Conversation

Decarbonizing with district energy and geothermal

Ever-Green Energy's community-scale solutions

Collective Impact

 

In late-2020, Nina Axelson, Vice President of Sustainability and Outreach at Ever-Green Energy, sat down virtually for a conversation with Marie Donahue, Sustainability Storyteller with CERTs. Ever-Green Energy is both a utility system operator and energy planning and design firm, based in Saint Paul.

Axelson talks about her path to Ever-Green and how she and the company navigated the challenges in 2020. She highlights what inspires her about recent projects, including the Towerside development with aquifer thermal energy storage in Minneapolis, their Roadmap to Carbon Neutrality program working with colleges and universities to advance their decarbonization goals, and Ever-Green’s inaugural Impact Report.

 

Listen to the conversation or read it below.

Both the audio and write-up have been edited for length and clarity.

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It seems like across the board—investors, policy makers and businesses—we have never had more of a strong lineup of people ready to deploy on clean energy than we've had right now.

Nina Axelson, Vice President of Sustainability and Outreach, Ever-Green Energy

Marie Donahue: Welcome Nina! Thanks so much for joining us today. To start and by way of introduction, could you share how your path led you to the role as a Vice President of Sustainability and Outreach at Ever-Green Energy and provide context for our listeners about the company's history and approach to clean energy?

Nina Axelson: Thank you. And thanks for having me on your podcast and just really exciting to see more storytelling in the energy and environment space here.

As it relates to my path, I studied environmental science and natural resources at the University of Minnesota. Coming out of that program, I had a fairly broad interest in environmental matters and had the opportunity to pivot into two parallel paths coming out of school. One, I worked as a community organizer for the St. Anthony Park Community Council in Saint Paul, as part of the city's neighborhood organizing and was their environment coordinator—dropping off recycling bins, working on watershed studies, neighborhood cleanups, and a broad range of localized energy and environmental matters. At the same time, I also worked at Best Buy and had a variety of roles there, including being their Diversity Giving Manager and helping start up the corporate social responsibility function at Best Buy, which is still going very strong there today.

I feel really lucky to have started out my work with one foot in a really local, neighborhood-based experience and one foot in the corporate, inside-the-box space—really understanding how the value proposition for environment and energy look very different in those spaces.

 

The opportunity at St. Anthony Park led me to work on the Rock-Tenn Community Energy Study from 2006 to 2008. From there, I was introduced to the leadership at Ever-Green Energy. I found that they were taking a very different approach to energy development. They really hit that spot being a community-minded utility, forward-thinking, and [prioritizing] environmental stewardship. When the opportunity came to go work for them and to look at how they were doing their outreach and their policy programs, all of that really was a pretty phenomenal opportunity. And I've been there for 12 years.

When I first started there, I was mostly working with community and customers, and it was as the business started to grow. Initially it was just the operations in Saint Paul. In 2009, my first opportunity to expand that role was with the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act dollars that came through with the [Federal] stimulus program. That's when we did our first major solar thermal project. It's still one of the largest solar thermal projects in the country, on top of the Saint Paul RiverCentre. I was able to start to expand our work in the company and my own role into doing more renewable energy development, looking at how we promoted our sustainability portfolio. Although I’ll admit back then, and it doesn't seem like that long ago, it was much more focused on renewable energy than it was on carbon. It’s been amazing to see how that metric has changed the way we're building, developing, and protecting the environment now all these years later. That was my early role there.

Now, I oversee our sustainability work, which is looking at the environmental impact of our operations and how we improve that both over a short-term and a long-term outlook, as well as how we report that to the public. We look at how we work with the U.S. Department of Energy and National Renewable Energy Laboratory on demonstration projects, and studies with our clients. I also oversee the Public Relations Department with public policy communications and outreach storytelling. That's my component of it.

To then merge in the Ever-Green Energy elevator pitch, it started as a nonprofit utility through District Energy Saint Paul. In the late 1990s, there was an opportunity to start expanding the scope of District Energy's impact as a nonprofit. Instead of just continuing that under District Energy, it was better to extend into the Ever-Green Energy enterprise, which now has operations in Duluth, Minnesota, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Cincinnati, Ohio, and will be starting up its first California operation, early in 2021 as part of Mission Rock San Francisco sustainable development. We are both utility operators—still fairly small at around 150 employees—and an engineering and planning consultant that works on master utility plans, carbon neutrality, and planning. We work a lot in community healthcare and higher education.

