Thought leadership, news, and commentary from the front lines of the clean energy revolution.

We deliver real-world energy solutions today to build a sustainable tomorrow. - See more at:
We deliver real-world energy solutions today to build a sustainable tomorrow. - See more at:
We deliver real-world energy solutions today to build a sustainable tomorrow. - See more at:

Corporate Energy Initiatives Take Center Stage at 2017 Environmental Leader Conference

June 16, 2017

By Peter Bronski, Melissa Carr, and Zach Starsia

Some 400 representatives from myriad companies came together in Denver last week for the Environmental Leader Conference, hosted by Business Sector Media, the publisher of Environmental Leader and Energy Manager Today magazines. As expected, the event had a strong theme of corporate sustainability and environmental initiatives. Attendees ranged from Disney to Fetzer to Caesars Entertainment to FedEx, including heavy representation from companies that have real estate portfolios or fleets of many facilities geographically distributed across a broad range of the U.S.

This year the event included an Energy Manager Summit embedded within the larger conference. Coronal Energy, powered by Panasonic, proudly sponsored that energy track. We saw the inclusion of a dedicated track as a testament to the growing and increasingly central role energy is playing in broader corporate sustainability efforts, which typically also span water, waste, supply chain, and other efforts.

Across several days of plenary keynotes, energy manager track sessions, and sidebar conversations during networking events, several themes emerged:

Corporate leadership galvanizes: On heels of the Trump administration’s announcement just days before of its intent to withdraw the U.S. from the Paris international climate accord, attendees had a strong sense that corporations remain as dedicated as ever to assume a leadership role in the clean energy transition. They have an optimism that they can achieve meaningful impact, even in the absence of a supportive federal administration.

Sustainability has become mainstream standard business practice: While executive vision and support are still important, corporate sustainability efforts are no longer merely “pet projects” of the C-suite. Sustainability’s ties to risk reduction, corporate reputation, shareholder expectations, supply chain and competitive pressures, as well as financial and environmental bottom lines, have taken CSR efforts mainstream.

Data, data, data: Granular data—often through real-time monitoring, or at minimum, regular energy and water assessments/reporting—has become critically important. It helps to shape GHG emissions reduction goals, set science-based targets, feed quantitative reporting that circles back around to accountability (and not merely feel-good “fluff” around corporate sustainability efforts). KPIs and scorecards, both at a macro level and at the facility and sub-facility level, are increasingly common. These in turn drive best practices and going after low-hanging fruit (easy efforts with big payoff, and going after worst offenders in a portfolio to have more impact for best use of dollars).

Stronger targets: From the RE100 and 100% renewable energy targets to the We Are Still In initiative, corporations are setting stronger GHG, renewable energy, and other sustainability targets for themselves. Even companies that have previously established targets, whether achieved or in progress, are revisiting and strengthening those goals.

Efficiency is important but not enough: As a growing number of companies make public 100% renewable-energy or carbon-neutral targets, there’s a growing recognition that–as on attendee commented—“You can’t ‘efficient’ your way to zero.” Renewable energy (whether onsite, offsite, or both) must play a role in corporate sustainability strategies. Efficiency efforts can be a good place to start with strong ROI, but renewables are a core part of the equation, too.

More corporations getting into the renewables game: More and more corporations beyond the first movers (e.g., Google, Apple, Facebook) are now thinking about their renewable energy options. Renewables are no longer the exclusive domain of companies that have big data center electricity loads. Financial institutions, retailers, freight, and a host of other industries are confidently dipping a toe into the renewable energy waters.

Questions around renewable energy options: With a wave of new companies considering renewable energy, it’s clear that there remain questions about their options and the relative value of those options across REC-only purchases, on-site solar, and various off-site renewable energy offerings, including virtual power purchase agreements.

The power purchase agreement (PPA) is evolving: With PPAs originally based on utility-focused contracts with long terms (20+ years), some corporations are pushing for shorter terms. While there can be pragmatic business-related reasons for pursuing shorter terms, these must be weighed against the financial and other benefits of longer-term PPAs. Amidst this changing landscape, some investment teams are stepping in to think about how to successfully bridge the gap between the shorter terms some corporations are looking for with the longer-term, de-risked certainty solar and wind project developers typically need to make a new project financially viable.

Back to blog