Episode 19: Sustainable Investing and Divestment

Claire Veuthey (left), Mike Fiorio (right)

Claire Veuthey (left), Mike Fiorio (right)

Claire Veuthey
Director of ESG & Impact

Mike Fiorio
Northland College Board of Trustees

Host: Dave Karlsgodt
Principal, Fovea, LLC

Remember the old adage, Put your money where your mouth is? Or maybe, vote with your wallet? No matter which way you say it, money talks. In this episode, Claire Veuthey of OpenInvest and Mike Fiorio of Northland College’s Board of Trustees discuss sustainable investments and how to make financial choices that reflect planet-forward values. Claire, the director of ESG & Impact at OpenInvest, a startup devoted to socially responsible investing, walks through the management of funds and investments and how they can become more sustainable. Mike discusses how Northland’s Board of Trustees reached their decision to divest from fossil fuels, and the importance of listening to student voices in balance with the university’s financial interests.

Production Assistant: Kaia Findlay


Episode Transcript:

The following is an automated transcription of this episode which will include errors and omissions. You can listen and follow along with the text here:


Dave Karlsgodt 0:00

Welcome to the campus energy and sustainability podcast. In each episode, we'll talk with leading campus professionals, thought leaders and engineers and innovators addressing the unique challenges and opportunities facing higher ed and corporate campuses. Our discussions will range from energy conservation and efficiency to planning and finance, from building science to social science, from energy systems to food systems, we hope you're ready to learn, share and ultimately accelerate your institution towards solutions. I'm your host, Dave Karlsgodt. I'm a principal at Fovea an energy, carbon and business planning firm.

Claire Veuthey 0:33

If your business is so extractive that you're going to lose all your customers, and you're not going to gain any new customers, that's not good for your business over time, it might be great this quarter, but in a couple of years, no one's going to be coming to you if

Mike Fiorio 0:44

you if our ultimate objective is to attract good students who want to be difference makers, change makers in the world, and make this place a better planet. The fact that we are divesting from fossil fuels, helps to college go out into the world and shout it out from the mountaintops and attract good students. And once they understood that, it was an easy transition.

Claire Veuthey 1:12

I think we've gotten to the point where it's more normal for folks to think about their purchasing decisions, like what they eat, what they were, what they drive or don't drive, but it's a little bit less common for folks to think about that in their investment portfolio.

Dave Karlsgodt 1:27

In this episode, I talked with two financial professionals about the concept of sustainable investing. My guests are Claire Veuthey of open invest, a public benefit corporation dedicated to making socially responsible investing easier and more accessible. And Mike Fioriro, a current member of the Board of Trustees at Northland college, a private liberal arts college in Ashland, Wisconsin. In our conversation, we talked through the various ways that individuals and institutional investors can promote sustainable business practices through their investments. We also discuss the Northland College Board of Trustees decision, divest from fossil fuels through their endowment. One quick update from our team. As I mentioned, in the last episode, we had a great response to our recent job posting about our summer internship program, we're excited to announce that we hired not just one but two interns. In addition to helping me out you'll hear from each of them individually as they produce their own episode over the summer. For now, I hope you enjoyed this may 2019 conversation with Claire Veuthey and Mike Fiorio.

So Claire and Mike, it's great to have you on the podcast today.

Claire Veuthey 2:32

Happy to be here. Thanks, Dave.

Mike Fiorio 2:33

Thanks. Dave agreed.

Dave Karlsgodt 2:36

Well, we've got a full plate of topics to get into today, some institutional investing 101 we might say and, and hopefully some real world experience around divestment. But before we dive in, maybe each of you can give a few minutes just to introduce yourself and how you found yourself working in and around this topic. Claire, maybe we'll start with you.

Claire Veuthey 2:55

Sure. So my day job is as director of ESG and impact at open invests and we're a pretty early stage startup in the socially responsible investing space. I also have a second job as a student. I'm a part time student in the Berkeley Hoss MBA for executives program.

Dave Karlsgodt 3:15

Great. Yeah. Mike, you want to give us a little introduction, please?

Mike Fiorio 3:18

Sure. I'm Mike Florio, I am He recently retired 60 year old man, who for the past 33 years, was a principal in a financial advisory firm in northern Wisconsin. over my career spanning four decades, I helped numerous investors individually as well as institutional wrestling with the concept of socially responsible and ESG investing. I'm also a trustee. Now going into my fourth year with a small liberal arts environmental college with a sustainable bent Northland, Northland college, and through my involvement at Northland, and my chairmanship of the business affairs committee and investment committee have helped the college wrestle with the notion of divestiture from fossil fuels, and through that relationship with Northland, and in an effort to get some good information, became acquainted with the intentional endowments network. Northland is now a member, I believe now for its third consecutive year. Normal college is 125 year old institution that is situated on the south shore of Lake Superior Northland is fairly unique in that it intertwines the liberal arts with the sciences, environmental sciences, natural resources and sustainability. Majority students at Northland, go there for the natural resources, environmental studies, outdoor education and sustainability course offerings.

Dave Karlsgodt 5:11

So I'd like to start with just some basics. I think most of our listeners know, you know, what a pension is, or what an endowment is, we don't need to get that basic. But I know for most people that have been in and around campuses, and they've heard of this divestment campaign, led by students are, like, you know, students storming the offices of the President, for example, demanding that the university divest of fossil fuels. But I know there's a lot of passion around this, but there isn't necessarily from my experience, a lot of deep understanding about how endowments work, how institutional investing works, etc. So Claire, I know you have a pretty good solid history of, of just institutional investing in general. So maybe you can give us a little bit of a background, who are the people making these decisions, or what or who even talking about here.

Claire Veuthey 5:59

So this really two major players, and then a whole ecosystem that has emerged around those players you have with the industry, cos asset owners, and they are, at the end of the day responsible for the assets and the funds that we're talking about. So that will be endowments, family foundations, often and at the small scale, it'll be individual people in their and their own personal funds. Then you have asset managers. So they're the professional investment folks like my company, for example, who are hired to manage assets on behalf of asset owners. And between asset owners and asset managers, you have a whole host of other service players, so many large asset owners will work with investment consultants, for example, who helped them find asset managers. In earlier parts of my career, I worked with a number of service providers that worked provided research for asset managers that we would rate listed companies on environmental, social and governance issues, for example, and there's a whole host of other providers that help both of those actors do their jobs better.

Dave Karlsgodt 7:04

Got it so that the like a university endowment, for example, would need to work with an asset manager or would leverage the work of a firm like the one you just described.

Claire Veuthey 7:13

Exactly. Yeah. And it would likely work with quite a few asset managers, actually, it would work with one for the fixed income, depending on the size of the endowment, one for fixed income, maybe a couple in the equity space, some in in real estate and private assets. Yeah, I could work with a whole stable of asset managers.

Dave Karlsgodt 7:29

So Mike, it sounds like you have done some of this work as well, in your career. Anything to add here, just ton of mechanics, the basics of what we're talking about, who are the players? And

Mike Fiorio 7:38

that's a good question. I would just add to what Claire said, Yes, from a perspective of both a past financial advisor and also current trustee of Norfolk college, I think you start with the fact that anybody who is charged with fiduciary responsibility of managing money, whether that be the trustee of the organization, an officer of the organization, or the actual asset managers, we are all trustees, or fiduciary, as I should say, and fiduciary duty of care to manage that money with lots of prudence. And there is a federal Act, which euphemistically, is called a myth, uniform prudent management of institutional funds act that has been adopted by 49 states, the District of Columbia, and the US Virgin Islands. And it's a enact that requires a duty of care for people like myself and Claire, that requires us to create a roadmap for the institution. And those of us in the industry refer to that as an investor the policy statement. And it's nothing more than a roadmap that lays out what the institution's goals are asset allocations, and expected return over the long haul, benchmarking of returns on the institutions portfolio to indexes. And as trustees, producers, officers of the organization, we use that roadmap and live and die by it. Part of an investment policy statement can include ESG and that's kind of the starting point for conversation of every organization with respect to inclusion or exclusion of investments that relate to the mission of the institution, such as divested or fossil fuels.

Dave Karlsgodt 9:52

So is that similar to like, I know, as a personal investor, you know, have a retirement fund. And they, they always make you fill out the form that says, you know, how aggressive Do you want your investments to be? You know, when do you expect to retire, things like that? Some of those seem to be just communication with the investment professional that I work with, but some of it seems to be they need to justify why they're making certain investments. Is that kind of similar to what you're talking about? But in this case, with an institution rather with an individual?

Mike Fiorio 10:20

Yes, yes, absolutely. And, you know, names and faces on, officers and trustees of organizations come and go, but the investment policy statement remains the same unless it is amended. And it truly is a roadmap. It's a living document, and over time, it can be changed and often is

Dave Karlsgodt 10:42

by a member. Okay, so if if you are in an institution, and you get to the point where you can amend that type of a document to say, okay, we'd like to increase the sustainability of our investments in some way, whether that's, you know, getting out of fossil fuels or or, you know, some other sustained ability goal, what are the different ways that that that can be pursued then? So maybe, Claire, I'll throw this one to you. I mean, like, what, what are the tools available to the institution at that point, or to the investment manager, asset manager, as you alluded to a second ago?

Claire Veuthey 11:17

Yeah, absolutely. There's really three methods, if you will, that sustainable investing can be implemented. The first is the one that's best understood, and that people really think about first when I think about socially responsible investing or sustainable investing, and that's exclusion. Right. So traditionally, Quakers, for example, when they started thinking about responsible investing, they said, Well, we don't want to own defense companies, that's just not in line with our passive, its values, it doesn't make sense for us to have a company that's really primarily manufacturing the products of war in our investment portfolios. So you can avoid companies whose activities you don't agree with or you don't think are sustainable in the financial sense or, and any other sense, really, there's a corollary to that which some people call positive screening, which is the opposite, right? You seek out companies that you think are doing good, and that fit your mission as an organization, and you can overweight those or include them when they wouldn't naturally be included, depending on your investment style. So that's the first method. The second method is a little bit more nuanced, and, and really aligned with how traditional investment managers work. And that's what I would call integration. So it's really looking at environmental, social, and governance factors as factors in the valuation work and in the calculations that go into figuring out a terminal multiple for a stock, for example, so when a fundamental analysts will peel through all the financials of a public company and say, Okay, well, we think the stock is worth x, but the market is pricing at why. And we think it's worth buying, because the stock will go up, we believe in business, part of how they can make that evaluation is based on environmental, social and governance issues. For example, if the company is creating products that allow people to reduce their energy use or replacements for energy intensive products, for example, beyond meat, just IPOs. And I think much of the interest around that stock has to do with folks choosing plant based options instead of meat based options. So that would be integration. Yeah, just

Dave Karlsgodt 13:19

to stop you there. So that would be an example. Like, it's not just that they're not doing bad, it's that what they're doing has a market for it, people are excited about their product, because it's something that hasn't been done before. But it also has, you know, environmental benefits to it that you could argue as well,

Claire Veuthey 13:35

exactly. Okay. And the third method is called engagement. So if you sit on the investor side, you'll call it company engagement. And if you sit on the company side, often it's called shareholder engagement. And that's really when those two parties talk. It can be very formal, but it's not a scripted or process that has really formal channels, like proxy voting, for example, it really has has to do with developing a trusted relationship. And the there's a number of ways to do that. But it's really about a conversation between shareholders and management or representatives of management, with the shareholders often counseling, pressuring, badgering, you know, depending on the conversation, the company to do more, or at minimum, disclose more about its impact on the environment or on social issues. Its plans to manage risk to its business based on climate change, for example, or changing societal norms, things like that. So that would be engagement. That's kind of a third way that investment managers can implement and integrate environmental, social and governance issues into their investment process.

Dave Karlsgodt 14:42

Okay, but that's real humans talking to each other. That's not just people buying or selling the stocks. It's not a market signal. It's real conversations.

Claire Veuthey 14:50

Exactly. each other. Yeah, exactly.

Dave Karlsgodt 14:53

And when that happens, who is who's at the table there? I mean, how, like, describe an example of what that looks like, in your more in a real sense, not in the general sense.

Claire Veuthey 15:02

Yeah, there's a huge range. I think, from the environmental, social and governance side, the folks who have been really good at this are long standing asset managers who've really at and they don't necessarily hold a huge piece of the stock, it really helps to get a meeting with management if you hold a big piece of the company's shares. And to be clear, these are publicly listed companies they are that means they're owned by the public, and very big asset managers will own a relatively big piece, which was often just a couple of percentage points. Right, BlackRock, just a gigantic asset manager, I think it's 6 trillion in assets under management often won't hold more than 15, or 20%, of a listed company. And for really big companies, it's more like 234 percent. So big, really big asset managers can easily get those meetings, but they're not always as informed about the environmental social governance issues. Smaller managers who really made their name in yesterday, engagements will will have developed deep relationships internally on not only with Investor Relations, but often also with the sustainability folks at the companies they're speaking to. And they'll overtime, you know, have a quarterly or bi annual call saying, Well, how are you doing on this issue? We asked you about last quarter. What about now we know you have other stuff to focus on. But keep keep this in mind. This is one of those important but not urgent issues. Eventually, what happens if the conversation isn't fruitful, shareholders will put together shareholder resolution and then try to put together a coalition of investors who will vote for that resolution and and try to get management attention that way.

Dave Karlsgodt 16:37

Okay, so that's more of a nuclear option at that point, because then it's more of a formal process versus just a conversation.

Claire Veuthey 16:43

That's right, exactly.

Dave Karlsgodt 16:45

Okay. I didn't fully appreciate that, when we were, you know, kind of prepping for this call. So thanks for that clarification. Is that something then that, like, say, if you're thinking about a university? I mean, is it conceivable that representatives of the University are every university endowment would be involved in a conversation like that? Or is it just the people that they would hire their asset managers that would do that?

Claire Veuthey 17:06

Either, or, we found that big asset owners who have the teams and the capacity to think about this deeply will do it themselves. So calipers, for example, like really big entities will often do the engagement themselves. I think the reality is that most asset owners don't have the ability to have a big team that's, you know, constantly really informed about these issues, and needs to rely they need to rely on their asset managers. Sometimes they'll split the difference, they'll say, Okay, well, we really know a lot about these issues. And we're going to keep engaging companies on climate change in corporate governance, but all the other issues, which are important, but are, you know, the issues of the day, for example, or that that kind of come and go or that are more technical, maybe they'll push those to the asset managers. But by and large, I think asset owners should feel free to push their asset managers to engage on their behalf. That's part of the investment process.

Dave Karlsgodt 17:57

Yeah. That you may not know the answer sort of this. I mean, I assume you don't sit you're not a CEO. But what would be the motivation of the senior leadership of these businesses to take these meetings? Is it because it gives them insight into what their shareholders are thinking? Or is it? You know, it's, I mean, if it's just a few percentage points, I can't imagine that it's not like they can take control of the company. Talk me through that? What would be the motivation?

Claire Veuthey 18:21

Now? Good question, uh, all of the above. And I think the most productive conversations like that, that I've been part of, generally, the CEO gets it, they know that this is an issue for their company, and they generally appreciate that shareholders will, will flag it, it's not just Oh, those pesky shareholders, we kind of need to do something to make them happy. I think the the CEOs that are the most engaged and and frankly, where you see the most change in the company is when they get that it's a long term issue that they need to think about. And they appreciate the nudge from their shoulders, I was on a call with a couple of years ago, and it's pretty unusual to have a CEO doing the cost, and it's an IR Investor Relations representative, maybe, you know, you really work at right, the corporate secretary or someone from the board. But in this case, the CEO was there was really active, really informed really knew a lot about the issue we're talking about, and really on the same page, and it was just about the kind of information shareholders want to disclose about work the board was already doing and the management was already doing so often. You know, in the best of cases, that's a situation the board says, look, we already have views on all of us, we just didn't feel the need to make it public. Because that's a threshold of particular scrutiny that companies tread carefully, which I understand, I think, to your point, CEOs, give those shareholders the time of day because they're like, Oh, wait, maybe there's something here that we either haven't been thinking about enough or that is going to get bigger, and we'd like to understand it better before it becomes a resolution in a couple of years time.

Dave Karlsgodt 19:49

Got it. In other words, they they may be doing good work and having lots of internal conversations. But making it public is both a lot of work, you know, you have to message it right. But also opens you up to risk and terms of talking about things either, you know, maybe competitive advantage is gone. Or there's other aspects of that, why they wouldn't say those things, but shareholders pushing them might. It opens the door for others to see. Okay, this, our competitors are doing this, so we should too.

Claire Veuthey 20:15

Absolutely. Yeah, exactly.

Dave Karlsgodt 20:18

Got it. Um, one thing I forgot to ask you, can you explain what it is that your firm does? I mean, where do you fit in this ecosystem you just described?

Claire Veuthey 20:26

Yeah, absolutely. So open investors, we use all three methods. So the portfolios we put together are designed to track benchmark indices very carefully. So they're really passive investments. But they're customized individuals and endowments values, right. So if you're a Family Foundation, really concerned about conservation, and you can make sure that your endowment In addition, for example, to your programmatic funds, are really aligned with your overall organized organizational mission. And what we'll do put together a portfolio that, for example, avoids companies that are the worst on deforestation practices, and overwhelms the companies that are the best. So that would be the positive and negative stream screening or exclusion and inclusion method that I described first. Because we're a passive shop, actually, we don't use that second tool, because we're not building individual evaluations for the companies, we really rely on the benchmark index provider to have a view on the way each company should have in a portfolio. And we use that as our baseline. The third method, and this is really novel, actually, we have a pending patent on this process. We've really distill down proxy voting. So that is simple and intelligible. Because it's a highly regulated process, it can get quite technical. And it's a little tricky to understand if you're not thinking about corporate governance all day, which most people, understandably, are not. So what we do is really distill down there often, but not always shareholder resolutions, but anything that needs to be voted on at a company annual meeting, that shareholders have the right to vote on will will distill the ones that are relevant to sustainability concerns down to a pretty simple question, provide our clients and investors with all the context they need, if they want to dig in more deeply, and then allow them to vote on their phones literally with a swipe. Yes or no on on on a proxy vote on those resolutions. So yeah, I'll take it back. We don't use the second tool, but we do use the investment divestment tool and the shareholder engagement piece of it.