 

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Now, the majority of staff and the majority of our business is in utility operations. We really liked the opportunity to help other communities by doing the planning and engineering work, and it's also an opportunity to have continual growth and change the way that we do things.

Nina Axelson, Vice President of Sustainability and Outreach, Ever-Green Energy

Marie Donahue: To clarify, did that growth of the organization to provide both utility operations and planning services happen during your time with the company?

Nina Axelson: District Energy Saint Paul was incorporated in 1979, and in the early 2000s, they started to do a little more planning. I think partners in Honolulu, Hawaii, and Burlington, Vermont, were some of the early clients looking at fossil fuel alternatives. They had a couple of studies under their belt by the time I joined the organization in 2008. Now, the majority of staff and the majority of our business is in utility operations. We really liked the opportunity to help other communities by doing the planning and engineering work, and it's also an opportunity to have continual growth and change the way that we do things.

Every time you just are looking at [others], it’s an opportunity to use this technology here, or when we look over and they're using controls in this way, or they're using this renewable or carbon-free solution, you are bringing that into the enterprise and using it where you can in our operations. It creates a good evolution in the ways the company can bring technology to bear.

 

Marie Donahue: You mentioned some of the different locations and clients you work with, could you elaborate a bit more on who Ever-Green Energy works with most closely and what some of those systems look like?

Nina Axelson: Within our utility portfolio, we have our flagship operation in Saint Paul again, is owned by our parent company and nonprofit District Energy Saint Paul, we manage Energy Park Utility Company in Saint Paul, which is a smaller system owned by the Saint Paul Port Authority. We run a municipal district energy system in Duluth, Minnesota, which is owned by the City of Duluth. We operate the Milwaukee Regional Medical Center thermal system and their water system in Wauwatosa, Wisconsin. The Cincinnati Cool Coast System is a very small privately-owned, district cooling system in Cincinnati. We work very closely with the city and other stakeholders there.

Then, the San Francisco project is quite interesting because the San Francisco Giants, Tishman Speyer, and the San Francisco Port Authority came together to redevelop what used to be a parking lot. One of the last key developable parcels in the Mission Bay neighborhood. Their vision was to have this very eco-driven, sustainable, equitable development for that area. It's going to end up being eventually a net zero site, and we’re doing blackwater recycling at that site. Not that we don't have interesting technology in all our other operating systems, but that one in particular is going to be such a cool application.

On the project side, it really runs the gamut. We're working with gas companies who are looking at gas alternatives, whether that's geothermal or sewage heat recovery, or other things that can supplant heat sources.

We also work a lot with higher education because we are in the district energy business, and most college campuses have a district energy system rather than standalone boilers and chillers. Higher ed has just been leading on decarbonization and sustainability, and so really a great match for the mission of our organization and where we want to be impactful. A lot of colleges and universities have made a lot of progress on decarbonizing their electricity, but really don't have a lot of thermal solutions at hand. So that's a niche place where we work, in our technical expertise.

Similarly for hospitals and healthcare, although they're in a little bit different place in their development of sustainability solutions. Then seeing cities like Minneapolis and Saint Paul and others across the country that are really making big, audacious, wonderful goals on decarbonizing and looking at how they do redevelopment and community development differently. That's a place where we really like to work as well.

 

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I think me, my coworkers, the leadership in our organization, and our partners, we have all really, in an inspiring way, taken stock of: 'What is my purpose, and who can I help in this time? Where can I be impactful?'

Nina Axelson, Vice President of Sustainability and Outreach, Ever-Green Energy

Marie Donahue: It’s helpful to hear how you are working with these different partners. Now, to reflect a bit on this past year, recognizing the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, systemic racism and economic uncertainty that we're facing, how has your work changed and how are you feeling about the clean energy sector in these times?

Nina Axelson: I think for a lot of people in 2020, we were called to question the purpose of the work that we do. Because the problems we were facing as a country, as the world, were so big and scary and uncertain. I think me, my coworkers, the leadership in our organization, and our partners, we have all really, in an inspiring way, taken stock of: “What is my purpose, and who can I help in this time? Where can I be impactful?” Given that we work with higher ed and healthcare, they are so centered on how do they keep students safe? How do they keep faculty safe? How do they keep patients and doctors and healthcare staff safe?

