An Energy Central Power Perspectives™ Interview
Forming the Security and Sustainability Forum (SSF) in 2009 was a turning point for Dr. Edward Saltzberg in his efforts to embrace sustainability and the needs of future generations, but that was by no means where his story began. Instead, Dr. Saltzberg has led a career in environmental sciences, energy policy, and more.
Today, via SSF, Dr. Saltzberg provides education on societal impacts from the degradation of natural systems. Specifically, he helps Native American Tribes improve their well-being through resilient energy programs and also leads the Professional Education Program at George Washington University’s Environmental and Energy Management Institute. But that’s just part of his story that led to him being honored by Leaders in Energy as a Lifetime Achievement Awardee in their recent Four Gen Awards.
Energy Central talked to Dr. Saltzberg about his most recent projects and his Lifetime Achievement Award:
Energy Central: You’ve been the Executive Director of the Security and Sustainability Forum (SSF) for close to 13 years now. Could you explain what the SSF is for our readers who don’t know and also tell us how it came into existence?
Dr. Edward Saltzberg: Well, I’ve really always been an educator. One of my first jobs was working as a teacher at a prep school in Boston. In addition to teaching there, I also designed courses and curriculums. So, it really made sense for me to eventually bring together my background in education with my later work in energy and environmental sustainability in both corporate and public sectors.
The result of that marriage was the Security and Sustainability Forum (SSF), which has been up and running since its launch in 2009, as you alluded to. The idea of the forum is simple: We convene top experts in relevant fields to talk about the key issues of our time over the internet.
It’s been more successful than I could have imagined before we started. To date, we have over 26,000 subscribers and we get between 500 to 2,000 attendees for each seminar. Our subscribers are splits pretty evenly: About a third are from business, a third from government, and a third from the non-profit sector. Having such a large, and diverse audience allows us to move the needle on important issues.
EC: Looking through the data on SSF’s subscriber base, I was surprised to see how well represented big business is. How can you explain the corporate appetite for the information SSF offers?
ES: While it’s true that corporations exist primarily to make profits, the people who make up corporations are normal people who have a stake in our planet’s wellbeing. CEO’s have children too.
That being said, there are bottom line incentives for businesses to be more efficient and sustainable. Doing more with less is almost always in the interest of any business.
Corporations also have to protect their interests longterm and they realize that future extreme weather events and health pandemics, for example, will not be good for business. Many corporations are interested in doing their part in the present to mitigate future disasters.
Lastly, more and more stakeholders are demanding that companies adopt sustainable practices and the companies have no option but to listen to them.
EC: The last few years, you’ve held the title of Director of Professional Education at George Washington University’s School of Engineering and Applied Science. Specifically, you created and continue to oversee the school’s Resilience Certificate Program. Can you explain what the program is exactly and why it’s important?
ES: The certificate program has been up and running for almost 4 years now, and I’m really proud of what it’s become. As far as I know, there isn’t really any other non-degree program like it right now. The basic idea is that each course will get students, most of whom are mid-career professionals, up to speed on the given topic in an incredibly short time frame. We have courses on energy strategies during this time of decarbonization, the electric vehicle market, the power grid and renewable energy, just to name a few. Students won’t be experts after the course, but they’ll be well beyond conversational. I like to describe the program as “all banana without the peel”. Right now, the program consists of 7 courses presented through 10-12 hours of recorded videos each. On top of that, there are 3-4 interactive video seminars for students. Completing four courses earns a basic certificate, and all seven get you an advanced certificate. However, students are welcome to sign up for just one course if they want and enrollment is open year round.
EC: In addition to your work at GW and the SSF, you’ve recently done consulting work for a number of Native American tribes. How did you come to start working with the tribes and what can you tell us about the work so far?
ES: I got involved with Sovereign Resiliency Partners (SRP) thanks to a group of people I’d met over the years and had had the pleasure of working with, one of whom, Mark Harding, is a leader of the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe in Massachusetts. SRP is really a service organization and the goal is to help Native American tribes improve their members quality of life through project development services that lower energy costs, improve energy reliability and resilience, and enable tribal clients to better manage resources, assets, and community services.
We’ve worked with a number of tribes so far, but probably most extensively with the Tule River Tribe of California. The Tule Tribe are really in the crosshairs of multiple destructive trends. The region is increasingly vulnerable to wildfires and bad storms, which has caused blackouts. The Tule, even when their land isn’t directly impacted by the weather events, get the worst of it all because they’re literally at the end of the feeder line.
It’s important to us that we use our expertise to best help the community, and not simply push forward a purely energy focused agenda. That means sometimes prioritizing one project over another even if on paper it seems to have a lower cost benefit. We want to build things that produce tangible positive changes on the reservation. We’ve helped the Tribe put together a master energy plan that includes plans, from a micro grid to reduce blackouts to appliance electrification that would drastically improve indoor air quality, and thus health.
EC: How does it feel to have your 35-years of work in sustainability acknowledged through this award?
ES: You know, I’ve joked that life-time achievement awards usually go to the actors who weren’t quite good enough to win the most important awards during their careers. But all jokes aside, I’m very happy to have been recognized by the people at 4th Gen, albeit quite surprised. The thing about my work is that it’s really all about bringing together the most talented thinkers in the field and giving them a platform to disseminate their findings and ideas. So, really I owe everything to them.
Editor’s note: this article originally appeared on Energy Central