What Are Millennials Doing for a Decarbonized Future?
The hot topic of decarbonization was at the forefront of our recent Next Generation Influencer Group conversation. Here are specific ways millennials are tackling the issue.
Check out what millennial influencers think are the biggest steps we need to take to decarbonize, and how they are aiding in the effort through their professional accomplishments:
As the director of sustainability and resilience, Chris Castro endeavors to continually improve the City of Orlando’s efficiency and carbon footprint. Working closely with Mayor Buddy Dyer, he and his colleagues “have been really thinking about decarbonization pretty seriously.” They’ve made just about every climate pledge possible, including joining the Cities Race to Zero campaign.
“We have committed to moving to a zero-carbon economy by the year 2050 at the latest,” says Castro.
With such aggressive goals, Casto notes the importance of data; “We have been performing carbon accounting every single year and a greenhouse gas emissions inventory to pick apart what sectors of the economy are contributing to our emissions the most.”
Not surprisingly, their findings revealed that infrastructure and transportation are two of the top offenders with respect to carbon emissions, but Castro was surprised to learn that buildings happen to be the largest contributor to the problem in Orlando. “72% of greenhouse gas emissions are associated with commercial and residential energy use,” he asserts
The city is pushing all new homes, buildings, and vehicles towards net-zero and all-electric. To accomplish this feat, Castro says the municipality is investing in “everything from rooftop solar, floating solar, carport canopies, large-scale utility solar farms and bus electrification.” The city is also focused on food waste diversion, composting, and creating a circular economy.
Castro highlights Orlando’s energy audit law for commercial and multifamily buildings, which has been designed to implement a “building performance standard to move from measurement to a minimum performance for these facilities.”
In addition, Castro says that “all new construction will be required to have a minimum level of EV readiness that includes installed chargers and future-proofing for the inevitable transition to electrification.”
From an early age, Clayton Ferrara knew he wanted to make impactful change in the world, so he started Ideas for Us from a dorm room with the goal to become “a world leader as an environmental action organization.”
Now, as the executive director, Ferrara states that we are “in such a critical time in our planetary existence. Since the 2020’s started, we have been on the road towards the 2030 deadlines set forth by the United Nations, and this has been named the decade of action.”
Ferrara believes in meaningful action to facilitate change. He notes how in many high school and college classes, “you are confronted with all of the various problems facing the world. But, then, it's up to you to solve all of those problems, leaving no clear discourse on how to do that, so we need environmental action, and we need it now, and that's what Ideas for Us focuses on.”
The nonprofit organization “focuses on the proliferation of an action project that has a direct benefit to the environmental, social, and economic aspects.” But it doesn't stop there. Ideas for Us wants to see their projects turned into programs and grow into social enterprises that “bring about jobs and hire people within communities to go out and solve particular problems and collect metrics and key performance indicators.”
As an attendee of COP 26, Ferrara’s “goal as young people is to engage with world leaders and find resources that are needed for more action projects, especially turnkey small-scale action projects. That makes a difference between the next extraordinary solution happening and not.”
Recently, the organization has been working with “a program called fleet farming, that is striking at and addressing food deserts through decentralized urban agriculture that provides jobs with a living wage for living farmers.” The movement converts lawns to edible landscapes, making food more accessible and affordable for the homeowner and community while reducing the environmental impact of food distribution.
The documentary, “Paris to Pittsburgh" on Disney+ highlights Ideas for Us's Fleet Farming efforts for addressing the nexus between food and energy.
As someone who works to lead the charge towards building electrification, Brynn Furey proclaims, “the decarbonization strategy that is most important for reaching net-zero is for us to electrify all our buildings.” Furey is a clean energy associate at Environment America, a non-profit organization that's focussed on protecting clean air, water and our land. Specifically, she leads the organization’s campaign for building electrification.
As she pushes for full-scale electrification, Furey is working “with state groups at the state and local level to pass incentives and rebates,” and other pro-electrification policies.
Although government action is essential, the most crucial thing Furey and her team are focused on is “catching the public and professionals up to speed on building electrification.”
“A lot of folks don’t know about the benefits of electric technology,” she laments. “It means that people don't know how to ask for it, and contractors don't know how to offer it. So we really want to make sure we get to a point where that has changed, and we build long-term public support so that ultimately we can get the right mix of policies into place.”
Jack Tiebout is the opportunity zone program manager at the Colorado Office of Economic Development and International Trade (OEDIT), where he works “on tax credits for advanced industries as well as our state opportunity zone strategy.” He is also working with a group called Energize Colorado to create scalable and replicable sustainable communities in rural markets across the state.
