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Healthy Spaces Podcast: Season 3, Episode 7 - Taking Action Together

Hear from sustainability leaders about how to build a net-zero future together.

Healthy Spaces comes to you live from Climate Week NYC, with a special bonus episode featuring the “Building Net-Zero Heroes” panel hosted by Trane Technologies. Three climate leaders joined moderator and sustainability expert Ashlee Piper for a discussion on building concrete strategies and broader coalitions around climate solutions.

“We’re on the front lines of a lot of conversations about policy, about technology, but at the end of the day, it’s not about us. We really need our friends, families, colleagues, and customers to be on this journey with us,” says Lisa Jacobson, President of the Business Council for Sustainable Energy.

One pathway to broader investment is authenticity from climate leaders, adds co-CEO of Green Jobs Board Kristy Drutman. “Talk about the gaps. Talk about the barriers and make that very transparent.”

Listen to the full episode to learn practical strategies to accelerate decarbonization of the built environment; harness the power of storytelling to effect real change; and understand the importance of diversity and inclusion in climate technology.

Episode Guests

Kristy Drutman, co-CEO of Green Jobs Board

Lisa Jacobson, President, Business Council for Sustainable Energy

Ali Mize, Senior Director of ESG, Belonging, and Corporate Philanthropy, Neiman Marcus Group

Moderator: Ashlee Piper, sustainability expert, author, and speaker

Host: Dominique Silva, Innovation Initiatives Leader, Trane Technologies

Transcript

[00:00:00] Lisa Jacobson: We have to have community acceptance of the changes that we are going to make. And they're going to be changes that impact our entire economy and all of our infrastructure. And I don't know that communities are ready for that, so I feel like all of us, we're on the front lines of a lot of conversations about policy, about technology, but like, at the end of the day, it's not about us. We really need our friends, families, colleagues, customers to be on this journey with us. 

[00:00:25] VO: You just heard from Lisa Jacobson, president of the Business Council for Sustainable Energy.

And we'll be hearing more from Lisa alongside senior director of ESG at Neiman Marcus Group, Ali Mize, and founder of Browngirl Green, Kristy Drutman, as they speak with sustainability expert, Ashlee Piper. This episode was recorded live during Climate Week New York at Trane Technologies’ panel discussion, “Building Net-Zero Heroes.”

[PAUSE]

Welcome to this special bonus episode of Healthy Spaces, where we explore how technology and innovation are transforming the spaces where we live, work, and play.

[PAUSE]

During their panel, our guests discussed practical ways to accelerate decarbonization of the built environment, as well as the impacts of government sustainability policies, the power of storytelling to effect real change, and the importance of diversity and inclusion in climate technology.

But to kick off the discussion, our panel was asked what they believed were the biggest challenges to decarbonizing the built environment.

Here's Lisa Jacobson and Ali Mize.

[00:01:18] Lisa Jacobson: From where I sit, which tends to be both a window into implementation from the commercial side across many different industries, but also a policymaker lens. It really is the disaggregated decision-making thinking about all the steps it takes for even someone who's really motivated, and someone could be, you know, someone renting an apartment, someone in a standalone home, someone in a business, someone at a municipal level, or even someone at a state or federal level to take actions, it's just not easy. And then we're innovating, which is amazing and what we need to do, but that also makes the learning curve like one or two steps harder. So, I think anything we can do to simplify the services that any customer would want. So, it's information, its customer service, and, then communicating that to other decision makers. That would really help us accelerate, because right now I think that's a big barrier. I think we have many technologies, and we can innovate, and we are, but right now it's just getting the stuff that we know really deployed at scale, and I think it's just complicated still.