Dave Karlsgodt 22:31

Well, two questions there. So one, part of the reason you don't use that second is because I assume you need enough scale or enough like if you're calipers, you if you have enough scale that you can absorb the administrative costs of taking on that engagement process. Yeah,

Claire Veuthey 22:44

that's right. Absolutely, we are looking to partnerships, and that's something I'm working on actively is working with other investors who are like minded and have similar views on the same issues. And this happens a lot actually, in the space investors will band together, aggregate the waist of the shares that they all collectively own, to push a particular point of view. So we are small, still on the asset side. But that really hasn't stopped other proponents and other asset managers from really making a difference. And really having the ear of some big companies on some important issues that they were, you know, conveniently ignoring before, there's actually a great story, a woman named Natasha Lamb who works at a company called agenda capital, who's led a series of really remarkable campaigns, particularly on gender pay equity over the last couple of years. And she's been engaging with a number of companies for years. And then I think when she just didn't see enough progress, submitted resolutions, shareholder resolutions at a bunch of financial services, companies and a bunch of tech companies, encouraging them to disclose on the gender pay gap and the gender pay difference within their employee base. And she's she's gotten a lot of attention, I think, really raised the issue in a way that hadn't been raised properly before.

Dave Karlsgodt 23:58

Basically, you don't have to do that, because you've got people that are focused on that. And you can pay attention to them and join forces with them. Maybe take the lead on other aspects of, of making them exactly,

Claire Veuthey 24:08

yeah, and I think that's the way these Coalition's work best because, you know, companies know their businesses really well, you can't just ask them to do things differently without being really informed, which is which is right. And it's pretty hard for investors who own even just 100 stocks, much less than, you know, thousand different different stocks to be as informed on all the issues as the management representatives are speaking to. So I think the best way for investor Coalition's to work is this divide and conquer approach, say, Okay, well, you asset manager x really focus on the climate issues and will really focus on the social issues will make sure that we're in sync, so where we agree on the position the other has taken, or we don't, you know, we don't join when we don't agree, or we have a different take, but it really allows for more traction and better quality discussions, frankly, between shareholders and companies, when you have that kind of structure.

Dave Karlsgodt 24:58

Okay, that helps in it. And then back to your proxy, you know, I guess it's like Tinder for proxy voting or like, the, you're simplifying it down so people know what they're voting on and giving them a chance, because I imagine that a lot of people just don't vote on stuff. Exactly. They just never take the time. So it's it's sort of like midterm elections that a few people get to make a bigger impact with their voting because they take the time to do it, or is or is it? Or is it structured such that the big shareholders have more sway, so

Claire Veuthey 25:31

it's not structured such but if you're an asset manager, you need to vote on behalf of your clients, so they are your asset owner, what happens most of the time is the default position is to vote with management. So you can see the how this becomes a little bit of a circus, right management puts together the agenda, all the points that need to be voted on the board says we recommend you vote x and most asset managers vote x, they don't even look at what the issue is. They just say management knows company best. We're just going to vote x. But okay, yes, sometimes. So there's obviously a lot of accountability, I have to say getting a shareholder resolution on on the ballot is pretty tricky. Already. There's a whole number of hurdles, you can't just file whatever you want, you need to own a certain number of shares, you need to have on them for a certain number of a certain number of years. It can't be considered meddling in the company's business. Since that not, that's not the investors role. It's usually about more information for investors from the company. And then even if a resolution were to pass and get over 50% of the vote, they're not those resolutions are not binding. So it and this has happened. Unfortunately, management can just choose to ignore the results, it behooves management to take a closer look and say, Okay, well 20% of our shareholder base thinks is an important question. Maybe we should take a look. It's just it's just not a great look to totally ignore that kind of results when you have a vote like that. But it but it definitely happens.

Dave Karlsgodt 26:54

Got it, maybe a way of putting it would be a resolution would be effective at getting things like disclosure, the, you know, gender pay gap example you gave a second ago, not necessarily saying we think you should go into this market, or we think you should try this product or something like that. That's that's management's job. So that's not

Claire Veuthey 27:10

correct. That's exactly yeah, investors generally shouldn't be making that kind of recommendation. But they can ask for more information. That's pretty standard. And you can see how it's a bit of a Trojan horse, right? The idea is, make sure you one, do if you don't have the data on gender pay gap within your company, you probably should. So please go set up those controls, and then report back to us on what the results are. And then you know, once the report is out there, because it's it will be made public. The expectation or the you'd expected company to do something about it, the numbers are really bad. Of course, they don't have to, but you'd hope that they would, that's part of the the point of asking for more information is then you know, acting on it?

Dave Karlsgodt 27:53

Well, it's interesting to hear you describe it from your perspective, as a consultant, we have been getting more inquiries from for profit company, most of our work has traditionally been just higher ed, where there does seem to be a little more of a mission link to, you know, the sustainability goals. Maybe they're being pushed by their students or faculty, as Mike alluded to earlier. But we're starting to see that in some for profit companies, and largely it is coming from shareholders. So I guess, good work, you know, on that front, but turning the conversation back to higher ed. Mike, I guess I would be interested in getting your perspective on those three methods that Claire just laid out, as a trustee or as a board of trustees, how have you interacted with those tools?

Mike Fiorio 28:33

Well, I would say that, in my experience over the past 33 years in the industry as an advisor, and now in the last three, as a trustee, it's been an evolution. Early on, there were a few money management investment companies out there that did socially responsible investing, you know, internally, they were charging a bit of quite a bit of money for what they did. Now, over the decades, things have come along, and it really isn't rocket science anymore. institutions. And individuals can invest money in a plethora of investment products that are sliced and diced to meet consumer demands. And it can be anything from, you know, plain vanilla mutual funds to exchange traded funds to separately managed accounts that will screen out specific industries, companies or search out companies that leave no, no mark on the planet with respect to carbon or humanity. With respect to north from college, I can say with certainty that Northland’s journey probably started easily 20 years ago, like you said, early on, we have demands from both students and faculty to divest from fossil fuels, the likes of AOC, and young people in general, who aren't afraid of the establishment, they're leading the charge and demanding change. The end of the day, this vision of higher learning its mission is to educate students. And in the absence of students, you know, there is no mission. And the objective of every institution of higher learning is to get students and if you're not listening to your audience, they'll go somewhere else, if you're not going to do your job, someone else is going to do it for you. So, you know, maybe this is a good segue into processes. But the process by which Northland ultimately went from essentially no holds barred, our objective is to earn as much money as we are fiduciary capable with the least amount of risk to doing that, with some attention to the planet, part of that journey led to the intentional endowments network, and me behind the scenes seeking some of the data that would help me go to, you know, 60, and 70, and 80 year old people who have spent their lives in business, in business, the ultimate objective is profit, any business whose objective is profit, you know, without it, they're out of business. So in the effort to make that case, in touch on the dominance network, provided me with some empirical evidence that would help me understand my fiduciary duty. And then from there, I always try to keep it simple. You know, Frank Luntz, who is a marketing guru in the car industry and now with the the Republican Party, says that it's not what you say, it's what they hear. And, you know, my goal in leading the conversation with trustees about divest from fossil fuels, was to help them understand that a as a fiduciary by divesting from fossil fuels, we are going to sacrifice returns necessarily on our underlying endowment portfolio. And be if our ultimate objective is to attract good students who want to be difference makers, change makers in the world, and make this place a better planet. The fact that we are divesting from fossil fuels, helps the college go out into the world and shouted out from the mountaintops and attract good students. And once they understood that, it was an easy transition, you know, divest from fossil fuels, in my view is a beginning. It's a starting point.

Dave Karlsgodt 33:06

Well, let's get into the specific process of this a little bit. Maybe, Mike, you could speak specifically to what did you guys actually do like, well, how did you actually get fossil fuels out of your investments and interest, an ongoing process? What did you actually go through? You had these conversations? At what point did you pull a trigger on a policy change or process or, you know, when did money start flowing from one account to another?

Mike Fiorio 33:32

Well, it was, like I say, this process, I think, started 20 years ago, and I came in as a trustee, I would say maybe a year into a conversation, trustees, collectively meet at our institution, just four times a year, quarterly. And it took, I would say, two years to go from starting the conversation myself, that is to having the conversation I just had with you about you know, it's not about sacrificing returns necessarily. But it is about doing what's right. being consistent with our mission. We do those things, the rest of the challenges of attracting good students. We're going in the right direction. After tabling the divesting of fossil fuels from our endowment over the course of several quarters. Finally, they got it they understood. You know, from a business persons perspective, climate change, Frank Luntz is the one that coined the term climate change. You said, global warming is not a warm and fuzzy. But climate change can be palatable. And that goes to it's not what you say, it's, it's what they hear. If you start conversations with if we don't start changing our ways, the planet is going to spin out of control, and we're all dead meat, you have to begin with maybe somebody those those ideas, but what about those ideas? And how can we change them, while at the same time not affecting our bottom line on the endowment, but our bottom line, in terms of attracting more and better students is a good conversation to have. And that's when they understood that we could do this, and then it was tabled for one more quarter. And we came in with a a motion resolution that said, we're going to do this, we're going to divest will give ourselves up to five years to make it happen. You know, your wheels are in motion. Our investment manager is essentially we're in private, separately managed accounts. And we're screaming out the fossil fuels. You know, again, that's a starting place. And I can see going forward into the future, you know, maybe not only screaming out fossil fuels, but tempting to start to look at, you know, carbon footprints of companies. And even beyond that. And again, it's not rocket science, there's a million in one ways of easily doing these things. And in terms of costs, which are part and parcel of a producer is responsibility to keep them low. Costs are compressing all the time. It's very competitive.

Dave Karlsgodt 36:24

Yeah. So let me just summarize what I've heard then. So first and foremost, it was expensive initially, because nobody really knew how to do it. And it was basically a boutique service offering at that point, but the costs have come down. The second part was the conversation with the rest of the trustees really had to focus on how does this help us be better trustees and be better stewards of the money that we're being trustees of promoting the mission of the institution and things like that? Maybe with the backdrop of climate change, but not certainly not? We're going to save the world through our dollar investment. It's really more about we're going to make a great university because we're investing in a smart way. Is that a fair way? To summarize it?

Mike Fiorio 37:03

Yes, it would be the only other thing I would add is your best friends in effecting these changes are your faculty and your students? And that's where change comes from, ultimately, that they're, they're pushing

Dave Karlsgodt 37:19

for that. Got it? You don't have lots of quippy sayings on T shirts and the Board of Trustees meetings, most people are pretty buttoned up, it sounds like, yes. Okay. Claire what maybe you, go ahead

Claire Veuthey 37:32

I just want to jump on a point that Mike made earlier, I think asset managers and an asset owners actually have a duty of care as a fiduciary duty to maximize shareholder value, and that has increasingly or overtime really been interpreted as maximizing the stock price. But you can see value isn't only an exclusively encompassed by the stock price. There's lots of other components. And lots of investors, and other folks will tell you, it's not the only thing they care about, right? They want the business done, right? They want it to be sustainable again, in the traditional financial sense, if your business is so extractive that you're going to lose all your customers or, and you're not going to gain any new customers, that's not good for your business over time, it might be great this quarter, but in a couple of years, no one's going to be coming to you. And I think that's a pretty easy concept to understand, even if you're only focused on returns. So I just want to be a little bit cautious about this, this idea of fiduciary duty, it's it's super important. But we can be a bit quick to rush to that to the idea that it's just about maximizing the share price and not a slightly more holistic understanding of what value

Dave Karlsgodt 38:41

Yeah, fair enough. I mean, there's both short term value long term value, but there's also societal value. And that's starting to become I mean, those are intertwined. Right. Or another way I've heard that put is, if we really do see massive impacts from climate change, then the economy itself is at risk. It's not about right, choose between one or the other. It's just that it. Yeah, there is no economy at a certain point, if it gets too bad.

Claire Veuthey 39:06

Exactly. There's there's no business on a dead planet.

Dave Karlsgodt 39:09

Fair enough? That's a good way to say it. I want to bring up a question, then I think both of you, I would venture a guess would consider yourselves capitalists in the general sense. You know, basically, the basic idea of Adam Smith's invisible hand saying that as long as you have good information that, you know, markets are the most efficient way to organize your economic system, rather than like a Soviet style command control. But that said, the the key point that I think people often forget is, its access to information is central to that idea. I'm curious how much access there is to this information. I know that, like I mentioned earlier, some there are companies coming to us now and saying, Hey, we need to get this information out there to the world for people to look at. But I would say frankly, most of what I'm seeing out there is not particularly detailed. And there's a lot of you know greenwashing information or just inadequate information, or just people just don't know how to capture this, as investors are from your perspectives? Are you seeing enough information to make these types of decisions? Is that getting better? Or just just talk to me about that, that idea? Or you know, or argue my my premise in the first place?

Mike Fiorio 40:17

day? That's a good question. There's a lot of information out there, I would start by mentioning a study I read, and I'm thinking it's maybe five or six years old now. That was done by Merrill Lynch. The study essentially made an attempt to create a an ethical score for all the larger capital life companies, publicly traded companies in the United States, and then correlated, those ethical scores with long term performance. While behold, those companies that had good ethical scores tended to perform better than those that through out the window, by ethical, I'm talking about companies that don't cook their books, treat their employees respectfully apply best practices, or regulatory hot water. Those are the companies that are the good long term performers. And in recent history, what comes to my mind is balling, you know, bowing his head, it's your issues recently, and course, their stock prices suffered. And it gets down to maybe 11% or so over its highs in recent history. There many, many other examples, Volkswagen, you name it in banking as Wells Fargo, I think there's plenty of information that will give investors and investment companies enough information to make reasonably good choices and who gets into the portfolio and who doesn't.

Dave Karlsgodt 41:58

So Claire, same, same question to you. So how, how does your firm for example, help your clients separate the greenwashing from actual actionable information?

Claire Veuthey 42:08

So let me take a step back and just talk a little bit about sustainability reporting. Sustainability reporting isn't regulated or very lightly. So which means that companies essentially disclose what they want, when they want and how they want. And as you can imagine, they largely disclose what makes them look good when it makes them look good, you know, when it's convenient, and they're not putting out other fires. This makes it really hard for investors to compare that information between companies, which really is how investors make decisions, right? They say, Okay, well, we can own a, we want exposure to the financial sector, we're looking at consumer finance, let's look at these four companies that have relatively similar business models. But I can't compare them on this one issue because they all disclose one of them discloses things on a two year cycle and the other set targets for years ago, but hasn't updated anything or told us how they've done on their targets. And the last one doesn't disclose anything. So it makes it really hard to really make an informed decision based on that kind of data. And I'd say that the big environmental, social and governance data providers have largely built their business on the fact that there wasn't a clear formal standard understanding of what issues which should matter to which companies, I'll just put a little plug in here for an organization called SASB, which is the sustainability Accounting Standards Board. And they really jumped into this yawning gap that existed, I think, back in 2011, which is when the organization was formed, and modeled themselves after the FASB, all right, well, investors say they care about these issues, but companies aren't disclosing them. Well, companies say none of our investors care, or if they do, they're all asking for different things. And we can't disclose everything, please be more directive or more specific about the information you want to see. Issue experts and other stakeholders are generally disappointed with the quality of disclosure or companies are putting out really beautiful reports that aren't made for investors, they're made for their community, maybe their regulator, often they're made for their employees. And they're, they're more story based than database, which again, is an investor would want to see data and stories are great, but only to inform and give a little color on the data. So it says we did was spent four or five years, working closely with big investors, you know, Vanguard, Wells, capital, State Street groups like that big companies that were engaged and interested in working on these issues and a number of subject matter experts. So accountants, securities lawyers, folks who knew the environmental social issues really well, and came up with a set of standards of how sustainability issues should be disclosed. And they came up with very technical disclosure saying, you should disclose this particular metric normalized by sales on a quarterly basis. And here's an example, size, he's been working on this really hard, they finally put out their first set of the first final standards in q3 or q4 2018. So this year, we'll really see whether whether companies step up to the plate and say, Okay, well, now we have the standards that we've been asking about for a long time. Let's see what the numbers look like, let's see if they if they actually use them, of course, this is, it's not mandatory, it's not regulated, yet, for companies to disclose any of this. And under this sec, it's unlikely to be regulated, but companies now have have the tools that they need, they may need a year to set up controls in order to really disclose the data properly. But I think 2020 will be really interesting to see which companies actually use the tools that have now been created for them to disclose sustainable, there's

Dave Karlsgodt 45:53

a lot of parallels to the higher ed world, a lot of the reporting, there has also been a challenge. A lot of our work tends to be just cleaning up their reporting data so that we can start talking about what to do about it. You know, there's a lot of just filling in the gaps. But yeah, I mean, how is it? So it sounds like it's getting better? And is it? I mean, could we expect that from every level of company? Or is it just the large companies that will be able to disclose that information? What can we expect?

Claire Veuthey 46:17

Hmm, um, so I've been lucky to work in a couple of regions around the world. I was based in Singapore for a couple of years, and in Amsterdam, Switzerland. And I'd say there's definitely a regional bend. So by and large, Western Europe is very good at this kind of disclosure. And I think it's at least in part because big investors there have been pushing for longer. The US is, is picking up especially the really big companies, but really the defining factor of which companies are, do a good job disclosing environmental, social governance issues or which companies compete at a global level. So you'll have companies like Wipro, in India, or Taiwan, semi based in in Taiwan. So companies firmly based in emerging markets, they compete again at a global scale, and they know that their clients, to some extent, their suppliers, and certainly their investors are interested in these issues. So to answer your question, it's mostly larger companies, though, increasingly, we're seeing it go down the market cap, and smaller companies are kind of getting the picture and realize that they need to have somewhat better answers. To be fair to small companies, often they're already doing some work on the side, they just don't disclose it publicly. So they're, maybe they're new to being listed or smaller companies just get less scrutiny, because they're not generally as widely owned as really big companies. But most of them are sort of getting the memo and realizing that they need to be a little bit more public about what they do on the environmental and social side. Yeah.

Dave Karlsgodt 47:42

And I guess we're talking about publicly traded companies here, not necessarily just companies in general, because the private company doesn't have to do any of this. They don't want to right. I mean, there's no,

Claire Veuthey 47:50

very little That's right. Yeah, that's right, though, again, you'll have some great private companies that will, will disclose but that's strictly because they choose to not because they're required to got it.

Dave Karlsgodt 48:00

Okay. All right. So one other after seeing all of their hearing about all of the tools and and mechanics of this, how big of a stick Do I really have as an investor? It sounds like there are different ways I can engage. But I guess coming back to an institutional investor, so somebody that's involved with, like, like, Mike is with that as a board of trustee. How big of an impact could I or how big of a stick do I have?

