Engie Insight CEO Mathias Lelievre is on a quest. He took to the road this summer, traveling to 10 American cities in 10 days using electric vehicles along the way.
In each city, he and his colleagues met with solar and wind power, energy efficiency, energy-as-a-service, green finance, climate action, and water efficiency thought leaders. Lelievre explored how data, energy, and sustainability are becoming increasingly connected.
From the floor of the New York Stock Exchange to Safeco Field in Seattle, the Engie Insight team chronicled their tour online and through social media. Along the way, they met with companies like LO3 Energy in Brooklyn, home furnishings retailer Havertys in Atlanta, and The Home Depot in Los Angeles.
“We wanted to see firsthand the current state of sustainability across the nation, understand how businesses are pursuing different solutions and programs, and determine whether external forces like the political climate was having an impact on initiatives,” Lelievre says. He and his team also aim to help C&I businesses make new connections with their peers.
We caught up with Lelievre after the tour concluded to find out how it went, and which new opportunities he spotted.
What was the impetus for the cross-country trip?
Since joining Engie Insight, I’ve had many conversations with clients on what sustainability means to them and what programs they are incorporating into their business strategies. From solar and battery projects, innovative water reduction programs, fuel cells, and proactive monitoring to waste and EVs, businesses are leading the charge on strengthening sustainability and resource management in the United States and globally.
But we wanted to enable a deeper, more intense level of conversation with the market about the challenges and opportunities they and we see, to understand how to accelerate sustainable resource management programs. Thus our mission for the Coast to Coast Sustainability Tour was born.
How did you plan the trip and pick which US business leaders to meet?
I knew we wanted to hit as many major cities with customers that we possibly could, while prioritizing big trends within the market. We wanted to visit 10 cities in 10 days while making sure we could drive as much as we could in an electric vehicle. Through each city, we were able to hit on the major business trends of technologies, business models and project work.
We knew we couldn’t talk about the state of sustainability in North America without visiting Washington, DC, and meeting with We Mean Business, a global nonprofit coalition that’s working with the world’s most influential businesses to take action on climate change. We had clients like The Home Depot and Panda Express in California, where there is so much happening in the cleantech and EV space, so we knew we had to go there.
It was hard to pick the cities, and there were so many others we could have added to the tour. The market was following us on social media so it was interesting to see the public feedback as we were going. We easily could have spent another two weeks on the road touring projects and programs. Perhaps this means we need an encore.
Which companies have you met so far, and were there particular energy insights they provided that have really stuck with you?
I was able to meet with over 130 business leaders and partners over the course of the tour. We saw similarities between different industries. How to build a foundation of accurate data, and how to pilot and scale these efforts was in every conversation — take, for example, Arby’s and their energy-efficient kitchen, constantly testing efficient equipment and processes, or Havertys and their focus on integrating renewables.
Another common theme we heard from numerous clients is the opportunity with waste programs and recycling initiatives. Where LED retrofits was the low-hanging fruit five years ago, we see waste management increasingly becoming top of mind, ripe with opportunity for businesses.
Blockchain and green finance was a discussion topic in NYC. What came out of that conversation?
We had to ask ourselves, how do you organize the relationship between local consumers and local producers entering through blockchain technology, and the level of transparency and safety that owns the transaction?
It was interesting to hear LO3 Energy talk about the nine projects they are working on globally. One big takeaway from that conversation, from an executive standpoint, was that blockchain is a technology and an enabler. Companies can’t just focus on the technicalities and how it works — they have to focus on what it can do for a specific use case. It’s more about getting your head around the business value of blockchain versus the nuts and bolts of the algorithm.
So much of the success will be based on identifying the right applications, program structure, and execution around the technology. We need to stay very close to the speed of development to these technologies, and make sure we incorporate this in the way we think about the future of energy, and the relationship between consumers, producers, and utilities. There is potential for massive disruption through blockchain.
Anything exciting happening in the IoT space related to energy?
What was interesting to see for IoT was the use cases that were already in place. Take Arby’s. They operate under the notion of funneling — making sure to test and retest the new equipment, making the link between different equipment and the overall impact on the consumption of electricity. There is a need for more granular data at the level of key equipment to maximize sustainable resource management programs. We feel this is very important to every program.
For me, IoT is a real enabler when we say the programs are based on business decisions. We, as businesses, want to make decisions based on real data. IoT is enabling the right level of data and is able to measure what is really going on.
It was interesting to see that, behind IoT, there is a lot of proactive action you can take to drive companies in the right direction of being more granular with data. For what’s next in IoT, a lot of this will be centered around analytics that proactively tell us when a system should be operating more efficiently or predict that a piece of equipment is likely to fail. The players who bring those analytics to market will accelerate the next wave of IoT benefits.
First we need to look at how we continue to share the stories and examples of sustainability in action. We have a job to bring these best practices to the marketplace for our clients and make sure we keep a pulse on all the innovation rapidly progressing in the industry.
The second is to bring back to my teams all the insights we learned from these businesses across the country to ensure we are building solutions to meet their needs. Data is paramount, but we need to look at how we partner with organizations to scale their sustainability efforts, taking this data and gleaning the insights to set achievable goals, focus where the biggest impact is possible.