[00:02:26] Ali Mize: And to build on that thread and speak at a tactical level about our partnership with Trane at Neiman Marcus Group, we use four key strategies to decarbonize our built environment. We rely on energy efficiency, renewable electricity, electrification, and refrigerant management. And we all know that the energy efficiency and renewable electricity options are becoming more accessible, more affordable, more cost-competitive. I think the cost of electrification is still one of our biggest barriers to accelerating decarbonization in the built environment. In certain markets across the U.S., there is ambitious regulation in place that can help make electrification a necessary and logical next step for a company like ours. That's certainly the case in a city like New York City, where local law 97 places a lot of pressure on companies to upkeep their buildings. And so, I think the challenge is that in a lot of markets that regulation still doesn't exist to make it cost competitive or logical. And so, in those cases, companies have to be really intentional about building electrification projects into their core company processes, whether that's your enterprise risk management process, your strategic planning, your capital budgeting, or it just involves training and engaging with your finance, your legal, your audit team in a new and different way. 

[00:03:50] Ashlee Piper: Well, can we take that a little bit further? Because Neiman Marcus Groups 2025 and 2030…gosh, doesn't it feel crazy to say 2030 right now? I feel like I'm in a time machine…but the goals were really ambitious. And so, I'd love to know, you talked about being intentional with making those decisions and people kind of throwing that around. I'm not saying you are, but we hear it all the time, like intentional and authentic. What did that look like for y'all? Like, what did you do? What were some of the strategies? How did you engage stakeholders like customers and board members, all the folks who actually make like a huge difference in you making those decisions, but also listening to what they're wanting to see. And what’s important to them. 

[00:04:24] Ali Mize: Absolutely. The process is really important. So, our issue strategy includes two goals. The first is to reduce our scope one emissions by 50% by 2025. And the other one is to procure 100 percent renewable electricity by the year 2030. We actually just announced that we're going to validate that 2030 target with the science-based targets initiative and add more credibility to our journey. And I think it all started with the materiality assessment. So, the first thing you have to do is make sure that you understand, does climate have a material impact on my business? What are key stakeholders saying? So, we did our first materiality assessment and climate did emerge as an important issue for our company. And so, measurement, it sounds trite, is always the first step you can't manage what you don't measure. We worked with the C. D. P. Accredited Solutions provider on Taya Group to really measure our emissions and found that the majority, not surprising, were coming from scope 2, and so we could decarbonize our operations rapidly if we were to rely on renewable electricity. So, the second thing we then did after measuring was benchmarking with peers, looking at how they were setting goals around things like renewable electricity. And we discovered RE 100 and realized that partnering with a coalition like that could really add credibility to the commitments that we were making, but also put us in a network of peers who could really help us advance the affordability and accessibility of that. And I think lastly, we really developed an intentional abatement plan early on with Trane Technologies that helped us get the buy in of leadership. A lot of companies’ leaders today, you know, sustainability teams often put a lot of pressure on leaders to set these big, bold, ambitious goals. Without knowing all the technologies that are going to be required to get there. And we have a very conservative leadership team who wanted to understand what are the specific actions we're going to take across those four strategies I mentioned and how much is it going to cost? And so, we partnered very closely with the Trane Technologies team to develop that abatement plan, and I think it really helped us get buy in from leadership to do that work.

[00:06:24] Ashlee Piper: Lisa, so... around kind of what Ali talked about policy again, obviously, I'm just going to keep going Lisa – policy - but it's really important, especially when we have like the Inflation Reduction Act, and we've got all these SEC regulations; how does policy especially now both help or hinder organizations being able to set these ambitious goals?

[00:06:45] Lisa Jacobson: From a decarbonization and an especially an industry standpoint, the message has always been set clear rules to kind of get out of the way. The challenge is the flexibility to get it done, right? So, I think policy is critical, and clearly, you know, New York City, but we could go through a long list of cities and states and our own national government that has set very important policies that are the, kind of the rules of the road right now. We've gotten very strong market signals, and the Inflation Reduction Act at the federal level. I mean, that was like 20 years in the making, and we don't really know what it will do. You know, we're implementing it now. And so that's the second part, right? The details do matter, though, because you can set a policy. And if you get the frameworks underpinning it wrong, it can be very expensive for customers. It could distract from the overall goal. It really is important for engagement beyond just kind of enacting the policy. And, and you know, you mentioned the SEC, well the big news this week is obviously California. There are a lot of questions about how they're going to implement their climate disclosure and climate reporting requirements. So here we have a situation where for a couple of, well at least two years, many, were really focused on the SEC and then we have the state of California, you know, passing a law which kind of just puts us in a whole other plane on a lot of really important topics. But what will matter is, how they implement it. What frameworks did they point to in the legislation? And they may have, but I'm not aware of which ones they did. But I have a feeling in their rulemaking process, which could take a year. You know, it's a quick timeline for enactment. But that process is going to be really important for all of us to watch. Because it's going to impact a lot of decision making. And it's going to cover not just businesses that are in California, but those that do significant business in California. 

