SUMANI Trendster Blog: BEEx WISE

Last Thursday, I sat in on an event at the Building & Energy Exchange’s office on Chambers Street. Everything about the BEEx is so glossy. From their exhibition on energy products, to the the white & neon event room, and especially their slick website. This is what can result from the public and private sectors partnering together.

In 2015 the BEEx launched a series, titled Women in Sustainability & Energy:

“WISE showcases inspirational women leaders who are accelerating the sustainability and energy efficiency of our buildings and our cities. This series brings together women from a diversity of fields to discuss cutting-edge policies, technologies, and programs. It provides a networking forum and framework for year-round dialogue. WISE supports the leaders of today and provides a platform for the next generation of women in this critical industry.”

The topics of conversation during this WISE event were definitely content heavy, and while the forum certainly serves to facilitate interactions between women in the sustainability and energy industries, these events are profound discussions on industry that just so happen to have an all-female perspective… the “all-male panel” is getting a bit tiresome.

On March 10th, Ali Adler, Angela Ferrante, and Allison Kopf, moderated by Pat Sapinsley discussed “Investors and Innovators Building and Supporting Clean Technologies.”

Just as BEEx itself demonstrates, public sector investment has led to profound private sector engagement. Public/private partnerships present the opportunity for really interesting alliances. On the logistical side, they allow for a stability that, in the past, the likes of VC’s and other investment resources have been hesitant to heavily involve themselves with. The biggest disconnect between the technology companies and the sources for financing has come from the judgment of success; on one side, the extent to which a technology achieves its target purpose (increasing efficiency, eliminating waste, etc.) and on the other, basic return on investment. The aim, moving forward, is “making energy efficiency palatable to the finance world”. With the announcement of the formation of the Breakthrough Energy Coalition (attracting the likes of Jack Ma, Bill Gates, and Mark Zuckerberg), and Elon Musk’s widely acknowledged efforts in SolarCity and Tesla, hopefully we are viewing a turn in the tide.

Another topic of conversation, seeming to demand a more immediate sense of urgency than the rest, was agriculture. Note: you do not have to be a farmer to influence the agriculture industry. Allison Kopf, as the founder and CEO of Agrilyst, is the perfect example of such. Agrilyst is a data analytics company that serves as “the intelligence platform for indoor farms, and helps greenhouse operators run their operations more efficiently by pulling in data from sensors in the greenhouse and information about crop yields and other metrics.” The incredibly intimidating statistic Kopf shared was that food production needs to be increased 70% by 2050 for the 9 billion people expected to be living on Earth. Standards for agriculture do not exist yet, whole food chains across the globe are in need of operational improvement, and one step towards progress is through the aggregation of data. Hunger and conversely, obesity, are already defined social issues, how will we cope with an additional 2.5 billion human beings in need of sustenance?

In a professional world where panels displaying industry leaders continue to exclude representation from half of the population, being witness to such a productive discussion conducted exclusively by women was refreshing, as well as genuinely engaging. Our program at Columbia University is unique in it’s female:male ratio, if you haven’t noticed, and participation in events as such only serve to continue this evolution.

Interested in attending the next WISE event: Data-Driven Innovators? Professionals from the NRDC, Con Edison, PSE&G, and View Dynamic Glass will be discussing how data drives markets and sustainable innovation. RSVP here.

– Abigail Orzolek, M.S. Candidate 
SUMANI Director of Communication, Trendster Contributor, 3/14/2016

*Trendster is a voluntary, crowd-sourced initiative facilitated by SUMA Net Impact. It does not represent the collective views of Columbia University, the Earth Institute or Net Impact

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