John Shegerian: Welcome back to Green is Good and we’re so honored to have with us today Ezra Garrett. He’s the Vice President of Community Relations and the Chief Sustainability Officer for PG&E. Welcome to Green is Good, Ezra.
Ezra Garrett: John, thank you for having us.
John: You know, Ezra, before we get into talking about your great brand, PG&E, and all the wonderful things you’re doing there in sustainability, please share your story and your journey leading up to there.
Ezra: Well, first and foremost, thank you for the opportunity to visit with you and your listeners here today. It’s a real privilege to have the job that I have at a company like PG&E. Part of my role is to oversee our company’s community involvement program and charitable giving and employee volunteerism and the other big part of my job is to help lead the sustainability function and that involves a lot of the reporting that our company does around our sustainability efforts and it involves working with all of our lines of business at PG&E to help them to understand what other companies are doing to operate their business in a sustainable way and to support their good work of delivering safe, reliable, and affordable energy but doing that in a way that really adds value to the communities that we serve. The way I landed here, I spent really the last 15 years or so working primarily in the public affairs space and about seven years ago, a lot of that work involved supporting the work that our company was doing addressing environmental issues here in our service area so in the mid-2000s, I was involved in a project to help install PG&E owned solar panels at AT&T ballpark. It was part of our effort to demonstrate to our customers that this technology that was very new at the time, solar power, was actually something that was accessible to all and you could integrate a facility like that into an iconic ballpark and do it in a way that didn’t disrupt the architecture there and that really ignited in me a passion for helping customers to understand the opportunities related to renewable energy and energy efficiency, which is a big part of our work here at PG&E. Fast forward to a couple years ago. Our company made the decision to really try to better integrate the work that we do supporting our local communities through our CSR efforts here, to integrate that with our company’s corporate sustainability program and that’s when I was given the opportunity to take on this role and that’s why I’m here talking to you today.
John: Well, you’re a humble guy so is it safe to say that you’re the first sustainability officer in PG&E’s history?
Ezra: I’m not. I’m lucky to be the second one and fill the first guy’s shoes.
John: That’s wonderful. The real truth of the matter is that if we were having this conversation 15 years ago, maybe 11, 12 years ago, this is something new to large and big and important brands like yours that really do get to move the needle when it comes to making decisions but historically as corporate America goes, there hasn’t been the roles of chief sustainability officers and now there are and you get to be the second one at such an important brand so that is totally fascinating to us and to our listeners.
Ezra: Yeah, you’re right. It really is something that is still kind of emerging from the corporate and organizational standpoint. I’m kind of part of what’s been referred to as the second generation of chief sustainability officers but the lifespan for any sort of position in corporate America is three, five years so when you’re talking about being part a brand new second generation, you’re really talking about a function that has really only been around five, six years so there’s still only kind of a relative handful of us and I think that the role that I occupy as the Chief Sustainability Officer, I think it says more about the company that I work for and the companies that my CSO colleagues work for. I think it really indicates a commitment by these companies to make sure that they’re doing everything they can to operate their business in a sustainable way.
John: For our listeners out there that want to follow along on your iPad or your laptop or whatever you’ve got in front of you right now as we enjoy this great chat with Ezra Garrett today, please go to www.pgecorp.com/sustainability. I’m on the site now. It’s gorgeous and it’s chock full of information. It’s really, like you say, Ezra, somewhat of a new position in Corporate America and at PG&E. Let’s talk about definition. What is the definition of corporate sustainability officer at PG&E today and how do you define sustainability at PG&E in your role?
Ezra: That’s a great question, John. It’s one that we, in this role, get quite often and then truth is the definition is really evolving and expanding. I think that five years ago, sustainability, for most folks, meant a focus on environmental issues relating to the way a company operates its business. The way we define it now really spans the entirety of our efforts to provide safe, reliable, and affordability to our customers. Really, it’s about providing our basic service but doing that in a way that adds value to the communities that we serve and creates economic opportunities for our customers in those local communities and also insures that we’re engaging our employees in identifying ways for us to deliver our services but to do it in a way that not only provides economic opportunity but also minimizes our impact on the environment. One example that I think makes it clear is the way that we purchase our utility vehicles. In your neighborhood, you probably see those local utilities bucket trucks. Those are those big trucks with buckets that go up and down to the overhead electric lines. We looked at what we could do in terms of how we procure those vehicles to provide economic opportunities for our customers. Those are a big investment. Those are expensive but we need them and we found a manufacturer, a company called All Tech, that was designing a bucket truck that could run, certain parts of it, on battery power so actually operating the lift. Usually those vehicles need to idle. They make a lot of noise. It’s a lot of emissions. You burn fuel so the challenge for them was it’s expensive for them to get this manufacturing up and running without a large commitment from a company like ours to buy a bunch of them so we cut a deal with All Tech and basically, what they committed to do if we bought a big number of these vehicles was to set up a big manufacturing plant right here in our service area, in Northern California. This created 100 new manufacturing jobs for our customers here and it allowed them to scale up their operations so that they could get this technology up and running, bring their costs down over time, and sell to other companies. Those other companies are looking at how we’re using the trucks and not only are we reducing emissions because of these battery powered trucks and minimizing our impact on the environment, we’re also saving a significant amount of fuel costs as well and it’s a real safety opportunity because when these vehicles are idling to operate those buckets, it’s very difficult for folks that are up in those buckets to communicate with the folks that are on the ground so it’s really sort of a triple win for our company and a great example for how we approach sustainability here at PG&E.