[00:08:41] VO: Decarbonizing the built environment is a complex topic. So how can companies use data and storytelling to make authentic connections with consumers and help us all understand how to build a more sustainable future?

To find out, we first asked Kristy Drutman. 

[00:09:13] Kristy Drutman: I've worked with a lot of different corporations who want to do better and tell better stories about their ESG reporting or their corporate social responsibility goals and I always tell them, you know, but where's the data? Where's the numbers? Where are the reports? Because if I'm going to put this out on the internet, I'm not about to get cancelled if you don't have your info backed up. If you say you're going to do these certain things about your water and your electricity usage by 2030, who on your team is actually accountable to making that happen? And they're always shocked by this because I think they don't realize I have a degree in environmental policy. Sometimes when people look at content creators, especially in the sustainability space, they might just say, oh, you know, you'll just sell a product for us. But they don't realize, I also have the academic and climate science background. And they're like, oh, no other influencer or content creators is asking us this. We just thought we could just post this. And so, I'd say for me, intentional storytelling. When I decide to partner with a company, if I've actually seen some of those internal processes happening, especially if a company admits that they're not perfect and not just saying, oh, we've already achieved carbon neutrality and like we're there. It's like, no - talk about the gaps, talk about the barriers and make that very transparent. I think especially for Gen Z and younger people, they actually like the authenticity. And I think for some companies, they view that as a risk, but if you care about consumers, you care about who's purchasing your products and all these things. I think transparency actually is going to make you stand out more as a brand in a company. And I would say the other piece is to try to find moments of that relatability. I think with Green Jobs Board, why it's been such a success is because maybe we will have certain positions in climate tech that people have never heard of, or a lot of these companies are startups that you've never heard of with interesting names. And, you know, you're just basically trying to sort through the storm of information to understand, who is a company I should apply to. And I think Green Jobs Board cuts out that middleman and says, these are companies that we have had conversations with. They believe in the vision to bring more diverse people into the room, into their staffs, into their talent pools. We're creating avenues of exposure for them, and I think those avenues of transparency and information make you a more attractive employer. It makes your company look like you care about the next generation in a meaningful way, because you're building the infrastructure, the storytelling, and the resources to make that possible. 

[00:11:41] Ashlee Piper: We have also attitudinal data that shows that, especially younger generations, they like the imperfection. They're not looking to companies to be this kind of big leviathan that we never have a touchpoint with. They actually want to feel like there's a humanness to it, and so storytelling brings that to life, which is really important. I have that vein. I want to get an example from each of you of, an example of really good storytelling on a corporate level.

[00:12:07] Ali Mize: We have an amazing video that Trane so graciously put together for us about the electrification project at Bergdorf Goodman and why it was such an important moment for New York City. It was a very operational change out. I mean, you were removing two natural gas power chillers and installing these two 500-ton electric ones. But we made it a moment. We wrapped them in lavender, shut down Fifth Avenue and 58th Street, hoisted them up into the air with the American flag. We had a female lead engineer on site with Trane wearing a lavender Bergdorf Goodman hard hat. And we created a video about the partnership and talked to people about what it means to electrify a building, transition it to renewable electricity and drive those emissions down to zero because of legislation like local law 97. So, I think that's our own personal story. And we're so grateful to the Trane team for influencing and helping us see why that type of content creation is important. 

