S3E1 Chicago Green Theatre Alliance – Maggie Fullilove-Nugent
green theater

Did you know there are some amazing champions of the environment in the Chicago Theater Scene? In this episode, we talk to Maggie Fullilove-Nugent, Production Manager at Timeline Theater about what sustainability looks like in this creative industry. Maggie introduces us to The Chicago Green Theatre Alliance – an amazing group of individuals that encourage, educate, and motivate theatres and theatre professionals to work together to adopt more environmentally-friendly practices in all aspects of their work.

In this episode, we shake things up with Beth Holaday from Verde interviewing one of our Non-Profit clients. Beth specializes in the Comed NPO Offering, which helps tax exempt organization achieve energy efficiency in the 0-400kW category. This program has higher incentives, to help budget sensitive groups significantly reduce energy usage.

When Beth isn’t saving kWhs, she’s interviewing cool folks in the theatre seen.
S2E4 Northwestern University – Examples of Environmental Leadership
sustainable podcast chicago
northwestern university

In this weeks podcast, we sit down and discuss all things sustainable with Kathia (Kat) Benitez from Northwestern University.  Kat has been in the role Sustainability Director of SustainNU since 2016, with a lot of early success and momentum on her side.

Kat lays out her vision for sustainability at the University, including the stakeholders that are involved in the commitment of the university to this vision. Northwestern is fortunate to have a president that is very committed to making Northwestern a leader in sustainability, which makes Kat’s role easier.

Northwestern has 3 solar PV arrays that are up and running at the time of the interview (just installed a 150 kW capacity system recently), with plans for more in the near future. Kat discusses the solar REC system, and how they are helping universities move forward with renewable energy in Illinois. She also discusses the potential for PPAs and other creative financial mechanisms that will be needed to help move the next round of distributed renewable power at the University.

Kat also discusses the challenges of the built environment at a complicated building network like a University system – often majority of the buildings being incredibly old and lots of mixed usage. Unpredictable usage by faculty and students can make it difficult to save energy when systems are all tied together, but this has spurred creativity and challenged the school to look at new ways to address this type of operational challenge.

Northwestern University is truly a leader in the local Chicagoland community, with a ton of examples of environmental sustainability on their campus to date. With an ambitious goal of Net Zero by 2050, Kat has quite an incredible job ahead of her.

Core Values – Energy Efficiency at Heart
core vlaues at verde

We have worked hard at Verde Energy Efficiency Experts to make sure we understand and reflect our core values. Believing that these core values be public, so both our clients and partners know what to expect from working with us.

Curiously Exploring New Solutions

At Verde, our core is exploring new solutions. We look for the newest ways to save our clients energy, from the newest LED fixtures to the smartest new smart thermostat on the market.

Verde continues to innovate internally as well. We are constantly exploring new processes, such as our inventory system and light meter tools. While it can be tiring to keep on the hunt for new solutions, it is essential to be ahead of our competition and at the forefront of technology.

Eloquent Communication

We work to communicate in a way that our clients understand, while making sure we get our point across. Eloquent communication is not technical jargon that confuses a client, nor is it exact grammar.

We were born out of firefighters, and half of our installation team are firefighters. Our goal is to communicate eloquently what matters – why are we here, who we are, with honesty and integrity.

Humble and Gracious

We are grateful to work in the greatest City in the world – Chicago. Additionally, we are grateful that Chicago has a ton of neighborhoods, as well as suburbs and exurbs that are diverse and provide an intense opportunity to reduce energy.

We are grateful that the Illinois taxpayers have invested in an energy efficiency program – or we wouldn’t have jobs. We are also grateful that it is slightly complicated, creating the role of expertise that we fill.

Finally, we are grateful that there are businesses and organizations that want to do good by the environment. Working with Fire Stations and McDonalds franchise owners alike – it is incredibly exciting when you find a like minded organization that wants to invest in our offering.

Confident and Resilient

Verde attempts to communicate why businesses should put their precious resources into better products and technology. We are, unfortunately, swimming upstream most of the time. Refusing to back down from this challenge, we feel the consequences of us not doing our job are too great. The world, and its changing climate, needs companies like Verde to succeed.

We carefully look at a business or organization, listening to their hours of operation, goals, usage, and many other aspects that are unique to there building and occupants. While not perfect, we are careful and thoughtful – and confident in our recommendations.

Taking Pride in Our Work

In fact, we are so confident in our solutions that we offer a 3 year warranty on our installations, including the labor that goes with it.

We partner with brands like Signify (Philips), York, Carrier, and Ecobee and we use higher end products than most of our competition.

Not only are our products high quality, but so are the installers who put them in for us. While most energy efficiency companies use subcontracted labor – we have our own employees that are embedded into our organization. And these installers are a mix of Firefighters and Coyne graduates of the local electrical trade school – bringing you high quality installation in your space. In fact, our biggest source of clients is through referrals, a testimonial to our work.

