Expanding the Green Market Dialogue with VerdeXchange’s David Abel

April 20, 2023

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David Abel is a husband (47 years), father of a son in Denver, grandfather of two (Nora and Andrew) & both a Pittsburgh Steeler and LA Dodger’s fan; and, long ago obtained educational degrees in economics, educational administration and law. He has yet to formally retire and continues to professionally work across industry sectors—including land use, transportation, water, infrastructure, communications, ocean-tech and renewable energy. David’s roles include entrepreneur, investor, publisher, professor, convener, and president of his own public policy consultancy, ABL Inc. Over the past decade, David has leveraged his interests in public policy and sustainability to create the VerdeXchange Institute <Verdexchange.org>—an environmental think tank, publisher, and host to an annual B2B market-oriented clean tech and energy conference that assists global private/ public market-makers in building successful business relationships that address climate change.

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John: Welcome to another edition of the Impact podcast. I’m John Shegerian. I’m honored to have with us my long time great friend, David Abel who is the chairman of ABL Reports and the VerdeXchange. Welcome back to the Impact podcast, David.

David Abel: I don’t think I can match your enthusiasm, John, but I’m as enthusiastic as you to be here with you on this show.

John: Thank you, and it’s an honor to always have you on and you’ve just always been a huge inspiration to me in my career and my life. So, thank you for everything you do in public service and also on the private side. It’s just been an amazing journey to watch your career and also your wonderful wife’s career, Brenda Levan[?] while I had the wonderful opportunity to work with, 30 years ago or so. It’s just crazy to say the word 30 years though. It feels like yesterday in so many ways. You know, David, you approached me 16 or so years ago when you were launching the VerdeXchange, and you’ve done so much work on the public policy side and on the private side. You short of melded that all together when you were putting together. Talk about the VerdeXchange’s origin and mission and original audience and how that’s evolved over the years.

David: Well, thank you, John. I’d love to do that. We had just sold a business 16 years ago called SuperShuttle. A Global firm that was doing airport transportation, and some people came to me and said, “Help us fill the void at the convention center”, and I was interested in all the subjects that were they were interested in, which were energy, water, transport, finance, green build, and we stole some ideas from some very good people that Governor Schwarzenegger and GE renewable. We put together a conference that was global in nature and then was centered around the markets. What’s in market, about to be in market and needed in market, in all those sectors, in energy and water and transport finance, and what you’ve begun to eloquently talk about the circular economy and even BlueTEC. That [inaudible] has grown, and we watched over the 16 years, the arc of both policy and the growth of those markets to the point now where the federal government is pushing EVs in a way no one imagined 16 years ago.

John: Right.

David: We have people out from DOE that are trying to invest 360 billion dollars of debt in shovel-ready projects in the next two years, unheard of 16 years ago. You have policies not just in California, but globally, that are dealing with fossil fuels and alternatives and hydrogen. We have a huge contingent from Hawaii and Japan and Canada and Australia and the United States related to hydrogen and what its opportunities, or rainbow of colors. Green is the most popular in California. We’ve got transportation investments galore here. We even have a panel, “Is high-speed rail an Illusion or is it real?” We’re dealing with Brightline which is building out their train of Florida and now doing a trade in California, and I speed rail here in our Metro which is one of the largest metros for the County of LA. Well, the County of LA is the largest county in the United States. We have public works projects galore, and we have water projects. So, you can appreciate the water projects from your old history and family and traditions in Central Valley and in Los Angeles, but we have the global western states interest in Colorado and how that water is utilized. Water is the subject that has interest globally from technology point of view from all over the world. Japan, Israel and Australia, all these countries have technologies that relate to how we better use and manage what we’ll call one water. How do we recycle and reuse water? What’s the way you’ve done with waste? All those are major parts of the program this year. We even have three hydrogen mayor’s from Hawaii, the county of Hawaii and Japan and Lancaster California on the panel. So, there’s a lot going on here and we become a platform for people to gather together over a couple days and really compare notes about, again, what’s in market, about to be marketed, and need in market and you’re a part of this.

John: Yeah. Well, it’s April 30th to May 3rd, and for our listeners and viewers who want to sign up and attend this great and important event, go to Verde, V-E-R-D-E then letter Xchange.com, verdexchange.org. David, your conference though is far different from the other green conferences I get to go to in my regular travels as a CEO and with my duties at ERI. Explain how you purposely did that? Why, and how is that different from the typical green conferences that are out there?