[00:13:03] Lisa Jacobson: Well, I might take it in a different angle. I think a lot of the videos and the work that's done in schools is really helpful. I mean, so right now we're in multiple phases of improving the sustainability of school buses and bus transportation. So, there's a big grant program that's available to states to and then ultimately going to school districts to electrify school buses. And I've seen some really cool videos related to that. And then so they're not just produced by, let's say, the Department of Energy or a school district. They're shared at the school, and they make really, you know, they try to invite the P. T. A. They make it a really big deal. 

[00:13:48] Lisa Jacobson: It’s geared toward towards the students. I mean, for me, that's the power. I mean, yes, we want the building engineers and others. Or who, fleet management for the school district, to be aware and take advantage of these grants. But I think it's the educational moment for school kids. I mean, cause it's a complete story. So, I mean, I could go into it in more detail. But I just think any time we can make these technologies really visible to people. And how it's improving their lives, it's hard because a lot of technology we're kind of purposefully do not want to see, and if we're doing our job well, you know, it's, it's complete, your space is, you know, perfectly conditioned and you wouldn't even notice. Right? So, that's the, that's the North Star. So, I think we have to kind of make it visible to people. And I think some of the storytelling as it relates to electric school buses has been really strong. And it gets younger people to think about it. 

[00:14:39] Kristy Drutman: I just want to shout out the initiative of Clean Path New York. I've done a long-term content collaboration partnership with them over the past year or so, educating, especially young people about what New York is planning on doing about building renewable energy all the way from upstate all the way here to build more equitable energy access. All throughout New York City, and it's been really cool to work with them to experiment with storytelling. They hired a content person specifically to work with, influencers and content creators to tell that story. And I think they realized there was a huge gap in need to do better storytelling to reach the public and the masses to understand how this project could actually benefit their communities here. So, I did a few like kind of on the street interviews with them with their team interviewing them about just kind of humanizing like what is the vision of this project and talking to them about? Like, what is the job creation prospect of Clean Path? Talking about how is this going to improve communities? And I think that felt really authentic because it was coming directly from a wide array of their staff members. You know, sharing those key data points, but in a way that felt more relatable because it's like me as a young person living here. It's like, why should I care about this kind of project? And it's just straight up asking about that, right? Instead of just like seeing shiny billboards. It's like, I think content creation and making social media videos provides you an opportunity to humanize some of these technologies and to show that it is community driven, it is community oriented. If that is what you're saying your technology is doing. 

[00:16:16] Ashlee Piper: Love that you point out to, especially, I think, I hate to like harp on Gen Z, Gen Z, but like, It's such a high touch, instant response generation. You guys are much more used to, you know, you didn't have to wait for America Online to dial up and stuff like that. Some of us still have PTSD from that, right, Sarah? So, you know, all that stuff. You talked about getting cancelled too. If you post information that's like the wrong kind of information, that is something that Gen Z will give you automatic feedback on social. And I'm talking about you as a company. You will hear the discontent and you will also hear those really frank, kind of not finessed questions of cool, but what are you doing? And that's I think really interesting. Have you guys experienced that through social channels or through responses to ESG reports or to the work that you do? From, maybe not necessarily Gen Z, but just from consumers. You're hearing from consumers and they're giving you immediate feedback on how you're communicating sustainability initiatives.

[00:17:15] Lisa Jacobson: Yes. I mean, we have an educational project called the Sustainable Energy in America Factbook, and Trane Technologies has been, also a supporter of that project from the beginning, and it's meant to be basic facts about our energy system geared towards policy makers, and we have it commissioned by an independent analytic firm, Bloomberg NEF, and we get a lot of comments on that. Yeah, no, I mean, mostly good. But of course, people have questions. I mean, they that's the whole point of putting the information out there. It's because people do not understand what's really happening, right? And so, we try to put out many pertinent facts that are mostly real time data on economics and technology deployment and let people make their conclusions. So yeah, you get a lot of opinions and I think it's eye opening. We welcome that, we want to improve every year. So, whether it be like, why didn't you cover this or that, or just like a random reaction, like, you know, you'll hear it all.