John: It’s a beautiful looking truck. I’m looking at it. It’s a big blue truck with ‘Clean Fuel Fleet’ on the side here, right?
Ezra: Yep, that’s the one.
John: That’s beautiful and I’m looking at it online. You know, you have so many great initiatives on the website that I want to ask you about but before we get there, because we are both citizens of the great state of California, one of the top issues that has not only made California news for the past couple of years but also national news is the drought issue and talk a little bit about PG&E’s interrelationship with the drought and what role PG&E is playing because when you talk about sustainability, of course, one of the greatest issues of our time is climate change. The other is the limited resources that we have that are continuing to be limited and water is one of those. How does PG&E and water and the drought interrelate?
Ezra: Thanks for asking that question. We’re an energy company and most folks don’t really think of us as having a significant role to play addressing the state’s water issues. We’re not the water company but fundamentally, as you said it, this is a really difficult time from a water standpoint in California. We’ve just experienced the driest year in state history and everyone has to have a role to play in address this so as a company, we’ve made the commitment to reduce over five years, the water that we use at our buildings and facilities by 20 percent. In terms of how we operate our business and work with our customer’s, we looked at the energy efficiency program that our company runs and we’ve been able to estimate that the savings associated with those energy efficient programs -These are programs that we incentivize our customers to do by giving them a rebate- are saving more than 1.3 billion gallons of water per year. That’s billion with a B and that’s roughly equivalent to the annual water use of nearly 8,000 households in California. Each year, we also host, annually, a water conservation showcase here in our headquarter facility in San Francisco. We have a facility here called the Pacific Energy Center that really allows us to demonstrate for our customers and different contractors and businesses different energy savings features that they can put into their homes, facilities, buildings, appliances, lighting, and we do a special showcase that focuses on energy efficiency opportunities associated with water reducing technologies so we just hosted that earlier this week and it was the biggest attendance that we’ve ever had for that event and I think it really underscores the focus that everyone is putting on the water issue and also highlights a role that we as a company can play but, as you said, it’s really a responsibility for all of us to address the water issues here.
John: For our listeners that just tuned in recently, we’ve got Ezra Garrett on with us. He’s the Vice President of Community Relations and the Chief Sustainability Officer of PG&E and if you want to follow along with us during our interview, it’s www.pgecorp.com/sustainability. At the top of my last question, I mentioned climate change. PG&E, climate change. Talk a little bit about that interrelationship and everything that your great company is doing to roll back the massive tide that is already underway with regards to global warming and climate change and how that progress is going right now under your leadership.
Ezra: I talked a little bit about some of the things that we’re doing as a company from a corporate sustainability perspective but I think really one of the hallmarks of the work that our company is doing to really address emissions is really the work that we do with our customers to encourage them to basically use less of the product that we deliver. It’s really our energy efficiency program and the 30 years track record that we have in encouraging them to use less. Over that span of time, California’s energy uses remain flat per capita, whereas in the rest of the country, energy uses per capita has gone up by roughly 50 percent, which is pretty significant. Over that span, we’ve helped our customers save billions of dollars in energy costs and we’ve also been able to avoid the need to build about 30 power plants and, again, that’s simply by encouraging our customers to use less. We serve one in 20 Americans and virtually all of those customers are Californians so it’s really a credit to our customers here and our outreach teams, our work with them to identify what are the things that our customers are interested in doing to help them reduce their usage.
John: That’s a great point. That’s an incredible statistic. Energy usage has gone up 50 percent across America. We know Californians continue to grow their population but PG&E and their efforts with the great citizens of California have kept that energy usage flat. Great statistic. Since we’re a solution based show, can you just give a plug right now on who your potential clients in California should be contacting if they want to learn more about how to save energy with your unique programs in California? How do they do that if they don’t feel like they’re doing enough in their household now? Who do they reach out to when they stop listening to this show?
Ezra: They can do two things. They can go to www.pge.com. We have all of the information there on that site for our customers who want to reach out to us and learn more about what they can do in their homes or in their businesses to reduce their energy usage. You can also call 1(800) 743-5000 if you want to speak to a person live to learn about things that our company offers, both in terms of low cost or in terms of rebate that we offer to customers who do take action to install an appliance that uses less energy. By the way, I’ll mention that a lot of these appliances that use less energy also use a lot less water so please do reach out to us because we’re here to help.