For us, we had to think about what kind of impacts could affect our utilities and to make sure that those—and we have several hospitals on each of our systems—how do we make sure that they have energy that they need in these dire times? And so, our purpose is in serving reliable energy. Making sure that our staff stay safe, so that they can be there for our customers and for the people that rely on us.

There is just so much that you can unpack with that question, but I think really for us, it was starting with who needs us and how do we show up for them in a way that they need us to in this really troubled time? And, in particular, it was just energy delivery basics—that’s where it really started for us. For our teams, that was really what centered everybody. I'm so proud of how the company came together to balance that energy reliability with keeping all our staff safe through COVID.

 

Once you start to look further out and say, okay, now we are operating in cities that are struggling—with systemic racism and civil unrest, and the impact of what happened with George Floyd's murder. We had conversations in our organization about how this impacts our employees. What are they dealing with? What are they dealing with in their communities, in their homes, and when they come to work?

That really, again, intensified conversations that were already happening and that were already necessary in the business. Thinking about when we show up to do this work with others, are we bringing that perspective and an openness to their perspective in the work that we do? Because everybody is feeling fragile and vulnerable in this. It’s not the time to steamroll everybody with, “We're going to do this next, and this is going to be the timeline.” But rather, to check in and say, “How can we be better? How can we be good partners in this work with you with all that is happening?”

Then, that last part of the question, as far as it relates to economic development. That is also a balance. We've got many of our customers of our district systems that haven't had incomes; they've had their doors shut; they've had impacts on their rent. There are residents and businesses that are struggling through COVID. So, we've tried to look at how we do our billing and late payment policies, and how we can support what they need to get through this.

On the other hand, it's so odd because you have, on the economic development side, more permits coming through cities for building. A lot of those projects are not slowing down. It's a really interesting juxtaposition, where you can't just say, “Everybody's fine or everybody's not fine.” You really have to pay attention. This happens in many fields, but definitely in energy, you have to make sure that you are paying attention to who you're taking care of and who you are partnering with because their needs are going to be very different across a time like this.

 

Marie Donahue: Thank you, that really resonates, and I appreciate hearing how you all have navigated these times. It’s been so challenging and complex, and I know it’s a hard question for all of us to make sense of, so I appreciate you wrestling through it and sharing your thoughts and experiences.

Nina Axelson: I really feel like we've seen just amazing people showing up for each other in amazing ways this past year. And I hope that is what we carry forward from this. Not to ignore the hardship that has come with it, but I really hope that we allow it to define us in better ways looking forward.

 

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In terms of being inspired, the energy community in Minnesota is so immense... I have seen it from nonprofits to investor-owned utilities to just all the partners that show up in the energy space. We have all been learning from each other about how we help and how we show up better in the year we've had.

Nina Axelson, Vice President of Sustainability and Outreach, Ever-Green Energy

Marie Donahue: Thank you. I was digging into the core values of Ever-Green, which align so closely with a lot of what you've been touching on so far, for example in terms of being part of the community and how much people, like your staff, clients, and others you're working with, matter. So, I’ve really appreciated those themes coming up here. Now, to circle back to some of Ever-Green’s projects and partnerships, could you describe a couple examples of those that are keeping you grounded and inspired, especially as we look forward to a new year ahead? And perhaps dig into some of the technological advances you are working with too?

Nina Axelson: There are no small questions in this interview! I’ll say, in terms of being inspired, the energy community in Minnesota is so immense. Before I talk about any specific projects, I have seen it from nonprofits to investor-owned utilities to just all the partners that show up in the energy space. We have all been learning from each other about how we help and how we show up better in the year we've had. I continue to be inspired by the fact that it’s not like everybody said, “Okay, well, let's just set all this work down, and we'll come back to climate change next year.” It's not an option, right? Or that they said, “Hey, we'll figure out how to make sure that the grid is working for everybody in 2022.” Recognizing that folks had to work through all these hurdles and challenges and keep moving everything forward to prepare for a better time. Especially as we think about 2021, the Biden Administration, and their big aspirations for green infrastructure and clean energy, it does seem like everybody really did try and keep things moving forward.

For our projects, this has been a continuation of things. Most had already started before we entered this year. The Mission Rock project has been many years in the making, where they were able to get to their physical groundbreaking this year, and they will have the utility groundbreaking early in 2021.

