The inaugural BEEx WISE, Women in Sustainability and Energy panel, Clean Energy Innovation, started with a BANG. Eighty people filled the BEEx classroom on an early Friday morning to engage with some of the most forward-thinking women in the energy industry. Jill Anderson, Senior Vice President of Public & Regulatory Affairs and Chief of Staff at the New York Power Authority, moderated the candid conversation between an insightful audience and the three prominent panelists, Christina Ho, General Manager of District Energy Services at ConEdison, Dale Bryk, Director of Programs at Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), and Ozgem Orektekin, Deputy Commissioner at NYC Department of Citywide Administrative Services (DCAS).
Anderson set the tone, sharing statistics about women in the industry and a personal story. The speakers followed suit, recalling crucial (and often hilarious) choices that helped them find their way into the energy sector. From there, the conversation quickly evolved into an exchange about the challenges and opportunities facing the building industry. Energy storage, scaling up technology, stronger partnerships between the utility industry and policy professionals, and more entrepreneurial leadership are just a few of many challenges that Ho, Bryk, and Ornektekin try to tackle every day.
When an audience member asked about the opportunity big data may present, the panelists explained how accessible and usable data could actually influence demand and change the building market. Knowing how innovative people can be when motivated by competition, Bryk and Ornektekin fantasized about all buildings having energy efficiency ratings that could be seen by any perspective tenant or buyer. Though there are still barriers to implementing data in this way, Ho reminded us that creative thinking is integral to problem solving.
Although at times the depth and breadth of the challenges facing the energy efficiency industry seem immense, the panelists had optimistic outlooks on the possibility of change. For example, educating and involving younger generations can serve as an opportunity for change and influence. In fact, it was children who built traction for the recycling movement by coming home from school and teaching their parents the value of recycling and how to do it properly. As Bryk pointed out: “Though the environmental movement has a strong opponent in the oil industry, we have common sense on our side, and we are moving in the right direction.”
To close, Anderson asked each panelist to reflect on the experience of being a women in a male-dominated industry. They shared their lessons-learned and gave advice to the eager group of aspiring women (and men!) in the audience. Words of wisdom included having confidence, asking questions, and finding the right balance between asserting oneself and listening. Ornektekin urged us not to define ourselves and others by gender or appearance, but rather to make judgements based on qualifications and abilities.
Throughout the event, the audience was engaged and energized from hearing the innovative ideas and inspiring stories of the panelists. Most of the guests remained after the program to ask the panelists follow-up questions and to share their own stories. From young professionals to seasoned executive, people from varied backgrounds and with different ares of interest were able to connect and learn from each other. Right from the start, the Clean Energy Innovation panel grew the momentum of the WISE series.
WISE: Women in Sustainability and Energy was a four part symposia featuring inspirational women thought-leaders who accelerate sustainability programs and energy agendas. WISE provided a forum for knowledge sharing and inspiration, supporting leaders of today and providing for the next generation of women in this critical industry.
Check out video highlights from the first event, Clean Energy Innovation, here.