John: That’s awesome. I see online here that you have a lot of reports and a lot of great information in the sustainability section. Can you talk about some of your most recent findings? Give the highlights of the recent findings of your newly commissioned Economic Impact Report?
Ezra: We’re really excited about this report because it helps us to measure the extent to which we’re conducting our business in a way that adds economic value and supports the economic engine for the state of California and so what we did was we looked at the total economic impact of the investments that we’re doing, of the infrastructure work that we’re doing, of the energy efficiency rebates that we’re sending out to our customers and we were really actually surprised by the total numbers that were found in that study and so what we saw was last year, through this work , we supported over 71,000 jobs here in our state and contributed over 22 billion dollars of economic activity in our service area last year. That was really encouraging but for us it’s just the first step in understanding what our work is and now our goal is to see if we can’t keep moving the needle and enhancing the numbers going forward.
John: You know what I love about your company? Because I’m, of course, a client of yours so I’m very biased but it’s not just about doing one or two things green or the most overt things. You try to do even the little things so even online, it says, you have even have made the billing process go green in terms of you have e-billing so we save the trees, we make it easier on the clients in California. You’ve really made that even seamless and really into the new technology that we’re going into in terms of the e-billing and how your clients can pay for their PG&E fees every month.
Ezra: Thank you for mentioning that. It’s something that we really try and challenge ourselves to do, to find other innovative ways to minimize our impact on the environment but in a lot of ways, it’s really just us fulfilling the expectations that our customers have for us. Our customers want these products and services. We’ve done some cool things but we can always do better so that’s really our commitment to our customers. In a lot of ways, we’re just trying to keep up with them.
John: We have about four minutes or so. Ezra, any other specific sustainability issues that PG&E is tackling in a way that you’re really proud of that you want to share with our customers?
Ezra: I appreciate that question. One of the things we do that’s kind of behind the scenes because it doesn’t involve encouraging our customers to take their own actions to use less energy but one of the things that we’re working very hard is to increase the amount of energy, the percentage of energy, that we provide to our customers that is greenhouse gas emission free. We have been working hard at this for years and years, decades, and one of the things we’re really proud of is that more than half of the electricity that we send to our customers comes from greenhouse gas free sources and for a company of our size that delivers this much energy to as many customers as we do, it really is the cleanest energy profile in the nation and we’d just like to share that with our customers so that they understand when they flip the switch, they’re getting some of the cleanest energy in the country.
John: Ezra, because you touch so many facets of sustainability and are able to see some of the most cutting edge technologies that are on the horizon or that already exist, do you have some pearls of wisdom in terms of advice to share with our listeners out there that run their own companies or are already executives at other companies that they could implement to be more sustainable to become part of the solution instead of being part of the problem?
Ezra: I would say that the one piece of advice that I have is I think equally relevant if you are the owner of your business or a senior executive at a business or if you’re an employee at a business that’s looking to get involved in sustainability and that advice is really that the sustainability efforts, the most impactful sustainability initiatives at any given company are those that are led by everyday employees in departments that are actually outside of the sustainability functions. If you look at our sustainability report, most of the content and the examples of what we’re doing to be sustainable are involving just core business operations. They’re examples of, like I said, procuring our bucket trucks in a way that minimizes our impact on the environment and creates economic opportunities for others. Who would think that a person in the fleet department would play a pivotal role to play in sustainability? But I still go around every day using that as a key example for how our company is making itself more sustainable so if you’re an executive looking at how you run a program, what I would say is engage the people in your company. Engage the entire workforce across all your lines of business in that work and if you’re someone who’s not in the sustainability function but you’re looking for a way to get involved, I would say to look at the processes that you do and the services that you’re providing and little by little, start thinking about ways that you can make those more sustainable because as you’re removing steps from processes and removing material from the transactions that you do, you’re also saving money so that’s an economic driver as well and I think that’s a very powerful motivator if you’re an employee that has to convince your boss to do something a different way from a sustainability standpoint. If you look a little harder, you can usually find an economic argument to make that change as well.
John: The bottom line is that there is a bottom line to sustainability. The old fallacy that sustainability is more expensive to implement and to do is really out the window now. Sustainability can actually save money and has a great bottom line to it.
Ezra: Absolutely. I couldn’t have said it any better, John.
John: Listen, Ezra, we’re so honored that you came on today. We always want you to feel free to come back and share all the great things that PG&E is doing for sustainability. For our listeners out there, to learn more about PG&E and their sustainability program, you can go to www.pgecorp.com/sustainability. Ezra Garrett, thank you for being a sustainability superstar. You are truly living proof that green is good