 

The Towerside Innovation District has come from a public-private collaboration many years in the making. In particular, working with the City of Minneapolis and the Towerside nonprofit leadership, including the Board and Dick Gilyard, who has been a longtime volunteer steward there. I don't think we'd be where we are with the Towerside project without Dick. The Wall Companies has been the developer in this conversation for a long time. There are just so many partners on the Towerside project—University of Minnesota, the Met Council, Minneapolis, Saint Paul, Hennepin and Ramsey County, UEL, many developers particularly led by Aeon who has been in the conversation for a long time. And then as I've mentioned, The Wall Companies, Councilmember Cam Gordon's office, and then the mostly volunteer contributions of the Towerside group themselves.

Everybody could have given up on this many times. We've been at it for nine years. And I don't know if you know the history, but CERTs was actually the first matchmaker of Ever-Green Energy with the Towerside neighborhood, really starting with the Prospect Park Community Group.

On Towerside, the commitment has continued to be: 'It has to be this one because otherwise it will always be the next one.' I'm inspired by the perseverance there and the commitment to looking at how do you innovate in several areas of infrastructure.

Nina Axelson, Vice President of Sustainability and Outreach, Ever-Green Energy

And the fact that we are still talking about potential construction and development next year—and the partners have really shown up in that way, again, despite all the circumstances of 2020. If we always say, “Let's wait until the next project,” we will never get away from the obligations of fossil fuels and carbon that plague us. So, on Towerside, the commitment has continued to be: It has to be this one because otherwise it will always be the next one. I'm inspired by the perseverance there and the commitment to looking at how do you innovate in several areas of infrastructure. They've already done a lot around water and worked with MWMO (Mississippi Watershed Management Organization) on that.

 

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The energy vision there for a long time has been to get to a net zero configuration. We looked at sewer heat recovery for several years, and we just weren't able to get that to move forward for various reasons. But then a couple of years ago, the opportunity to use aquifer thermal energy storage came up as the technical solution. This is basically within the range of what most people would understand as geothermal technology. Just the scale of it is larger. You actually use fewer wells than you would use in a traditional geothermal exchange. And the storage capacity of those wells is also really significant. When you remove heat from buildings in the summer, you are storing that heat, so that it is available to you in the season when you need heating and then vice versa. That heat rejection and movement is always being held and repurposed. It’s an energy recycling application. It's very widespread in Europe, but because we don't have a carbon tax and because we are just starting to really tackle the natural gas portfolio, it hasn't been developed as much in the United States.

The technology is really interesting. The aquifer configurations in this area near the Mississippi have been really promising. You need very low flow rates so that you don't try and store energy and it floats away. The geohydrology is very promising, and we've looked at it for several sites around the Twin Cities. It still looks very promising for Towerside. We are on the verge of test wells for that project. Hopefully, by the time this airs, we will have completed those test wells, which is the major milestone for moving forward to project financing and hopefully construction in 2021 in 2022.

 

What this allows for is that you don't need natural gas service to those buildings. Their heating and cooling would be done between heat pumps and this geoexchange. At a basic level, you're looking at a 40% reduction in carbon per building that would be connected.

As you're able to have additive onsite, renewable electricity, like solar PV, and as utilities like Xcel, continue to move toward carbon neutrality, this moves you toward an overall net zero carbon picture for the site eventually.

So, two buildings within the Wall Companies’ development would be the start. But there are dozens of buildings being planned in that area for development. And then eventually you could also retrofit other buildings in that very dense area to be connected to this system.

The other ones that I’ll note that have been really exciting as the Roadmap to Carbon Neutrality program, it's something we launched two years ago now because we had worked with a lot of higher ed clients and partners. One of the things that continued to be an issue was we did a carbon neutrality plan—we just really haven't figured out how to move it forward, how to finance it. The technologies don't seem like they're there yet, or we addressed electricity and we've been able to reduce some transportation carbon, but we just haven't figured out the thermal side. It was a bit surprising how few of these schools could get the funding for the next step of study. You might need $50-75,000 to do the next thing on design and engineering.

Not every school could get that part funded. That’s not the only hurdle, but it was one of the hurdles. We had the hypothesis: What if we took that hurdle away? What if we stepped in and provided a pro bono program that helped you identify a financial plan and a technical plan for long-term de-carbonization? Looking at where your buildings are at. Not doing deep dive energy audit, but just a general energy consumption model, and then looking at a slate of renewable and decarbonized technologies for your campus.