Mike Fiorio 48:25

My take on this is we live in an economic democracy. And by that, I mean, both how we spend our money collectively, and how we invest our money speaks to what we're talking about today. And well, perhaps individually as, as individual investors or institutions, we don't have a ton of clout. collectively we do. And in this day and age, with the advent of Facebook and social media, you can getting lots of people on the same page, at the same time, witness various commentators on various networks, losing advertisers, because of what they've said, The same holds true in investing. Every day, what we spend our money on and what we invest our money yen ultimately, has an effect on the direction of what what's important to we the people.

Dave Karlsgodt 49:28

So in other words, from a public relations perspective, there's an outsized impact. So if you can get enough people on board saying the same message to the same company, they'll change their ways. Is that good summary?

Mike Fiorio 49:40

Absolutely. That's Adam Smith.

Dave Karlsgodt 49:43

So Claire, what about logistically, I'm like, if I really want to get a meeting with the CEO, and I am involved with the university pension fund or something like that. I mean, how does that work is I don't imagine that person charged with managing the money directly is, you know, having lunch dates with the CEO, a company they're investing in, but how can they engage? What does that look like?

Claire Veuthey 50:04

There's a couple of interesting ways that investor can make a difference. And we touched a little bit earlier on shareholder engagement, which I think can be very effective, though, to be fair, it's often quite slow. But there are lots of there are lots of other ways. And I think part of the point we're trying to make at open invest in something I really firmly believe in personally is that consumers have a lot of power to, and employees have a lot of power. So if you work for an organization that isn't, you know, really meeting the bar of what you think it should be doing on sustainability, I think you probably have more power than you think, again, going back to your point of all of us being capitalist, I think what you buy also makes a big difference. And that includes in your investment portfolio, I think we've gotten to the point where it's more normal for folks to think about their purchasing decisions, like what they eat, what they were, what they drive or don't drive. But it's a little bit less common for folks to think about that in their investment portfolio, even though it might be you know, one of the biggest parts of their personal net worth or you know, some of the biggest assets they have, they're often just sitting on the shelf in something really standard instead of a little bit more, a little more oriented to how the how the individual sees, sees the future and wants to

Dave Karlsgodt 51:16

In other words, we spend a lot of time thinking about what kind of straw we do or don't use. But meanwhile, we have most of our network tied up in the investments that are really driving the world.

Claire Veuthey 51:26

I think so yeah, I think we have more power than we think in that space. And there's, again, part of what open investors trying to change is activate all of that. Because if you stop someone on the street and ask them, would you if there were no financial trade off? Would you want your assets invested in line with your values in the way that you see the future and the world that you want to exist? I'd like to think most people would say yes. And we can do that. Now. It didn't always used to be the case many of these products were and continue to be really expensive. But increasingly, again, a bit of a plug for my employer. But there's there's other ways to do this. You can get investment products that are standard from the financial point of view and very aligned from an environmental, social and governance point of view.

Dave Karlsgodt 52:09

No, that's good news. Well, let me turn it back to students for a second. I know that a lot of institutions, unlike Northland college, the efforts to pursue divestment in particular have fallen flat. Are there other ways students can get involved? Or you know, Mike, now that you've guys have kind of achieved that? Where are your students getting involved?

Mike Fiorio 52:29

Northland, just recently, some urging from me, the north on college faculty and staff and students just started a fund, they call it the northern college resiliency fund. And it actually, for governance reasons, is just a part of the main downer, but it's a separately managed part of it, they are funding it with some of the fees from students and staff, every reduction, faculty and staff, you know, their goal is to help the college affect change in the world. I'm interested to see how they grapple with the question of making money attempting to make money so that they can fund their desired goals from the spending of some of the income from the fun with the realities of being a fiduciary and all that goes into that. But I can see this small college and its students and faculty, learning about social justice and how they might affect change through, you know, shareholder proxy votes. And I'm just very curious to see how that works. But, you know, I think they're going to make some noise and ultimately, you know, through collective wisdom of all kinds of investors, and consumers out there, you can affect change, you know, companies Listen, and if you're not doing your job, someone else will do it for you.

Dave Karlsgodt 54:02

Okay, well, shifting gears, then, if people listening to this young professionals are interested in getting into this space, what does this look like for them today? What are the different ways they might get involved? And I would say, maybe ranging from, you know, the very business-centric side, maybe the investing side, but also from the activism side, what are some of the opportunities for them, Mike, go ahead first and all that clear, filling?

Mike Fiorio 54:24

Sure, just a basic comment first, and then maybe some advice. I have a son who attends a university, and he's in the sciences. But essentially, what we're talking about here is being well rounded, and leaving your options open. Well, he's a scientist, his minor, is in entrepreneurial ship, and recently had a great conversation with him about a course he took called the business of science. And essentially, a liberal arts background. never heard anybody, whether you're a scientist and mathematician, or what have you, ever, the ability to communicate well is never a bad thing. With respect to maybe some advice on making money saving the world. And I gave my son recently, some advice, who was a senior, and it was draw a Venn diagram, three circles in each circle, right, a question. The first question is, what do you do best? The second question is, What gives you the most joy? And the third question is, how can you best serve? And where those three questions intersect on that Venn diagram is where your career lies. And if you do those things, there's a place for you in this industry, if that's your desire, and your passion.

Claire Veuthey 55:53

So if you're interested in sustainable investing, as a career, I think there's lots of ways to get into it. Right? what I've seen is before looks either come in from the environmental, social and governance side, or from the traditional investment side, and they will parlay the experience they have in one or the other to move into this hybrid space. But to be fair, I did most of my training 10 or 15 years ago, and things have changed. There's a lot more curriculum focused on sustainable business. And there was before and I think folks can come out of higher ed, much better equipped than I was to really contribute productively in the space immediately. I started my career with research providers, I think it was close to my my grad work since I was a kind of a social sciences major. And a lot of the qualitative research I was doing there was very similar to the work that I did in my first job where I rated publicly listed companies on environmental, social and governance issues. You can also start as an investment analyst, and either on your own time or hopefully, with the blessing of your employer, really learn more about sustainability issues and how they might show up in the companies you're analyzing. As we mentioned earlier, there are lots of other roles here. So I know some folks, especially after business school, but not sometimes before business will will go work for an investment consultant. Some like Cambridge associates, will work directly with mission driven organizations and will help them pick asset managers. And that can be a great way to understand the field. There are also other avenues into this world. So one of the co founders of the company I work for now, Josh Levin, spent six years at the WWE on the sustainable finance team, and then met up with some old friends of his and co founder, the company I work with. So there's lots of different avenues. I think you have to be directive, it's not going to happen by accident. But if you have your eye on the ball, you can move into the space.

Dave Karlsgodt 57:45

All right, well, final question. Just to wrap this up. It sounds like there's a lot of change going on in this space. It sounds like it's come a long ways from where it started thinking 1020 years out? What's your vision for what this might look like? Mike, you want to give us our first pass at that

Mike Fiorio 58:01

I looking in the rear view mirror of my career, or the past 30 plus years, I've seen tons of change in this industry. And I see no reason why going forward into the future, the pace of change won't easily equal it or exceed. And I look forward to what might come up.

Dave Karlsgodt 58:22

Great. Claire, last word goes to you.

Claire Veuthey 58:24

So if we do really well, as an industry, if we continue to do well, and frankly, I've seen amazing growth just in the last 10 or 15 years. I think that investing and sustainable investing will essentially be the same thing, at least long term investing. If you're a day trader or a corporate raider and really thinking very short term. I'm not sure ESG issues will matter because they often play out a little bit more slowly. Not always. And there's been some pretty notable examples of that. But hopefully, my ambition would be those two things to be the same and for environmental, social and governance issues just to be part of part of regular investing.

Dave Karlsgodt 59:06

Excellent. Well, I want to thank you both for taking the time today and and digging through the weeds of some of these conversations, as well as some of the higher level background and perspectives that you both bring. So thank you very much for your time. And thanks for coming on the podcast.

Mike Fiorio 59:20

Thanks for having us

Claire Veuthey 59:21

Thanks for having us Dave.

Dave Karlsgodt 59:22

That's it for this episode. I did want to give a big shout out to the staff the intentional endowments network that helped connect me with today's guests. You can learn more about IEN at intentionalendowments.org. To learn more about today's episode or any of our shows. You can visit our website at Campus energy podcast. com. You can follow us on Twitter, we are @energypodcast. If you'd like to support the show, please consider leaving a rating or review on iTunes or sending a link to a friend. As always, thanks for listening.

Episode 18: University of Virginia's Delta Force Program

Andrea Trimble (left), Jesse Warren (right)

Andrea Trimble (left), Jesse Warren (right)

Andrea Trimble, CEM, LEED AP BD+C, O+M
Office for Sustainability Director
University of Virginia

Jesse Warren PE, CEM, LEED AP BD+C, O+M
Sustainability Program Manager for Buildings & Operations
University of Virginia

Host: Dave Karlsgodt
Principal, Fovea, LLC

The focus of this episode is the University of Virginia’s Delta Force, a self-funded building energy efficiency and sustainability program. You’ll hear how UVA has taken a $400,000 seed fund to yield $42M dollars in energy related cost savings to the University. We get into the nuts and bolts of the program but also zoom back to talk more generally about their sustainability programs and collaboration with their city and regional governments.


Episode Transcript:

The following is an automated transcription of this episode which will include errors and omissions. You can listen and follow along with the text here:


David Karlsgodt 0:00

Welcome to the campus energy and sustainability podcast. In each episode, we'll talk with leading campus professionals thought leaders and engineers and innovators addressing the unique challenges and opportunities facing higher ed and corporate campuses. Our discussions will range from energy conservation and efficiency to planning and finance, from building science to social science, from energy systems to food systems, we hope you're ready to learn, share and ultimately accelerate your institution towards solutions. I'm your host, Dave Karlsgodt, I'm a principal at Fovea an energy, carbon and business planning firm.

Jesse Warren 0:33

The biggest thing that I love about my job is that we have the freedom and flexibility to identify what is the best path forward for the university, as opposed to being prescribed to a specific one.

Andrea Trimble 0:45

We've reduced our greenhouse gas emissions by about 19% since 2009, despite very extensive growth, and a lot of that has been attributable to energy efficiency.

Jesse Warren 0:57

When I came to UVA, I was worried that I was going to have to fill out a requisition form to do a project in the next budget year and things like that. And that told me that I wasn't going to have the impact. But what I learned is things like the Delta Force model that allow our funding to revolve makes sure that our impact is significant and its immediate.

David Karlsgodt 1:19

In this episode, you'll hear my interview with two staff from the University of Virginia. First Andrea Trimble, office for sustainability director, and Jesse Warren, sustainability program manager for building and operations. The focus of our conversation is UVA is Delta Force, a self funded building energy efficiency and sustainability program. You'll hear how UVA has taken a $400,000 seed fund to yield $42 million in energy related cost savings to the university. We certainly get into the nuts and bolts of the program. But we also zoom back to talk more generally about their sustainability programs, and how they're collaborating with their city and regional governments. Before we get started, a quick thank you to all of you who shared our recent summer internship job posting, we had an overwhelming response. And we're honored and humbled by all of the amazing candidates that said it applications. I asked my wife to help me in reviewing the applications. And this morning, she told me that compared to all the negative news We've been living through, reading the ideas of these passionate, smart, articulate young people ready to take on the world's challenges gave her a great deal of hope. I couldn't agree with her more. And I look forward to introducing a new voice to the podcast the summer. For now, please enjoy this may 1 interview with Andrea Trimble and Jesse Warren from the University of Virginia.

Andrea and Jesse, it's great to have you on the podcast today.

Andrea Trimble 2:44

It's great to be here. Thank you for having me. Thanks, Dave.

David Karlsgodt 2:46

Well, I'm excited to have you both here today to talk about your building Efficiency Program and sustainability programs, specifically the Delta Force program. And I know we're going to get into a bunch of different topics, including building standards, students, faculty and community engagement and project finance all sorts of fun stuff, I'm sure. But before we get into that, can you both just introduce yourselves so we know who we're talking to? And maybe give a little bit of background on the UVA campus? Just so people know where you are? Andrew, why don't you start?

Andrea Trimble 3:20

Sounds good. My name is Andrea Trimble and I am director of movies office for sustainability, which is a team of 13 full time staff and 18 part time student employees who focus on strategic planning, collaboration, program and event management, project implementation and engagement communication with two primary aspects to the office of outreach and engagement side. And we have staff associated with that and an energy engineering side of the staff associated with buildings and recycling. UVA is fairly large, we have over 16,000 undergrads over 6000 graduate students, over 16,000 employees, and over 16 million square feet of building space. This also includes a large hospital and health system, which is included in all of our goals and UNESCO World Heritage Site, our Thomas Jefferson's lon. And we're tied to

David Karlsgodt 4:11

thanks, Jesse, over to you.

Jesse Warren 4:12

My name is Jesse Warren. I'm our sustainability program manager for buildings and operations. What that means is I'm responsible for energy efficiency on the building side of the meter, I'm responsible for new renewable energy development on grounds as well as our Solid Waste Management Program. The university is somewhat unique in that we have campus energy systems that are provided by both fossil fuels and electricity, and those are sold to our individual buildings.

David Karlsgodt 4:39

Alright, thanks for that. Let's dive right into talking about the Delta Force program, which was the premise of what we wanted to talk about in this show. So maybe Jesse, can you just give us an overview of the program, and then we can dive into some of the details?

Jesse Warren 4:53

Sure. So Delta Force is our internal building retro commissioning program, we've been working for about a decade on retro commissioning existing buildings on grounds. The way we do that is by creating sort of a multifunctional team of folks that consist of energy engineers like myself, as well as building operators, maintenance technicians, and outside subcontractors to be able to get these buildings to their peak performance. We do this through an internal revolving fund model, where we, we fund the initial investments into energy efficiency, and then we recover 125% of that investment over time. So our construction costs end up being recovered through the energy savings of those projects. And that helps fund the the office for sustainability and our internal operations.

David Karlsgodt 5:43

Tell me a little bit about the scale of savings you're talking about.

Jesse Warren 5:48

At the end of calendar year, 18, we have invested $16.7 million into Delta Force, and we've saved over $42 million in avoided energy cost. Wow, those are real metered savings. And that is the net of our savings. So if some building has gone over, that's been taken into account, when I quote that 42 million,

David Karlsgodt 6:06

you're not just counting your successes, you're counting your your failures is running that number. That's great. All right. Well, Andrea, you were the one that reached out to me about this program. What specifically was it about the Delta Force that you thought would be relevant to the listeners of this podcast?

Andrea Trimble 6:22

So one aspect of our work that's very important to us is to share replicable models that could be implemented elsewhere, in order to scale impact, especially as we all collectively work together on urgent global issues and climate change. We really value the importance of sharing materials and lessons learned with anyone who's interested. I've been focused on sustainability in higher education for about 13 years now. And I really think the Delta Force program is an innovative but replicable program with really impressive financial energy and greenhouse gas results.

David Karlsgodt 6:53

Well, I'm excited to dig into some of these details. But how did you guys get this started? We talk a lot with clients about the idea of having a revolving fund and reinvesting and using the savings from one project to reinvest to the other. But how did you get this off the ground in the first place?

Jesse Warren 7:09

Well, I mentioned early on that we've got a strong energy and utilities infrastructure here on campus, and our plants are selling hot water and chilled water to our buildings. And our buildings are returning chilled water and hot water to them. So what happens is we identified buildings that had a very low chilled water delta t. And we own the energy and utility side said, we're going to go into those buildings. And we're going to make those investments in retro commissioning and new vows in order to increase the delta t across the building. That'll make our plants more efficient. And that'll make it cheaper for the enterprise to run. We enter we invested about $400,000 into that project. And we generated about $800,000 a year and energy savings, meaning we had about a six month payback on that investment. So the university said okay, we'll take back our $400,000. But we will give to you the other $400,000 in order to seed or evolving fun program to keep these kinds of investments moving. That was in about 2009. Since then, we've undertaken about 30 projects encompassing close to 50 buildings, in varying levels of energy efficiency retrofits ranging from light retro commissioning all the way down to deep energy retrofits including new lighting, water fixtures, etc.

David Karlsgodt 8:28

So Jesse, just so my dad, when he listens to this podcast, can and get what you're saying, can you explain the concept of delta-T, because I think that's pretty critical for people to understand.

Jesse Warren 8:38

Sure. So when we send chilled water out to a building, we send that chilled water out at about 44 degrees, we want that chilled water to come back at like 64 degrees, because that's how our machines are designed to work. When those buildings are performing poorly, that water can come back at like 48 degrees, that means you've got a four degree temperature rise across the system and that of the 20 degree temperature rise that our systems are looking for. and forcing our machines to operate in those conditions leads to a loss and performance and degradation over time.

David Karlsgodt 9:10

Basically, you want to suck more of the cold out. Is that a way to think about it?

Jesse Warren 9:13

exactly. To get into the engineering of it. Your efficiency is dictated by these temperatures. And the broader the span of the temperatures, the better than machine can operate.

David Karlsgodt 9:24

Okay, great. Well, I think you mentioned this, but what was the source of that original funding? Can you remind me?

Jesse Warren 9:30

that was funded through energy and utilities programs, so the chiller plants were operating at less than optimal performance, and they came up with the idea to go into these buildings and retro condition them. So for years, the Delta Force program before we incorporated the office for sustainability actually lived in energy and utilities, and not in building maintenance, because that was what was really the original funding source.

David Karlsgodt 9:53

Okay, good. So but it sounds like you got this first big project and you had great results. And then you were able to expand that out and take it from there. How did the program developed since then? I mean, so you had the big project, what, how did you get your second project, your third project, etc.

Jesse Warren 10:08

So once we had a track record of success, it was really a matter of identifying those big energy consuming buildings, and then putting in place the pieces that we needed to retro condition them. When I say retro condition, I'm talking about bringing all the systems back to the level of performance that they had when they originally designed. I think that's a noble goal. But our goal today is to do better than that. We want the buildings to perform better than design. So it's retro commissioning, plus all these energy efficiency activities that come into it. So once we started sort of persuading people that this was an opportunity, we were able to sort of grow that reputation and fund on campus.

David Karlsgodt 10:46

Now, that's an interesting point. So you're saying even the building is originally designed is not as good as you're able to get buildings to? Now? That's correct. Is that? Is that because that when they design them? Is it that they're not thinking hard enough, they're being too conservative? Or is it just that the technology's gotten better, or you've just understood how the systems work better or

Jesse Warren 11:06

a little bit of all three, to be honest with you. The systems were designed to do what was appropriate back then. And today's codes and standards have evolved because we have a better understanding of ventilation or building envelope designed, for instance. So we don't just try to bring it back to the original condition, we try to bring it to the condition that it wants to be today. So as we look forward, that involves things like air change optimization around laboratories, we've got spaces that were designed to be lat have laboratory ventilation systems, but are not being used as labs, whether that's through a change in space, or a decision that was made an initial design, we can come back through and recalibrate those spaces to use significantly less energy. And while we're at it be a lot less noisy and intrusive on the building occupants.

