Ged Moody discusses the history and future of The Appalachian Energy Summit.
Megan Hayes: Welcome to another FYI podcast from the campus of Appalachian State University. Today Ged Moody, special assistant to the chancellor for sustainability, is here to talk about the Appalachian Energy Summit which convened on our campus for the fourth year this July. Ged thanks so much for being here today.
Ged Moody: Thank you.
MH: Can you start by giving us some background and history of the Energy Summit? How it got started and how it has grown over the years and also why is it held here at Appalachian.
GM: About four years ago a couple of our alumni, Kenan and Hayes Smith, showed up one day and said they wanted to sit down and talk about doing something big. And over the course of the next two hours the idea that became the Appalachian Energy Summit was born around that table. We knew at the time that the university system was spending almost a quarter billion dollars a year on energy. We knew that Appalachian State was doing a lot of great things, and there were a lot of things happening at many of the campuses that, if we could bring all of these ideas together and create a collaborative network there was a lot of good that could be done.
MH: Why Appalachian? Why is it held here instead of somewhere else in the state?
GM: At Appalachian I believe we have a history of leadership in sustainability in energy matters. We’ve always seen that as part of our DNA. We seek out those leadership positions. We realized in some of our initial conversations that we could bring in the Rocky Mountain Institute and Amory Lovins. So one of the highlights in my career was flying out to meet with Amory Lovins whose one of the icons of the sustainable energy movement and when they showed enthusiasm that was similar to ours and that they recognized Appalachian State as a leader, it felt really good to us. We knew we had a good idea, we knew we had the right place, and we felt the right time also.
MH: So, from that first meeting and that first vision and those formative conversations to now four years later, how have you seen the event grow and change?
GM: In some ways the event has changed very little. Sometimes I’m surprised. I look back at the original vision and I see that we’re still doing probably ninety percent of what we thought we would do. What changes every year is the scope and the scale. In the early years we were trying to convince people to come aboard and these are things we can do together. And now in the later years we are starting to have the issues of are we growing too big? Do we have the exact right people? Our business partners are responding in very positive ways. We have national organizations and national level speakers. What’s changed is just the impact or the ripples in the pond have gotten bigger.
MH: Who is participating in the summit now and what are their expectations?
GM: Yes, that is a good question. The participants initially were individuals from various UNC campuses, so we invite everybody from Chancellors, provosts and CFOs. We want the executive perspective. We want them involved to make sure they can create that top down change. But then we have the people on campus who are responsible for making the changes. We have faculty, we have sustainability directors, we have energy managers, we have chief facility officers, we have transportation managers, we have campus architects. So we have the people on campus whose jobs it is to make the campuses more sustainable and save energy. And then for that beautiful bottom up effect that goes with the top down is we want students. We started with about twenty to thirty students. This year we had eighty students and we actually turned quite a few away. The students just bring an amazing creative element and they bring ideas to the conference and to the overall initiative that we never knew were possible. Amory Lovins said, “If you want to have new ideas, the first thing to do is to stop having the old idea.” Students are a great way for us to stop having the old ideas.
MH: In terms of the vision for this moving forward what was the big vision? When you were envisioning this with the Smith brothers and also with Amory Lovins, where did you want to go with it?
GM: We had multiple levels of goals, but where we wanted to start was with the financial goals. You know me. Personally, as a sustainability professional, I don’t always go to the financial goals first, but I knew in the climate of the day the university budgets were challenged. We knew if we could make a financial impact then we could meet all of our other goals. But we have five basic goals or things we hope to do as a result of the Appalachian Energy Summit. The first is to educate our students to be the leaders of tomorrow. They are 221,000 students in the UNC system and if we can teach them a better way, a more sustainable way, they are going to invent the future that we all hope will exist. Secondly, we hope to reduce and stabilize the expenditures of energy. Again, we spend, I think its 227 million a year on utilities and we we believed at the time — and now it’s very true — we will save one billion dollars by the year 2020 and by the year 2025 we will save the state two billion dollars.
MH: Is that all across the UNC system or is that these participants?
GM: That is cumulative utility savings at all UNC campuses through the year 2025 we will save two billion dollars. Our third goal with the energy summit was to transform and stimulate the North Carolina economy. If we are going to save two billion dollars then we are going to spend money along the way and we are going to reach out to North Carolina’s technology leaders, companies like Cree — it’s a North Carolina company. But how can we in our efforts stimulate and grow the clean energy economy in North Carolina? Fourth we want to position the UNC system and Appalachian State as the leaders that we know ourselves to be. Lastly we hope that through these efforts to bolster a culture of sustainability on our campuses.