This is a science experiment for us to say, “Would this unlock greater implementation?” Because you look at the portfolio of schools that are participating in the Presidents’ Commitment (American College & University Presidents’ Climate Commitment) and other decarbonization programs. You only have six that have made it to close to the carbon neutrality threshold for all the carbon inputs on their campus. Most of them don't have the thermal heating load that you have here in the Midwest.

Also one of the only schools that is across the finish line owns acres and acres of woods that they're able to use as a carbon sink in their portfolio. So, not every school is going to have that.

 

We moved forward with St. Thomas, St. Ben's, and University of Minnesota Morris in the first cohort. University of Minnesota Morris has one of the most aggressive carbon neutrality goals. It has already done so much on their campus in particular on their own onsite or on-campus development of wind and solar, as well as other improvements across the board.

It is a learning organism within their program as well. They want it to be embedded in the way that students learn and grow on their campus. To have sustainability, to learn how this stuff works, to learn how you finance it, to learn how you move it forward, to understand technical applications of it through that, the really cool part of the way that they approach it, that we just, we, we also really like. Their report is available on our website. We wanted this to feel open source, so that someone could learn something from the Morris report and could take something back to their own school.

We'd like to continue to host more conversations with the folks that are participating in the Roadmap Program. We did launch a second cohort this summer. Slippery Rock University in Pennsylvania, it's been a really fun campus and community to start to get to know this past year. Maybe for more of your listeners who are in the Minnesota and Midwest areas, Macalester College, which has done a lot of work on sustainability over the years and is known as a sustainability leader, and has also been tripped up on this thermal side of the decarbonization portfolio. We have been working with several folks at Macalester, especially on their academic side, for a long time. So, we were really excited not only to see them apply, but to have a very competitive application and be included in the second cohort. We are just at the beginning of our work with them, but I'm very excited to see what comes of their program in 2021.

Hopefully our work inspires somebody else to say, 'Hey, we saw that Ever-Green is doing this... Maybe our company could do this too. Maybe our utility could look at this too.'

Nina Axelson, Vice President of Sustainability and Outreach, Ever-Green Energy

Marie Donahue: The examples of Towerside and the Roadmap to Carbon Neutrality program are both really exciting, so I imagine we’ll all be keeping our eyes on those efforts as they continue to unfold. Another exciting development has been Ever-Green’s recently published Impact Report. What are some lessons learned from that report? How will this reporting guide Ever-Green's work internally and how do you hope it influences other utilities or companies working in clean energy?

Nina Axelson: Thanks for that question. The Impact Report and our advancement in social responsibility and the environmental social governance reporting is so important to the organization. And not because it's a major change in what we do. I think, for those who have seen our report, it's really embedded in the company values. It's where we started around environmental stewardship and community partnership, really trying to set the bar with operational excellence in what we do. This is a continuation of that.

I think what it does is reflect how important it is in today's marketplace and in today's partnerships that you are transparent and that you are bringing forward as much information to the people who need it and expect it and are interested in it as you can. You want to be able to answer the question of how much water are you using and how much carbon is in the systems—and what are you doing about it?

 

Sometimes, the answer is, “Well, we've fixed this, this and this, but you're right. We haven't tackled this yet.” And now we have a platform to do so. And we're here to be accountable to all of those folks in how we do that. We knew that this first report was not going to be, “We're doing everything right. And give us an ‘A+’ on being good stewards.” It’s to say, “Here's what we're doing.” Maybe you see something in our report, and it gives you an idea about how we could do something better—maybe a pilot project on water conservation or something else that would, could come to light. It gives us that accountability, year over year, to bring that information forward to our partners. And I’ll also say as an aside to that, I really appreciated being able to be part of developing it because hearing our clients and our partners talk about what's important to them, that's been inspiring. Sometimes we don't realize how important these things are to folks until you ask the question. Then you're like, “Oh, we are all in this, trying to row in the same direction.”

And so that’s another layer of this that hopefully our work inspires somebody else to say, “Hey, we saw that Ever-Green is doing this with their reporting. Maybe our company could do this too. Maybe our utility could look at this too.” We hope that there's a little bit of a ripple effect there in the work that we're doing, either on the technical or the commitment level of that kind of reporting.

