Dream, Team, Beam, and Full Steam Ahead to Sustainability!

Highlights from the 2016 Four Generations of Leaders in Clean Energy and Sustainable Solutions Awards Event

By KERRY WORTHINGTON, Leaders in Energy Reporter

Left to right: Penny Gross, Albert Nunez, Janine Finnell, Dave McCarthy, Nofar Hamrany

The third annual Leaders in Energy Four Generations (4 Gen) of Leaders in Clean Energy and Sustainable Solutions award and networking event on December 2, 2016 recognized energy and sustainability leaders from four generations of awardees:

  • Penelope A. “Penny” Gross, World War II/Traditional
  • Albert Nunez, Baby Boomer
  • Dave McCarthy, Generation X
  • Nofar Hamrany, Millennial

These leaders have made an impact and have sparked the passion in others to implement clean energy and sustainability solutions.

Janine Finnell, Executive Director and Clean Energy Ambassador for Leaders in Energy, gave a hearty holiday greeting to the audience as people got settled in after a networking session. Leaders in Energy has brought people together from over 100 countries. For Janine, having members pop up in places like Fiji, where they experienced a typhoon in April, brings the global effects of climate change closer than ever before.

From the Greatest Generation to Millennials, we ALL have a stake in creating a better society that moves us towards a more sustainable energy system, thus allowing future generations to avail themselves of our previous planetary resources.

The value of our community is being a platform where people collaborate on creative ways to address a wide range of energy, climate and resource challenges and implement solutions that can help communities. We also help to connect our members on green jobs and business opportunities.

Janine recognized the American Council on Renewable Energy (ACORE), Sierra Club, SolarCity, Longenecker & Associates, and other benefactors for sponsoring the event. Additionally, the Sierra Club and the International Society of Sustainability Professionals supplied raffle prizes. She also recognized the core Leaders in Energy team members, as well as its advisors and volunteers. The next two events will be Green Financing on January 29, 2017 and the Energy and Sustainability Extravaganza at George Washington University on February 24.

Four Generations Awardees

Our awardees were drawn from many exceptional candidates that were submitted for consideration by Leaders in Energy members. Our selections spanned a local government leader involved in energy and environmental policy in the largest county in the U.S.; to an engineer who has installed solar systems extensively through the Mid-Atlantic area, inspiring other practitioners. Another is working to help startup clean energy companies, and we have a student who has inspired others with her actions in sustainability at her NYU university campuses here in DC and Shanghai.

Each Awardee gave a ”seven minutes of wisdom” address with their experiences and their advice. Penny went first, then Albert, Dave and Nofar. However, let’s jump to Dave’s advice, as it really captured the tone and resonated throughout the event.

Dream! Dave encourages those under the age of 20 to “dream and dream big!” – the “lay in the grass,” look at cloud shapes, and think about the universe kind of big dreams!

Team! Dave sees a lot of the 20 to 40 year old entrepreneurs with the big dreams, but set out trying to accomplish them – alone. He promotes getting a good team together and that doing it alone is “drudgery”.

Beam! Dave believes the 40 to 60 year old group can come in with their experiences and leadership, and be a beacon to attract people to the clean energy field.

Enjoy! Dave says simply that 60 to 80 is the time to enjoy!

Bill Brandon, as the introducer of the Millennial awardee, said that everyone needs to re-dream, re-team, and re-beam; that there is always a second chance and it can be enjoyable! Before questions from the audience, Penny jumped in with Steam! and advises to not let her generation off the hook.

World War II / Traditional (1927 – 1945): Penelope A. “Penny” Gross, Fairfax Board of Supervisors for the Mason District

Steve Walz of Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments introduced Penny. Penny has been a key voice in bringing equity and environmental justice to Fairfax County and is facilitating the work towards a 28% reduction in carbon emissions by 2050. She champions the idea that everyone has the right to clean water, air, and environment.

Being of the World War II generation, she has witnessed how energy has improved lives and yet has caused disruptions to our environment. Penny recalled that when she was a child, living in Oregon, her family’s electricity came from hydropower, and a wood stove would heat her family’s home. Her grandfather would chop wood that was delivered from a truck. She recalls how her siblings would always rush to get ready for school where it was warmest – behind the wall of where the wood stove was.

