The Green Team
Alumni pursue many different career paths to building a sustainable future
April 1, 2010
FERC Commissioner Marc Spitzer ’79’s global education came in handy recently when he represented the United States at the 2009 G8 Summit in Rome. “Department of Energy Secretary Steven Chu was having trouble getting around because he didn’t speak Italian,” Spitzer recalls with a laugh. “Now he’s a Nobel laureate, but he needed me to translate for him. So I owe it to Dickinson’s Bologna program that I was able to translate Italian for the secretary of energy.” Above: Spitzer speaks out at a recent open commission meeting.
Smart Markets for Smart Energy
FERC’s Marc Spitzer ’79 promotes consumer choice
By Matt Getty
When we imagine a more sustainable future, exciting new technologies like hydrogen-powered cars and high-efficiency solar cells usually leap to mind. Marc Spitzer ’79, however, knows the future really depends on more mundane concepts like regulations and economics.
“Smart technologies don’t do you any good if you don’t have smart prices,” says Spitzer, a 2006 presidential appointee to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC).
The Smart Grid, for instance, one of the key national sustainability initiatives Spitzer is overseeing as a FERC commissioner, can only help build a clean-energy future if the way we pay for power becomes as sophisticated as the technologies generating that power. Meters already exist that would allow consumers to choose to use more energy when it’s being produced by renewable sources and less when it’s being produced by fossil fuels. But consumers still need a cost incentive.
“If you can save some money on your energy bill, you might be willing to set your refrigerator so that it only cycles during the hours when energy is produced by cheaper and cleaner wind power instead of coal, or electronically control the air conditioner to use solar power,” he explains. “We’re looking for regulators to give smart prices to customers so they can choose to use electricity when the price is lowest and the impact on the environment is most benign.”
That means that on top of his work overseeing the reliability of the electricity grid, approving utility mergers and regulating wholesale energy markets, Spitzer is collaborating with state and regional transmission organizations to change the way utilities charge customers. This market-based approach has been the cornerstone of Spitzer’s efforts to protect the environment since his days as an Arizona Republican state senator (1992-2000) and elected Arizona corporation commissioner (2001-06), when he authored Arizona’s Clean Air Act and Renewable Portfolio Standard.
“The economic incentives don’t exist for clean energy under the antiquated rate-based, monopoly model,” says Spitzer, who recently helped strike a blow for sustainability by loosening New England energy-market regulations. “We allowed demand reduction to bid into the New England power market just like a power plant and, as a consequence, the need for increased power was achieved 100 percent through reduction of demand. … That gives you the best result for both the customer and the environment.”
In addition to his goal of putting smart meters with smart prices in 10 million homes by 2011, Spitzer also expects to play a large role in policing the cap-and-trade markets Congress is expected to establish to bring the price of fossil fuels in line with their true cost. Attacking sustainability from this economic and political angle, he notes, demands an interdisciplinary approach.
“There are lots of moving parts in energy policy,” says the former history and political-science major, who began his career as a tax lawyer after graduating from the University of Michigan School of Law.
“You have to understand engineering, economics, law, politics,” he says. “I think my liberal-arts education at Dickinson prepared me to do that. Had I just studied accounting or only engineering, I would have missed something. If you want to tackle these issues, you need that exposure to multiple points of view and different curricula.”
Gretchen Dockter Hancock ’91 flips the switch on GE’s energy efficiencies
By Lauren Davidson
When someone asks Caroline, the 5-year-old daughter of Gretchen Dockter Hancock ’91, what her mom does for a living, she states, “Mommy turns off the lights in the factories.” And in the simplest sense, that’s exactly right.
In 2005, Hancock was working in environmental health and safety for the aviation division of General Electric (GE). That’s when the company launched its Ecomagination program geared toward reducing the company’s massive carbon footprint.
“I thought back to my research in college on climate change, and I went to my boss and said I wanted in,” she recalls. “We had the second- or third-largest carbon footprint in the company when I started, due to testing combustion engines. I got to work on strategies to improve energy efficiency in the manufacturing and testing process.”
Soon an opportunity presented itself for Hancock to play a bigger role in GE’s environmental future—project manager for Corporate Environmental Programs at the GE headquarters in Connecticut. One of her duties is to coordinate and lead the Treasure Hunts—events that empower GE employees to identity energy waste at individual facilities and present sustainable solutions.
One of the first Treasure Hunts was in Lynn, Mass., at one of GE’s largest facilities and home of the country’s first jet engine. “Eighty people met on a Sunday afternoon in October,” Hancock says. “We broke into teams—everyone from guys who turn wrenches to building managers—and went out to observe, using all five senses to understand how energy is wasted in the facility when nothing is being manufactured. The whole process is about asking why: Why are the pumps running? Why are the lights on?”
The group outlined its findings and pinpointed more than 100 areas for improvement. “We identified 20 percent of their energy spending that they could save within a year,” Hancock says. “That kind of awakening is incredibly powerful and can change a culture.”
And it has changed GE’s culture. Through the Treasure Hunt program, the company’s 300 facilities globally have saved millions of dollars and reduced their carbon output by 750,000 metric tons.
“We empower people to step back and look at the situation,” Hancock says. “Once you give people a voice and a stake in what’s going on, it’s incredible what can happen.”
This geology major never would have predicted ending up where she is, but she credits Dickinson with getting her there.
“I fell in love with geology through a freshman course with Noel Potter [professor emeritus of geology] and Jeff Niemitz [professor of geology],” she says. “I spent two years doing student-faculty research in Carlisle and California. The combination of science within a liberal-arts environment is a powerful career tool. I can take technical data and put it into understandable language. I can communicate verbally and in writing. I learned leadership techniques that have helped me advance. When you think about the best you can be, Dickinson brought that out in me.”