[00:18:13] Ali Mize: Agree. We're a relationship business at Neiman Marcus Group. And so ways that we collect customer feedback, for instance, is including the voice of the current and the future customer and our materiality assessment that helps dictate our strategy and our focus areas. But we don't just do it once every few years. We maintain that relationship on an ongoing basis. So, a few examples of what that looks like for us is showing up to Sustainable Fashion Forum each year. It's founded by a woman of color. There's a large young audience. It's really important to us to get diverse perspectives on our programming, not just one. And so, we show up and we have real intimate panels with these customers and ask them for feedback on what's working well, where we maybe misstepping. And so that does inform a lot of the work that we then do on our website. For instance, with things like fashion for change or conscious curation, which help customers filter through products based on the values that matter to them, whether that's sustainable materials, responsible manufacturing practices, diverse-owned brands, etc. So, we give them the information and allow them to make the decision on what matters to them. I would say the only other place where I feel like we've gotten real clear customer feedback is the feedback that prompted us to set our animal welfare policy back in 2021 and exit fur as a business. We heard loud and clear from the customer that that was something that they wanted us to do, and we were very proud to be able to accomplish that. 

[00:19:36] VO: Conversations at Climate Week are a great opportunity to gather new perspectives on how to tackle climate change. 

So, our panel turned their attention to topics that they wish got more air-time.

[00:20:01] Ashlee Piper: I'm going ask a question that's kind of outside of what we had here, which, y'all do a lot of these things. We all do kind of a lot of these things. During Climate Week, especially, when you're on these panels, what's something you wish people would talk about? 

[00:20:14] Kristy Drutman: I think a really important thing that needs to be discussed is like the lack of funding for founders of color and climate tech. There was a report and it showed that like there were a lot of women who got funding in climate tech last year, but it was all white women. Not women of color. And I think it's a really important conversation that's not had enough about how many barriers to entry it is yet, these technologies are directly serving our communities. Green Jobs Board is currently funded through bootstrapping and loans and like we're very startup mode and I'm proud of that. I've been very picky and specific about wanting to build intentional relationships with potential VCs and funders because I want to make sure that they really believe in the vision of building a more diverse and inclusive and climate space. And the only way you can do that, I believe, is investing in founders of color who directly understand the needs and the gaps and the barriers of other people of color. And so, I just want to say that I just don't think discussions around barriers for funding and access and, you know, pipeline programs for people of color to thrive and entrepreneurship in this space is talked about enough. And I hope more people bring that up and ask their colleagues, you know, are we really investing in minority and women founders? Are we opening doors for them? And if we're not. What are we doing? If we're saying we have all these ESG corporate social responsibility reporting, but we're not actually putting our funding and our resources directly into that. I think you need to look at yourself for that.

[00:21:49] Ali Mize : I couldn't agree more. We're, you know, experiencing the hottest months on record, like there are communities particularly of color that are struggling with air quality and fear taking their children outside, like the very real impacts that we're feeling. Sometimes I think we gloss over those and go straight to the solutions. And I think it's okay to acknowledge that, like the reason of why we're doing this work. Part of Climate Week is intended to give us inspiration and the energy to keep going throughout the year. So yeah, I just want to acknowledge that. 

But I think some of the other things that I wish I heard more of during the week are some of the real challenges related to scope 3 accounting in particular. I mean, it is the largest part of most companies’ footprint and companies are struggling to figure out how to accurately measure. And so how do we have granular, not high-level conversations, on what it looks like for a multi-brand retailer like Neiman Marcus Group? How does a company like ours measure our scope three emissions accurately? We want to do the right thing. So I think very granular conversations is what I wish we talked about more or specific programs that everyone can really rally around and get involved in. The last example I'll give is last New York City Climate Week we learned about a program called Supplier Leadership on Climate Transition, which is run by Guidehouse and companies can join and basically enroll their top 40 suppliers each spring and fall in courses that are designed to advance their climate journeys. So, whether that's measuring scope 1, 2, and 3 emissions, setting SBTIs, implementing abatement plans, or disclosing to CDP. And so that's a very practical program that we learned about during Climate Week and joined as a result. And it's really helped us engage our suppliers in a new way. So, I wish there were more practical examples like that that moved us all forward. 

