The Common Sense Colloquy: Q&A with Jennifer Martin of Center for Resource Solutions
One of our objectives in conducting this ongoing series of Q&As is sharing insight from energy, environment or LGBTQ leaders that might be helpful to others in thinking through how to communicate, when to communicate or what to communicate. To do that, we committed to including a wide array of leaders from a diverse set of organizations. It’s why we started with a rule of alternating men and women each month and why we’ve redoubled efforts to ensure racial and sexual orientation and identity diversity as well. It’s also why we’ve tried to include not just leaders of organizations that are “household names,” but leaders of organizations that are less well-known, but no less significant in their impact.
This month’s Q&A fits the latter description. The Center for Resource Solutions may be the most important energy non-profit that you’ve never heard of. We’re trying to change that this month by including its Executive Director, Jennifer Martin, in this ongoing series.
Jennifer is one of those quiet, unassuming leaders who gets things done without fanfare. Her impact is no less important, however. As executive director, Jennifer manages a “national nonprofit with global impact.” The Center for Resource Solutions “creates policy and market solutions to advance sustainable energy.” That means they work with businesses and organizations worldwide to do the hard work required to build renewable energy markets. They manage the Green-e certification program that provides an objective, third-party verification for products and services created with renewable energy. And they host the annual Renewable Energy Markets conference that brings together business, policy, legislative and other leaders to consider how best to advance the voluntary renewable energy market nationwide, and increasingly, across the globe.
I’ve been fortunate to be a participant in the Renewable Energy Markets conference for the past four years, moderating workshops (in New York, Houston and San Diego) and keynote panels (in San Diego and online last year). I’ve always found the conference to be both educational and interesting and I’ve made at least one new contact or reconnected with a least one old friend at each one. I highly recommend participating in them to anyone interested in the voluntary renewable energy market. And I recommend the work Jennifer and her team do day in and day out to advance the industry – it’s not always the stuff of headlines, but it’s no less important. I’m so happy to have this opportunity to benefit from Jennifer’s insight and expertise by including her in The Common Sense Colloquy series.
My thanks to Jennifer for sharing her wisdom with us – and you.
Q: The change in administration means the U.S. will rejoin the Paris Agreement on climate change and multiple federal agencies will presumably be more focused on driving development of renewable energy. What do you think are the most likely energy policies to be adopted first and what will that leave to be discussed and debated?
A: The Biden Administration has moved quickly in the last week to signal a return to science-based policymaking and prioritizing environmental action. Rejoining the Paris Agreement is important not only because of its explicit targets, but because it demonstrates our willingness to once again be a part of the global community, and commit ourselves to multilateral agreements. This may be the most important takeaway from the first steps of the Biden administration—that we have returned to making proactive policy decisions based on science.
Biden’s recent Executive Orders include prioritizing accelerated decarbonization of the energy grid, and I’m excited to see how this priority will focus attention on increasing renewable energy and storage targets, and advancements in distributed technologies and electric vehicles. It’s a very encouraging start, and we are looking forward to working once again with a Federal government committed to achieving these goals.
Q: CRS manages the Green-e renewable energy certification program. With renewed interest in renewable energy purchases rising, how will you communicate about the need for programs such as Green-e and the value that certification brings to both project developers and purchasers?
A: The Green-e certification program has seen continued growth since its founding nearly 25 years ago, paralleling the hockey-stick growth of the clean energy sector overall. The industry’s growth has been helped immensely by federal policies like the ITC/PTC and state renewable portfolio standards. But current demand for new green power is overwhelmingly driven by households and companies choosing to make the switch, helped by a market where costs have plummeted and retail options have blossomed. The crucial function the Green-e performs is oversight over a fast-moving and lightly regulated sector of the industry where the end-users cannot in any way verify that they’re actually getting what they signed up and paid for—the lights flip on whether they’re solar- or coal-powered. We work on behalf of the purchaser, ensuring environmental integrity and that customer’s choices are making a difference for the climate. The bigger the market, the more numerous the transactions, the more crucial the need for a third-party, independent certification body like CRS’s Green-e program to oversee the marketplace and ensure confidence in purchases made by people and organizations who want to be part of the solution. They check that box with faith that their decision will make an impact. We do our part to ensure that it does.
On communicating all this—we rely heavily on our partners and leaders in green power commitments. Many of the largest companies and organizations are participants in and buyers of Green-e certified renewable energy, and their public statements promoting green power have far greater reach than we can achieve on our own. As a small nonprofit with a limited marketing budget, we’re always appreciative of the trusted voices like yours who can help us reach a bigger audience. Thanks Ben!
Q: The ongoing COVID pandemic forced you to make the annual Renewable Energy Markets conference virtual last year. By all accounts, the conference was more successful than ever. What do you have planned for this year? Did you learn things from last year that you’ll apply to this year’s conference?
A: It’s hard to gauge success in this new reality. While we have all the data points about online engagement we could ever need—who, when, for how long—that’s not the whole story about the many roles in-person conferences play. In a way, these socially distanced times have reminded us that while live conferences might have seemed anachronistic in this always-on age, watching a screen doesn’t replace live conversations and serendipitous meetings.
That said, we’re definitely excited that Renewable Energy Markets 2020 had more attendees than ever before, and the pivot taught us a valuable lesson—there is tremendous value in making our content more accessible to those who can’t always justify flying to a distant city and putting themselves up in a hotel for a few nights. To give our work the most impact possible, we need to be reaching students, international decision makers, companies that are flirting with environmental initiatives but haven’t yet committed, experienced mid-career professionals looking to pivot. I think we’ll always remember the lessons of 2020 in this regard—if you believe your content can be a force for good, as we do, then you should make it available to those who may someday become that force.
As for 2021—we’ve got the inaugural Renewable Energy Markets Asia conference online from March 9–10 (registration is opening soon). And an announcement about REM 2021 is around the corner. Sign up for updates and be among the first to find out!
Q: What’s the best “common sense” advice about communications you’ve received?
A: Communications only works if it is seen, noticed, and internalized. The best common sense advice I’ve heard about communications is that to be noticed and remembered, it has to be felt. People are your audience, not algorithms. Make sure your communications appeal to them by talking to their humanity, not just their work face. Think of standing behind the podium speaking to an audience. Authenticity is the basis of trust. What will make them stop scrolling and look up from their phones? It’s always a moment that goes beyond the script and reaches people where they really are. We can’t always do this in the real world—but by keeping in mind the person at the other end we can all improve our chances of really touching others.
You called us “the most important energy non-profit that you’ve never heard of,” and while we’re proud of our significant impact, much of our work is behind the scenes, where we can be the most effective by guiding and supporting good decision making by policymakers, corporate and institutional leaders, and individuals. We’re not always the ones who make the front page, but we’re very often standing just behind the ones who do.
Q: What’s the best “common sense” advice about communications you've given to others?
A: Make it shorter.