David Karlsgodt 11:53

Got it. Okay, so you're treating these like long term working assets, rather than like a disposable building, essentially. Right?

Jesse Warren 11:59

Okay. If you think about our long term history here on grounds, I mean, we're celebrating our 200th anniversary, and many of our buildings are built out of, you know, slate roofs and copper gutters. And in order to make those kinds of decisions, they make sense on the 50 or hundred year scale. Now MEP decisions, mechanical, electrical, and plumbing decisions aren't being made that way. But for our buildings that we know are not going anywhere, we're taking the longest view.

David Karlsgodt 12:24

So Jesse, a key point, something that seems central to figuring this all out would be metering. Can you tell us a little bit about how your buildings are metered? how detailed is that? How much do you rely on that information?

Jesse Warren 12:37

Yeah, so metering is sort of the crux of everything that we do, right. Because if you think about the way the Delta Force model works, we look back upon historical metering data to understand what the building was doing before we got started. And we continue to charge them that baseline, as we reduce energy, the energy reduction, cost comes back to us. So we are taking credit for the avoid cost associated with our work. And then once we achieve our cost recovery, the mechanism falls away. And now the School of Business Unit against a benefit.

David Karlsgodt 13:14

So is that based on a couple of years, is a weather normalized, like how do you how do you do that to make sure you don't just, you know, one building had a bad year or something went wrong, and that's the baseline or vice versa, that you know, they weren't using it at all. So their baseline was really low.

Jesse Warren 13:26

Yeah, that's a risk that we kind of take on ourselves, we've got to be really judicious with the projects that we choose to make sure that things like that aren't going to happen. Like, I'll give you an example. There's a building on grounds that we've wanted to do ever since it was built, but it hasn't reached full occupancy yet. So for our model, once the occupancy increases by 25%, with that final build out, that's when we really have an opportunity to come in and manage energy. for better for worse, our model doesn't work when the building is partially occupied, or isn't a state of transition.

David Karlsgodt 13:57

Yeah, do you have other mechanisms stick it at things like that is that just that's not within the scope of what your Delta Force program is trying to deal with?

Jesse Warren 14:04

Well, we're working on them. We've got a couple of different ideas on how to manage that. But Delta Force is sort of the primary vehicle, we've considered an Andrea, feel free to chime in if you think I'm out of line here. But we have considered something more like a green revolving fund that would negotiate these payments, instead of relying on actual building metering to generate the savings. By doing that, we would decouple some of the risk associated with what you're talking about be whether or increased occupancy, but still showing the avoid cost against the calculated based on

David Karlsgodt 14:40

got it, but right now you're using meters. And and and that's that's the, you know, kind of a reliable way of getting at it. And

Jesse Warren 14:46

it remains really important to us even today, because that's the level in which we interact with the customers utility bills, we're going to set the customers utility bills to that baseline. And we're going to repeat that year over year until we get to cost recovery that can be anywhere from two years on a spectacular project to 4, 6, 8 on a more typical one.

David Karlsgodt 15:07

No, that makes that makes total sense. But how I mean, I hate to dwell on this too much. But I just know how much blood sweat and tears I've put into trying to get at some of these questions, you know, just from a consulting perspective, not necessarily trying to manage it directly. But I find that in most cases, the building meter data that I see at universities is pretty rough. Yeah, did you guys spend quite a few years just getting your, your numbers and processes and like the tool set figured out first? Or has that kind of happened along the way, as you've added buildings, and you just didn't do it for the few buildings you were focused on or, I mean, Talk Talk to me about how that process, you know, laid out, we don't need to get into the nitty gritty of you know exactly how you did it. But just

Jesse Warren 15:50

so in, in broad strokes, we've got about 550 buildings on grounds, most of those buildings, our buildings, even though some of them may be a pump house or something like that. Regardless, they're all metered. And the reason they're metered is because we buy electricity at the substation level at about six cents a kilowatt hour, and we sell it back to our buildings at about eight cents a kilowatt hour. That means we own and operate all of the electrical infrastructure between the substation the building itself, but if we had our energy company bring power directly to that building, it would cost us close to nine cents a kilowatt hour. So we've been generating instant value for the university by taking on the strong energy and utilities enterprise. But in order to make that strong energy and utilities enterprise work, we needed to have strong metering in place. So we've had a metering and billing group who's been focused on this for years. And that gave us the opportunity to interfere with that process with Delta Force. I've told countless universities and other installations that they need good metering in order to put a program like this in place as for

David Karlsgodt 17:01

No, that makes sense. And it sounds like even just the delta between what you guys can get as a wholesale customer and what you would have to charge individual departments that they were to hook up directly to the utility, that difference would justify the metering by itself. I imagine that's a pretty big spread of price, right? There

Jesse Warren 17:18

it is. And so if you think about the rotunda in the lawn and the UNESCO World Heritage Site, we're serving all that from hot water and chilled water that's being generated elsewhere. There's no good place to hang a cooling tower on the rotunda.

David Karlsgodt 17:33

Yes, and the architects are appreciative that you didn't try. Right.

Jesse Warren 17:36


David Karlsgodt 17:38

Excellent. Okay. Know that I appreciate that. That's, that is maybe a little bit of a secret sauce that I think others can learn from. So, um, okay. Well, you mentioned that you've got slate roofs, and some, 200 year old buildings and things like that. How much of this work are you doing in house versus outsourcing, because it seems like there's some pretty specialized skill sets involved there.

Jesse Warren 18:02

Yeah, so we operate on sort of a zone maintenance perspective. So we've got about 10 maintenance zones who are responsible for the boots on the ground work and most of these buildings. And then we've got specialty shops. Those specialty shops consist of things like building automation or fire alarm. And we can deploy those resources from a central location. What we have done is we have worked with our local maintenance zones to identify what their capacity is. So for some zones, we can do a lot of electrical work. And we want to do all of that with them, because they take the most pride in the work that they've done, because they're the ones who have to go back and maintain it over time. If you think about my LED lighting change out, we want the maintenance zones to be engaged in that because they're the ones who are ultimately going to benefit from the reduced maintenance associated with LED, so they should know how to service and work on them. And by installing them, they can get there. We also focus on their essential shops for things like build automation. So in order to achieve the work that Delta Force has set forth, we have created this building optimization team. Now I don't want to take credit for this. This lives over an automation services because they've done a great job coming up with a team of cross functional HPC mechanics, pipe fitters, electricians who can controls technicians who can strip the pneumatic controls, often existing building and re install digital, while the customer is none the wiser. That is how we perform most of our work working with local maintenance zones or with our building optimization team to actually deploy these things. But when we need surgery, switching capacity will go out to outside vendors as well. So for instance, we recently did some lighting projects in residence halls, and those needed to be done in a very short time-frame. And so our maintenance folks were already busy doing other maintenance work during the shutdown. So we'll bring in outside subcontractors to do revamping electrical work, even mechanical work if it's a appropriate. But I would say our guiding focus is if we're going to be doing something in the longest term, we need to think about how we staff up to do it. If it's something that we're going to do temporarily, or that's not part of our core business, we look at how we shop it out.

David Karlsgodt 20:15

Okay, yeah, that makes sense. That seems like a reasonable way to make that determination. Stepping back, though, is something you just said, you know, something we get a lot of push back on when we talk to clients about this concept of a long range Efficiency Program is the actual getting people out of the buildings and the whole mechanics of it. You know, it's one thing to look at it on a spreadsheet, it's quite another to really think about how many buildings you're going to disrupt. But based on what you just said, it sounds like you can do this work without getting people out of the buildings. Tell me more about that.

Jesse Warren 20:46

Yeah, so for the most part, we can service these buildings while they're occupied. And a great example of that is Clark Hall. Clark Hall is the original School of Law on grounds. So it was built in about the 1930s. But around 2005, we built a large wet lab and library addition on to him. So we got the idea of why don't we look at that as an energy efficiency retrofit. And we were able to do a lot of the work with the building optimization team while the building was occupied. But that building has labs and it has lab hoods. And those lab hoods are used for noxious chemicals and things that otherwise shouldn't be breathed in. And we had to shut down those lab hoods, because we had people on the roof. And when the wind blew a certain way, or they stood in a certain place, they would get headaches or they would get killed. So we have to shut down buildings if things like lab ventilation is threatening the people who are doing the work. But under normal circumstances, they can do things like hotwire the return air temperature sensor so that you can run off that so that they can do the work they need to program their controllers in time.

David Karlsgodt 21:55

Got it. So yeah, major renovations you are still moving people out of at least portions the building, but for some of those things that you're doing again, and again, and again, as you work your way through work in technology through the buildings, right able to do it in segments. That makes sense.

Jesse Warren 22:10

So if we have for instance, a two week shut down, that might require four months of coordination to get all the pieces and parts in place, get the researchers out of their space so that we can shut the building down to do what we need to do temporarily.

David Karlsgodt 22:23

Got it? Um, let's talk about construction standards for building. So you have buildings going back 200 years, but you're building new spaces, I'm assuming as well. You're renovating buildings all the time? What type of standards do you have in place that guide how you know how good the building is going to be when you build something new or renovate something that you're renovating? Andrew, you want this one?

Andrea Trimble 22:46

Sure. So in terms of sustainability, UV has required LEED certification for several years. About two years ago, the Office for sustainability and partner ship with others across the University City started developing Green Building Standards. And these are both process oriented as well as prescriptive. The idea behind the standards was twofold really one that we go beyond the minimum requirements of lead to put in place minimum EV requirements for new construction and major renovations. But then also to enable a process that is collaborative and gets the UV owner, the various constituent stakeholders on the TV side, on the same page as to what the project goal should be and match against. So for example, similar to some other green betting Sanders at other universities, we have requirements for integrated design, setting goals early in the project. And then matching to those goals through energy modeling and lifecycle costing at each phase of design. We also put in place, minimum Eli energies intensity target or the building. So the way that we do this, instead of setting requirement, that's a percentage below ashtray, we set it up requirement that's 25%, below a baseline that we determined. So the way that we determine that baseline is we take buildings of like type at UVA, look at their meter performance, and then cut 25% off of that as the minimum target for new construction. And those went into place about a year ago. So we're starting to get some good feedback and some good metrics as to what's working well on that. And soon we'll have buildings constructed in in operation so we can measure the success of this different sort of energy target.

David Karlsgodt 24:32

Yeah. Is that because you have? I mean, it sounds like you have a lot of great information on your building. So you're able to do that I think people default to hash rate or something just as a standard. But is that is that part of why are you been able to do that as part of

Andrea Trimble 24:43

right? That's part of why so the having the good meter data for all these buildings? We were finding that? Because Yeah, because we're able to get much more specific on the building the next building types within a particular building. When we do that. We are hoping that we think we won't get much better predictions of energy consumption.

David Karlsgodt 25:04

Great. Yeah, no, that's and there, you can think about things like how does this deal with their district energy system versus just kind of a standalone building? Like you might run into an

ashtray standard? Okay.

Interesting. All right. Well, one other silly question I have is, is what's the Where did the name come from? You have this called this the Delta Force? Sounds like, I know, you guys aren't too far from a lot of military installations. But I don't think maybe where does the name come from? So delta t.

Jesse Warren 25:34

So yeah, that's a good question. I don't have the answer to that. I came from sustainability consulting around military installations before I came to UVA. So I'm pretty familiar with the term here. I think it started with the idea that we were chasing delta t, right. But over time, I think it's become, we are capturing the Delta in your utility bills. So if we can do use your energy expense by 25 percent? Well, that 25% comes back to us until we've recovered our investment. So in other words, we capture the Delta up until we're complete. So we have not yet decided which of those two stories is true. I've heard both.

David Karlsgodt 26:16

Yeah, whatever one pulls the best, I guess, right?

Jesse Warren 26:19

Depending on who you're talking to, at the moment.

David Karlsgodt 26:21

Perhaps it'll run for president as well. But

Great, okay, well, maybe let's switch out of the tactical a little bit. This program sounds amazing, and I think would be envied by many listening to this podcast that are in trying to get something similar set up at their own institution. But at some point, you had to get people to buy off on this. And, you know, I do this for a living, but getting non technical people to get excited about things like delta t, is not always the easiest thing to do. But somehow you guys have pulled this off. Can you tell me a little bit about how you got your administration on board,

Jesse Warren 26:57

I have experienced getting caught summers on board, and I came into the program after it already existed. What I can tell you is we have a track record of success and continuing that track record record of successes and everybody's best interest. But for us, I think it came down to having one sort of big win, that we could then parlay into other wins. So if you think about that project that we did over at Mr. For where we identified $400,000 worth of improvements that saved $800,000 a year, I would suggest finding something like that funding it and then figuring out how to get that funding to not return to the initial pocket. That's been a lot of the conversation we have is can you fund something out of one pocket, and then have it roll back into something different, like a revolving fund? And if you've got a quick win like that, where you can show the return on investment with doing so I think you've got a strong case.

David Karlsgodt 27:57

Interesting. Okay. Yeah, that'd be that. Having that kind of return, I guess, happening within one budget cycle, something like that, is that key, or,

Jesse Warren 28:07

or something on the two year, three year range? You know, I talked about Clark Hall. Now, Clark Hall is a big project. For us, we invested nearly $2 million in that between the Delta Force investment and the university's investment. But we managed to cut the building utility costs from $1.2 million a year to about $450,000 a year, saving 67% and about 750,000 a year. So the projects don't have to be small to be a quick win. That was a long win for us, but was a huge one.

David Karlsgodt 28:39

Right? Okay, now, that makes sense. But it also sounds like you had the data, the metering data in that information, and you're charging customers, is that a prerequisite to doing a program like this, do you think

Jesse Warren 28:53

I think the money has to come from somewhere. So I like the idea of holding that baseline and continuing to fund it as if that was real energy expense, because from the customers perspective, it would have been, I think a lot of the value that we bring is that we bring sort of a comprehensive project management solution, right, we come in, we say you don't have to do anything, you just have to agree to the things that we propose. And for the most part, facilities management can come in and perform the work. That's not to say people don't participate. And we don't, we do actively bring occupants into the work that we're doing. But if they so choose, we can perform that project transparently

David Karlsgodt 29:34

got it, they can choose to think about it just as Okay, you're going to make my bill go down and basically not get in my way, or they can be collaborative, and, and work with you.

Jesse Warren 29:41

So like at Clark Hall, for instance, we really focused on occupied engagement. We wanted to know what the occupants desired out of the project. And we also created materials like pledge boards and signage to explain what we done so that people could use that project to actively catalyze their behavior when they're within the building.

David Karlsgodt 30:01

Right. Okay, so communicating what actually happened versus just fixing the things behind the scenes. And nobody actually notices the difference. Maybe they aren't complaining as much, but it's still in the back of their mind.

Jesse Warren 30:10

That's right. So depending on what kind of when you want, it can be a quick low hanging fruit return on investment, we have advanced far enough that we're really focused on comprehensive building solutions that look at everything from building to building occupants. And how can we provide the best for our students and faculty?

David Karlsgodt 30:32

Yeah, how is that transition been going from those quick wins to that the deeper retrofits? Because I imagine you have different motivations, you have different. I mean, it's probably a lot of fun for you, personally, Jesse, I would imagine, right? Because that's what everybody wants to get to rather than just another lighting retrofit. I mean, not that we don't want to do those. But like, what is that? Just how does that feel different? Maybe it's a way I could ask that question.


Jesse Warren 30:58

let me look at it from the other end, you know, for everything that we fund we've got to pay for, right, so we have an account, and that account is allowed to go up to negative a million dollars, because the university understands that we're going to be spending money before we get it back. Right. So we started out with some money, we have now operated in a deficit. And that's okay with the university operating the deficit, because that's how we get to those bigger projects. When we start to bank money into our account, that tells me we're not doing enough, we're not going deep enough, we're not getting as much energy savings as we could, because we're not making as big investments as we can. So over the 10 year life of the program, we've seen two different swings, where we started to sort of accumulate money, and then realize that we could use that money to make deeper investments. So in the beginning, it was things like, retro commissioning, and it was things like low wattage fluorescent lights, and then we we started making enough money off that that we said, you know, we can move over to LED lighting, and we can start doing things like whole building, commissioning, and controls, replacements and upgrades. And that's what we do today. But even then, we started to see the account balance drop, when we started making more substantial investments. And then we saw the account balance rise again, once those investment starting to pay off. So today, we're in what I call the third phase of that, where we're really going into deep energy efficiency where we're given the opportunity. So that's LED lights. But that's also things like creating a smart labs program, where we can identify what is the safest and correct level of ventilation for the work that people are doing, and then tailor it accordingly. So to bring it back to your question, how do we get to deep energy efficiency projects, I would say it's happened in plateaus. we've, we've demonstrated success at each of these plateaus. And then once we've demonstrated success, we can keep doing the exact same thing. But our universities not asking us to do the exact same thing. They want us to hit aggressive goals, carbon energy, so we're being asked to do more and more.

David Karlsgodt 33:02

So when when you're talking to administrators, now I know you mentioned you weren't really there when the program got set up. But how much do they think about this? or How did they message it? Do you feel like, you know, it's a talking point in speeches they're just reading off? Or is it something that they've really internalized and couldn't really articulate in, you know, in their own way, as administrators,

Jesse Warren 33:22

I'm the ones who are active participants really see the value. Because in the example of Clark Hall, you know, we put $2 million into that building, but we're saving three quarters of a million dollars a year. So by the time we finished our project, we were almost done with our cost recovery. And that frees up money that they can use for faculty for spaces, whatever they need. I would say that spending money on energy is not the highest and best use of dollars at the university. So how can I reduce that?

David Karlsgodt 33:49

Right? Okay, so and then they're able to say it that way. I mean, they're, they're parroting that message out there that which is amazing. That's great.

Jesse Warren 33:56

Yeah, so Arts and Sciences has been a tremendous proponent of ours, we've done many good projects together like that Clark Hall. And so the Dean of Arts and Sciences, as well as our President Jim Ryan recorded sort of congratulatory messages for our Clark Hall celebration, where we celebrated the LEED certification, the building and brought all the occupants back together to sort of show them what they've done.

