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June 15, 2017

Thoughts on the 2017 Environmental Leader Conference and Energy Manager Summit

By Edison Energy

Last week I attended the “twin bill” Environmental Leader and Energy Manager Summit conference in Denver. From the presentations I took in, to the conversations we had, we will definitely return next year.

Presenters from the many attending Fortune 100 companies spoke about their resolute commitments to sustainability, highlighted examples of impressive energy cost-reduction programs and shared the challenges they face to reach their goals.

I was also struck with what was not overtly addressed: Risk. The topic seemed to loom at the periphery of the conference, with more questions from attendees than answers from presenters about the issue.

Here are my three primary takeaways from that meeting.

Corporations are Moving Full Steam Ahead on Sustainability

United Technologies, Smithfield Foods, Marriott Hotels, Caesar’s Entertainment and Owens Corning all said from various speakers’ podiums they were continuing to execute their sustainability and energy efficiency plans – regardless of recent political events. Each re-affirmed they were moving forward because their programs saved money for their corporations.

And they are moving forward. Corporate America is doing amazing things around sustainability. From innovative packaging by Disney to worm-powered water recycling by Fetzer Winery, the steps being taken are varied and meaningful, covering the gambit from energy audits, energy commissioning and retro-commissioning to offsite renewables and on-site generation. The number of presenters that referenced 30 to 50 percent savings on their energy bills (sometimes within the specific project site, sometimes across the corporation) was quite impressive.

Organizational Challenges Abound

Several presenters also discussed the challenges of aligning energy management and sustainability in today’s world. Companies like General Motors and United Technologies discussed the challenges they see in goal alignment, metrics, budgeting and prioritization of energy projects in their organizations.

Edison Energy’s very own Dan Weeden presented on the new business model of managing energy. We will be posting more about this here in the future. But his message that a new, “3rd Generation model” is needed within the extended energy teams in corporate America appeared to resonate well with the audience.

Clearly, many were interested in how to become a Chief Energy Portfolio Officer – a post envisioned by Weeden.  And even more were interested in how they could help their organizations move into this 3rd Generation energy management model. Interestingly, those representing universities and municipalities said they saw the same challenges in their institutions, with facilities managers’ goals being incompatible with those of their sustainability brethren.

I mentioned the “twin bill” of the event. This space is served by very different types of professionals. The energy managers were typically engineers and happy to present all sorts of “nerdy” things about their implementations. The sustainability professionals were more likely to have business backgrounds. And both were talking about the challenges of getting their Finance departments’ buy-in to projects (of course, they obviously got approval for the projects presented), 

Silence on Risk

I was surprised how few speakers talked about risk in their presentations. I suspect that a few years of low energy prices has led everyone to forget the impact that increases in energy prices, for natural gas and electricity, might have on their corporation’s bottom-line.

An event like this highlights the successes in energy management, rather than the failures that people may prefer to hide. The questions from the audience indicate there are very real concerns about new technologies, business models and vendors. Few of the presenters discussed their risk mitigation plans on their projects, but I suspect many had them. Again, look for more discussion of risk on these pages in the near future.

Be sure to check out Environmental Leader for the “official” report from the conference.