Positive Contagious Energy

Form our newest analyst to our longest running installers, you’ll see a positive and contagious energy. Work is a job – and what we do is tough work. However, we believe in taking our day on with a good attitude, and that sharing that attitude with our colleagues makes our day better. It also spills over to our clients – making their experience with us better and stronger.

If you see us at an event or on a job site – we intend to share our positive energy with you. What you do with that is up to you.

todd searle verde

Todd Searle

Todd has seen Verde grow from an idea that Jamie had to the Verde that exists today. While at Northwestern, Todd took a number of classes in environmental politics and had the opportunity to work with the National Park Service. Those experiences, combined with his loving of spending time in nature and riding his bike, have influenced Todd to help generate energy efficiencies and work towards building a more sustainable future.

Leading a Team – Verde’s Company Leadership and Vision
dragon boat race

I started Verde Energy Efficiency Experts over 9 years ago. This past year, I decided I needed some help and support around leadership. While I was a firefighter for over 10 years and had some great role models for leadership, running a growing company is a different animal altogether.

I enrolled in the Junto Institute for Entrepreneurial Leadership in early 2019, with coursework and mentorship around leadership for entrepreneurs. I write this about midway through the program. I have learned a lot to date and have found the experience important. I hope that the team sees the hard work I have put in to change and improve. I have put myself outside of my comfort zone in many ways in order to improve Verde.

While I have been making a lot of changes around feedback to others, a more direct communication style, and sharing my vision more often, this post is about a single experience I had a few months ago.

Dragon Boat Race 2019

Verde participated in the Dragon Boat race fundraiser for Project: Vision – a local nonprofit focused on improving literacy and opportunities in the community. I raced on the team with Jen Panattoni from Verde, along with about 16 other community and board members of Project: Vision.

verde and Project Vision Dragon Boat

I have been leading a company so long, that it was quite amazing to sit back and be a member of a team without leadership responsibility. While I do end up in leadership roles often in my life, I love being a member of a team and just contributing. It was refreshing, and reminds me that I need to do this more often. It makes you more powerful to lead, when you are finding ways to be led at times.

Working Together as a Team

The boat has a lot of interesting quirks to it, but the most interesting was that the entire row team had to work together. If just one oar was off, it meant that the person rowing could actually be slowing down the boat. You could feel when someone around you was off, whether by knocking into their oar or the rhythm and movement of the boat feeling off.

leadership and vision for verde

In order to achieve this, you would look ahead and watch the person in the front of the boat on the opposite side. There are 9 or so rows of pairs of rowers, each row watching the lead person on the other side. The two leaders looked at each other, so they could stay aligned.

It was this aspect of teamwork that struck me so deeply – I find our own team often struggles with what is the right answer. In fact, I have often been the type of leader that is not around, off selling or engaging with clients. This can mean that my vision can get changed, if there is a domineering person around more often that feels we should do things differently. The boat, and a company, needs to have the vision and directly clear to follow or it will not move in the same direction.

dragon boat race

Vision – Implementer

I currently operate my business under the visionary/implementer model. It works for us, especially as it allows me to continue to be out in front of clients and not in the office.

Visionary: This person needs a lot of unstructured time and ability to be off in creative modes. My creative mode is working with clients on their goals for energy efficiency, and I enjoy all the different varieties of clients and programs that we work for. This keeps me on my toes and challenges me.

Implementer: This person does the heavy lifting and execution of the visionary. They often love the consistency and challenge of detailed work, bring a vision to life. At Verde, this is our CFO/COO Tim Smith. What is amazing about Tim is that he will challenge me on ideas, saying when and where he thinks the vision needs adjustments. However, he always supports my vision, even when he doesn’t agree. This is the key to a great implementer – both leaders are aligned.

Back to our boat work – I think our company operates like a Dragon Boat. Tim and I are in the front, each with very different sides of our boat. I lead the sales team, and am the visionary. Tim leads the operations and installation team, which executes on my vision. We row the boat together, looking at each other to stay in lockstep. My hope is that each of the team members has access to look ahead and see us, following our intentions and actions.

Staying on Course

There have been many times in my past 9 years at Verde that it has not felt completely aligned. I felt torn – really wanting everyone to feel their voices heard, and not wanting to be a domineering leader. This can lead to lots of different directions, and not having a unified vision or strategy.

Today, I understand the true importance of going in the same direction. All oars hitting the water at the same time in one direction will get there faster and stronger, than a few out of sync. Our company is no different – we all need to hit our roles and communication with one direction in mind. Even if my vision is not perfect or the direction is not 100% ideal, it is better to have one direction than multiple.

The vision must be clear and communicated. There must be room to discuss and be heard, but that does not require vision changing.