Advocating Environmentally Focused Economic Growth with E2’s Bob Keefe

September 24, 2014

JOHN SHEGERIAN: Welcome back to Green is Good, and we’re so excited to have with us today Bob Keefe. He’s the Executive Director of Environmental Entrepreneurs. Welcome to Green is Good, Bob Keefe. BOB KEEFE: John, thank you for having me. It’s wonderful to be on your show. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Hey, you know, Bob, this is your first turn at Green is Good, so I’d love for you first, before we get talking about Environmental Entrepreneurs, your great organization, I’d like for you to share a little bit about your background and journey, the Bob Keefe journey, before becoming the Executive Director of Environmental Entrepreneurs. BOB KEEFE: Sure, the Bob Keefe journey. It’s been an interesting one. So, I spent about 20 years as a journalist before joining Environmental Entrepreneurs about three years ago. I covered business and technology news, and then later politics and chronicled everything from the dot-com boom and bust in San Francisco to climate change in the Arctic to covering the White House and Congress in Washington. I always have had an interest and a fascination and profound respect for entrepreneurs, and the power of the business community to effect change. I grew up in a small business in North Carolina. When I saw the opportunity to make some change with Environmental Entrepreneurs that’s good for both the economy and the environment, I jumped at the chance. JOHN SHEGERIAN: That’s great. So, let’s talk a little bit about Environmental Entrepreneurs. For our listeners out there that are not familiar with it, you can learn a lot more about the Environmental Entrepreneurs organization at www.e2.org. Give us a little bit of background. Who is the Environmental Entrepreneurs? Where has it been as an organization? Where is today? What are some of your goals now that you’ve taken over as the Executive Director? BOB KEEFE: Sure. So, E2 was founded about 15 years ago. We’ve got more than 850 members around the country now that work or do business in about 49 states. Our members have collectively founded or funded about 1,700 companies, created 500,000 jobs, and collectively manage and invest somewhere north of $100 billion in private and venture equity fund. Our members have one thing in common. They range from CEOs of large clean-tech companies to mom-and-pop solar installation companies in the middle of Iowa, but they have one thing in common: They care about both the economy and the environment. We are an advocacy group. We got our start in California working on what then was the nation’s first clean cars legislation, and our founders, Bob Epstein and Nicole Lederer, fought a really good fight to get those clean car standards approved here in California. What they learned was that the business voice could be a very important tool in environmental advocacy. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Sure, and you’re based in Washington now, so now the organization is not just California-centric; it’s a national organization. BOB KEEFE: That’s exactly right. We do a lot of work on federal policies ranging from renewable energy policies, like the production tax credit for wind, for instance, we’re working real hard on that, and also defending renewable portfolio standards in the states. We work on other issues ranging from cleaning up oceans to stopping overfishing, so we cover the gamut and we like to think that we make a difference. JOHN SHEGERIAN: You have a clean energy job announcements program, and I think you have a website that’s www.cleanenergyworksforus.org. Can you share a little bit about what that’s about, more particularly, how our listeners can engage? What is the state of the nation right now with regards to clean energy jobs today? Where are we in 2014? BOB KEEFE: Sure. Well, thank you for that, John. We started cleanenergyworksforus.org about two years ago, and we did it because this was in the midst of the Solyndra Solar debacle, if you will, and there were folks in Congress that were saying that clean energy jobs were a bunch of fairy dust and make-believe rainbows. We started looking around and said, “You know what? Actually, that’s not really the case. We have clean energy jobs being announced all around America every day and every week of the year.” So, we started tracking those job announcements, and we put together the website. Every quarter, we release our findings of clean energy job announcements from around the country. What we found, in a nutshell, is that there have been about 185,000 clean energy jobs announced over the past couple years. That number is still growing, albeit at a slower pace, in the past six months or so, in part because of some bad policy action in Washington and in the states. We are very hopeful that we can turn those policies around, and in fact, are really hopeful that the EPA’s new Clean Power Plan will do a lot to spur growth in clean energy. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Let’s talk a little bit. What is the EPA’s new Clean Power Plan, and what is your goal as the Executive Director of Environmental Entrepreneurs to help influence better policy coming into place so we create our new economy here and add further fuel to the new economy, the clean energy economy, here in the United States? BOB KEEFE: Sure, John. So, you know, our goal at Environmental Entrepreneurs, and my goal is to push for smart policies again that can lead to economic growth, smart environmental policies. Let me give you some examples of that. For instance, in the States, states that have renewable portfolio standards that require utilities to get a portion of their electricity from renewables, wind, solar, biomass, etc. These are the states that have seen the greatest clean energy job growth in the country historically. Those are states like California, like New York, like other parts of New England, Boston and the Massachusetts and New England area. We know that these policies work. The Clean Power Plan that was announced by the EPA about a month ago could be probably the biggest economic catalyst in clean energy jobs that perhaps we’ve ever seen. Here’s why. The policy requires states to come up with a plan to reduce their carbon emissions by 30% through the year 2030. There’s basically three ways we see that you can do that. Number one, you make the power plants that you already have more efficient. That creates jobs and drives economic growth. Number two; you make your buildings, your offices, your schools, your homes more energy efficient — better windows, better lighting, etc. That creates jobs and drive economic growth. The third way is to replace some of the dirty energy we’re getting from fossil fuels, from carbon, from coal-based power plants, and you replace that with clean renewable energy. Guess what? That creates jobs and drives economic growth. So, we think that the Clean Power Plan is a real catalyst that will help the economy in addition to, of course, help the environment. JOHN SHEGERIAN: How do we go from the EPA coming out with their Clean Power Plan to ensuring that this is truly seen as good guidance and that states and other leadership across the United States implements it and actually pushes it forward? Where’s your role with regards to driving that change? BOB KEEFE: So, John, my role is — look, I mean, I spent 20 years telling stories about companies. The best thing I think we can do is get companies that are already making a difference in clean energy in front of the lawmakers, and let them tell their stories. We just got back from Iowa, and Iowa might not come to mind at first when you think about clean energy, but guess what? Iowa’s getting about 28% of its energy from wind right now. Over the next couple years, it’s going to get about 40% of its energy from wind, and we have a number of members and friends now in Iowa that, when we talked to them — these are farmers, these are wind industry contractors, these are solar installers — when you talk to those folks and you realize it’s because Iowa had one of the first renewable portfolio standards in the country that they’ve seen this growth, it’s a good story to tell. So, when we take businesspeople like that, and we put them in front of lawmakers and just let them tell their stories about how their companies have grown because of smart environmental policies, it’s a very telling and effective story. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Yeah, no kidding. For our listeners who just joined us, we’re so excited and honored to have with us Bob Keefe. He’s the Executive Director of Environmental Entrepreneurs. To learn more about Environmental Entrepreneurs, please go to www.e2.org or to learn more about clean energy jobs, please go to cleanenergyworksforus.org. Let’s talk a little bit about, though, what you just said, the Iowa story, The Clean Power Plan. What other states besides the usual suspects, as we were just discussing earlier — California and some of the East Coast states, New Hampshire, Massachusetts. What other states in the middle of this country can the Clean Power Plan benefit or already you’re seeing change in that could be great storytelling to effectuate more change in this country? BOB KEEFE: So, I think the most important states for this, John, are the states, as you mentioned, in the middle of the country. Iowa is a great example of what other states can do if they implement strong state plans that are based on the EPA’s new Clean Power Plan. The way this will roll out is over the next two years, states will have to develop their own implementation plans that are based on their economic makeup, their power sources, etc. because, for instance, the economy and the power supplies in Georgia are going to be different than in California, as we all know. In the middle of the country, you have a lot of energy that’s being generated right now by coal-fired power plants, and if that energy can be replaced with clean renewable energy under this plan — remember that states have to reduce their carbon emissions by 30%. If those states can replace some of that dirty energy with clean renewable energy — wind, solar, etc. — like places like Iowa have already done, it could make a huge difference. Power plants right now produce about 40% of the carbon pollution that is produced by our country. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Bob, though, change is difficult. There are big interests; there are big legacy fossil fuel interests that want to maintain the status quo, that don’t want change to happen. There are people, as you and I well know, that are still denying the science that climate change is actually happening. BOB KEEFE: That’s right. JOHN SHEGERIAN: So, how do we overcome as a country, as a business community, as a thought leadership community, those who say the EPA plan will hurt the economy, not help it? Why is that a bunch of hooey? BOB KEEFE: Look. As you mentioned, any time you do something, especially as large as transitioning the energy supplies of your country, it’s not an easy fix, of course. While it is important to recognize that coal and oil have done so much to drive economic growth in our country over the years, it’s also very important to recognize that we can do better. We have the technology now to do better. I wasn’t around back then, but I’m betting that in the whale oil days, the whale oil industry was saying coal is bad. And when coal was running everything, the oil guys were saying coal is bad and it’s going to doom our economy. The fact of the matter is these are smart environmental policies, and throughout history, time and time again, when we’ve had smart policies, whether it’s cleaning up sulfur and other pollutants from power plants, the industry has said this is going to kill the industry. It hasn’t happened. When we said we need to clean up the emissions from cars, the car industry said this is going to ruin the industry, ruin the economy. That didn’t happen. What did happen is we got cleaner power plants already, we’ve got cars like hybrids, we’ve got cars like plug-ins. These policies drive innovation. They drive economic growth, and in doing so, they create jobs. A clean power plant is no different. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Right. Part of the thing we do on this show, Bob, is we like to give our listeners solutions, things that they can do themselves to help effectuate change and become part of the solution, instead of staying or becoming or remaining part of the problem. What are your suggestions for our listeners out there to help support these good policies that are coming up, these new technologies, solar, wind, hydrotechnologies, and other things that are going to help wean us off the legacy barrel of oil paradigm and get us into the new clean green economy? What do you suggest for our listeners out there to do to be involved and be part of the change, the positive change? BOB KEEFE: Sure. Well, I would suggest and hope and be grateful for your listeners to get involved. You can do that in many ways. The Clean Power Plan right now, the EPA is starting field hearings on this beginning on July 28, and they’re holding field hearings in four cities around America, in Denver, Pittsburgh, Atlanta, and in another city that I can’t remember right now. But certainly folks can turn out to those and voice their opinions because guess what? If people that care about clean energy, that care about the environment, that care about the economy, don’t come out and raise their voices, as you mentioned, the well-paid lobbyists and others of the dirty energy industry that don’t want change will certainly be there to fill that void. You can raise your voices that way. You can raise your voices in public comments to the EPA in support of this plan. It’s really important to raise your voices in the states, because again, it’s the states that have to implement these plans, and it’s the governors of these states that have to implement these plans ultimately. If those governors hear from businesspeople who say, “This is something we actually want, this is something that can actually help our economy while helping our environment, this is something that can create jobs in our communities,” then that’s going to make a huge difference. I would hope and be grateful for your listeners to do that on their own, or they can join us at e2.org and help support our efforts to do this in the states and in Washington. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Bob, we’re down to the last two-and-a-half minutes or so. We have a lot of listeners throughout the United States and around the world who are coming out of college or coming out of grad school and want to be the next Elon Musk. They want to be the next clean green entrepreneur that gets to change the world, either creating the next solar city or the next Tesla or the next vegan food company, for that matter. What are your suggestions, given that you have an interesting platform and visibility, both in Washington and throughout the states? What are some words of wisdom for the up-and-comers who want to be the next environmental entrepreneurs? BOB KEEFE: I would suggest that the field is wide open, John, especially around clean energy. As I mentioned, my background has been as a business journalist all over the country, and I’m old enough to have covered the early days of the Internet. I covered the computer industry back when they weren’t iPads and handheld phones, but big things you stuck on your desk. To watch the transition of the technology industry over the years, I see a lot of parallels in the clean energy business right now. There are people, including some in the computer industry, that said, “Who the heck is going to need a computer at their home?” There are people who say, “Why the heck should we change our power system when we’ve already got electricity that turns on our lights?” There’s a transformation taking place in our energy supplies. It’s a good transformation. It’s good for the economy, it’s good for the environment, and it’s good for young entrepreneurs who are looking for the next big thing. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Gotcha. So, it’s wide open out there, and it’s theirs for the taking. If they want to roll up their sleeves and go change the world, it’s all out there for them. BOB KEEFE: Absolutely. And what’s driving that change, again, is good policies, and we’re moving in the right direction in this country, fortunately and finally, and addressing climate change. This Clean Power Plan from the EPA is a huge next step, and it will do a lot to create a lot of opportunities for entrepreneurs. JOHN SHEGERIAN: That’s great. We’re so thankful for you being in the position as Executive Director of E2, Environmental Entrepreneurs, to help also foster that change both on a policy point of view and also on a business point of view, and that’s really wonderful, Bob. Thank you for coming on Green is Good today. For our listeners out there that want to learn more about Bob’s great organization, Environmental Entrepreneurs, please go to www.e2.org or to learn more about clean energy jobs and the opportunities out there, go to www.cleanenergyworksforus.org. Thank you, Bob, for your visionary and inspiring leadership at E2. You are truly living proof that green is good.