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Active Listening, Climate Change, and the Pandemic: Why I Remain an Optimist in 2021

April 26, 2021 Jim Madej

Optimistic about the road ahead

As the father of two teenagers and the son of elderly parents, the pandemic has been overwhelming at times. It has taken a surprising amount of focus and resourcefulness to understand and comply with the shifting CDC and local government guidelines. Like most of you, I did this with varying degrees of success (read: lots of frustration and occasional failure) while managing the competing demands of home and work, both in person and virtual.

Clean Energy Optimism for 2021As a leader of two companies focused on the clean energy transition and energy efficiency, I witnessed a similar dynamic among our customers. Even in a pandemic, it became clear that social equity, climate change mitigation, and strong local economies remained priorities to the communities we serve. Challenged by a lockdown, we had to quickly adjust our delivery model to current conditions, or quickly fail.

Listening to our clients and customers with real empathy, leaders up and down the ranks at Franklin Energy and AM Conservation Group responded with an impressive amount of innovation. I watched and learned from everyone around me as they collaborated with our customers across the U.S. for a range of solutions.

I learned that real listening is an act of respect. Acting on what we heard then required a newfound agility. In only 30 days we were able to shift to providing virtual and CDC-compliant in-person local services for our residential, commercial, and industrial partners.

In the end, the decrease in energy usage was a triple win: lower customer bills, reduced carbon emissions, and more local jobs.

For example, we created and managed a program with a Midwestern utility partner that targeted small businesses, one of the sectors hit hardest by the pandemic. Our virtual energy efficiency and productivity “coaching” began in April 2020 as much of the region experienced some aspect of lockdown.

Small Business Energy EfficiencyWithin weeks, we took more than 12,000 calls with small business owners or their delegates, resulting in 400-plus scheduled virtual energy assessments. With these assessments, we helped each business find new, more productive ways to manage their energy usage and cut costs. That included new lighting systems, thermostats, HVAC updates, system control enhancements, and more.

Through the AM Conservation Group online marketplaces, we delivered more than 1,400 vouchers for products like smart thermostats to nearly 100 qualified participants. A free business rewards program was offered to engage small businesses in simple energy savings, as well as a contractor-based program that underwrote up to 100 percent of energy efficiency and productivity project costs.

While we may see pandemic headwinds well into 2021, I am inspired by a renewed sense of urgency and commitment. Our work is more relevant and critical than ever as we are helping accelerate the nation’s transition to a net zero economy. In 2020, we conducted more than 1.5 million assessments and installations, netting more than a billion kilowatt hours of energy saved. That work was driven by more than $230 million in customer incentive checks.

In 2020, utility and energy productivity partners proved their agility, as well as their ability to listen, learn, and adapt. We were asked to step-up as comprehensive solution providers and must continue to do so to support communities and businesses, large and small. There will be more challenges and opportunities in 2021, thanks to the ways many leaders have galvanized around climate change mitigation and healthy local economic growth.

If we can show the same type of empathy-driven innovation this year, we will once again deliver smart energy solutions, building stronger local economies and communities on the journey to decarbonization. That’s one outcome of the pandemic that even the most optimistic among us would not ever have imagined.

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