By Erin Hiatt, Director, Energy, Sustainability & Research
The past few weeks have sent me all around the country on behalf of RILA's Energy Program and Sustainability Committee – two key communities of our Retail Sustainability Initiative (RSI). These trips provide a great snapshot of what I'm busy with these days to help our members mature their programs.
First stop: Boston
My trip to the Boston area started on March 22, facilitating a panel at the CFO Rising East Summit on green bonds and external financing for sustainability in general.
In 2015, RILA was the recipient of a Department of Energy (DOE) grant to help us work on energy project financing, recognizing that the internal competition for capital within our member companies often leaves compelling energy projects unfunded. Since then, we've supplied our members with a wide array of tools and workshops to help them address this barrier, whether through increasing their own finance literacy or considering innovative funding options.
One of those innovative options is issuing green bonds, which has gained momentum in the retail industry with announcements from Apple and Starbucks. While RILA has done a good job educating retail energy and sustainability leads about these opportunities, the CFO Rising East Summit panel supplied an opportunity to share these new, exciting options with the other half of the capital allocation equation: finance professionals.
Joined by two fantastic panelists, Ariana Meinz of Bank of America and Cheryl Smith of Trillium Asset Management, we talked about the current momentum around green bonds, their benefits, and the opportunity they present to diversify a company's investor base. I would not be surprised if we continue to see more companies seizing the chance to tackle bundles of beneficial projects, supported by a green bond!
The next day I met with some of our grant partners at MIT Sloan School of Management, who are also helping us think through new avenues to expose finance professionals to these innovative opportunities. Because there isn't one go-to event to speak to an audience of retail finance professionals, we're thinking through low barrier, virtual ways to make sure companies know their options and hear from industry validators who have tested and benefitted from them. I also learned about SHIFT (Sustainability Help, Information, Frameworks, and Tools), an MIT online aggregator aimed at helping demystify the plethora of sustainability resources out there. You may see RILA's tools featured there soon!
My last day in the Boston area took me to Marlborough, where RILA member TJX graciously hosted a regional benchmarking meeting for sustainability and energy retail professionals in the Boston and New York areas. Twenty representatives from nine retailer companies discussed a range of topics in small groups including lighting, renewable energy procurement, stakeholder engagement, data strategies, and setting sustainability targets, Finally, in keeping with the trip's finance theme, attendees participated in a workshop facilitated by the Institute for Market Transformation (IMT) on innovative financing options to wrap up the day.
Second stop: Phoenix
April 10 - 12 was spent at one of my favorite conferences to attend, the Edison Electric Institute's Key Accounts Workshop. Many RILA members prioritize this conference because it provides them with a unique opportunity to meet with utility account representatives all in one location, twice a year. Utility-commercial customer relationships are key for setting smart procurement strategies and taking advantage of the all-important rebates and incentives that make many energy projects financially viable.
I spoke on a panel highlighting landlord-tenant efficiency opportunities by introducing the audience to the Landlord-Tenant Energy Partnership (LTEP), an initiative launched Fall of 2016 by RILA and our friends at the International Council of Shopping Centers (ICSC) – and managed by IMT. LTEP was started to help landlord and tenants overcome financial split incentives created by leasing agreements and is helping us progress collaborative solution-building. One co-panelist, shopping center developer Regency Centers, spoke about their collaborative tenant solar work that was featured in a RILA case study.
Knowing retail travel budgets are tight, I like to travel to where our members go regularly when hosting meetings of the Energy Management Program. EEI was kind enough to include our meeting in the official agenda for the seventh time, and retailers from twenty companies showed up for a great discussion. We talked about RILA's activities (including financing and LTEP) and benchmarked approaches to procurement, renewable energy strategies, energy management information systems (EMIS)/data analysis, and water management. I cannot wait to see members again this fall at the Gaylord National, right in EEI and RILA's backyard!
Third stop: Dallas
My final trip in April wrapped up just last week at the Professional Retail Store Maintenance Association's (PRSM) National Conference. PRSM and RILA are naturally complementary partners. While RILA is a trade group with communities for retail energy and sustainability professionals, PRSM specifically serves retail facilities maintenance professionals. At retail companies with and without dedicated energy and sustainability programs, facility managers are sometimes tasked with elements of those work areas – so that made it a great place to talk to PRSM's own energy and sustainability groups about RILA's existing resources. Partnerships and collaboration make us stronger, so we want the tools they create with PRSM to address facility manager's needs by building on what's already publicly available.
I also spoke in a breakout session alongside IMT's Audi Banny who leads the LTEP to a great group, many of whom were learning about split incentive issues and opportunities for the first time. Coming from a role at Estee Lauder, Audi explained how critical it is for energy, sustainability, and facilities roles to work together towards the common benefits to be gained from partnering with landlords and internal leasing and real estate departments.
At lunch the same day, I joined DOE's Advanced Rooftop Unit Campaign (ARC) as they announced the 2017 campaign award winners including retailers Target, Ulta Beauty, H&M, and Giant Tiger! ARC encourages commercial building owners and operators to replace their old RTUs with more efficient units or to retrofit their RTUs with advanced controls in order to take advantage of substantial savings benefits. It's been a pleasure collaborating with ARC and seeing it grow.
So what's on the agenda for next month?
I'm looking forward to seeing more members at our Southeast regional meeting in North Carolina on May 4, at the DOE Better Buildings Summit in DC May 15-17, and at Sustainable Brands in Detroit May 22-25 where, for the first time, RILA is hosting a Retail Innovation Track (and offering an awesome special registration rate for retailers new to SB).
For more information about RILA's energy program, feel free to reach out to me at email@example.com.