[00:23:37] Lisa Jacobson: I really appreciate what both of you put forward. I think for me, it's more, you know, we're beyond incremental here. We have really important and quick goals that we have to achieve. We're talking about a lot that needs to get done in the next 5 to 10 years. So it's, you know, I feel like it's more like, what's the action plan for when we leave? Because it's not about the people that I work with necessarily, but it's in my community. Like, how am I going to talk about this more in a way that's going to be meaningful to people that are not involved in the energy field may not be focused on climate or sustainability. Like, how do I have those conversations in my community? Because I think one of the biggest barriers related to my response before, but bigger picture, is just we have to have community acceptance of the changes that we are going to make. And they're going to be changes that impact our entire economy and all of our infrastructure. And I don't know that communities are, are ready for that across the board. So, I feel like all of us, we're on the front lines of a lot of conversations about policy, about technology, about management, but like, at the end of the day, it's not about us. Like, we could do all we want, but we really need our, our friends, families, colleagues, customers to be on this journey with us. And I don't think we spend enough time in this setting, like really talking about how we're going to do that, you know, because I think that's the next phase is bringing more people in. 

[00:25:04] Ashlee Piper: Where are you guys getting your inspiration from as we move forward? Because again, we talked about some of the issues and the challenges, but we do need hope. We all work in this space. It can get a little bit; it can get dark guys. It can get dark out here. So, what brings you hope? What partnerships, resources are inspiring you as you move forward to continue doing your important work? 

[00:25:24] Lisa Jacobson: Well, the new people coming into the field. I mean, I think especially here at Climate Week or events that I go to outside of DC. I mean, it's just lots of people getting excited about it. Not enough. You know, we need more. But I mean, that's what it keeps me excited. It's just the freshness and then the enthusiasm and, you know, understanding of the challenges, but still a very optimistic view. So that keeps me going, 

[00:25:49] Ali Mize: Drawing a lot of inspiration from all of the conversations around policy and content creation and culture this year. We're hearing those emerge as themes more than any Climate Week I've attended in the past. But to your point about female founders, I'm personally drawing a lot of inspiration from all the women of color who I've seen show up on panels talking about that. So Samata Pattinson at Solutions House yesterday was amazing, talking about and reminding, frankly, the audience that so many things that we consider sustainability are just the way of living in indigenous cultures, right? It's the right way to do things. And so, I am just so appreciative that there are people who take the time to come and show up and be part of the conversation and educate us. Because I think those reminders are so important. And there's a lot that we can learn from all cultures when it comes to this conversation.

[00:26:43] Kristy Drutman: I would say what inspires me is definitely my team at Green Jobs Board. We're all young people under the age of 30 who are building a climate tech company. And we actually got invited to host our own event this year. On Friday, we're having the Green Jobs Pavilion. So, it's our first ever, like full scale event, that we're planning and organizing ourselves. And I'm just really proud of the progress that us as young people just came together and we're just going to do it and we're just going to build it and we, you know, built these curated panels about talking about burnout, climate pathfinding. We have panels with star studded speakers with climate employers talking about how can they do a better job recruiting, talking with job seekers about what are they looking for and building an actual new community space of storytelling about the future of climate work. And for me, that's just really inspiring because climate work and climate jobs are such this emergent, evolving field and the fact that I have the privilege and opportunity to be spearheading the storytelling and building community spaces around that really gives me a lot of hope for the future.

[00:27:47] VO: A big thank you to Lisa Jacobson, Ali Mize, Kristy Drutman, and our moderator, Ashlee Piper for joining us in New York for a Climate Week conversation about taking action together.

[00:27:57] VO: And thank you to all of our guests this season for helping us explore the intersection of human and planetary health—from air quality to green buildings and healthy food systems to healthcare resilience.

And if you missed an episode, don't worry. You can always go back and listen.

Find us on your favorite podcast platforms or tranetechnologies.com.

Thank you for joining us for this additional episode from Climate Week and all season long. 

See you next time.

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