Leyline's CEO Erik Lensch was a featured plenary speaker at the North Carolina State Energy Conference on April 27. The session, "The Relationship of Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) to Clean Energy Today," included Erik along with moderator Deb Wojcik, executivedirector, Research Triangle Cleantech Cluster; Michal Shepard, director of maintenance, energy and engineering, Harris Teeter; Ron Wages, director, diversity and inclusion, Duke Energy Corporation; and Maurie Lawrence, vice president sustainability, associate general counsel, Milliken and Company.
The panel discussion centered around environmental, social and governance principles and how each speaker incorporates ESG into their company relationships and goals. On the whole, panelists agreed that ESG is all about accountability and transparency, as well as protecting and supporting the people in their companies and communities.
Michal Shepard emphasized that at a company level, ESG is about responsibilities as an individual - how those at the company can implement training, enhance safety measures and overall better people's lives. This begins at the employee level, where the majority of workers make at least a living wage. "If we can make a difference with one person, we can thrive together as a group," said Shepard.
Harris Teeter is working to operationalize other ESG targets as well. "We're one of the most energy intensive buildings in a given neighborhood, so figuring out efficiency is extremely important," he said. In the past few years, the company has grown and developed waste diversion and renewable energy strategies, and is working to improve every day. The company discloses all of its ESG data in an auditable report, which helps ensure continued progress in the future.
For Ron Wages at Duke Energy, ESG means making sure every individual is heard - both across the company and for the customers Duke Energy serves. There is a careful balance between transforming an industry and meeting environmental goals, while also ensuring that communities, employees, and customers are safe and secure.
"Meeting ESG targets is impossible without bolstering those on the ground, engaging with folks, and ensuring adequate education and support to create an equitable workforce," said Wages. And company initiatives can't just be greenwashed campaigns, with closed-door approaches and empty promises. It's important to be transparent, hosting open discussions, offering concrete data and reporting on ESG metrics. Wages noted, "We are working to provide clean energy infrastructure and services to customers, as well as options like offsets. We're making progress, but definitely are nowhere near done. Each day, we face new challenges and try to move the bar."
Maurie Lawrence emphasized that ESG includes, depends on and impacts everyone. "For Milliken and Company, when we think about ESG, it's part of our purpose. Sustainability is a core value," he said. "It's people first - creating a healthy future for the people that we care about and others." Lawrence says that Milliken wants to have a positive impact on the planet through profit and purposeful action. This includes training goals, diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) goals, and above all, safety. "Safety is our number one priority in our communities. And that includes climate change. Climate impacts create an immense safety issue," he added.
To ensure safety and meet other Milliken ESG goals, clean energy is critical. "We have goals to reduce our energy intensity and are working to come out with a zero-carbon strategy before 2025," said Lawrence. "We have carbon-neutral products, but we must go another step further to cover our whole company footprint." He notes that transparency around all facets of ESG is imperative. Milliken regularly reports goals and shares its numbers externally. "We need to make it so that people can trust our companies," noted Lawrence. "We must ensure that people are well-trained and well-informed about the importance and detail of ESG issues."
Here at Leyline, we echo the sentiments of the other ESG panelists. At the conference, CEO Erik Lensch spoke to our unique position as a clean energy lender. "We work at the crossroads of private equity capital and renewable energy, putting us in a unique spot when it comes to ESG," said Lensch. "So many things intersect. As a cleantech finance business, we are mission driven and track our impact on carbon dioxide and reductions from a capital perspective. But that's not all. We have goals that go beyond just profit."
Lensch noted that Leyline aligns capital and the clean technology space with our social mission around DEI. Our company brings together social and environmental justice, governance reporting and accountability, and large amounts of capital to create meaningful, lasting change. "We want to bake in sustainable, long-term practices to make the workforce as diverse as possible," he said. "The renewables industry is notably lacking in historically underrepresented individuals, and we hope to help change that." As for governance, Leyline works to ensure accurate and transparent reporting on all metrics. Reports on a variety of targets are published quarterly.
And Leyline at its core helps other companies access renewable energy that, in turn, helps them meet their goals. "Leyline has a presence across the country, and we often are contacted by manufacturing companies who are challenged with a lack of energy options," noted Lensch. "We work closely with developers and finance to get people connected." But setting goals can only go so far - without energy choice, ESG success will be impossible. Lensch noted that it's important to break regulatory barriers and open the market for choice. Carbon credits aren't the end-all.
Yet another challenge is that there aren't really standards for ESGs across the board. Lensch emphasized that money must be routed to the right places, and that we must hold people accountable, so we don't run into "ESG-washing" and false promises. "If a project is billed as clean and sustainable, but doesn't have transparent data to back that up, then we're not really making progress," he noted.
Overall, however, "ESG is an exciting opportunity for all of us," said Lensch. "There's a whole new generation of people coming up that understand what must be done and demand accountability. Leyline is right in the crosshairs of an exciting transition, and we're ready to meet challenges and help others on the path to success."