Steve Weber ’91 helps keep climate change on Mayor Bloomberg’s agenda
By Sherri Kimmel
An Inconvenient Truth, the Al Gore-narrated movie about global warming, had many unexpected consequences when it debuted in 2006. For Steve Weber ’91, an assistant commissioner helping to develop the transportation part of a strategic plan for New York City, it drew attention to a cause that has been his passion since his Dickinson days.
“I really believe the documentary was the catalyst—everyone recognized climate change was real, and we needed to address it,” Weber says. The film’s release marked the moment when the city adopted sustainability as the theme for PlaNYC, its plan for 2030.
“There were 126 things that Mayor Bloomberg proposed to do,” Weber recounts. Planting a million trees and developing a public plaza in every neighborhood were two examples. Weber’s team developed a proposal for a congestion-pricing program similar to London’s.
Congestion pricing calms gridlock by charging fees to drivers who enter city centers. Not only do congestion zones reduce traffic, improve air quality and cut greenhouse-gas emissions, but they provide revenue to invest in transit and infrastructure improvements.
“That was the Holy Grail for transportation planners, and my personal goal was to get to the point where public officials could discuss it in polite conversation,” says Weber. To his amazement, “Mayor Bloomberg made this his number-one issue for a year. He went all out to get the state to allow us to implement the system. It’s pretty cool when Mike Bloomberg takes an idea you’ve championed and makes it his agenda.”
The state legislature failed in 2008 to support the initiative, but Weber feels he succeeded by introducing the topic. “The instinctive reaction to something new is fear and obstruction, but after it gets defeated there are still the problems that have to be solved. I expect congestion pricing to come back.”
While he waits, he has plenty else to occupy him as he manages three units in the Department of Transportation’s planning and sustainability division. Besides a bus rapid transit unit, he manages one that studies neighborhood transportation and parking issues and another that deals with trucks.
Environmental studies at Dickinson brought Weber to his life’s cause. (He has a certificate in that area and majored in political science.) “This was in 1989 or 1990, when there was no Al Gore movie [to raise awareness],” he notes. “I took on climate change as my issue and asked, ‘How do I grab the handle?’ Transportation was the obvious thing to get involved with.”
While environmental studies fed his desire to make a difference, the management skills he learned through Army ROTC prepared him to be an effective leader.
“There is nothing like having to plan a military operation from under a poncho at three in the morning when you haven’t slept for 24 hours,” Weber explains. “If you can develop a plan that works under those circumstances, developing a plan in city government has to be a piece of cake. That has been my little secret weapon.”
Trading in Green
Jensen Gelfond ’08 helps sustainable companies showcase their wares
By Lauren Davidson
Jensen Gelfond ’08 did not leave Dickinson the same way he found it. A Treehouse resident and the college’s first sustainability intern, he pioneered the first Trash on the Plaza recycling event, worked with Dining Services to create reusable Grab ’n Go lunch bags and was key in coordinating Recyclemania and the Green Devil Challenge, events that involve the entire campus community in reducing the college’s carbon footprint.
“I’m thankful for Dickinson’s way of encouraging all of us to go outside the limestone walls, be part of the community, be passionate about issues and have a positive impact on those issues,” he says.
After graduation, the environmental-studies major spent a transformative year canvassing for Progressive Future/Work for Progress. He then moved south to explore jobs in Asheville, N.C.’s established environmental community.
“I discovered Seven-Star, a soup-to-nuts event-planning organization for green-oriented conferences, trade shows and festivals,” he says. “I came on as assistant to the president. I was a go-to guy for every department and really broadened my skill set. I never would have been able to get this job [as a sponsorship associate] without already having a relationship with the company. I got in on the ground floor and took a chance on a company that I knew I had shared values with, and now I’m in a great position.”
Seven-Star’s largest client is Green Festival, creator of the nation’s premier sustainability event held in four major cities, and Gelfond’s job is to connect with green companies that want to exhibit their merchandise. He reaches out to national, household brands like Clif Bar, Organic Valley, Numi Tea and Simple Shoes—among the 350 exhibitors at the festivals, which feature renowned speakers, workshops, cutting-edge films, children’s activities and live music, all related to sustainability. The events help consumers use their buying power to purchase from green companies.
“We bring together all the greenest companies in the U.S., from solar and wind power to organic foods and fair-trade items,” he says. “Only the greenest companies come to the festivals.”
And the festivals themselves are dedicated to being green. According to Gelfond, events like this become like small cities, but Seven-Star works to reduce the impact of events by keeping 95 percent of the waste generated out of landfills.
This year, Green Festival will again host events in San Francisco, Seattle, Chicago and Washington, D.C., filled with hundreds of national and regional companies displaying the latest green products and technologies.
“The connection between the economy and environment is going to solidify more and more,” Gelfond says. “It’s such an important connection, and I’m happy that I work in an industry that supports that. By being kind to the earth, we’re also being kind to our wallets.”
Learn more about Seven-Star (www.sevenstarevents.com) and Green Festival (http://greenfestivals.org).
Gretchen Dockter Hancock ’91 came to Dickinson to pursue foreign studies based on her high-school propensity for German and Russian and the college’s recognized foreign-language, study-abroad and policy-studies offerings. A first-year geology class set her on a course toward sustainability, and she never looked back. Steve Weber ’91 worked with New York City’s Department of Parks and Recreation to plan and build seven public plazas within blocks of his Department of Transportation office lower Manhattan. At left, he sits in one of them, Hanover Square, which contains the British Memorial Garden for victims of 9/11. Jensen Gelfond ’08, a self-proclaimed “people person,” appreciates that his job as a sponsorship associate at Seven-Star combines his passion for the environment with his love of interacting with a variety of people.