In terms of decarbonization, Tiebout is fed up with parking and explains how we should "incentivize people's decisions about transportation, as it makes up 30% of our greenhouse gas emissions nationwide." He believes more can be done on a local, state and national level to change people's minds about transportation. For example, he notes that "parking should not be as heavily subsidized as it is because that encourages people to drive without paying the real cost for driving."
More recently, Tiebout is working towards implementing a sewer heat recovery system “to heat buildings without using extra energy.” Watch the video to learn more about this unique solution to energy use and energy infrastructure.
Ultimately, Tiebout’s efforts are conceptualized and derived from the bottom line of “hoping to make a dent in our local greenhouse gas output.”
As a consultant for The Dillon Group, Conor Dillon creates collaborative and inventive solutions to a wide array of business development challenges. He works to raise productivity, profit, and performance for clients. In terms of building science, Dillon works towards energy code inspections, energy ratings, green building verification and sustainable design & construction.
Given his background, Dillon believes that “renewables will be key for decarbonization.” However, he points out that his home state, “Texas, really loves their natural gas, so there's a huge challenge to overcome on getting renewables into the grid.”
Although there are roadblocks to implementing clean energy in Texas, Dillon is inspired by “local energy co-ops that have solar farms where members can opt in to get their power straight from the solar farm.” Acknowledging the importance of the adoption of solar energy into the grid, he explains how, “in a place like Texas where everyone is very independent-minded, having utility providers offer solar as an alternative is really powerful.”
On the top of his mind was Dillon’s concern for aging existing homes. He often ponders “how we get people that don’t have the funds to make investments in their homes to make them net-zero or electrify their houses.” As a resident in a neighborhood with predominantly older homes, he knows how difficult and financially draining the process can be. “It's a huge challenge, and I really want to see movement on that,” he concludes.
“I do a lot of things in the community. I work for an arts-based organization that focuses on climate change intersecting with a cultural shift. I am also part of an ecological justice organization called Movement Generation, and I recently started a non-profit at the beginning of the pandemic called Shelterwood Collective.”
At Shelterwood Collective, the “focus is on doing large acreage forest management around the sustainability of northern California’s wildfire crisis.” They recently acquired a 900-acre forested property in California that they will be stewarding. Camargo mentions the urgency that comes “with the threat of wildfire.” At this property, they are addressing the “need to stop relying on the main provider of electricity, because they are the main causes for a lot of the wildfires that happen here.”
Unfortunately, they will incur a fee for detaching from the grid, so they are “slowly moving towards what would it look like to have alternatives to the current energy use and looking into subsidizing”
The property not only consists of forested land, but it also has ten cabins, two residential properties and two lodges. With limited funds, Shelterwood Collective has visions of “solar panels in some of the houses as well as hydroelectricity with the year-round spring.” Camargo understands that they have to prioritize renovations,“but now energy is at the top of the list as well as resetting the water infrastructure.”
John R. Seydel
The director of sustainability for the City of Atlanta, John R. Seydel, is working vigorously to set the city on track to “going 100% clean energy by 2035.” Through efforts such as electrifying city vehicles, addressing urban agriculture and food accessibility, they are “coming up with new mechanisms to provide resilience and accessibility.” In addition, to reduce waste, Seydel is “looking at ways to rescue food before it ends up in the landfill or is at least composted through community composting programs,” improving the health and food security of the community.
As a city, they are addressing climate change with respect to energy use, air quality, water quality and conservation, and fossil fuel reduction. Lastly, Seydel mentions their “waste diversion work through a deconstruction of public and residential trash pickup for recycling and waste diversion.”
These efforts, goals, and commitments are pushing the City of Atlanta towards a healthy, inclusive and sustainable future. Stay tuned to hear what is coming next for this progressive city.
Christopher Matos Rogers
Christopher Matos-Rogers combines his love for real estate with his passion for environmental change and awareness. As an Atlanta-based real estate agent, Matos-Rogers is educating his clients on the importance of electrification and sustainable building benefits.
“I run Georgia's only sustainably focused real estate team, and in my volunteer time, I push sustainability within our realtor associations both state, local, and nationally. We are 1.5 million members strong, so we are a very powerful voice.”
When it comes to decarbonization, Matos-Rogers is pushing the charge for building electrification. He explains how ”we can clean the grid, but as long as we still have fossil fuel powered appliances in the house, we are going to achieve net-zero and also have air quality issues.”
To spread awareness of sustainable alternatives, Matos-Rogers likes to “document what we do to our house on the energy efficiency and building science side.” He notes how “every device in our house has a lifespan.” His work promotes environmentally positive upgrades to help consumers understand the need to replace fossil fuel dependent products.
Bringing a different perspective to the decarbonization discussion, Kristen Fulmer talks about the intersection between sports and sustainability. Right now, Fulmer has an “interest in understanding embodied carbon as it relates to building materials when advising clients.”