MH: So, specifically after that first year what goals did you walk out of there with? The participants in that conference.
GM: Well, a friend of mine once said, “great things don’t happen in big meetings” so in our first year we had about 250 people. This past year we had over 400, but we came out of the first summit with working groups. So you get 250 people together and you don’t imagine what they are going to go do. So we have six working groups that each have their own specific sets of goals that grow year over year. These six working groups meet not only at the annual Appalachian Energy Summit, but they meet on the phone, they meet via email, we have a mid-year face to face that rotates at a different UNC campus every year. The six working groups are faculty, energy managers, chief facility officers, campus architects, sustainability professionals, and students. Each of these groups wind up with about anywhere from thirty to seventy five people who become a working group and they work together throughout the year creating goals, achieving those goals and setting new ones.
MH: So have you seen success? Have you seen progress being made?
GM: Absolutely. It makes me smile because every year not only do we see on paper that they have set nice goals for themselves and that they are achieving them. That gives me a lot of satisfaction, but honestly what gave me the most satisfaction this year was when I saw everybody come back to the energy summit. People were shaking hands, smiling, giving each other hugs, asking, “How have you been?” So the Appalachian Energy Summit has created these working groups, these networks, these relationships that didn’t exist before. You know there’s another kind of interesting story that goes with that, I have a colleague at Western Carolina who says, “I went to the Appalachian Energy Summit, I took the recommendation that came out of that summit back to my job and as a result I got a promotion and I got a raise.” So that’s improving people’s lives and not only making our campuses more efficient, but it’s those kind of success stories that really stick with me.
MH: I bet! So what kind of goal tracking is taking place from year to year? How are you measuring the progress? Are the working groups measuring them, campuses measuring them how is that happening?
GM: That’s a good question. Each working group — and this is all maintained on the sustain.appstate.edu website — you can go to the energy summit page and you can look at each working group and see what their current goals are. And some of that happens on a work group by work group basis that we coordinate. But collecting data like saving two billion dollars? Megan, that happens with the state energy office. These campuses already are reporting the energy used, the energy saved, water used, water saved — different things like that. We are fortunate to have that mechanism in place to get the data from each campus.
MH: You mentioned the Rocky Mountain Institute, but are there other similar high level summits or conferences taking place across the country? In the region?
GM: Well there’s lots of energy meetings. There are even a couple people out there that say they have an “energy summit”, but from a higher education standpoint we’re not aware of anybody else that’s doing this at this system level. That is one of the reasons that Rocky Mountain Institute and organizations like them are excited. You know we go to the National Higher Ed Sustainability Conference and for the last three years they have invited us to give a presentation about the energy summit because it is something that’s unique. And to that end we understand the uniqueness and we have made a concentrated effort to figure out how we get this into other states. This year, in the 2015 energy summit, we invited campuses from other states and systems from other states. We had representatives from fifteen other campuses and from eight different states here for the express purpose of saying,“How can we build something like this in our state?” While we are proud and recognize the uniqueness the real big opportunity, is to have it spread.
MH: So, we have people from other states and I understand there were also representatives from campuses outside of the UNC system as well.
GM: Yes, so in addition to the fifteen campuses from outside of North Carolina we have six private schools that participate with us as well and those are Duke, Wake Forest, Elon, Catawba College, Warren Wilson, and Davidson College.
MH: And are they implementing the same type of goals and looking for those savings as well? Obviously they don’t necessarily have the same infrastructure that the state schools have.
GM: We share the same goals, you know honestly it is a little more difficult for them to participate because they don’t have the same data collection mechanisms. And sometimes they don’t feel quite as much a part of us as we would like, but every year we invite them and they come back, so all we can keep doing is swinging the door open and when they walk through it, we are always glad to see them.
MH: It’s a good sign that they’re coming back for sure. So what do you see happening at future energy summits?
GM: The real opportunity that I think exists now with the energy summit is how do we continue to leverage it with our business partners. You know the energy summit has world-class speakers. When you come to the energy summit it’s free, we feed you great food for three days. You can stay in the dorm for free if you’d like and really we couldn’t do that for free without the support of our business partners. And in the years leading up to this year they have always been kind of purely a sponsor. Now where I think the opportunity exist is to turn them from sponsors into true partners and as we meet these five goals of the energy summit if we are going to transform the economy then we need to be serving and working with the business partners. And so this year we had over twelve national level companies that wanted to be a part, next year we are going to work harder to bring a handful of the right types of companies in, but we really want them to be imagining these campuses as laboratories. Not just as customers who might buy their lightbulbs or buy their consulting services. We want them to see the University of North Carolina system and Appalachian State in particular…we want them to see our campus as a lab and how can they invest in us and let us be the place where their new solutions get tested. Where students work on them, faculty can do the research on them and we’re driving their solutions to be bigger and better. Our whole goal is to always be trying to increase the impact of the energy summit.