After college and moving east, she saw how burning fossil fuels and even leaves diminished the quality of the air, “something we still see too often across the world.” Her visit to China reinforced this, where she could see the pollution coming out of the smoke stacks and “milky white” skies – even at night. Penny began to understand that the population doesn’t know (and sometimes they don’t care) how electricity is generated, as long as it is generated. She believes that sustainability needs to be considered in “Fairfax County, in the Nation’s Capital, across the region, and across our nation.”

Penny Gross
Penny Gross

She acknowledged the many organizations and government agencies that “give voice to the principle that we need to develop and follow an environmental agenda for all” – regardless of demographic. As Chair of the Environment Committee on the Fairfax Board of Supervisors, she has spearheaded initiatives such as building green networks, bike safety, implementing LEED building standards, and other low impact techniques. These standards are apparent in Fairfax’s plan for the Tysons Corner area.

Her influence and leadership on local and regional efforts is absolutely stunning and inspiring. Penny is involved on so many committees and boards; it’s tough to keep up! She undoubtedly dreamed her vision very early on, learned how to team and beam, and just keeps that cycle going!

Her final advice is that we need to bridge the gap between environmental advocates and the business community to reject the notion that environmental justice and economic growth compete. She urges the audience to not lose the momentum, that it’s been proven that “we can take necessary and prudent steps that result in achieving goals, together”. Jurisdictions can learn best practices together, pragmatic approaches work together, and headway can be made to “protect our environment, increase the implementation of energy efficiency, and expand the use of renewable energy sources” together.

Baby Boomer Awardee: Albert Nunez, VP of Capital Sun Group

Jim Schulman introduced Albert as a “strategic doer” who has had sweeping accomplishments in solarizing the Mid-Atlantic. Albert is a University of Denver graduate from 1970, where he noticed that air pollution was a problem, especially with the air inversions causing a red sky, to the point where he would get sick. He went to school to figure out what can be done about pollution and figured out that the root cause of this pollution was the “wasteful use of fossil fuels”.

After more research on petroleum and nuclear fusion, Albert decided that renewable were the way to go – and created a vision for that dream. He participated in the development of a meeting in 1974 with the Environmental Action for Colorado group. There were many outcomes of that meeting: it chartered the Solar Energy Industries Association, developed a “Phase 0” study, as well as funded the Solar Energy Research Institute, now the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, in Golden, Colorado. Needless to say, it became a launching pad for the following generation of solar industry professionals.

After working as an engineer, he teamed up with a friend to create the North American Solar Development Corporation and began trying to sell solar flat plate collectors to Central Virginia, just outside of the Charlottesville area. The next thing he tried was marketing a movable window installation project, Window Quilt, which led to developing a different type of solar collectors and water heaters, and as he says, it “goes on and on.”

Albert Nunez
Albert Nunez

His advice is to lead by example – or to team and beam. He held visions for solar and energy efficiency, and approached his colleagues on development and dissemination of these technologies.

Albert shared that his mentors are some of the most memorable people in his career. His advice is to be generous with your time; to mentor and be mentored. Every successful project can inspire others to move forward with going after their dreams and move conservation, efficiency and renewables forward.

Pioneering has always been exciting for him. He is now working in Nevada to reduce the use of diesel fuel on a farm in one of the sunniest areas of the country. He thanked his mentors and his wife.

Generation X Awardee: Dave McCarthy, Founder/Director, Potential Energy DC & Founder/Managing Partner, Spore 1, LLC

Before Dave dreamt up Potential Energy DC, he was a consultant, and he dreamt that the DC area would someday be recognized as a leader in clean technology. Dave wanted to make the world a better place than when he started. He teamed by bringing together an advisory board to help tackle the unknown aspects of running a startup of this kind to help bring members into the marketplace. The other part of his team are also his members.

Dave McCarthy
Dave McCarthy

He doesn’t expect everyone to “get a trophy” for their work, but he wants to deliver the opportunity for them to get there. Dave’s beaming message is that it is possible to develop a clean tech startup community here in DC and attract companies and investors along the way. He hopes to enjoy it someday.

Millennial Awardee: Nofar Hamrany, Environmental Leader at New York University campuses in DC and Shanghai

Nofar is of Yemeni descent, was part of the Israeli military and is now a student at the NYU campus in Shanghai, China. Her multicultural story is an increasingly common one for Millennials.

