability in 2009, Marianella has accelerated institutional progress in academics, educating the next generation of professional leadership, driving interdisciplinary sustainability research, and creating outreach opportunities with businesses, non-profit organizations, policymakers and the community.

Marianella’s drive for transformational change with diverse projects and programs has considerably reduced UTRGV’s institutional waste, water and energy use; including effective and efficient best practices for day-to-day office activities, procurement, and both student and employee commutes. Marianella’s guiding leadership and integration of these sustainable efforts, in collaboration with and across virtually all the institution's departments and activities, has and continues to conserve resources, producing substantial cost savings each year while reducing the university’s overall GHG Emissions by 25% thus far.

Marianella’s leadership has helped launch various programs and centers that include: the UTRGV - International Center for Sustainability Across Curriculum; The South Texas Industrial Assessment Center; Sustainability Fellows, Scholars and Internship programs and assisted in developing new interdisciplinary undergraduate and graduate programs in Energy, Engineering, Entrepreneurship, Agriculture and Environmental Sciences. As an industry advocate, Marianella has shared her knowledge by lecturing at numerous conferences and seminar-based programs. Marianella is a member of the International Society of Sustainability Professionals (ISSP), Climate Change Professionals (CCP), American Institute of Architects (AIA), USGBC, and a LEED-accredited professional. Marianella holds a BA in Architecture from the Universidad Autonoma de Nuevo Leon, and a Certificate in Sustainability Leadership from The University of Vermont.


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