David: Well, you hit it right on the nose; we focus on that word ‘markets’. It’s where I do with policy as it relates to how it’s driving or will drive markets.

John: Right.

David: But I think I felt that idea personally that work fits my personality, but they’re old school as the subject of the old GE renewable conferences, Eco Imagination conferences where they’d have 16 CEOs on the panel with the CEO of GE and talking about what the future of the internet of things would be. When I first saw that panel in LA at NBC, when they owned NBC Universal, I said, “This is not the environmental movement that I knew when I went to college. This is a trillion dollar-plus economy, 16 years ago.”

John: Right.

David: So, that’s been the mantra of our conference. We tried to stay focused on that. Our audience comes looking for insights or to share best in market opportunities, and we’ve kept it focused on that. So, we’re not advocating a particular green policy. We’ve got the Western Oil Gas Association with us, and we got NRDC with us. So, we’re really looking at what’s in the market or likely to be in the market.

John: What I also love about your conferences was you’ve been so good to me in inviting me to speak at these and attend and mingle with the great people that you have there. It has its international flavor. It’s just not just California-based; it’s just not even US-based. There’s a huge contingent from not only Japan and Canada, but from folks around the world which gives it a real feeling of relevance and the best minds sharing the best ideas.

David: Well, John, that’s a great segue that let me share with you that even the mayor of LA has just been confirmed as the ambassador to India, we reached out a couple months ago anticipating that and then bringing in a number of tech leaders that have India relationships or dominant in California and ones with Tata and Michigan CEOs coming out to be with us. So, India and Brazil have dinner with the Belgian Consul General, huge contingent from Japan and Canada and the provinces of Canada. So, you’re right, it’s always been meant to be with the attraction of California’s markets. It’s a global conference on what’s in market and all those sectors.

John: Now, David, let’s play a little game of Sophie’s Choice though. You brought up the speakers in the topics that you’re going to be covering whether it’s energy or water, or finance, BlueTEC and circular economy. You even said there’s going to be members of the DOE there talking about the Investment Recovery Act that have hundreds of billions of dollars now to allocate and ensure an order. Where do you, in terms of when you think about the strata of importance of these topics including water obviously, and recycling blackwater getting it back to be drinkable again, how are we supposed to think about the attack in the strata of these? How do you think about them personally, in terms of if you had to choose the level of importance and level of sense of urgency that we’ve got to go at it?

David: Oh, I’m revealing too much in answering your questions, John. This is what disturbs all my policy friends. I’m interested in the hallways and the social events. I’m going to break down the side of those.

John: Okay.

David: So, you know this from your own business. So, I want the water people to have their day in court and water people will be in their panels, but they’re literally, right next to the transportation people and the circular economy people. I want them to make their presentation, show their stuff, introduce themselves, but what goes on in the private dinners we have, and the receptions we have where you get to rub shoulders with other people and see the connectivity between what you’re doing and what they’re doing, that’s the homerun for me. So, I’m in the hallways, John.

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John: Yeah, and that’s for sure. You’re always introducing me to people and introducing others to me, and I know that to be very true. In terms of environmental policy, are we doing enough, David, the Biden administration? Have you seen the progress that you envisioned to hope to see in the 16 years that you’ve now run this conference? Where are we, if this was a baseball game, are we in the bottom of the second or the top of the eighth?

David: We’re leading in the middle innings.

John: Okay.

David: We’re in the sixth or seventh inning?

John: Okay.

David: When you have somebody out here trying to share sixty billion dollars to get the shovel-ready project out of the ground, you’re not in the first inning. We’re not [inaudible] inning. We got to figure out how to get these projects from conception into the ground that’s built and was alive. Some of that is happening, but I would say, John, I’ve watched the arc, and I’m impressed by what’s happened. In California, you have a national global audience. The California market had the most settlers in the country and drew globally. So, our policies are more mature. They’re more advanced. They press and push the agenda, and companies are trying to respond, but my president is in Ireland today talking about EV being a super priority and putting in disincentives and incentives to have that happen. I’ll share one story that relates directly to that in your question in interviewing a point person for the largest public utility in the country, the LA Department of Water and Power who’ll be with us, David Jacot. He said, “This year, David, usually we, in the public sector, are trying to get off the ground projects that fit our agenda. One of those was EV.” In the past we were stimulating that happening, and it was a very small share of the economy. I will tell you right now, I’m in charge of dealing with that part of what we’re doing at the Department of Water and Power, and the markets outstripped our capacity to meet demand. So, I’ve not heard that in the 16 years, so what I’m sharing with you, it goes with what the president said today in Ireland, “You’ve got markets like EV’s, you’ve got what’s happening in hydrogen, which is an earlier phase globally, more advanced than Japan, but they’re coming into these markets with the idea of a hydrogen society and there are 18 companies coming with them at scale. You’ve got things going on in the water sector because of the three years of severe drought in Colorado that are forcing technology-changed in terms of how we collect, recycle and reuse water that meet the objective, meet the standards of Israel and Australia. For all the other markets, they’re challenged by that prospect. So, there’s a lot going on here but it’s the sixth or seventh inning, and we hope we have a pitching staff to get us to the end.

