Net Impact 2013

by James Landi, MBA ‘15 (11/22/13)

James Landi, MBA ‘15

This year’s National Net Impact Conference took place October 24th-26th in San Jose, California. James Landi (MBA ’15) joined the group of about twenty Johnson students, who made the west-ward trek.

I took an early flight to San Francisco in order to spend Thursday afternoon in Oakland with a start-up called Lucid Design.  Lucid’s latest product aims to leverage real-time energy monitoring to engage building occupants with energy conservation and energy efficiency practices. Cornell University recently deployed Lucid Design products in 50 of its campus buildings and intends to have approximately 100 buildings tied into the Lucid System in the coming months. We discussed Cornell’s use of the dashboard and the trajectory of the building performance monitoring space, providing me a better sense of the potential for next generation efficiency gains led by building occupants.

Net Impact 2013bThat night, I attended the Center for Sustainable Global Enterprise’s alumni reception at the Thirsty Bear in San Francisco.  After spending the last few months in Sage Hall, I was excited to connect with Cornell alumni. I was most impressed by the incredible breadth of experience and knowledge demonstrated by the alumni group; the various passions and career interests ranged from venture capital in agricultural water efficiency technologies to tech and renewable energy development.

Friday I headed to the conference. Our Johnson contingent was organized by the second year Sustainable Global Enterprise Club Board. Their management of logistical details such as housing and recommendations navigating and maximizing the benefits of the conference were extremely helpful – a challenge with over 3000 attendees and nearly 350 speakers.

My first session focused on putting big data to work for social and environmental good. I was particularly interested to hear from Drew Hylbert, VP for technology and strategy at Opower. Opower is a privately-owned software-as-a-service company, working to increase homeowners’ engagement with energy conservation and efficiency through dynamic communication methods which include competition and gamification. Opower recently partnered with Honeywell on smart thermostat technology, an exciting corporate move to offer customers more direct control of their consumption by integrating energy reporting and smart technologies that will empower homeowners and utilities to enter into more effective demand management partnerships.

Friday culminated with a second Cornell alumni reception at Café Stritch in downtown San Jose. With the full cohort of Johnson students from the conference, Career Management Center’s Cynthia Saunders-Cheatham, and Professor Mark Milstein, we brought a big contingent from Ithaca to meet Johnson and Cornell alumni in San Jose – who again showed up in big numbers. With approximately 40 Cornellians sharing stories about Johnson, core classes, work experience, and advice on navigating the SGE job search, a great time was had by all and strong connections were forged among Johnson students new and old.

Net Impact 2013aMy Saturday morning conference sessions included an interesting breakout led by PG&E, and a talk about Clicktivism with panelists from Zynga, Recyclebank and The Clicktivism breakout session was particularly interesting and focused on methods for bridging the gap between the ubiquitous “like” on Facebook and empowering real engagement through online issue campaigns. This talk was made more significant in light of my previous discussions with Opower and Lucid Design about leveraging technology to engage building occupants to reduce energy consumption.

I decided to cap off my Saturday afternoon and conclude the Net Impact Conference with a session called “Life after Coal.” In debate-style, three world-renowned minds – climate modeler Mark Jacobson, Areva Inc.’s director of external communications & corporate citizenship Laura Clise., and Alex Trembath, policy analyst from The Breakthrough Institute – were pitted against one another. The lively dialogue centered on the efficacy of coal alternatives and was framed by the need to stay under key greenhouse gas thresholds. The panelists held a healthy discussion about the pros and cons of a variety of technologies ranging from hydraulic fracturing to nuclear generation and wind and solar.  During the session, I learned that the technology to solve the problems associated with energy and climate change already exist! I left feeling inspired!        

I caught the red-eye from San Jose back to Ithaca and I was home studying finance and statistics by 10AM. All in all, the Net Impact Conference was intensely content-rich, inspiring and educational. The opportunity to connect with our amazing Johnson and Cornell alumni, and be around a critical mass of innovative companies and thought leaders who are working on issues personally important to me was significant and made the trip worthwhile. I’m grateful for all of the work the Center for Sustainable Global Enterprise and SGE Club put into making our experience a success, and to the alumni who took time to visit, support our job searches, and share their stories.