MH: That’s an exciting vision for the future.
GM: Thanks. It is.
MH: You mentioned that you have world-class speakers. Can you tell us a little about who they have been in the past?
GM: Well, we always have great speakers at the Appalachian Energy Summit and one of the highlights is the keynote address, which is the opening night which is open to the general public. And this year we had Robert F. Kennedy Jr. who is just one of the leaders and has tremendous passion for environmental issues and sustainability issues. We also had Amory Lovins, the chief scientist at the Rocky Mountain Institute and Amory has been with us all four years and I imagine we will be with us every year going forward. So he’s kind of the grandfather, if you will, of the energy summit and I say that really just because I respect him as an elder. And additionally, we had David Orr from Oberlin College who is probably one of the most important voices in academics talking about sustainability. So this year at the Appalachian Energy Summit again Kennedy, Lovins, and Orr. Any of those three could have held down a key note spot at any of the largest conferences. So people that took the time to be with us this year heard from truly the world’s leaders.
MH: I like the fact that that part of the energy summit is open to the public because not only are you doing this really great work — that for a lot of people is behind the scenes—the keynote address allows you to show the results and also showcase those speakers and bring them to our campus, in a way that we might not have an opportunity to do otherwise.
GM: Well it’s thrilling to me, Megan. On one hand just to know that we are, as you said, showcasing the event and people are seeing the leadership that’s taking place, but you know there are these moments as a sustainability professional where you really feel like you moved the needle. This year at our opening keynote session when I looked out at Schaffer Center and I saw the audience…that the arena was packed, you know there was this great since of pride that a thousand people from our community got to take part in this message. When you can make sure important messages like this get in front of that many people, those are the days you take pride in what you do. Two of our speakers this year, Mr. Kennedy and David Orr, both did a good job of moving beyond just energy to bringing in social and economic justice aspects of it. Again energy is the reason we’re here and it’s our focus, but from a sustainability perspective I think we did a good job this year of bringing in all the elements of sustainability — the economic, the environment, and the social justice aspects. An event of the magnitude of the Appalachian Energy Summit doesn’t happen without lots and lots of people coming together to really make this event a success. You know the entire Office of Sustainability devotes a big portion of their year to this event. We have folks in university communications, our camps and conferences institute, food services, I mean I could go on and on at the people who have put their heart and soul in this event to make it the success that it is. David Orr talked about when you try to have these conferences or when you try to convene these meetings around sustainability, he used the word, “have a party.” You know have fun with it and the Appalachian Energy Summit absolutely has this retreat or party atmosphere, aside from the working and all the great speakers that you can hear we put lots of time in networking. I mean this year we even put a circus tent up on Sanford Mall. One night we had some great mountain music…some of our faculty are part of the band, and the next night we had a jazz ensemble, again lead by one of our professors and so these are great fun. Again, it adds to the notion that this isn’t a boring conference. This is a retreat and it’s a party and it’s one of the reasons why every year when we do the surveys people always check the box “Yes, I will come back”. For those individuals who were not at the 2015 Appalachian Energy Summit we invite you to visit our website again go to http://sustain.appstate.edu/energysummit and there you’ll find recordings of all our speakers. You’ll find the data of how much energy each campus is using and saving, you’ll find the initiatives that are taking place in each working group so we invite everyone to have a virtual energy summit experience.
MH: Ged, thanks so much for being here today. As someone who has seen the energy summit progress over the years as an outsider looking in, it was exciting to me to hear you really get into the details about what happens when you’re in those working sessions, and the real exciting outcomes that have potential for really incredible impact across our state and our region. I appreciate you taking the time to be here today. Again, for more information people can just visit the website sustain.appstate.edu. There is a really prominent link off that site to the energy summit where people can find out information about prior energy summits and also what’s coming up in 2016.
GM: Thank you very much Megan and I appreciate you guys shinning a light on this good work.
The Appalachian Energy Summit (AES) is an annual gathering for the University of North Carolina Energy Leadership Challengek, with the goal of jumpstarting a national transformative effort across higher education. The 2015 summit was attended by over 425 people and was the most diverse gathering thus far.