John: You know, David, you historically, in your career have attracted public policy makers and the private side of business. You’re the person that people turn to for advice and counsel. It seems as though things COVID-related and post COVID, California has taken on this reputation of just a place that’s tough to do business. Forget about environmental business. It’s tough to do business as a whole. How do we get people over that stigma? Because so many great companies have been born, so many iconic brands have been born in this state and still reside in the state. As you and I know it, fortunes have been made in this state. How do we get people over that stigma, so California not only re-emerges as business-friendly, it actually actualizes as business friendly as well?

David: That’s a great question, and there’s a push-pull kind of answer. We’re going to feature two people with this conference, two entities in this conference, Brightline and SoLa Impact. Brightline on the rail side, SoLa Impact on the housing side that are exclusively using private money at scale. There are lessons to be learned from that, and we want to share them at this conference. On the other end, we have the entire regulatory leadership over energy coming to the conference from the PUC and the Energy Commission, the Air Resources Board and CAISO. They’re going to talk about how they’re pushing the agenda through public policy, but they’re also trying to connect to the federal government programs, like the Hydrogen Up programs. Now, you have a major infusion of public assets coming here into these sectors that’s never been seen before, and may not be here a decade from now, but they are priming markets here that are going to change the world. You and I know it. I’d almost like to interview you and talk about the circular economy and how you’re dealing with that because we certainly have bills here. They’re pushing that agenda that is being mimicked by other states and other countries, but everybody’s watching everybody else. Seventeen to thirty Council Generals that will be at the conference. They’re all monitoring this and sharing what they’re saying with their representative governments and industry. So, there’s a lot of sharing going on. A lot of learning and taking advantage of market opportunities that are being revealed here on this platform.

John: Does this sound like the most exciting conference you’ve ever hosted before? Are you more excited about this one than any of the others?

David: Are we on the record, John? Yeah. I am, but the joke I was going to say is, if I can survive it. It’s a five-ring circus, but yes, this is the most dynamic, and if I use the word again – for the 15th time – market-ready conference we’ve ever done. When you try to underground all PNGs, PG&E’s wiring, you were talking a billion dollars. You’ve got 30 billion dollars of investment just into the airport in Los Angeles. You’ve got water systems and trade routes being created and hydrogen markets coming. I’m not talking prospectively, like this is a great idea. I’m talking about the people coming with the money and the technology and the leadership to try to do it.

John: Got it. David, I know, you say it’s a three-ring circus and you’re the ringmaster, your energy and your brilliance is boundless. What’s next? Give us a little peek of what your vision is in the months and years to come for the VerdeXchange to host this great conference that’s coming up on April 30th to May 3rd?

David: Well, I’m interested to live long enough to take advantage to see the next generation of these opportunities. You know I’m married as you did. We married above our rack and my wife’s archives of 40 years of architecture have just been accepted by the Getty. So, I’m interested in the two of us being able to take the legacies we’ve created and see other people scale them. That’s on my agenda.

John: That’s so wonderful, and for those listeners and viewers who want to register and sign up and meet David, and all the amazing speakers and guests and delegates that he has at this next conference from April 30th to May 3rd in downtown Los Angeles, please go to Verde, V-E-R-D-E Xchange.org. VerdeXchange.org it’s all right there on that page. Lots of the speakers, lots of the topics are there, and also your registration form. David Abel, you know I love you. You’re a long-term friend. We’re friends for life. We’re over 33 years now, we’re friends, and I can’t wait to see you on April 30th, and I can’t wait to have the honor to speak at your great conference, again. Thank you again, for coming on the Impact podcast and sharing the good news about your upcoming great conference.

David: Thank you, John. I love the opportunity. I love being with you.

John: Thank you.

David: See you in a couple of weeks.

John: Yep.

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