On a day-to-day basis, Fulmer does “work with sports teams to understand how to decarbonize the stadium operations, whether that's through upgrades, aligning with city or local requirements, or actually leading the way in their various leagues.”
As the owner of Recipric, a sports sustainability consultancy firm, Fulmer notes the importance of athletes using their voices to promote climate goals. Acting on this opportunity, she teamed up to “work with a non-profit that helps athletes get comfortable using their voice to talk about climate, and that includes a lot of them being passionate about decarbonization.”
“One of the biggest tools I see is leveraging large voices to find new audiences to understand the importance of these issues and the solutions we all talked about.” In fact, with the non-profit, she is working to create a “sports community manifesto that we will share at COP26.”
Overall, Fulmer believes in the “divestment from fossil fuels in general and the power of sports and other large influencers to use their platform to influence their sponsors and corporations.” Therefore, she continually works to make sustainability improvements and decarbonize the sports industry.
Eric Phillips recently started with GREAF in Chicago, an engineering, planning, and design firm, and previously worked for a community solar developer on small-scale midwest projects. Given his background, he believes “switching from fossil fuels to renewables is the main path forward for a sustainable future.”
At GRAEF, “we are focused on comprehensive plans and city design. So we are transitioning towards more resiliency and sustainability,” Phillips explains. As a company, they work to help businesses thrive long-term through finding ways to continually transform, innovate, and improve the functionality and efficiency of structures.
Phillips’ work is mainly focused on “climate action plans for communities and trying to develop an energy matrix for partnering developers.” Phillips is aware of the benefits of electrification and decarbonization strategies and wants to show “the return on investment that comes from using more sustainable building materials and green infrastructure in their plans.”
At EnergyLogic, Nathan Kahre is passionate about improving the built environment from an energy efficiency standpoint. EnergyLogic is an applied building science certified B corporation with the vision of a world where all buildings are efficient, healthy and resilient.
According to Kahre, “we are trying to work with all of our local builders here to improve what we are doing and how we are building and find the best pathway forward.” Kahre acknowledges the energy intensity and environmental impact of development but claims, “we are of the mindset that homes are going to be built, and are going to continue to be built. So, we need to look at how we can help make them the best possible.”
Providing services to builders in the Front Range of Colorado, they aim to push environment, social and governance (ESG) investing opportunities. Through providing information to builders, they hope to help them understand how their homes are going to perform and “ to showcase what builders are doing, how they are building better, and how they are taking the next steps in home performance and putting that front stage.”
As the Vice President of Development at ESA Solar, Justin Vandenbroeck has engaged in almost every aspect of the solar industry throughout his career. He believes that renewable energy alternatives are key for a decarbonized world. As a result, he works with clients to provide “electricity that's produced in a responsible way while also keeping the rates low and helping address the carbon intensity of the grid.”
Throughout the decade, he has witnessed an uptick in solar installations in less common states. He is located in the sunny state of Florida but claims most of his clients are from out of state, specifically in the midwest. He likes seeing the shift in energy use and is happy people are acknowledging the potential of solar energy nationally.
Some of his most impactful work has come from working with “big utilities who were slow to change now,” after learning of the reliability and potential, “have their own internal commitments that they have made to decarbonize their electricity grid.”
Ian Skor is a co-founder of Sandbox Solar, a forward-thinking solar energy and battery solutions company. Throughout his professional career, Skor has worked on several LEED projects creating energy-efficient and energy-producing services. “We install solar panels and battery systems of all types. You name it, we designed, constructed, and installed it,” Skor says.
As a believer in democratizing sustainable energy generation and consumption, he believes electricity generation is the most impactful decarbonization category. He elaborates that “electricity consumes most of our carbon emissions, and we need rapid adoption to change that. So a huge factor that I think will help with that adoption is regional transmission: being able to sell solar credits to other markets.” Skor predicts that this will “drive up the value of selling back solar in certain sunnier states.”
Most intriguing, Sandbox Solar has “been working with CSU to study the impacts of agrivoltaic and how it could solve the food, energy, water nexus.” In the semi-arid Front Range of Colorado, “certain solar panel setups and transparencies can actually improve the overall yield of crops,” Skor explains based on their research. Stay tuned for their advancements and work in the agrivoltaics field and some exciting updates!
Learn More From Millennials!
Green Builder Media’s Next Generation Influencer Group's diverse bunch of individuals are working towards a decarbonized world in their own novel ways. They cover a wide variety of the necessary efforts to create a sustainable and healthy future and hope to have inspired others to take action as well.
Publisher’s Note: This content is made possible by our Today’s Home Buyer Campaign Sponsors: Panasonic, Whirlpool, Rockwool, and Lee Industries. These companies take sustainability seriously, in both their products and their operations. Learn more about building and buying homes that are more affordable and less resource-intensive on Today's Home Buyer.