David Karlsgodt 34:22

Great. So instead of being a cost center, and oh, no, this facility guys are coming back with another big house of money, they're looking at you, as, you know, an investment, a place to invest to focus on the mission of the university, and

Jesse Warren 34:35

they can reduce their energy spend. And they can also reduce their maintenance spend. And both of those are wins, I will recover some of the energy spend immediately, but the maintenance is greatly. So that's just a pure win for them. So when I come back, and I fix systems that are broken, or we put an LED lights where we had fluorescence before, they're going to benefit from that reduced mate and savings on day one, then they will benefit from the reduced energy savings after the project recoveries complete.

David Karlsgodt 35:05

Alright, well, one other systematic setup question was you tell me a little bit more about the billing process? So it sounds like you're charging departments, I assume you've got, you know, auxiliary, non core University components that are also using energy. How do you It sounds like you're acting like utility, what does that look like from various departments on campus when they when interacting with your team?

Jesse Warren 35:31

So we've always had auxiliaries on grounds like Housing and Residence Life, athletics, and things like that. And they've always been self supported. Right. So housing Residence Life is funded through tuition fees, or however that works. But the university used to be centrally funded. And about five years ago, we made a switch away from that into responsibility centered management. So now, we've said that you the department are responsible for that building, not never, they're responsible for the maintenance of it, but you're responsible for the energy consumption, and the spend associated with that, I think part of the intent there was to give local control to that money, so we can do a better job of managing it. One of the realities for the Delta Force program is we went from having one big customer to a whole lot of customers, right. And so now I've got to sort of develop a track record of success with each one of them, and then work through their building portfolios from start to finish in order to get to the success that they need.

David Karlsgodt 36:30

That's an interesting point, because it means instead of just pleasing the folks that sign, sign your check at the top of the food chain, you really have to act more like an internal business. And that's right, customer service and things like that. Yeah,

Jesse Warren 36:44

that's right. We're very customer focused here. You know, we all agree to work together. But in many ways, facilities management services could be replaced with services from the outside. So it's by far in our best interest to keep those customers pleased with what we do.

David Karlsgodt 37:01

Yeah, but but you're still with working within the bounds of the new chair of the mission of the university as well, rather than just outsourcing your entire energy system for precisely

Jesse Warren 37:09

right. And that gives us opportunities to engage with folks outside the University, the University of Virginia foundation is interested in our services, we may not be able to provide funding there, but if we can help our land holding arm make good decisions about energy and climate that's

David Karlsgodt 37:24

in everyone's best interest. Interesting. Yeah. So you're not limited by really narrow scope, you can expand that within what makes sense in the bigger picture of the university's goals. And that is,

Jesse Warren 37:34

the biggest thing that I love about my job is that we have the freedom and flexibility to identify what is the best path forward for the university, as opposed to being prescribed to a specific one?

David Karlsgodt 37:49

No, I really liked that point. I mean, as a small business owner, and entrepreneur, you know, appreciate the ideas of people being motivated to do good work and, you know, serve customers. And you know, that the essence of sort of American capitalism from that perspective, but I recognize, you know, it doesn't always give you the outcomes that you want. So it sounds like you have a really interesting hybrid for your job where you're within, you know, essentially a state agency, but operating like a business. That's right, but not, but not in a way that you're just cutting costs to the nth degree. That's, I think, where it's been abused over, you know, as as privatization and some of those trends that have gone on over the last couple of decades. That's it, it's not that it's something in between,

Jesse Warren 38:29

you know, I'm an energy engineer. And I've got four energy engineers on my team, I started out as one of those energy engineers and was eventually promoted over top of the group. For me, it's very important that we're out there making these kinds of improvements. And we have a professional reputation that we have to uphold. And that's what's been able to get us I feel into these spaces in these departments. If one customer sours on our work, I can guarantee you that many customers will sour.

David Karlsgodt 39:03

got us you have people holding your feet to the fire, but you've got, you know, the passion and mission driving you to make sure that you do that, which is a really powerful mix. Oh, that's great. Great. Yeah. You know, Andrea, we've, we've neglected you for a little while. But you're more you're less than the day to day of the maintenance aspects of this, I assume. But from a sustainability perspective, how does that fit in?

Andrea Trimble 39:26

Right, so you may set up his Board of Visitors set a greenhouse gas goal in 2011, and then followed it up with a reactive nitrogen goal in 2013. So UVA was the first university to set a nitrogen goal, and since that others have followed on and UVA has been a partner in nitrogen planning. So those were sort of our two foundational goals. And then in 2016, we launched our first five year plan, which included 23 goals and over 100 actions. So as we check towards those goals to forge plays a big role in the particularly the greenhouse gas goal, the nitrogen goal, and we've also signed on to that that our Buildings Challenge goal to reduce energy's intensity by 2020, below 2010 levels by 20%. So we've seen significant strides, particularly on the greenhouse gas side. In Progress, we've reduced our greenhouse gas emissions by about 19%, since 2009, despite very extensive growth, and a lot of that has been attributable to energy efficiency through Delta Force. So the program is a really important part of achieving our quantitative goals. And then Jesse spoke a little bit about how we engage the individuals within the buildings, we also have a strong engagement goals as part of the sustainability plan and all that awareness building as part of our approach to sustainability.

David Karlsgodt 40:49

Yeah, how does that all fit together? Are you it, you know, just talk me through the organizational structure, who's in charge of engagement is that part of the Delta Force program is sustainability over over the Delta Force program or the other way around or? So it fit together?

Andrea Trimble 41:04

Sure. Our office for sustainability has two sides, really. So we have about half the number of staff on each side. One side is focused on outreach, engagement communications, with across the university, Pan University. So we have a manager over that group, and communications person, several outreach people, green labs, a staff member. And then on Jesse side, he has energy engineers, the energy engineers work, some on outreach and engagement, but the dedicated programs are really on that reach engagement side. So we have a green workplace program for staff a green living program for housing, buildings, green labs program for lab spaces, and there's slightly different approaches, terms of outreach and awareness on each of those types of individuals or building types.

David Karlsgodt 41:50

Great, and how is that funded? Or is it all one big bucket or

Andrea Trimble 41:55

so they're essentially sort of two 3%. Very funding sources, I guess, that we're working with right now. One is just you described the revolving nature in savings from the first program. And that's what funds our engineering side, the outreach side is funded through a very small portion of the electricity rates are just you mentioned the delta between what comes into the substation, and what we charge the buildings, a small piece of that is office for sustainability. But a lot of that is other aspects of overhead type things. And then the third is when we launched our sustainability plan in 2016, we were allocated $3 million dollars from in central funding from the university, for the university committee on sustainability to manage so through that funding, we've been able to pilot a lot of projects, across our approach, have engaged or discover, so our engagement programs, our stewardship programs, which move us towards our quantitative goals, and then our discover programs, which are teaching and research and using the grounds of the learning.

David Karlsgodt 43:00

Okay, so you're but you're, you're getting a little bit of the money from some of the things that we've been talking about with the Delta Force program, but there's also central funding and did that come later or beginning? Or are they completely disconnected or

Andrea Trimble 43:14

they're pretty disconnected. So data for is pretty much funding that that side of the office, whereas the energy and utilities essentially report through operations and facilities is funding, the average engagement communication side of our office, including my position. And then the central funding came in 2016. Through sort of our governance structure, which is our university committee on sustainability, and they, when we work with them to allocate those funds through to individual projects, and initiatives that move us towards our goals.

David Karlsgodt 43:49

So Jesse, how how does Andrews team or this, you know, the sustainability aspect of the university? interact? From your perspective?

Jesse Warren 43:57

Yeah, so I mean, we all work as one big collaborative office. Many times we need things from the outreach engagement and communication side, and they need things from us to green Labs is sort of a perfect example of that, because neither of us would be successful in reducing the environmental impact of laboratories from an infrastructure and personal perspective, if we can only work on one half of that.

David Karlsgodt 44:21

Got it. So you're not just working to save energy, you've got a little broader mission than that.

Jesse Warren 44:27

I meet with a lot of people and a lot of people have varying motivations for what it is that they do uncomfortable if they just want to save money, but other people have more aspirational goals. And that's where we have sort of a variety of customers across the university. Some people are interested in good indoor air quality, and how do we manage climate as best we can others are interested in how do we squeeze a buck out of it? And once they've done that, hopefully, we can lead them further down the path.

David Karlsgodt 44:53

Great. Yeah, fair enough. Andrea, I think my next question goes to you. This is fairly wide open. But thinking about just where you are, what's unique about your sustainability work in the context of Charlottesville,

Andrea Trimble 45:07

I think there are a few different things at play, I think in terms of our position within Virginia. We're sort of centrally located in Virginia. And while we're starting to see the increasing impacts of climate change, and rainfall and heat and weather, weather related impacts, we don't have the imminent threat of sea level rise. But we do have a position as a University of Oxford University within the state to understand the impacts on our state. So there's a one of the ways that we translated that into action is we have a large environmental resilience institute that has a one of the key components is coastal resilience. So we have been tailoring our sustainability programs to what's not just the need, and the impacts in our immediate region, but also in our larger, larger state. Another aspect is, increasingly, and this isn't, this isn't unique to Charlottesville at all. But increasingly, as our programs have grown, we've seen much more deliberate, intensive conversations around equity, inclusion and race in relation to the environment, such as the environmental justice, impacts, and general diversity of perspective in our sustainability conversations. So sure, this video has been sort of a focus area, a lot of these equity issues and conversations but it's not, these conversations aren't unique, and these problems aren't unique to Charlottesville is something that every community really United States should be grappling with. So we've been in terms of sustainability really trying to understand how do we ensure that the decisions we make proactively or in reaction to problem are achieving the best outcomes for every type of individual that interacts with the NBA.

David Karlsgodt 47:08

So we don't just get to make Jesse's customers happy. We're thinking about the whole region and and the broader aspects of the work you're doing that make sense.

Jesse Warren 47:16

So an example of that would be how we're working through the climate action planning process with Albemarle county in Charlottesville. You know, Charlottesville is a smaller than Albemarle County, only about 40,000 people compared to about 100. But we're working sort of collaboratively collaboratively across all three entities, UVA, Charlottesville and Albemarle County, to at least have coordinated messaging around climate goals, and maybe in the future, some shared milestones.

David Karlsgodt 47:44

Yeah, that's interesting. I think we're seeing a lot more of that around the country of universities taking the lead on those kinds of conversations, because we see, I think, you know, not every university, but many universities have been doing this type of work for at least a decade now. Well, cities are still kind of catching up in a lot of ways. I mean, there are exceptions, some of the cities have lived for a lot longer, as well. But

Jesse Warren 48:06

yeah, I would say that here, we've been committed in our cities and counties have been committed to climate action for a long time. I'd say we're an active participant in that, because we certainly want to make sure that we're we have a seat at the table, but they have plenty of their own direction leadership to make sure this gets done.

David Karlsgodt 48:24

Right. Yeah, that makes sense. Yeah. What where do you see the overlap in the collaboration? Is it you know, the Regional Transportation type type issues? Or, you know, what are some examples of that? Because I'm, you know, they don't really care about the delta T of your chilled water system, for example, direction, right? I mean,

Jesse Warren 48:40

I would say the value that we bring is twofold. One, we have an experience in doing these kinds of action plans, right? We've got action plans for our greenhouse gas emissions. And now it's time to work with our communities to develop that to the other thing, place where we can really collaborate is on expertise around climate solutions. So in our office, we've got a lot of expertise around Solid Waste Management, composting, recycling, energy, efficiency, renewable energy. So we go out into the community, and we lead working groups or energy sector Task Force is related to how we manage those assets, or manage that infrastructure.

David Karlsgodt 49:17

Great. So you're truly being the educators on these topics. Because you've been doing this work internally, you've got, you've tried out all the different ways of recycling and the different signage, that kind of thing. And you're able to share that knowledge with the community.

Jesse Warren 49:30

That's right. And when you think about it, these are Community Solutions, right? If we have one way of recycling here at UVA, and a different way of recycling, and people get off grounds, they need to at least understand that if we can't coordinate those two pieces, and the same goes for energy infrastructure.

David Karlsgodt 49:46

Do you see that there are some issues that cities and counties are better suited to deal with that universities really aren't? I mean, like, I guess the example that comes to my mind would be Regional Transit issues, just you know, you don't control the retreats transit system. But beyond that, are there other things like that?

Jesse Warren 50:04

I think a lot of the collaboration, and leadership will come on things like renewable energy, because they have the opportunity to encourage things, loan program by downs, financial mechanisms, taxes, even, that can encourage people to make those kinds of decisions. You know, at UVA, we're really good at directly investing in infrastructure. But we don't really have that opportunity in the same way in the community.

David Karlsgodt 50:30

Yeah, you can't do you can't really deal with things like changing the mix of power coming into the substation, or things like that on your own right, precisely.

Jesse Warren 50:37

So we've got to work together. And are there places where the counties and cities are further along? Well, absolutely. They're better at working with their constituencies and helping us understand that because they're going to have to convince these people to do things that the university could mandate.

David Karlsgodt 50:53

All right, well, hopefully, we've covered the highlights of your Delta Force program. And I think I can say it's very, very impressive. I think many people listening to this will be envious of what you've been able to achieve. And, and you may have some people vying for your job, Jesse in particular, I think a lot of people that work in this space, wish they had the tools that you have at your command, I'm sure you got plenty of hard work. But, man, I know, it sounds like you're awesome, Jeremy, I

Jesse Warren 51:19

opine for a minute. We you bring up two points. The first is I'm part of the Delta Force team because of the cost recovery model. When I came to you, the A, I was worried that I was going to have to fill out a requisition form to do a project in the next budget year and things like that. And that told me that I wasn't going to have a big impact. But what I learned is things like the Delta Force model that allow our funding to revolve makes sure that our impact is significant, and its immediate. And I think there's others that are attracted to that. With that being said, we are currently hiring for an energy and sustainability engineer. So if somebody is interested in being part of our team, look on our UVA website, the jobs platform is called work day. And in there, you'll be able to search for energy and sustainability engineer.

David Karlsgodt 52:08

Got it, you're hiring. So you're not worried about somebody taking your job. You're just trying to fill out your team, but

Jesse Warren 52:13

I'm looking for the smartest and most capable person to come work for us who can take my job.

David Karlsgodt 52:19

All right, well, that's this is the now sponsor of our episode here is job posting. The other thing I was going to mention there, though, is that sounds like also, if there's an administrator out there that wants to set up a program like this, that is a key thing to attract folks like you, they get to do this great work. If they want to attract the dynamic thinkers you need it, they need to set up the systems in such a way that you can be successful. That's right. requisition forms being the lead on that for sure. Great. Okay, well, yeah, anything as we just wrap up, I mean, that's, that's a lesson learned right there. But other lessons learned you'd like to share with folks, as we kind of pulled the threads together here,

Jesse Warren 52:58

I've got to that I've Well, maybe three that I've learned from experience. The first is that technology changes really, really fast. So when you think you're going to get a really good deal on buying a bunch of lights for this building, and the Let's buy some extra lights for this building this building this building, so that we can get a price break. By the time you're finished doing that last building, the technology will have moved so much that you're going to want either a different product, or you're going to be paying significantly different prices for the products that you have. The another big takeaway for us is having a longer view of the building's themselves. There was a time when we were really looking at individual opportunities and saying, How can we fix this? And that meant we were chasing all of our big problems and all of our big energy hogs. But at some point, we kind of chilled out and realize that the answer isn't to get everything as fast as possible. The answer is to get every building on grounds at the time that's appropriate. So there was a building on grounds that had electric resistance heat. And so we were adamant that that needed to be created heat pump, and we got a heat pump put in and about the time that that system is going to achieve its payback, the building was demolished. So that didn't really represent the kinds of savings I want to give to the university, which are long, persistent savings over time,

David Karlsgodt 54:14

right? Yeah, hopefully that wasn't a big building.

Jesse Warren 54:17

Now, it was a little warehouse storage space. But again, it was a lesson.

David Karlsgodt 54:23

Andrea, what same question to you again, you were the one that brought this to my attention in the first place, which thank you very much for doing so this has been really fascinating talking with Jesse and this whole program, but like, what have you learned from your perspective?

Andrea Trimble 54:35

Jesse has hit on it a few times already. I think it's the stakeholder engagement piece being so important. We really focus on collaboration and our purchase. So I think it's really important that everyone who is involved in the project gets the proper recognition. And then I asked, I think that is important that the occupants understand the impact that the project has, and how they can continue to help achieve getting savings through day to day conservation.

David Karlsgodt 55:04

Very good, very good. Well, as I said before, and I will say, again, super impressive what you guys are doing here, using the expression, if if it exists, it's possible. I think your story helps maybe dispel a lot of myths that other organizations that you know, maybe have seen a program like this done on paper, or in theory in a spreadsheet somewhere but you know, really don't believe it's possible to do. But your story shows that it can be done indeed, any any last pitch any other job opportunities that he VA, we should be telling our listeners about her thank

Andrea Trimble 55:38

thanks so much for having us. We really appreciate it, we always are happy to share any of the tools and resources that we create. And we're always happy to talk to people. So if anyone is interested in talking through their own setup at their school, and what may be possible and what we've learned in more detail and how our program works, and more detail, we're always happy to do that. Always happy to share templates.

David Karlsgodt 56:03

That's great. And I'll be sure to include ways to get in touch with you and links to resources etc. in the show notes. Yep. Great, Jesse, any final thoughts?

Jesse Warren 56:14

Now I really appreciate y'all having us on the show and we look forward to maybe talking to you again.

David Karlsgodt 56:19

That's it for this episode. To learn more. You can always see the show notes at our website at Campus energy podcast. com. You can follow us on Twitter, we are at energy podcast. The show is a free service, but if you'd like to support the show, please consider leaving a rating or review on iTunes or just telling a friend about the show. As always, thanks for listening

Transcribed by https://otter.ai

Episode 16: One Lab’s Trash is Another Lab’s Treasure: Reducing Waste and Increasing Reuse at Northwestern University

Julie Cahillane  (left)  Garry Cooper  (right)

Julie Cahillane (left) Garry Cooper (right)

Julie Cahillane
Sustainability Associate Director
Northwestern University

Garry Cooper, PhD
Rheaply, Inc.

Host: Dave Karlsgodt
Principal, Fovea, LLC

Production Assistance:
Kaia Findlay and Animesh Bapat

Any kindergartener can recite the lesson that ‘sharing is caring.’ For youngsters, this just means it’s nice to let someone else play with their favorite toy. But for Garry Cooper, sharing plays a crucial role in caring for the planet and finding solutions for waste reduction and efficient resource use.

