SPARK 2017 Recap: The Future of Energy & Sustainability

Andrea Duke  |  September 21, 2017   |  Data & Technology  |  Energy & Sustainability  

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This year’s SPARK conference gathered trusted minds and industry leaders to speak about new opportunities around the use cases for utility data. In these conversations, we heard echoing opinions on many hot button topics like the effects of this year’s presidential election on sustainability efforts, top-level buy-in for new projects, and new, emerging technologies that are helping to build the business case for more efficient programs.

The combination of these three topics round out what we see as the latest trends in how the future of energy and sustainability is unfolding. Check out the breakdown of these resounding takeaways:

Regardless of Regulatory Changes, Sustainable Efforts Move Forward

As we enter the dawn of a new era of presidential administration, change is certainly inevitable. And as sustainability and environmental protection efforts remain top of mind, the potential for looming administrative changes has become a reality.

But while impending changes to sustainability efforts and regulations continue to boil on the backburner for many organizations, an interesting trend has emerged in its wake. According to a McKinsey & Company national survey of executives on their views of sustainability, the national elections ranked as the least impactful factor in shaping a company’s commitment to sustainability.

In his presentation, Steve Swartz, partner at McKinsey, shared that the results of the survey showed that organizational sustainability initiatives are more often impacted by external stakeholders, technology development, and resource costs, rather than those of a legislative or regulatory nature. This falls in line with Urjanet and Lucid’s recent survey of sustainability professionals, which showed positive expectations for the outlook on energy and sustainability in the era of Trump.

With executives and sustainability professionals charging forward with sustainability projects, regardless of changes from Washington, SPARK continued to produce promising insights for the future of corporate sustainability.  

Corporate Sustainability as an Opportunity, Not a Responsibility

A widely discussed topic at SPARK was the trend of increased investments and corporate buy-in on sustainability and energy management projects, due to shifts toward the belief that these efforts are an opportunity for businesses, rather than just a philanthropic responsibility.

In his presentation, Lee Ballin of Bloomberg spoke about what he calls “Corporate Sustainability Opportunity”, or CSO, taking the place of traditional CSR.

Ballin stated that approaching the future of strategic sustainability planning should have more of an opportunistic approach than a philanthropic one. This paradigm shift has helped Bloomberg save upwards of $95 million in overhead costs by focusing on sustainability efforts as cost savings opportunities.

According to Ballin, this newfound perspective on corporate sustainability efforts has allowed energy managers to more easily obtain top-level buy-in for new programs and initiatives to reduce carbon emissions, eliminate wasteful business practices, invest in new technologies, and more. Notably, top-level buy-in is increasingly easy to obtain. Ballin spoke of Mike Bloomberg’s personal investment in sustainability initiatives as a significant factor in moving Bloomberg forward.

In a separate session, Steve Tochilin, sustainability manager at Delta Airlines, spoke of increased top-level buy-in as well. Delta’s Executive Environmental Leadership Council committed the company to carbon neutral growth by 2020, leaving mid-level sustainability managers with the task of execution. As we see growing interest and support from top management in sustainability efforts, the future of sustainability as a holistic organizational initiative is promising.

Emerging Technologies are Shaping the Course of Energy Management

According to Krystal Maxwell, Research Analyst from Navigant Research, there are a host of emerging technologies that are impacting how energy managers are able to gather and analyze data. In her presentation, Maxwell focused more specifically on the use case of building management and the rise of the IoT that is helping to transform energy technology.

As an example, Maxwell focused on IoT lighting: Technology like smart sensors that wirelessly connect to a gateway are able to send energy managers real-time data to cloud-based applications. This streaming data, compliments of a highly connected IoT-fueled “lighting ecosystem”, has dramatically shaped how energy managers are able to capture and analyze data.

Maxwell argued, however, that while IoT technologies are enhancing efficiency of data retrieval and analysis, there is still much work to be done in implementing and adopting the technology correctly — a sentiment that Rodolphe d’Arjuzon of Verdantix echoed.

d’Arjuzon said that the main roadblock to effective adoption of new technology is fragmentation between a portfolio of building, business operations, IT, and energy managers. Without the proper implementation, training, and adoption of IoT technologies, progress will stagnate.

Though these challenges will remain, and new ones will continue to arise, the future of energy and sustainability remains promising. Understanding and utilizing new technologies to not only build viable sustainability programs, but to save on overhead and operational costs, will be the key to generating a more widespread acknowledgement of the power of sustainability.

If you missed out on this year’s SPARK conference, you can check out a full recap of key takeaways here. Presentations and recordings will be posted soon.

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About Andrea Duke

Andrea is a former Marketing Communications Manager at Urjanet. She is an experienced writer and content strategist, and is passionate about sustainability.


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