Promoting Sustainable Economic Growth with E2’s Judith Albert

October 9, 2013

JOHN SHEGERIAN: Welcome back to Green is Good, and we’re so honored to have with Judy Albert. She’s the Executive Director of E2, which really stands for Environmental Entrepreneurs. Welcome to Green is Good, Judy Albert. JUDITH ALBERT: John, delighted to be here today. JOHN SHEGERIAN: You know, Judy, I have to share with our listeners a little shameless plug. I’ve been a member of your great organization for years. I’m a big fan. You guys are doing great work and I’m so honored you’re on today because it’s so important to highlight the work of E2, which really stands for Environmental Entrepreneurs out there but before we get to talking about this organization that you’re the Executive Director of, everybody’s journey and story is fascinating and our listeners around the world love to get inspired by our guests because our guests have these fascinating stories, interesting stories, which led up to these wonderful positions. Can you share with our listeners your journey, your story, a little bit first. JUDITH ALBERT: Absolutely. I’d be delighted. I’ve had an unusual route for someone who is called an environmental entrepreneur. I was in banking for over 20 years and back in the financial crisis of 2008, I was with a bank that proved not to be sustainable so it exists no more. I was at Bear Stearns and when that happened, I said sometimes you get hit over the head by the universal two by four and it gave me the opportunity to think about what was important for me to do in the next phase of my life and I said sustainability is good and I started looking into clean energy and really what’s going to drive the economy of the future and I think it’s going to be a clean economy so when I heard about Environmental Entrepreneurs, I said that is the perfect match. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Wow. That is so great and I’m so glad you’re the Executive Director and that we have someone like you running that great organization, so talk about E2. What’s unique about E2? Why should people join Environmental Entrepreneurs and what are you really up to in terms of your great work there? JUDITH ALBERT: Well, Environmental Entrepreneurs, we’re not just entrepreneurs, but we are all businesspeople and businesspeople from across the economic spectrum. We’ve got a lot of members who are in clean tech and clean energy but then we’ve got people like you who care about sustainability but who maybe are in different things and different areas and all of our members actually serve as volunteers to lend their voices to a core mission, which is to get across the point that it’s not the economy versus the environment, that what we really need to do is adopt policies that support a strong economy that’s also environmentally sound and we make it possible for business folks like yourself to share that voice and share that message. JOHN SHEGERIAN: That’s so interesting. So, let’s go into that a little bit, the intersection of environment and economy. Are you saying it’s possible to be pro-growth and pro-environment and pro-economy or never between shall meet? What’s your position on that? JUDITH ALBERT: Oh, absolutely I think you can be pro-growth and pro-economy. E2 puts out a monthly newsletter called The Clean Energy Jobs Newsletter and the headline is, “What clean jobs? These clean jobs.” What we’re doing is tracking jobs that are being created around the country in clean energy and clean transportation. We track news press releases that tell us about projects. Some of them are small companies. Some of them are big companies. What we’ve found is it is a source of growth for the economy and it can be in any state in the country. JOHN SHEGERIAN: So, when you talk about pro-growth, pro-environment, you mentioned clean energy earlier. Where are your major focuses? Is it clean energy? Is it companies like mine that do sustainable recycling in the electronics field or is it anybody that has a sustainability-based company across the nation that’s considered an entrepreneur? How do you really make up your constituency and what’s your focus? JUDITH ALBERT: Good question. Our focus for a number of years has been reducing carbon in the environment. We used to talk about climate change and then for a few years after the demise of the climate bill back in 2009, it became politically difficult to talk about climate change, so we talked about reducing carbon and there are lots of ways you can reduce carbon. When I talk about clean energy, it really is trying to encourage the alternatives to fossil fuels so that’s renewables. It’s energy efficiency. What you don’t use you save in terms of carbon emissions and that has been a very big focus. It’s about clean transportation, which is reducing carbon emissions from transportation, whether that’s fuel efficiency standards in auto, whether that’s the advanced biofuels, whether it’s electric cars and that’s the sort of universe of clean energy but we have as members people like yourself who are involved in really the broader area of sustainability and just smarter use of resources. It’s all connected, you know? The less material you use, the less energy you use, pretty simple. JOHN SHEGERIAN: And, so you have offices across the United States and chapters across the state. Is this correct? JUDITH ALBERT: Absolutely. We got started in California back in 2000, and have a very large chapter in the Bay Area out there, but we now have chapters in the Pacific Northwest, Southern California, New England, New York, Colorado and we’ve got plans on the books to set up chapters in the Midwest and along the Atlantic Seaboard. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Let’s talk about what’s going on in Washington, DC, right now. Recently, President Obama announced his climate plan for clean energy. How does E2 interrelate with what’s going on in Washington and what’s coming out in policy in terms of messaging what’s important to environmental entrepreneurs like myself and like your wonderful constituency base? JUDITH ALBERT: Well, we actually do spend a fair amount of time in Washington and, as I said earlier, we make it possible for our members to meet directly with legislators and bring a business perspective to the conversation and the message that our members are bringing consistently is the most important thing Washington can do is to come out with policy which is clear, long term, and stable, and sets a market parameter for development of what I will call broadly the clean economy so the recent announcement by President Obama is really very important from our perspective because it sets a long term policy framework that will really encourage investment in renewables and in energy efficiency. The key core of his plan is to direct the EPA to regulate carbon emissions from the power sector and the power sector accounts for 40% of the greenhouse gas emission, carbon dioxide emissions, in the United States and it sets a framework under which the states would come up with alternative solutions and flexible solutions for meeting those goals for a combination of renewable energy, energy efficiency, carbon structure and sequestration and natural gas, a combination so it’s not a prescription but that will have a major impact in driving us towards a cleaner energy future. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Let’s then follow along to that thought of yours. In essence, in terms of driving us towards a cleaner energy future, does that mean also if we continue that thought, more jobs and more alternative energy sources, therefore more jobs across America in the new economy? JUDITH ALBERT: It’s interesting you ask that question. NRDC, which is the Natural Resources Defense Council and a partner of E2, just came out with a report which looks at the impact of that plan and it was done by a third party economic group. It came to the conclusion that on balance, this plan would increase jobs and create about 200,000 jobs, most of those coming from the real deepening of energy efficiency, and the other thing that’s interesting is the plan has very little effect on electricity prices and on GDP. JOHN SHEGERIAN: That is so interesting. Well, I want to go back to clean energy, but I want to take, first of all, for our listeners that just joined us, we’re so thankful to have Judy Albert on with us right now. She’s the Executive Director of E2 and for our listeners out there that want to follow along, I’m on their great website right now and by the way, just as a shameless plug, my company, Electronic Recyclers International, has been a longtime member. This is a great organization to join and become an active member in. It’s www.e2.org. Judy, let’s take a slight segue break here before we go into more energy issues. For our listeners out there that say wait a second, they go on your website, they want to understand from you, the Executive Director, should they join now if they’re in the United States? Why should they join if they’re sitting in Nebraska, if they’re sitting in Idaho, if they’re sitting in Miami, Florida, and what does that mean by sending in a check today and joining your great organization from your perspective? JUDITH ALBERT: Well, we would love to have as many members to support our mission as possible and there are lots of ways people can support. Obviously, sending a check and to let us do the work we do is always very helpful but even more perhaps is getting those business voices out there. Remember, I come from a banking background, not a political advocacy background. What I have learned from my experience is how powerful it is when a business person sits down with a public official and explains how their business operates and how policy that either is or isn’t adopted affects their ability to plan to make investments, to grow a company, to hire people. There’s a real gap right now, I would say, between the political dialogue going on in Washington and what’s happening in real businesses around the country and the more members we have who can help us bridge that gap, the more we can hope to achieve the goals that I’ve been talking about. The other that’s interesting when you mention Nebraska and some of the things which have a more agricultural base, our business members aren’t just people who are in clean energy and cleantech. It’s been really important to us to bring a much wider range of business people into the fold and among those others who have been bringing in of late have been farmers. We’ve got a number of members out in South Dakota, Missouri, California who have been working with us initially on our push to promote advanced biofuels, drop in fuels that can just be substitutes for petroleum and in that process, we’ve gotten to know a lot of farmers and it has been wonderful to see that people in the rural communities are identifying the benefits that are coming to them from investment in renewable energy, whether that’s wind farms, whether it’s additional crops for biofuels. There really can be an alignment of interest between people who have a more “environmental” perspective and those who have a more “agricultural” perspective and we’re trying to get all of those voice in to join with us. JOHN SHEGERIAN: You know, that’s so great that you said that because what I love about your organization since I’ve joined and I’ve followed it is that your organization and your leadership and now with your leadership there now, you’re constantly making a bigger tent and inviting more into the tent and making the voice even stronger so that’s why from my two cents, my shameless plug for our listeners out there to join. It just makes us stronger if we all work together. JUDITH ALBERT: I couldn’t agree with you more. We tried something a couple of years ago. We moved one step in that direction where we aligned with the military. The military doesn’t engage in advocacy. They’re not allowed to and that’s a good thing but we got to know what the Department of Defense was doing to promote clean energy and they’re doing a huge amount and we have had the opportunity to invite retired military officers to join with us as members and to get that message across because it is a different message. That message is more of a national security message. Military officers, how many young men and women were killed and injured delivering petroleum to fellow operations in Iraq and Afghanistan and they’re really committed to doing something about getting us off our dependence on oil. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Wow, that makes so much sense. I wanted to segue back into the great issues of clean energy, which we were talking about before we went into discussing E2 and again, for our listeners out there, it’s www.e2.org. Talk about clean energy. I’m just right now considering. I live in New York City, and I have a small carbon footprint now, which I’m proud of, but I still have a home in California and I’m considering putting more solar on my roof. Talk about what states in your mind and in your experience can benefit the most from clean energy growth as we continue to evolve this sustainability economy that we’re now growing in the United States. JUDITH ALBERT: When we do our Clean Energy Jobs newsletter, we collect stories from around the country and what that shows me is that all states can benefit from clean energy. Now it’ll vary depending upon what state you’re in. California is very good for solar, as is Arizona. The Midwest is really good for wind. The Northeast is really getting a lot of benefit out of energy efficiency in the built environment, so each region will have a different profile, but there’s no reason that every region shouldn’t be able to take advantage of this trend. JOHN SHEGERIAN: That’s so interesting and because you’re an ex-banker and have a unique perspective, it’s just not a straight-line environmental background but now you bring a whole different discipline to it. What is keeping more people, more investment money, on the sidelines and out of clean energy. If I was in the banking industry, everyone should be doubling, tripling down now or am I missing something? JUDITH ALBERT: I think the biggest single problem is the lack of policy clarity. Investors in general want clarity and when you’re talking about clean energy, a number of these projects require a longtime commitment for the planning and development and marketing of a product and they need to know the policy is going to be stable during the period it’s going to take to develop a project and develop a market and what we’ve seen at the federal and state levels is shifting policies discourage investment. We saw it very clearly this past year when the Production Tax Credit, which is an incentive for wind development, was due to expire in December of 2012 and there was uncertainty and it really became a political football last year. AS a consequence, you had wind developers who just put projects on the shelf. You had manufacturers who fired people and everyone just sat on the sidelines and waited to see what would happen and you can’t run a business, you can’t run a country that way. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Great point. Lack of clarity. We’ve been talking about energy a lot of this morning. We’re down to the last three minutes or so. Other issues, of course, affect our carbon footprint in this great country that we live in and also, the pollution levels that we have across this country. Can we talk just for a minute or so about the critical issue of transportation and the carbon footprint that leaves in our country and how we can get this better? JUDITH ALBERT: Right. I mentioned power plants are the biggest single source of carbon pollution but the second one is transportation. We’ve been making progress on that front. Two years ago, the EPA came out with regulations that are going to increase the fuel-efficiency standards to 54 miles per gallon. That’s more than doubling the current levels and that and the auto manufacturers are working hard to achieve those goals and part of the President’s plan calls for more stringent standards for heavy vehicles and trucks so we’re moving the right direction on the fuel efficiency standards and then there are the other alternatives such as electric vehicles or advanced biofuels. We’re seeing progress. It’s coming a little more slowly perhaps than we’d like but there are other initiatives that are proceeding on those fronts and are getting traction. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Got it. We’re down to the last two minutes and again, I want to get back to E2 and I want to let you have the last couple of minutes talking to entrepreneurs and, as you said, business leaders, farmers, and others as you make a bigger tent and continue to drive the voice of America, business America, entrepreneurial environmental America. Talk a little bit about what you see for the future for E2, how you want to drive your vision, and how our listeners can join your great organization in the last minute and a half. JUDITH ALBERT: Thanks for that, John. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Sure. JUDITH ALBERT: As I mentioned earlier, it’s really clear why people who are in the clean energy business, who truly are energy entrepreneurs can benefit from being part of this tent. We have a lot of members who are in that area and it’s a really powerful voice that we’ve brought together but we are recognizing that we really do need business people from across the spectrum because we are all consumers of energy. We are all consumers of raw materials and water and to have businesses who are looking at how they operate their own businesses, whether it means that they’re going to be part of the supply chain that’s making more efficient refrigerators or valves or air conditioners, or whether they’re purchasers of those services and they’re running a business, you can run a better business which is more energy efficient or resource sufficient and I think that businesses actually are focused on those issues and it will be my mission to see that we get more businesses talking about what they’re doing and why so we can move the political discussion to a place where the policies are supportive. I’m not talking about subsidies but I am talking about creating frameworks that encourage our move in that direction so I welcome all people from all businesses around the country who think that what we’re doing makes sense to contact me directly at Judy@E2.org or certainly to take a look at our website at www.E2.org. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Judy Albert, I know you get more clarity for businesses across America as the Executive Director of E2. You are an inspirational evangelist of E2 and truly living proof that green is good.