The last thing I'll just say on there is it's so clearly important when you look at the people participating in the Sustainable Growth Coalition, the Targets and the Best Buys and the Mortensons. These businesses are making public commitments and working internally to do better. They need data, and they need to be able to report on that data to their shareholders and for their own accountability. And so, we as utilities owe it to those folks to bring this information to bear because we can't—no sector, no group—could just do it alone. I think that that's a really important aspect of this is the expectations are getting bigger and bigger, and I think that's a good thing.

 

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It feels like the community of people working on this is bigger than it has ever been. I think that is attributed to the policy and business development that has happened to grow our clean energy economy.

Nina Axelson, Vice President of Sustainability and Outreach, Ever-Green Energy

Marie Donahue: As we wrap up—and maybe this is kind of circling back to your story too—but as we wrap up our conversation, do you have any advice for those interested in engaging in this work in clean energy?

Nina Axelson:  Absolutely. I would say that it feels like the community of people working on this is bigger than it has ever been. I think that is attributed to the policy and business development that has happened to grow our clean energy economy. And I will make a plug for Clean Energy Economy Minnesota, which is a great resource for folks who are interested in what kind of companies are working in this space right now, what kind of jobs are available to those who are interested in getting started? What are the stories of success in clean energy development in Minnesota? And I think CEEM is a great resource for that. CERTs is also a great resource for that.

Just a baby step of this is to get more involved in what's happening and to educate folks on what's going on as it relates to, “How do I, as a citizen show up for clean energy?” I think that we are past, in some ways, the point where this is just about changing out light bulbs, right? This is about advocating. If you are an electric vehicle driver, advocating for the infrastructure you need to make your whole household electric vehicle compliant or participatory. This is about vocalizing what you need to be able to be a one car household and on transportation. To ask your utility to be decarbonized and push. I know folks who have joined their utility boards of directors. I think there's really lots of places for citizenry to get involved. The term my boss has used a lot is ‘the democratization of energy’ and it is unlike anything we've ever seen before. Maybe partially because of the excitement of Tesla and more solar. And that’s great if those are the things are moving the interest level, but I think we have to not just be recipients of that information. We have to talk to our neighbors about why we drive electric, and we have to talk to our legislators about our expectations of what the state does to decarbonize.
 

 

If there was one thing I think it is really to not be quiet. And I bet everybody who listens to this who knows me will laugh because they’ll say, of course, Nina, can't be quiet. I would just advocate that you advocate. We don't make change if we're just quietly expecting infrastructure to move to the next level. But that we vocalize our expectations for a clean energy economy in Minnesota. We support the companies that are supporting that change, whether it's as consumers of it, like the companies I mentioned before, or all the amazing clean energy companies that are trying to make Minnesota a leading place for development of technology, solutions, and the deployment of these things. And so vocalize that, invest in that. I think that would bring us to a much better place.

This goes back to what's inspiring. I think the rate of change and the rate of opportunity in clean energy is unlike we've ever seen. Even though there was a step back and some of the jobs and investment in 2020.

It seems like across the board—investors, policy makers and businesses—we have never had more of a strong lineup of people ready to deploy on clean energy than we've had right now. Even if it takes us one to two years to get back to where we would have been in 2020, I think what we are going to see over the next few years—and I know it's an overused term this year—but is unprecedented and exciting. There's a lot to be worried about in the world right now, but let's take that thing to be excited about.

If you're thinking I want to work in this, you know, first check out the CERTs Job Board and then come talk to me. I'll see if I can help you out with your next informational interview.

Collective impact is such a significant part of this change. And isolation is often what breaks us, right? When you feel like, 'I've been working at this and pushing this boulder up hill, and why am I not getting anywhere?' If you were side-by-side and shoulder-to-shoulder with 10 others and 20 others and 50 others, you could push that boulder a lot further and be more impactful overall.

Nina Axelson, Vice President of Sustainability and Outreach, Ever-Green Energy

Marie Donahue: Thanks, Nina. I appreciate that hope and optimism. As someone who still is navigating these spaces, it's exciting to see what's ahead. And making sure we're not doing this in isolation, I’m now thinking about how with district energy that need to be in community is so important. We have to be talking to each other and working collaboratively, right?

Nina Axelson: Collective impact is such a significant part of this change. And isolation is often what breaks us, right? When you feel like, “I've been working at this and pushing this boulder up hill, and why am I not getting anywhere?” If you were side-by-side and shoulder-to-shoulder with 10 others and 20 others and 50 others, you can push that boulder a lot further and be more impactful overall. I appreciate that you connect with that idea of doing this in community.

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