The convergence of energy, tech, and sustainability

The Convergence of Energy, Tech, & Sustainability for Better Business

Last week, I spent two exciting days in Austin, TX as an attendee of Fortune Brainstorm E, an invite-only conference hosted by the team at Fortune Magazine that focuses on energy, tech and sustainability for better business outcomes. WeSpire was originally introduced to this event in 2012 as part of Fortune Brainstorm Green’s Cool Companies competition, where top start-ups pitch to venture capitalists.

The event’s legacy as the top sustainability, business, and green investing conference got a makeover this year with the strong focus on the role that energy plays as a key driver of global innovation and business challenge.

“Companies worldwide are navigating an epic business revolution driven by new sources of energy, disruptive technologies, and environmental pressures in a world slated to grow to 9 billion people, from 7 billion, by mid-century. The stakes are high, the risks are palpable, and the opportunities massive.”

Fortune Magazine

As it does every year, the event attracts the top CEOs, policy makers, investors, sustainability leaders, and innovators in the space. Topics range from “So you want to start a clean-tech company” to “Where is Washington?” to “Engaging Sustainable Consumers.” Considering WeSpire’s focus on helping companies engage employees in their organization’s positive impact, the two conversations I found most interesting were the “Zero-Energy Corporation” and “Tapping into the Millennial Mindset" (to be featured in Part 2 of this post).

The Zero-Energy Corporation

The Zero-Energy Corporation discussion breakfast featured several CEOs and sustainability leaders including Bill Weihl from Facebook [also a WeSpire board member], Hugh Welsh, Pesident & General Counsel for DSM North America, and Joe Costello, the Chairman and CEO of Enlighted. The topics covered were vast, with a focus on the benefits and challenges of achieving gains through energy efficiency, the move to renewables, and the importance of aligning incentives to drive progress. Hugh Welsh shared that a significant portion of the executive bonus at DSM is based on hitting sustainability goals. Erin Decker, of Renewable Choice and formerly at Salesforce.com, observed that signing a contract for renewable energy can be easier for an organization than trying to achieve alignment and focus on energy efficiency internally, given organizational complexities and diffused ownership. Although, most executives in the room agreed that getting energy down through efficiency tactics is what made renewables more doable.

Joe Costello highlighted that a critical aspect to improving energy efficiency was providing ample financing, as most organizations do not want to allocate their capital budgets to sustainability relative to new product innovation or other initiatives. At one point, the topic turned to the importance of these initiatives in relation to employees, and that’s of course, the topic near and dear to WeSpire’s heart.

The conclusion expressed was that employees are a significant stakeholder, both in creating a Zero-Energy corporation and in terms of driving the organization in that direction. We wholeheartedly concur. Here at WeSpire, we know that organizations trying to achieve zero-energy goals need to build awareness among employees about what actions can drive the greatest impact and then provide positive feedback and recognition when they take those steps. But most importantly, we also see the impact on overall employee engagement rates from companies that have engaged employees in these goals. Employees appreciate having a voice, making a contribution, and feel more engaged about the positive impact their efforts are having—especially millennials.

Millennials have been a frequent topic of conversation in the past few years, as more and more enter the workforce and force change in radical ways. The complexities and opportunities posed by this demographic will be the topic of my next post, Changing corporate America's mindset about Millennials in the workplace.