Inspired by the copious amounts of wasted lab equipment he encountered as a Ph.D. student, Cooper founded Rheaply, Inc., a startup that now helps universities and other institutions across the world reuse and recycle by sharing unused and unwanted lab equipment with other labs. From glassware to antibodies, you’ll learn some of the logistics behind trading world class research equipment all with a focus on sustainability.

The success of Rheaply, Inc.’s pilot at Northwestern University is framed by Julie Cahillane, Sustainability Associate Director at Northwestern University. Her breakdown of the waste produced by research institutions showcases the important role of sustainability in labs across the nation. She’ll go into what it takes to institutionalize sustainability at the university level and teach you how your institution can empower people like Garry Cooper on your campus.

Episode 13: The Challenges and Opportunities of Aggressive Climate Action

The panel at CHESC 2018 (  Left to right)  Tyler Durchslag-Richardson, Fletcher Alexander, Lindsey Kalkbrenner, Eric Eberhardt, Dave Karlsgodt

The panel at CHESC 2018 (Left to right) Tyler Durchslag-Richardson, Fletcher Alexander, Lindsey Kalkbrenner, Eric Eberhardt, Dave Karlsgodt

Eric Eberhardt
Director of Energy Services
Energy & Facilities Management Services
University of California, Office of the President
Lindsey Kalkbrenner
Director, Sustainability, University Operations
Director, Center for Sustainability
Santa Clara University
Fletcher Alexander
Sustainability Programs Manager, Institute for Sustainable Development
California State University, Chico
Tyler Durchslag-Richardson
Senior Analyst, Facilities Services and Integrated Planning
California Institute of Technology
Host: Dave Karlsgodt, Principal, Fovea, LLC

This episode was recorded live on July 10th at the 2018 California Higher Education Sustainability Conference (CHESC) which took place on the campus of the University of California, Santa Barbara. Dave Karlsgodt moderated the session: “The Challenges and Opportunities of Aggressive Climate Action.” Panelists from a cross-section of California institutions answered questions about their climate action efforts.  You’ll hear both success stories from these leading institutions, but also some honest discussion on where they have more work to do. Topics include the nature of their climate action strategies, making the business case for sustainable practices, the dual role of higher ed. to lead and to educate, carbon neutrality, 100% renewable energy and more.  Audience members bring up some challenging questions including how to consider equity, social justice, and the stratification of resources to address these challenges.  The discussion includes a combination of inspiring success stories and honest self-reflection from sustainability professionals working in the trenches.


Episode 10: Repairing our Relationship to Stuff – Barnard College’s Sandra Goldmark Discusses Sustainability in the Context of Reuse, Repair, and Design

Sandra Goldmark, Barnard College and Fix-up Repair.

Sandra Goldmark, Barnard College and Fix-up Repair.

Guest: Sandra Goldmark
Director, Sustainability and Environment and Associate Professor of Professional Practice in Theatre at Barnard College;
Co-Founder of Fixup.

Host: Dave Karlsgodt, Principal, Fovea, LLC

Production Assistance:
Sarah Barr and Cecilia Kane

Ever feel like you spend a fortune keeping up with the latest in tech, fashion, and other trends? Have more stuff at home than you know what to do with? In this episode, Sustainability Director at Barnard College Sandra Goldmark discusses our obsession with stuff, how overconsumption threatens our climate and natural resources, and how we might repair our global economic system to be better in-tune with our innate human values.

A set designer, Goldmark first noticed the scope of our problem with single use items in the context of theater where sets would be built, featured in a show for several nights, then go straight to the landfill. This inspired her to start a repair service called Fix-up. Business boomed and Goldmark learned people were willing to pay to get their old stuff fixed, sometimes as much as a new replacement would cost, prompting the very good question: why don’t major retailers offer product repairs?

Her work demonstrates how a practical repair service can prompt a deeper investigation into how our stuff defines our humanity, and how what we have says about who we are. A prime example of how a grassroots initiative can fill a gap in innovation, Goldmark challenges us to adopt an experimental approach to sustainability on both the individual and campus levels.

Join us this episode for a glimpse into Goldmark’s vision for a revamped global economy built on the principle of repair, beginning with fixing that old chair in your garage.

Web Resources:

Ztuff Slides

Episode 6: The Path to 100% Renewable Energy: an interview with Bronte Payne of Environment America

Guest:  Bronte Payne, Environment America

Host: Dave Karlsgodt, Principal, Fovea, LLC

Production Assistance:
Tymber P. Felts

Bronte Payne, Clean Energy Advocate, Environment America

Bronte Payne, Clean Energy Advocate, Environment America

We know it’s time to wean ourselves from fossil fuels and invest in a future of renewable energy instead, but that’s easier said than done. This episode, we’ll discuss a recent report that Bronte Payne, campaign director for Environment America’s 100% Renewable Campuses Campaign, co-authored with the Frontier Group. It’s called Renewable Energy 100, The Course to a Carbon-Free Campus and it acts as a blueprint to the future of renewable energy on college campuses and the nation. In the report, Bronte emphasizes how college campuses and students are at the forefront of the fight for renewable energy.

We’ll also discuss an ongoing campaign by Environment America that aims to move colleges and universities to commit to 100% renewable energy and how students, faculty, and staff can get involved with this campaign on their own campuses. Prepare to be inspired by Bronte’s ambition and passion for sustainability that will make you want to get your activist on.


Web Resources:

Episode 5: Exploring the nexus of sustainability and research with My Green Lab

Guest:  Allison Paradise, My Green Lab
Host: Dave Karlsgodt, Principal, Fovea, LLC

Allison Paradise, Executive Director at My Green Lab

Allison Paradise, Executive Director at My Green Lab

In this episode, Dave interviews Allison Paradise, Executive Director at My Green Lab. Allison explains the history of the organization, their recent efforts to get an ENERGY STAR designation for Ultra-low temperature (UTL) freezers, an exciting new nutrition-like labeling program for research products and equipment as well as My Green Lab's broader work promoting sustainable practices in the scientific research community.

Episode 3, Part 2: Krista Hiser, University of Hawaii - Teaching Sustainability Concepts

Dr. Krista Hiser

Dr. Krista Hiser

Guest:  Dr. Krista Hiser, Kapiʻolani Community College, University of Hawai`i System
Host: Dave Karlsgodt, Principal, Fovea, LLC

Part 2 of a two-part series based on a conversation with Dr. Krista Hiser, the interim sustainability curriculum coordinator for the ten campuses of the University of Hawaii system and a professor of Composition and Rhetoric at Kapiʻolani Community College.

Part 1 focuses on Krista’s work to create the S-Designation or Sustainability Designation for college courses in the University of Hawai’i system.

Part 2 picks up where we left off with a deeper dive into how we can teach sustainability concepts without devolving into green rhetoric and without falling victim to green fatigue. 

Web Resources:


Episode Transcript:

The following is an automated transcription of this episode which will include errors and omissions. You can listen and follow along with the text here:


Dave Karlsgodt 0:00

Welcome to the campus energy and sustainability podcast. And each episode we will talk with leading campus professionals thought leaders, engineers and innovators addressing the unique challenges and opportunities facing higher ed corporate campuses. Our discussions will range from energy conservation and efficiency to planning and finance, from building science to social science, from energy systems to food systems. We hope you are ready to learn, share and ultimately accelerate your institution towards solutions. I'm your host Dave Karlsgodt. I'm a principal at Fovea, an energy, carbon and business planning firm. This episode is the second part of a two part series based on a conversation with Dr. Krista Hiser from Kapi'olani Community College, which is part of the University of Hawaii system. If this is your first time listening to the podcast, I'd recommend going back to the previous episode to hear Krista's full introduction and the broader context for this discussion. This episode picks up where we left off with a deeper dive into how we can teach sustainability concepts with devolving into green rhetoric and without falling victim to green fatigue. I hope you enjoy the second half of my February 2017 conversation with Dr. Krista Hiser, Krista, you've been talking about how to teach students about sustainability. But somewhere along the way, you've also taught professors how they should teach sustainability. And I'm assuming that's a good analogy for the work I'm doing where I have to teach professionals on the operational side. Can you tell me more about that?

Krista Hiser 1:26

I can tell you about the framework that he uses. Peggy Bartlett and Jeff Chase, started doing a training, they have actually developed similar leadership training modules separately. And then they kind of found each other and realized that that they were teaching this sustainability leadership for curriculum. And the same way, I engaged in the in that training. And there were two things that really struck me in the way they were teaching teachers to teach sustainability. Because teachers, we have to do a little bit of unlearning. First, we have to maintain currency in our discipline, which means we have to kind of unlearn some of our own training, graduate school did not prepare me for sustainability. So in a sense, our current faculty, me and you and the people that you work with, you know, we were all educated in one paradigm. And now we're looking at how is this education serving us when we try to solve these problems? And what do we want to change about the way we're educating the next generations? So anyway, what Katie and Jeff did, in their model, two things that were interesting to me. One is that they would use that sense of place, and finding some compassion telling problem issue, right on your campus, or in a very nearby community, it could be an environmental issue, I think the problem that I use, there was saltwater intrusion, some expert from the area presents this problem. And then faculty engage with that problem through their disciplinary lens. So let's say the problem was saltwater intrusion into an aquifer or something like that. If I was an art teacher, or an artist, how would I engage with that? If I'm a communications professor, what is my role in that problem? If I'm a geologist, if I'm a doctor or nurse, if I'm teaching math, what's the math of that? You know, so really engaging faculty, not from their personal values, like I was talking about before, but engaging them from their disciplinary brain, engaging them as experts in their training in their disciplines, and then they start talking about it. And then they start to unlock the problem, and they start to learn from each other, they start having an interdisciplinary conversation, that is, for the most part, impossible to have, on most college campuses.

Dave Karlsgodt 4:29

Interesting. So basically, you're using the professors in their area of expertise to go solve some other problems as a way of teaching them about sustainability.

Krista Hiser 4:38

Yes, yes. Exactly. Exactly.

Dave Karlsgodt 4:42

Yeah, cuz, well, my experience, a lot of times when I interact with faculty, and our work is they're the people that come in and poke holes. And we're talking about, you know, it's it's not necessarily I guess, that's the critical thinking, as opposed to the systems thinking, creative thinking. But if you can invite them in, I suppose that might be a totally different experience, where they're solving the problem, rather than telling you why you did it wrong.

Krista Hiser 5:03

Yes, invite them in and engage them from their discipline. Interesting. The other thing that Peggy and Jeff did in this AASHE training, that was really different from most other trainings that I've been to, it's going to sound like a little thing. But it has really stuck with me the way they did this. And that is that as part of this training, is a two three day Institute. And every day, you would have to go out, and the instructions were to go sit by a tree, not to have your laptop, not to start lesson planning, but to just sit by a tree and just sit there. And it sounds, it sounds silly, but it's not something as professionals that we ever do, and just creating that little bit of space, in this professional development experience. It has kind of a magical impact.

Dave Karlsgodt 6:11

Do then professors end up using the same concept in their courses? How does that play out? Or is it just a matter of that's the way they need to learn?

Krista Hiser 6:19

They can, I'm involved with something called the leap program, it's they're working on sustainability mindset. And the components of sustainability mindset in this work include systems intelligence, and environmental literacy, emotional intelligence, and what they call a spiritual intelligence, which could be just that, you know, contemplative moment contemplative moment, there's something kind of missing in our educational system, when we don't include that reflective, quiet moment of stillness, it,

Dave Karlsgodt 7:08

so you've just given me an interesting visual, and the next meeting with the facilities, folks I'm going to have, I'm going to make everybody go sit by a tree and see. But I could imagine it could actually be powerful, I need to think about how to pull that off. But anyway

Krista Hiser 7:25

I encourage you actually to think about that, it creates a different tone for the types of meetings that I engage in, you know, we like to come into a conference room with our agenda. And, you know, we just start running through the topics. And you know, I dare you to start that meeting, with just a moment of silence, or 30 seconds of silence, you know, three deep breaths.

Dave Karlsgodt 7:57

Yeah, that's good. I, I accept the challenge, have to find the right opportunity for it. And I'll tell you how it goes. All right, I wanted to bring up the work of least sharp out of Harvard, who I know our mutual friend, Matt has done some work with her. And he's the one that introduced me to you are new to me. And she talks about the concept of the dual operating system of you, you're familiar with that?

Krista Hiser 8:20

Yeah, the dual operating system is just an awesome articulation of what a college campus is like, because a college campus is, is extremely hierarchical. And everybody knows exactly where they are on the org chart and within the hierarchy. And what leads sharp is saying is that rather than being frustrated with that hierarchy, which she calls the command control system, rather than being frustrated, that we learn how to leverage its power, the power of command control, so is that a decision can be made, a policy can be written, purchasing, procedures can be crafted, and decided, you know, at the top of the hierarchy, and then they create change. So it's a very powerful being the command control system. And then the other piece, the new piece, the piece where where I get engaged and get excited, is the dual operating system. And if you see her diagram is like the dual operating system is, is like pulling out a little cluster of people. So let's say you want to change energy behavior on campus, you want people to turn off the lights, the dual operating system knows how to pull out the right people for that task, right. So you get, obviously your energy man manager, and your engineer, and maybe your janitor, and maybe a communications professor and a graphic designer who's going to make signs, you know, you know who the people are in your organization, and you know, how to activate them to complete this task. You know, they come together, they work on this thing, then they go back to what they normally do, right?

Dave Karlsgodt 10:30

Yeah, when I was introduced to the concept, a lot of light bulbs went off for me, because I had been experiencing the frustration of, you know, trying to get the large hierarchy system to work. But working in, in the work we're doing, we're, a lot of times it's climate action planning, or an energy master planning or something like that, where you're trying to say, How can we change the future trajectory of what's going on. And by its nature, it's change. And so I really liked her model of how the describing it and why it was heart and how, you know, like you were talking about earlier, have these giant leaps that if you can get the right person to make the right decision at the right time, and give them an idea that's been, I think she uses the term de risked, which I like a lot that you can, all of a sudden make a breakthrough were before you weren't able to. The other concept that I really liked from her was the concept of the calls that the squiggle, which is, you know, we tell these linear stories about how things get done. And, you know, you'll read about them in the alumni magazine, but you don't necessarily see all of the pain and agony that went into getting to that point. So I really appreciate it that

Krista Hiser 11:42

the school,

Dave Karlsgodt 11:43

the squiggle, yeah,

Krista Hiser 11:44

Peggy and Jeff, wrote a book called sustainability on campus. And was interesting about that the first book was all narratives of campus change, telling the story of those squiggles, really, then they wrote a second volume, and asked if I want to contribute something. And at the time, the most innovative program that I could think of, on our campus at a couple any community college was a professional development program that we had designed around communities of practice theory, and around adult learning theory, which is called Andrew God, gee, if adult wants to learn something, you want to get better at something, adults will seek out other people who either want to learn the same thing or maybe know a little bit more about it, and say, Oh, hey, can you help me get better at this thing. And a pair or trio or small group will form and they'll work together, they'll teach each other they form a community of practice, until they accomplish a specific task, or until they reach their mutual goal for sharing learning. This is how adults learn, they learn together they learn in community, and so that communities of practice theory, I think, is another aspect of the dual operating system, you know, a community of practice can come together around campus sustainability issues, and address them and work together to to help them move. And then they dissolve. You know, it's not the same as being on a committee or a task force, or another like assignment that can just go on and on forever. It's not your job forever. It's about energizing a particular node on the organism, organizational network in order to do something very specific.

Dave Karlsgodt 13:49

Interesting. So it's like a bunch of jazz musicians getting together for a jam session, but they're not necessarily going on tour together.

Krista Hiser 13:55

Exactly. That's great. That's a great metaphor.

Dave Karlsgodt 13:58

Excellent. Well, after my deep breath, or my moment of silence, and my next meeting, we're going to break out into trios and quartets. And All right, well, I've heard to that you have even new term in Hawaiian. Now, I remember seeing this in one of your earlier webinars. Can you explain that? I thought that was a great story, huh?

Krista Hiser 14:21

Yes, in we are really seeking to learn about indigenous wisdom. There's a lot of talk about the role of indigenous wisdom, especially. Especially now. A lot of people are following like, Standing Rock and talking about indigenous wisdom and this meeting of wisdoms. So our university president actually brought together several groups from across our whole university system. And it was our STEM faculty are some of our Hawaiian studies faculty, the sustainability people, and the Polynesian Voyaging Society. And he kind of brought us together, he said, he said, You're all talking kind of about the same theme, you know, can you can you get on the same page? And that was really a pivotal conversation for me in really thinking about how are we on the same page. So it was that this meeting, that this new word in the Hawaiian lexicon was presented. So Hawaiian is a living language. And occasionally, I understand it's rather rare, but occasionally, they create or coin a new word in the lexicon. So in Hawaiian culture, that was no word for sustainability. Because sustainability was integrated into the culture, as Matt Lynch was sometimes put it in ancient Hawaii, you were sustainable, or you were dead, because you were on an island. And no Costco and no food was coming. So. So there was no word for this, the social structures around environmental management were deeply embedded in Hawaiian culture embedded in their the spiritual culture. So there was no need for a word like sustainability, but the Hawaiian lexicon committee, now they say, it is very important that we distinguish what is sustainable and what is not. And so the word that they presented at this meeting, the word is Mo, mobile, and mobile is created by combining two words. One is, well being, and all is the perpetuation. So the word model translates into the perpetuation of our well being.

Dave Karlsgodt 17:12

Yeah, I thought that was interesting, because its sustainability really has a connotation of being not quite dead. You're barely alive, like you're sustaining yourself, but you're not really thriving. So the situation is that I like of well being I like that.

Krista Hiser 17:27

It really changes the the tenor of the conversations that you have. Sustainability can be an uncomfortable conversation, but who doesn't want to perpetuate our well being. And so it's a wonderful word. I haven't heard it a lot in common parlance in Hawaii. But we definitely use it in the UH Office of Sustainability, and find out a really inspiring word that that gives us a really important kind of common common goal and mission model.

Dave Karlsgodt 18:07

know, it's interesting how much language does influence the way we think about things. When I first started working in this area, it was about mitigating carbon. Somewhere along the way, I learned the term decarbonisation, which I don't think used to be used, but like that a lot better. And then I was taking some courses through Columbia continuing courses with Jeffrey Sachs and he uses the term deep decarbonisation, when you kind of really goes for it, you know, it's like a full transformation. But it's more of a process as opposed to just mitigation, which is like getting rid of this bestest from your building or something like that. So it's cool that you have a committee that can create new language, you know, new words, it's like an anti Orwellian committee or something like that, instead of alternative facts you get.

