This July, ENGIE Insight’s CEO Mathias Lelievre and CCO Paige Janson will be joined by other members of the ENGIE Insight team on a two-week, 10-city sustainability tour from New York City to Seattle. Traveling by planes, trains and electric vehicles, the team will be meeting city and business leaders who are demonstrating sustainability in action. You can expect a full schedule of sustainability project tours, business roundtables and events to discuss successes and challenges, and see firsthand sustainability innovation at work. We will be sharing our experiences and what we have learned along the way on our Coast to Coast Sustainability Tour website and social media channels.
I recently caught up with Mathias to find out more about why he’s excited for the journey and how this summer sustainability road trip came to exist.
Q. What prompted the idea for this Coast to Coast Sustainability Tour?
A. Since I joined ENGIE Insight, I’ve enjoyed many conversations with clients on what sustainability means to them and the programs they are incorporating into their business strategies. I’ve learned that from solar and battery projects, innovative water reduction programs, fuel cells and proactive monitoring, to waste and EVs, businesses are leading the charge on strengthening sustainability and resource management in the United States. Much of this work has been ‘quiet changes’ and many people may not realize how much sustainability initiatives are occurring in the U.S. right now. So earlier this year, we asked ourselves, “What better way to spend a summer vacation than hopping in an electric car and going to see these impressive projects first hand?” Thus, the idea of a Coast to Coast Sustainability Tour was born. I believe that for ENGIE Insight to continue to grow and expand our sustainability services, we must fully understand and experience firsthand the state of sustainability and hear from businesses where they see challenges and opportunities. I am looking forward to getting up close and personal with as many businesses as possible during this journey.
Q. Why do you think it’s important to show the progress of sustainability across America?
A. Over the past two years, it feels like we’ve been riding a roller coaster of change. First was the Paris Agreement in November 2016, with 196 countries signing a single pledge to keep global temperatures well below a 2-degree Celsius rise, and limit the amount of greenhouse gas emissions. Then one year ago, the United States signaled they would withdraw from the Agreement. Since then, I think there have been some misconceptions about how committed businesses in America are to climate action. I believe the industry is in a state of revolution—not inaction—and since coming to the United States and ENGIE Insight almost one year ago, I have witnessed how passionate and progressive cities, businesses and individuals are in their commitments to sustainability and resource management. There is huge passion and momentum, and we are excited to see these programs and share them with the market in July.
Q. Sustainability encompasses many areas – reduced energy and water consumption, waste diversion, renewable energy, electric vehicles just to name a few. What are the areas where you’re seeing the fastest growth or change?
A. Technology innovations and creative financing models have given renewable energy a lot of traction over the past few years, which is a very exciting trend for businesses looking to reduce their carbon emissions. I also think the popularity of electric vehicles (EVs) is on the rise. However, what is most exciting and promising about the current state of sustainability is that businesses are thinking of it from a more operational, holistic sense. Rather than implementing a few projects and checking those boxes as ‘done,’ they are integrating sustainability into their entire business operations and supporting it fully from the top. They are looking at their energy, water and waste programs holistically, reducing usage and costs, and being more critical of supply chains – both upstream and downstream. Sustainability is becoming a mindset and an imperative to businesses – not merely something that’s a ‘nice thing to do.’
Q. What theme on the tour are you personally most looking forward to experiencing?
A. There are already so many unique and interesting places we’re planning to visit. A few already stand out for me:
- We’ll be visiting the most sustainable building on earth and meeting with a very special sustainability expert. I won’t give it away now, but I look forward to learning about how one building is showcasing what is truly possible in terms of green performance and resilient cities.
- We’ll meet nearly a million of Atlanta’s newest residents: honeybees! Bee Downtown has partnered with eight of the city’s largest companies to put beehives at their headquarters to make the city a more sustainable place and give a boost to the declining numbers of urban honeybees.
- I’m also very interested to visit the Brooklyn Microgrid in New York City, as it encompasses both renewable energy technology and blockchain, so I’m eager to see a real manifestation of these two concepts coming together.
Q. You say sustainability can be profitable. Is there an example of a company you’ve been following that has demonstrated this?
A. This is a hard question to answer, and that’s a good thing: that means there are too many companies to list. However, two companies in particular do come to mind. The first is Holiday Retirement, one of ENGIE Insight’s Waste Solutions clients. With over 300 communities spanning 43 states, internal management of their waste service contracts and diversion was a very daunting task, not to mention complying with local mandates that varied from one community to the next. With our help, Holiday Retirement has managed to reverse a 10-year trend of increasing waste disposal costs and reduced their waste expenses by 13 percent. Our bill data has been foundational to other sustainability programs, such as right-sizing, waste diversion and zero waste.
A second business I’ve also been paying close attention to is Target and their success with incorporating solar into its energy portfolio. Target has a goal to increase the number of buildings with rooftop solar panels to 500 by 2020 and is working toward a goal to be 100% renewable overall. The stores that use solar power now generate between 15 and 30 percent of their energy from solar, easing the burden on local power grids.
I would encourage everyone to visit websites like RE100, We Are Still In, and the United States Climate Alliance, which highlights companies both here and abroad that have made a public commitment to sustainability and upholding the objectives of the Paris Agreement.
Q. As the CEO of a company dedicated to helping multi-site businesses thrive using sustainable business practices, how do you invest yourself and the company in “walking the talk”?
A. I have always been very passionate about sustainability, and specifically green mobility—before becoming CEO of ENGIE Insight, I oversaw ENGIE Group’s Green Mobility Program and expanded its reach globally. I am very invested in the transportation industry’s movement towards sustainable practices, from the larger onslaught of EVs in the market to technological trend of creating autonomous vehicles. Those two will be a revolution in the way we think about our mobility. I am also very excited to see how solar will continue to develop.
Also, since I joined ENGIE Insight, we have been more focused on our own actions and doing a better job of “walking our talk”. Just this past year we performed internal waste and water assessments to uncover new efficiency and diversion opportunities, including composting, LED lighting, space heating and purchasing practices. From this we established a company-wide waste diversion program with a baseline goal of 84% diversion and implemented a composting goal which will divert more than 30,000 pounds of food waste.
Q. You’ll be spending many hours on the road traveling. What’s on your road trip playlist?
A. I must admit… I love rap. So that’s definitely on my playlist, but I’m not sure it will fly with my other road trip colleagues for two whole weeks! I also heard you can’t experience a true American road-trip without listening to some classic American rock.
Q. You’ve been living in the U.S. for almost one year now and have traveled extensively, but will this trip take you to any place new? Where are you looking forward to visiting the most?
A. Overall, I’m excited to experience the classic American road trip for the first time and see parts of the country from the road, which I have not yet had a chance to do. This will be my first time to Los Angeles, so I’m looking forward to visiting that city and seeing Hollywood. Chicago will be a bit of a “blast from the past” since I spent time as an intern in that city, so I’m looking forward to revisiting it and enjoying an authentic blues club.
The #C2CSustainability Tour kicks off July 9th in New York City! Follow us on Twitter and LinkedIn or visit http://view.engieinsight.com/c2c for more information on sustainability themes like blockchain, solar, IoT, and yes, even bee’s!