Nofar, representing Millennials, immediately addressed the elephant in the room: that millennials are seen as lazy, selfish, and selfie lovers – but said she was there to break that impression. Millennials are quickly becoming a leading generation in sustainability action.

Nofar recalled how in Israel, recycling is a big deal; however, she thought she couldn’t do anything about environmental impacts. One day, when she was walking down a main street in the heavily polluted city of Shanghai, she noticed that a little girl had a Hello Kitty air pollution mask on. Something about seeing air pollution masks specifically made for little children made it feel different, and that something needed to be done (dream!).

Nofar Hamrany
Nofar Hamrany

On campus, Nofar became president of Green Shanghai (team!), where she implemented long-term projects harnessing the Shanghai and NYU networks. After a year of trials and tribulations with permitting, she was able to establish an urban farm on campus and use a composting system on campus. She built relationships with other organizations, including the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), other universities, and Toms, among others.

Nofar was a leader in “Go Green Week” – a week where students are challenged to be more green (beam!). The Shanghai campus held 13 events, including a vegan/vegetarian challenge, energy consumption reduction, films, PETA events, ‘trash fashion shows,’ and 15 other speakers. This initiative has inspired other NYU campuses, other universities, and groups in many different cities. In March 2017, the Go Green Week will have inspired China’s first environmental film festival. This might sound easy, but Nofar noted that there is no word for “vegetarian” in Mandarin!

“Environmental issues are not that hard to tackle, but are for all of us to solve,” Nofar concluded. Her point is that suffering is happening now, and now is the time to act. Air pollution is obvious in Shanghai and around the world. Damage can be seen in the tap water, soil pollution, and even earthquakes. It’s up to all of us to try to overcome these obstacles.


After the awards were passed to the recipients, Janine noted that we are seeing the impacts from climate change around the world and that more than ever, action is needed to move forward on clean energy and sustainability initiatives.

Penny added that one of the most important things we can be doing is reducing the barriers to getting good green jobs. The message should be that anyone can have a green job – that things like retraining, advanced degrees, or be scientifically trained are not required to be in a green profession. For example, roofers can push weatherization on new roofs; and window installers can install energy efficient windows – both green jobs. For long-term sustainability, we need to communicate that green is for everyone, not just people with four year degrees.


Jeannine Curtin and Barbara Englehart catch up during the networking.
Jeannine Curtin and Barbara Englehart catch up during the networking.

Albert said that we need to refocus the American Dream as “a new American dream, a sustainable American dream.” The green movement is not just happening now, he says, we are standing on the shoulders of hundreds of pioneers before us.

A comment from the audience was on a hopeful note. The North American Electric Reliability Corporation, a technology neutral organization that is responsible for the reliability of the bulk power system, has recently completed assessments with environmental forecasts. The modeling results showed that, with or without the Clean Power Plan, the U.S. will transition to renewable energy.

Albert concluded that there is real leadership in the Washington, DC region, shown by the variety of local incentives for renewable energy and energy efficiency. If we share these resources with our networks and think out of the box, then we will be able to get out of this in less time than it took us to get into this. Janine concluded that the talent was in the room – from project managers to clean transportation professions, water resources, wind/hydro equipment, and import lawyers.

The community of Leaders in Energy thus concluded 2016 with a high note, inspired by the four generations of awardees that have dreamed, teamed, beamed and steamed through apathy, adversity, and all kinds of roadblocks to develop a sustainable and clean energy-driven environment and economy.

More information on Leaders in Energy is available at https://www.leadersinenergy.org and in the Leaders in Energy Research, Communication, Policies & Analysis (LERCPA) LinkedIn group. The mission of Leaders in Energy is to build a community of leaders to enable solutions for a sustainable energy system, economy, and world. Please join our Leaders in Energy community on LinkedInFacebook, and Twitter. Follow the conversation on Twitter at #LE4gen.

We invite you to contact us if you are interested in helping us to spearhead an event on a topic of interest to you, arrange sponsors, write a blog article, assist with our events, and collaborate on a project. If this interests you, let us know.

Kerry Worthington began volunteering for Leaders in Energy in spring 2015. She is a young professional working in the state regulatory space, specifically on multi-state issues. Transmission system planning and analysis from a policy point of view has been her focus area for several years, and she is growing into the distributed generation area with an eye on environmental topics.

Photo credits: Elvin Yuzugullu, Agustin Cruz, Jeannine Curtin.

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