Krista Hiser 18:52

Awesome. I like that term, decarbonisation have also seen a lot more use of the term resilience or system inability and resilience. And with resilience, you have adaptive resilience, you know, not just how do we bounce back from a storm event or something like that. But how do we prepare for it in a way that we adapt and do things differently? And maybe even do things better?

Dave Karlsgodt 19:20

Right, yeah, some more of the Dutch version of dealing with flooding rather than the giant sea wall version of dealing with flooding?

Krista Hiser 19:28

Yeah, exactly. Good.

Dave Karlsgodt 19:31

So Krista, where are you going next with this work? I mean, what's your next big project?

Krista Hiser 19:36

Well, we're going to continue talking with faculty and formalizing these s designation courses, we identified as our baseline measure 206 courses across the University of Hawaii system. That means that there are 206 more that we just haven't engaged with. And that whole process is starting to really have its own life and its own energy, because its faculty talking to each other about how they're teaching and what they're teaching. So I'm going to, you know, continue engaging and and managing that process. And then in my personal work, I'm really excited about replicating the focus group study that I did with students. And I learned so much from just sitting down with groups of students, and getting them to talk about environmental issues and their future, and what they were learning and what they knew about it, and how they felt about it, and how it affected and impacted their future. So we're going to go out and do another round of focus group study, with students across the system. The original study that I did was in 2012. The students what I was talking to them about is like, what do they think about sustainability? how engaged are they with sustainability? And then what are their actual personal practices? This again, that cognitive dissonance came out again, sort of one category of students would say that they were interested in sustainability, oh, yeah, I really care about the environment. But when it came down to it, they really weren't interested in changing their transportation or the way they eat or the way they fly. They would say one thing, but not really do it. And that's another kind of manifestation of that cognitive dissonance we've been talking about. Another category of student, we called the students with the sustainability habitus. These are the students that define their identity around sustainability. They're the president of the ecology club, they wear clothing made out of bamboo, they carry chopstick kit, or refillable mug, water bottle, you know, activists kind of students who different find their identity around sustainability. Unfortunately, there's actually in in the study that I did, there were fewer, maybe fewer of the students than we think they're just very visible those students with the sustainability habitus, by far, the most common category of students, when they were talking about they, they said, these comments that really, really got my attention. And I called this category, karmic retribution. And what these students was, were saying, they would say things like, Well, you know, nature's going to do what nature's going to do? Well, I suppose we've got it coming, you know, this kind of really defeatist feeling, and this sense that somehow we would deserve it, because of what we had done as humans, because of what we had wrought upon the environment, that that there would be this karmic retribution from nature. And she's coming to get us,

Dave Karlsgodt 23:09

it's almost like a medieval reaction to the plague or something that's interesting.

Krista Hiser 23:12

It was a very profound sense that I got from multiple focus groups of students. So I'm very interested to see if, if that sense of karmic retribution is still out there. So if you think about a generation of leaders coming up with the sense of karmic retribution, and almost this self loathing, that's very concerning, and a little bit scary. Honestly, I see that even with my own daughter, she's 10. And her school does a lot of sustainability education. She knows about climate change. She's very savvy, and she's very engaged. But she'll say things like, you know, she's, she's, she'll even start to cry, just a mom, all the people are so bad, we have to shut down the factories, we have to save the plants and all this and she'll get, she'll get very upset, and she doesn't, she's not making the connection, that that we are part of those factories, that we are driving a car, that the food we're eating is created by the system that is causing the environmental impacts that she's lamenting,

Dave Karlsgodt 24:30

it's almost like the guilt without their responsibility.

Krista Hiser 24:33

I'm kind of this is this is what Timothy Martin calls dark ecology, the complexity of the fact that like, if I go out and I start my car, I'm contributing to climate change. But not at that moment, that that ignition, my trip to the grocery store did not cause climate change. And yet, as a member of my broader species, I am causing climate change. So we are causing it but not directly causing it. Timothy Martin calls that dark ecology. So it's a similar effect. And I'm just really interested in in where that goes. And if that exists, just dark ecology or sense of karmic retribution. How does that inform what what we do next?

Dave Karlsgodt 25:27

Yeah. Do you have any ideas on how to address that, because that seems like that does seem very dangerous. I know, my daughter went to a, it was like a tree planting organization. And she went, and they basically half of it was planting trees, and half of it was learning about how to talk about climate change. But the learning to talk about climate change was all about telling the story from a kid's perspective about how Florida is going to be underwater, and that the polar bears are tied, it was really bleak. And she was really young. And by the end of the day, I mean, come domination over just being really tired. After living through a day of just this really Doomsday kind of scenario. I mean, she she totally broke down, we just had to go home. And I didn't feel good to me, either. I didn't like kind of the approach they were taking. I think they had their heart in the right place. But it you know, it kind of went off the rails. Yeah. What do you do about that?

Krista Hiser 26:19

Well, well, coming back to like my own classroom and teaching communication, and particularly climate change, communication and rhetoric. There's some really interesting work around that right now. I actually tell my students not to use pictures of children, like do not use the pesos of like, Oh, do it for the children. You know, pathos is a term from rhetoric. For when you you call upon the audience's needs or concerns or fears, you know, you engage them in through pathos. I tell them no children, no polar bears. And I said, no green rhetoric, can we cannot engage in this green rhetoric, we have to talk about facts. You know, you have to use real facts, even just talking about climate change impacts is too, there's too much room, especially right now, there's too much room inside of that, rather than talking about climate change impacts. Talk about something very specific, like four feet of sea level rise, you know, you need to find out the facts, and what are we really talking about? What are the facts? The other kind of interesting work around climate change? communication is how, how can you talk about climate change without talking about climate change? Right, that's where it's really at. So for example, I have my students do this activity, where I said, Okay, what's the change you'd like to see on campus. And when one student had had a great idea, I said, he said, You know, people sit out in the parking lot with their, with their engines idling, and I wonder how much carbon they're producing. By doing that for 20 minutes sitting in their car running the air conditioning. So well, that'd be a great thing to change. So then I asked my students to imagine going out into the parking lot with signs that say, No, idling your car, save the planet, stop idling your car, you are causing climate change, you know, I asked them to imagine the look of horror on their faces. They're like, Oh, my God, Dr. Hiser, you're not going to make us do that. Like they thought that I was right,

Dave Karlsgodt 28:38

already sweaty from taking out the recycle.

Krista Hiser 28:41

That was 20 years ago. So then we work backwards on this on this idea. There's how to use about how to do this how to talk about climate change, without talking about climate change, using specific facts, using a identical Bible sort of spokesperson telling a story, and not using climate change, as in, in what you're talking about. So we went through this whole exercise and revise the statement. And so then instead of, you know, marching with signs, stop idling your car, we came up with this article, with the student Congress president saying, you know, hi, when I first moved here, can you believe I didn't know anybody, and I used to sit in my car, waiting for my class to begin, then I realized that I could study at the Study Center, and my grades went up, and I made friends and got elected student council president, you know, so we really turned it around into a positive reason why you would do something else, instead of not doing the thing that you should stop doing, making it positive to do the thing that you can could do instead,

Dave Karlsgodt 30:01

got it. So instead of shaming people, you just make that whole behavior irrelevant. It just doesn't even matter. Yes, transportation is kind of going through a transformation like that. You can just take Uber and if Uber was run by an electric vehicle, for example, it doesn't you don't deal with enough to drive and you're doing it not because you care about gas, you're doing it or emissions, you're doing it because it's more convenient. Right. And yeah,

Krista Hiser 30:23

and and it's cool, right? Yeah. So I think that's where it's at, I think that this personal incremental change, I certainly can't say that it's, you know, not important for me to bring a tote bag to the grocery store or for me to, you know, recycle at home. Those personal choices are, they do have impact, and they are important. But that's not where we should be meeting students right now, that whole every little bit, you can make a difference, the lower x message, it's, um, it's really they're not working.

Dave Karlsgodt 31:00

It's kind of shallow and yeah, frustrating.

Krista Hiser 31:03

It's not working, because it's not working, right, they still don't really see it. If you're carrying a water bottle around, and the campus is still selling bottles of cold water in plastic bottles, then the incremental change has not affected. You know what I mean? It comes back to that cognitive dissonance. So the behavior has to then be reflected back in the broader system, whether it's a campus or the community or the country or, you know, global policies, that loop has to come back?

Dave Karlsgodt 31:40

Well, it's really great. I give me a lot to think about here. And this has been a fascinating conversation, I think, for anybody that's working in these areas of sustainability, or I'm going to call it thrive ability or mellow from now on. All right. This has been a lot to think about any final thoughts as we close up this episode.

Krista Hiser 32:01

I think what stands out for me about this conversation, is I'm in a position where I'm talking with really, really, really smart people all day long about these issues of sustainability, thrive ability, the perpetuation of well being, and how are institutions in our work, college campuses? How do we navigate this change and prepare students for an uncertain future? And we are, we're like levers, you know, between some generational points. And you know, we're teaching things that we weren't taught, we're educating in a way that we weren't educated. So we're really like a transitional type of work right now. And if the work works, then we don't need sustainability. If we do a good job, then we don't need to have sustainability designated courses or degrees in sustainability. If we do a good job, then we make it through this change. So I think that just as a closing thought, how do we survive and thrive in change? You know, we have to, I think, making connections with each other, and and people outside of the work that you normally do, you know, like on campuses, when the faculty engage with the facilities director, that's really, really helpful. And then what is the nature of that engagement? If people can talk about, you know, what got you interested in this talk about that aha moment? Or have a shared experience of reflection? Or really connect about where they're coming from? And what their expertise is? What do they have to create tribute to the problem, you know, the more we connect with each other, it becomes more exciting. And we can go from those, you know, little incremental baby steps, and just believe that those leaps will happen. If we keep working together.

Dave Karlsgodt 34:18

That's a great place to end. I like that. We all need more hope in this world, I think. So where can we learn more about the specific work, you're doing just websites or other resources you want to point our listeners to,

Krista Hiser 34:33

and we have a lot of great resources on our University of Hawaii systems sustainability page, which is www.hawaii.edu, backslash sustainability. And if you can cruise around there, there's some specifics, we actually have an implementation handbook for our s designation program, we're really happy to share that with other colleges and also learn from how other colleges are engaging with curricular transformation. We also have up there some PowerPoints, presentations from some of our faculty, who really talk with us about what do we need to understand about climate change impacts in Hawaii, food security impacts in Hawaii, and those are under programs on our website. And then another website that I contribute to is called teaching two big questions. And it's all spelled out teaching two big questions. dot wordpress. com. And this website is from a national grant project that was part of with six community colleges engaging with the big question. And the big question was, how do we build our commitment to diverse, healthy, equitable and sustainable communities? So you know, that really is the big question. This really is the big work. So that website, teaching two big questions has different colleges talking about these issues in their own geographic place, and how they're creating curriculum around around those big questions.

Dave Karlsgodt 36:11

Excellent. Well, we will get all of those listed in our show notes so that people can link to them straight from there.

Krista Hiser 36:17

I'll also give you a list of the five or six books that I might have mentioned. And there's so much there's so much out there, there's so much interesting research and scholarship and thinking going on. And I'd be happy to share a few few of the things I'm reading right now.

Dave Karlsgodt 36:34

That would be great. I'll be sure to put all of that into the show notes. Well, Krista, I really want to thank you again, for being on the show today. This has been fascinating conversation. I feel like I've been on quite the journey today.

Krista Hiser 36:46

And I really enjoyed talking with you. And thank you so much for the work that you're doing. And anybody that listens to a podcast like this. I think part of it is just like, it's so cool that other people are interested in, you know, in really thinking deeply about what it is that we're doing here with campus sustainability.

Dave Karlsgodt 37:08

Excellent. Well, thanks again.

Krista Hiser 37:10

Thank you.

Dave Karlsgodt 37:12

That's it for this episode. As always, you can learn more the show notes and the podcast website at campusenergypodcast.com. Please let us know what you think by sending us an email. Our email address is feedback@campusenergypodcast.com. Catch you next time.

Episode 3, Part 1: Krista Hiser, University of Hawaii System - Sustainability Designation for College Courses

Dr. Krista Hiser

Dr. Krista Hiser

Guest:  Dr. Krista Hiser, Kapiʻolani Community College, University of Hawai`i System
Host: Dave Karlsgodt, Principal, Fovea, LLC

Part one of a two-part series based on a conversation with Dr. Krista Hiser, the interim sustainability curriculum coordinator for the ten campuses of the University of Hawaii system and a professor of Composition and Rhetoric at Kapiʻolani Community College.

Part 1 focuses on Krista’s work to create the S-Designation or Sustainability Designation for college courses in the University of Hawai’i system.

Part 2 picks up where we left off with a deeper dive into how we can teach sustainability concepts without devolving into green rhetoric and without falling victim to green fatigue. 

Web Resources:


Episode Transcript:

The following is an automated transcription of this episode which will include errors and omissions. You can listen and follow along with the text here:


Dave Karlsgodt 0:04

Welcome to the campus energy and sustainability podcast. In each episode we will talk with leading campus professionals, thought leaders, engineers and innovators addressing the challenges and opportunities facing higher ed corporate campuses. Our discussions will range from energy conservation and efficiency to planning and finance, from building science to social science, from energy systems to food systems. We hope you are ready to learn, share and ultimately accelerate your institution towards solutions. I'm your host, Dave Karlsgodt. I'm a principal at Fovea, an energy, carbon and business planning firm. Today's guest is Dr. Krista Hiser. Krista is the interim sustainability curriculum coordinator for the 10 campuses of the University of Hawaii system. In this role, her work is to benchmark existing sustainability focused courses and to facilitate interdisciplinary dialogue and professional development opportunities for faculty as they update and transform their courses. She's a thought leader and helping to rethink how we teach sustainability in our higher ed institutions. She is also a professor of composition and rhetoric at Kapi'olani Community College, which is part of the University of Hawaii system. I recorded a fascinating conversation with Krista that weaved through a myriad of topic areas, I have to admit, we got a bit carried away and far exceeded my own arbitrary time limit for a respectable podcast episode. I decided that rather than edit out entire sections of our discussion, I've split this episode into a two part series. Part One mainly focuses on Krista's work to create the S designation or sustainability designation for college courses in the University of Hawaii system. It also explores more generally how to effectively teach students, faculty and professionals about sustainability. Part Two dives a bit deeper taking on the role of language, how we can teach sustainable concepts without using green rhetoric. And we even get to learn a new word recently created in the Hawaiian language. I hope you enjoy this two part series with Dr. Krista Hiser. Krista, welcome to the campus energy and sustainability podcast.

Krista Hiser 2:07

Thank you, Aloha, so happy to be with you.

Dave Karlsgodt 2:09

So Krista, if I have this right, you are first a teacher as a professor of composition and rhetoric. But somewhere along the way you decided teaching wasn't quite enough of a challenge for you. Because now you're teaching the teachers how to teach. Perhaps you can start us off with a little background on how you ended up in that position.

Krista Hiser 2:26

So I've taught English composition and rhetoric since about 2000. And my entry into sustainability was two things happened to me, around 2000 2001. One was a book by Derek Owens called composition and sustainability. And what that book did was look at the fact that every student in the United States takes a course, like English 100, and therefore, it's an intersection point where students can look at some of the environmental issues that they might not otherwise cross paths with, in their general education curriculum. So I was reading that book and thinking about that in my teaching. And then I had this moment, I was just jogging in my neighborhood, and I crossed over a little stream. And there was something about the wind and the trees and the stream running underneath me. And I just had this moment, this, this world moment, where I kind of understood the complexity and immensity of some of these environmental issues. And that, you know, it was a real thing that I was going to deal with my kids were going to deal with, and that we needed to be teaching with. And this moment is called an ethical transformative moment in the the literature on transformative learning, Jack Meza row. And you know, people can change just like that. You just have this like, aha moment, you realize something, you see something clearly, and it changes your direction. And so this moment, this ethical moment of transformation, changed my direction, in my work, and in my teaching, and I literally went home and started writing different lesson plans and started doing different research and, you know, directing my work in a different way. What's interesting about this is that when you talk to business leaders, higher education leaders, teachers, you talk to people about sustainability and environmental awareness, and they will describe that moment, it's some describe like an awakening, some people have an illness, or something that changes their mindset. And it is, it's something that happens to people, so happened to me, and probably to you, that's probably how you got into the work you're doing, as well. And that's the moment ever since that's the moment that I've been wanting to create for students, because if they can have that type of aha moment in their learning, then it will change their direction.

Dave Karlsgodt 5:32

Krista, thanks for that introduction. And I think you're right. I think most of us have a moment like that in our own career. But it sounds like you've moved beyond just teaching sustainability to your own students and have now gone on to integrate these concepts into other courses in your institution. Tell us more about this as designation or sustainability designation?

Krista Hiser 5:51

Yeah, well, let me tell you where the S designation project came from. So in my own class, I was teaching the developmental composition at the time course called English 22. And the first thing I did was make my students start a campus recycling program. So they had to form a little company. And we made bins that were recycled big barrels that had bleach in them. And we painted them, we were alohar, and flowers, and started campus recycling programs. So one, let's just recall that in 2001, we did not have a campus recycling program. And now look at what's going on, you know, all the campuses that you visit, so 2001, there was no recycling programs. So my students put these bins out. And then they had to get the recyclables to a big dumpster, the special dumpster that the city and county with them come and pick up. And this was the beginning of Hawaii's statewide recycling center program. So my students, they didn't like doing this, they did not like collecting recycles, hauling them across campus dirty, it was sweaty, it was irritating. And they really did not want to be doing this type of work. But what was interesting about it is that it put them in direct, direct contact with behavior and behavior change, you know, with their own behavior, and then watching someone, you know, throw their lunch into the recycling container, or throw their soda bottle into the garbage can, you know, just watching that it really brought up a lot of interesting critical thinking issues, and, you know, wicked problems. And that's what really got me into it. Because we want to teach critical thinking. If you spend any time thinking about recycling, you're going to run into a wicked problem, and you're going to start engaging in critical thinking. So then I took students to the landfill, we have a waste to waste to energy facility. And, you know, recycling is probably a whole nother podcast topic that we could do. But it started to just unpack this huge issue of, of waste and materials and consumption, and the wicked problems. And so I really got into it that way. So really engaging with those issues, started taking other classes to the landfill and the H power facility. And then started talking with other teachers about the waste issue about some of our food security issues in Hawaii, and started saying, Well, you know, are you teaching this? How does this? What does this look like in your discipline? So it started out as informal conversations. And then in 2008, we had the first sort of system wide meeting. So there were, you know, a few writing teachers like me, some computer teachers, some scientists, natural resource people, of course. And you know, we were just started talking, what is sustainability? How does it change the way we teach? And what do we have in common in terms of how we're trying to teach this? And how can students find the sections? So that's really what the S designation project then is about is like, okay, teachers are teaching this. But if a student has an interest in sustainability, how can they find these classes in the curriculum, right, because the university is organized in this, like 19th century, disciplinary structure, geography, biology, botany, you know, humanities, and sustainability is, is embedded everywhere in the curriculum. And then students show up and say they, they say, Oh, I'm interested in sustainability. And, and they don't know where to find it, because they're coming from a different framework than, than that the Academy is, is organized. So then the next thing that happened was the Association for the Advancement of sustainability in higher education. So a group called AASHE was formed around that time, and they came out with a rating system called STARS. And I thought for sure University of Hawaii system would want to do the stars rating system. And a lot of stars, I'm sure you have interacted with stars in your work. A lot of STARS' work is about, you know, often operations side of things, how energy efficient are your buildings, water, use that kind of thing. And then this little piece of it is about curriculum. How are you teaching sustainability, climate change? How do these issues come into your classroom? Not just in what you're teaching, but in how you're teaching that? And how do we even know, really what's happening in the classroom. So I thought we would become a star school. And so I started studying the stars criteria. I kind of combine those with our conversation. And we said, you know, this is what a sustainability course looks like. And that was the origin of the project.

Dave Karlsgodt 11:44

Yeah, fascinating. You kind of took it from a needed opportunity to have my students have critical thinking. So I might as well throw them into sustainability, because it's really hard, rather than although I guess it did have a Genesis in your own passion. That's interesting. selfishly, I want to ask, you know, I'm sure there are people that are interested in how you got the S designation into your curriculum and the mechanics of that. But since I am on most of the work I do is on the operational side of the house of four universities, I guess I'm a little more interested in thinking about how do you go about teaching these concepts? Because I think that's something I might be able to glean some tricks from, in my work, I end up in a position of educating people on the operational side of the business. I run into roadblocks all the time, like, how do you talk about this? How do you bring up these topics without people's eyes glazing over or just hitting barriers left and right, because it is hard?

Krista Hiser 12:41

Right. Well, one of the first things I did was talk with students, I did a dissertation study, called students as stakeholders in the curriculum. And I did focus groups with students. And I asked them, you know, it's funny how you said that, because because I, if I asked students, Oh, are you interested in sustainability? Sometimes they would be like, what, what are you talking about? But if I can, if you come around sort of through a different direction, and start asking them about climate change, and invasive species and biodiversity and some of these other other issues, then they are very become very engaged in those things. So I was asking them, are your teachers teaching this? And how are they teaching it? And at first, they would say, you know, oh, no, it's not, we don't learn that in class. But then they would say, oh, except for, you know, when the teacher starts talking about water bottles, and water rights, and dishonor, you know, trying to buy water rights and sell water and things like that. And it turns out that faculty who are engaged will, you know, they'll teach they're values, they'll teach these issues, because they're thinking about them. And they're really smart people. So the sustainability curriculum would be coming in as a sidebar. And literally, that was the same in textbooks, right textbooks would have around that time, you know, a chapter on sustainability or a sidebar about, you know, plastic and the environment, something like that. And what this s designation does is take sustainability out of the sidebar, and really transform the curriculum. So having that conversation with students was really important. And then continuing that conversation with faculty. So faculty with talk about what's called cognitive dissonance. This is where operations comes in for you, it was really important to continue talking to faculty about teaching sustained ability, because what they would say is things like if they're in the classroom, and they teach about the importance of, you know, local food and keeping, keeping the local economy, things like that. And then if the students go across the Great Lawn to the cafeteria, and they find bananas from Mexico, in the cafeteria, or they look at why the healthy food is so much more expensive than, you know, the less healthy food issues like that. The teachers were telling me that frustrated them, and that the students, you know, we get one thing in the classroom, and then one thing in the cafeteria, just as an example. And that that found that very interesting. That's actually a psychological phenomena, called cognitive dissonance. cognitive dissonance is when a person holds two contradictory ideas at one time, and it's very uncomfortable. We do it all the time. But this application of the concept is a little different, because we're looking at a campus ecosystem. And the classroom is one part of the ecosystem. And the facilities are another part of it. And they have to resonate with each other. Yeah, so if the students are learning one thing in the classroom, and they don't see it, when they step out into a different part of their college experience, then it creates this cognitive dissonance, and it's uncomfortable, and it almost negates what they just learned. know,

Dave Karlsgodt 16:39

it's interesting, I have run into a lot of frustration in my own work, because I will, will interact with sustainability departments A lot of times, and part of their role is to help the operational side of the house, you know, become, you know, quote, unquote, greener. But a lot of their work has to do more with engaging students. And the way that you see that play out again, and again, and again, is, at least you know, sort of in the in the shallow sense is, you know, what do I do about water bottles on campus? Or what do I do about, you know, we should have a garden on on our campus, not really realizing that the scale of that compared to what the cafeteria serving is, is dwarfed. And, for me, I guess I run into a lot of cognitive dissonance when I, when I hear things like that, because I just it frustrates me because I don't, I guess I kind of feel it doesn't really matter, when the campus energy system is so much larger, so much of a bigger problem.

Krista Hiser 17:30

Right? Right. It might be interesting, if we talked instead about cognitive dissonance, what if we looked at the the potential for cognitive resonance, I may have just invented that term cognitive.

Dave Karlsgodt 17:47

I like it, you heard it here first.

Krista Hiser 17:48

Yeah, this is that whole, what we talked about in sustainability, the Living Learning Lab, concept of college campuses, and the way they are, you know, like, can be like a small town or an ecosystem. If a student learns it, in a classroom, experiences it on campus, sees, sees it in action in their community, a lot of students sustainability values come, of course, from their home, and from their community, from what they see at the grocery store, and so forth. So they're all interconnected, we need to think about all the places that a student interacts. The classroom, the campus, and their community are all really important sites, which is why it's important for faculty to also be engaged in the community, through programs like service learning, or just through their own, you know, engaged citizenship,

Dave Karlsgodt 18:52

I want to come back to something you mentioned earlier, because you said something about teachers bringing it up in class, I remember having experiences like that on my own college, I had an English teacher that would rant and rave, I think it was about traffic patterns, or something like that. And I used to get so frustrated, because I had nothing to do with the English course I was taking at the time. But I remember she was very passionate, and she took a good chunk of our class time to talk about whatever that was. Tell me more about that. Because it seems like you've run into that situation as well.

Krista Hiser 19:23

Well, teachers are people, and they will teach their values. They, whatever it is that they're passionate about, if they're a vegetarian, or a bike activist, a lot of the sustainability activism has been faculty driven. And those faculty will, it will bubble out of them in the way that they're teaching on the topic of the campus as a Living Learning Lab, right, so the faculty will say that whatever is being taught in the classroom, needs to be the student, if the students can experience it, then on campus, then they get that cognitive resonance. And that was maybe driving a lot of the work and campus operations. And what the research on sustainability in higher education some of the studies are saying is that the effort and energy on the operation side is actually beginning to exceed or surpass the change and transformation in the classroom, some of the classroom stuff is maybe it's just less visible. And that's what we are hope trying to do with this sustainability designation is again, make those classes more visible to students, and more visible to other faculty so that opportunities for interdisciplinary dialogue are created. What's interesting is that there is so much energy on the facilities and operation side with like energy goals and things like that. So you could actually have like, kind of the reverse impact. If students are seeing water conservation practices or energy, renewable energy, and they're not hearing about that in the classroom, then that's also a lost opportunity.

Dave Karlsgodt 21:26

Oh, that's interesting. So you're basically saying that, while you might think that what's being taught in the ivory tower, which is usually way out in front, or kind of the idealistic approach to things, you would think that they're teaching sustainability concepts that I had that like, way out ahead of facilities, but what you're saying is, facilities since they are in a lot of higher education institutions are pushing efforts like that. Yeah, they may be driving the education, not the other way around

Krista Hiser 21:52

I have seen some studies to that effect. Yes. Interesting. It's, it's a very interesting time. process can be very uncomfortable for faculty who, you know, have to look at what they're teaching, and, and what it means to students, and how they fit in with this whole s designation. Sometimes it can be a bit uncomfortable for faculty, it can be uncomfortable also, for facilities, managers, and administrators, sometimes it feels like there's different goals, sometimes competing goals, what is the direction we're going in? And I think the reason it feels uncomfortable is because it's change, change is difficult. What we're experiencing with sustainability in general, is really a paradigm shift. And this is a term that, you know, we we kind of use a lot paradigm shift. But what a paradigm shift really is, is a change in the fundamental knowledge, fundamental, shared common knowledge, like going from thinking the earth is flat to understanding that the earth is round, that is a paradigm shift. It's a change in scientific principle. And this is what's happening right now is a shift in, you know, the nature of life and our interaction with natural resources. The understanding that those resources are finite, is a change in how we think I looked up paradigm shift on Wikipedia. And I thought it was really interesting that somebody had added in there a one of those visual games an optical illusion, and it was a picture of a rabbit, or a duck. Depending on how you see it, you know, you kind of look at it one way, and it looks like a rabbit. Another way it looks like a duck. And this picture was representing what a paradigm shift feels like. And that that rabbit duck image is, is something I think about. Now, it when we look at Campus sustainability, we look at it one way and it looks like a rabbit. And then all of a sudden, you see it again, and it looks like a duck. And that change can happen. It's it's very, very uncomfortable. It's like, No, no, no, no, no, no, yes. And then the change can just happen like, all of a sudden, very quickly. And that's kind of where we're at right now, in the University of Hawaii system. I've been, you know, engaged in these conversations for 10 years, and they fell hard, they felt sticky, they're challenging, people would put energy in and then they get burnt out. A lot of false starts. And all of a sudden is the energy is different. And you know, it's we're starting to understand it.

Dave Karlsgodt 24:57

We had an experience like that with one of our clients, a large research institution in the Midwest, when we've been working with them over the course of a couple of years looking at different scenarios and how they could get off of coal. And at the time, it seemed pretty aspirational for them to actually pull it off. But it was interesting to see at a certain point, as the ideas percolated through the organization, and became kind of the ideas of the president and other key staff, it felt like overnight that they were able to make a transformational change. I think what was most striking to me was how wrong most of those early forecasts had been. I mean, everybody was predicting it would take him a really long time. And the only person that was even close to predicting how rapidly it would happen was a sustainability director. And even she underestimated where they eventually ended up. So it was a lot of fun to see that. But I, I guess it coming back to the term you used a second ago, you said the word cognitive dissonance. You've said that a few times that I, I guess I'd like to dig into that a little bit more. I know, a lot of the work we do, we will see people with goals, like a carbon neutrality goal of a certain year or something like that. But But along with that, they'll have these other goals that are things like, we're going to build more science buildings, or we're going to, you know, add more students or, you know, we're going to build, build, build and grow, grow, grow, but we're going to do it in a green way. And you know, a lot of term I always say to people is you can't grow your way to neutrality. But maybe he could. How, how should I think about that in this context? I mean, that's what do we do about cognitive dissonance?

Krista Hiser 26:28

Yes. Right. It's like one part of the organization, thinking one way like the sustainability department, or however it's organized, thinking one way, and then another part of campus thinking another way, it's interesting when campuses make these really big, aspirational goals, like we have a state goal to be for you h to be net zero by 2035. It's very aspirational for a leader to say that. And then, you know, the people whose job it is to make those changes, they're placed in that cognitive dissonance, suddenly, it's like, but, but how do we do that? Where does where do you even start, you know, and you'd begin with baseline measures. And we presented last week to the Board of regions. And we have an Energy Manager and his slide showed the the chart the line from where the campus was right now, in terms of renewable energy, and how it was going to get to 100%. net zero by 2035. And the, the line from 1.44%, 100% was of you have to start somewhere. But then you also have to trust that the change can be not just step wise, but jump wise, you know, it's like baby step, baby step, baby step, leap. And we have to trust that those leaps are going to happen if we keep going on baby steps.

Dave Karlsgodt 28:21

Yeah, they, we hear that term, incremental ism, which again, you can't really do baby steps all the way there, there has to be a giant leap somewhere the way? Yeah, I see that a lot. And it is it usually it's helpful when they have a goal like that, because at least it gets people thinking and talking. And I suppose the cognitive dissonance is part of the learning process, I suppose it's not necessarily a bad thing. It's or, or is it? You know, or is it just something we need to recognize?

Krista Hiser 28:47

cognitive dissonance is definitely something to recognize. It's something that happens to us all the time. And that discomfort causes us to, you know, examine our thought our thinking and our actions in a new way, when it becomes a bad thing is when there's a conflict between the thinking and the demonstrated environment. You know, it's very difficult, staying connected with sustainability and change and renewable energy. When it looks like business as usual, you know, when the media is still, you know, encouraging consumerism, and the mall is all lit up, and everybody's driving around, and it doesn't look like we're heading toward a climate crisis, it doesn't look like it, it looks like everything is fine as business as usual. And that's where I think cognitive dissonance where we can if we can address those experiences, so that students can interact with change, instead of just thinking and learning about change, when they begin to see it. That's what accelerates those those leaps. Not just in their, in their mind in that transformative learning. But in your campus projects and meeting those aspirational goals.

Dave Karlsgodt 30:34

Let's talk about the students then. So there's this concept of teaching students about sustainability. And I'm I mean that that's great, let's do that. Because in 10, or 20, or 30 years when they're running the world, will be really happy that they know these concepts. But, you know, in my day to day world, I'm placed in a position where I need to teach people that are already professionals in place about sustainability, because they're the ones that are actually making the decisions to buy the assets that we're going to be stuck with for the next 10 or 20 or 30 years. So I mean, how should I think about that?

Krista Hiser 31:03

Yeah, well, in some ways, you and I have the same job, because I'm talking with faculty about how they teach. And that is, that is one conversation. What What, what we do know a little bit about is how to teach sustainability with students. And I can tell you a couple of things that I've changed about my own teaching. Sure. One, one is that in talking with students, they'll describe, like being on a roller coaster with sustainability. If they're seeing, you know, film, like films like bag it, or, you know, any of these kind of eco attainment films, if they see that in one class, and then they're researching that, that problem or issue, and then they go to another class, and they might see the same film, and research that problem or issue. You know, we have to think about what they're learning in their other classes, and how it's going to resonate with what they're learning in our class, we have to work together to create some coherence in how we teach sustainability. Because if we don't, the risk is sometimes it's called Green fatigue. You know, if you get students all worked up about something, and then nothing happens, and then you get them all worked up and concerned again, and nothing happens, then they, they they tune out, they tune out from the real learning that is possible there. So what I did in my own teaching, I've been teaching environmental issues for almost 20 years. And I've read so many papers about polar bears floating on icebergs, and I just did not feel that these papers were sincere. I felt students were writing what they thought I wanted them to write. And they weren't really thinking through the issues. So instead of teaching the problem, so I used to send students out to you know, research and environmental issue. And then we'd write a research paper. We no longer start by teaching the problems, we start by engaging with the solutions, engaging with the solutions, kind of Prime's the mindset to become engaged in the problem, right, you want to become empowered and hopeful before you start doing the research, not vice versa. Maybe that sounds like a simple thing. But I really always am encouraging people to stop teaching problems teach the solution first.

Dave Karlsgodt 34:00

Now, I think we've kind of experienced that in our own work too. Because if we only if we just went in and talk to clients about how bad their issues are, I don't think we would get very far, the only reason we're there is because they want help figuring out the solutions. And if we can bring a message that there are some, we have a lot better chance of success than if we don't. So that totally makes sense to me.

Krista Hiser 34:19

So that's one thing. And another thing that I've learned a lot about from faculty is about the power of place. And of course, we're teaching in Hawaii, where we have an incredible host culture and incredible environment. Incredible degree of environmental impacts with biodiversity and all kinds of things going on here. The most powerful teacher we have is really the place itself is is nature itself, almost, if you teach in a classroom from a book, then it's easy to remain distant from from the information to detach from it. But if you're teaching from a grounded sense of place, it's got tremendous impact. And that's something that faculty talk about a lot.

Dave Karlsgodt 35:19

But it's interesting, you say that I remember my own experience when I grew up in Montana, where I could go fishing out my front door. And you know, it was right in the mountains as a kid. And then I went to school in Texas, and I remember how big of a shock it was just to not have the mountains right around me. And I never really realized how much appreciated that until I was moved away from it. And now that I've kids growing up in the city, we do our best to get them outside as much as possible. But you see a lot of their friends that they just have no connection whatsoever. It's just a it's a foreign experience to me, but I'm starting to understand a little better.

Krista Hiser 35:54

Yeah, well, you probably know about nature Deficit Disorder order. And it's a very real thing. If we're, if we're not connected to nature, we can't, we can't defend what we don't know what we don't what we don't love what we don't appreciate. So a lot of curriculum building does start there. Interesting, what I've learned about teaching sustainability, sustainability curriculum. And this is what I've learned from talking with faculty who are doing it, as well as from some other research on sustainability and higher education. And my own focus group research with students, it kind of boils down to a few guidelines, one is just not teaching from the problems teaching from the solutions being engaged and involved in real world solutions. The second is that idea of sense of place and being grounded in place, you know, the specific, whether it's Montana, where you're from, or here and Hawaii being grounded in place. The other thing that that comes up a lot is the importance of big picture thinking, systems thinking or creative thinking. One of our faculty actually designed a course around creative thinking. And it's actually something that you can learn, it can be practiced and developed, creative thinking. The university we are programmed to teach, you know, critical thinking. And that's actually the opposite of systems thinking critical thinking is taking things apart, systems thinking is putting them together, creative thinking is how to see problems in a new light. So teaching those kind of big picture thinking skills. And then the other skill that is most important, it's on all the workforce, future workforce skills. The most important is a communication, and both interpersonal and interpersonal. So the ability to talk with people engage people and become a change a change agent, you know, how to talk with people about climate change, or behavior change is, you know, right up there in the important skills for sustainability curriculum.

Dave Karlsgodt 38:26

Interesting. So we can't just have more engineering courses to work our way out of this.

Krista Hiser 38:32

No, it's it's, it is a much more interdisciplinary and even trans disciplinary endeavor. And, yeah, it's not just engineers, and we need different kinds of engineers.

Unknown Speaker 38:49

That's it for this episode. We hope you enjoyed part one of our two part series with Dr. Krista Hiser. As always, you can learn more the show notes and the podcast website at campusenergypodcast.com. Please let us know what you think by sending us an email. Our email address is feedback@campusenergypodcast.com. Catch you next time.