Laura is currently Global Supply Manager for Energy at Apple, where she negotiates and manages structured renewable energy and energy efficiency transactions. Prior to joining Apple she co-founded GridMaven Utility Solutions, a division of SK Telecom Americas, that provides smart grid network management and billing solutions to the utility sector. Laura has 13 years of experience in environmental markets including brokerage and structured transactions in renewable energy credits, emission reduction credit (ERC) markets, renewable power purchase agreements, and water leasing and banking. She holds a Bachelor’s degree in Political Science from Wellesley College and Master’s in Resource Economics from Yale University’s School of Forestry and Environmental Studies. How did you become involved in your current career?
I’ve been drawn to environmental issues ever since I spent a semester in college at the Biosphere 2 in Arizona. It was on a lark, but it was the first time I came away from immersing myself in a subject and had more questions than I started with. It was coming into 1999 and the Seattle WTO talks, and there was a drumbeat of anti-globalization sentiment in the environmental community. I became fascinated by the question of why, if economic growth was so powerful as to be considered unequivocally detrimental to the environment, it couldn’t be turned on its head and used as a force for good? Why couldn’t economic growth be used to value the environment in a way that allowed us to pay for improved environmental quality? So, I went on to do a master’s in resource economics at Yale, and then over the last 13 years have held a variety of roles in environmental markets, at everything from a Wall Street hedge fund to a small non-profit in Oregon, to the British government and now, at Apple. I’ve tried to work in these issues and understand them from a variety of perspectives — non-profit, private and government– in order to find equitable and efficient solutions.
What environmental issues are of most concern to you?
Water scarcity and distributed renewable energy are two of the issues nearest and dearest to me. Water is fascinating because it’s not necessarily that there is a scarcity problem (droughts excluded); it’s that legal and economic constructs prevent water to getting where it needs to be. There is also the issue that water is a fundamental need for life; but access to it is not free, and those two things get conflated in heated debate. Energy, on the other hand, isn’t quite the same touchstone that water is, but suffers from a similar problem. It has the same legacy of ‘big construction works’ thinking and struggles with how to maintain a reliable distribution system in the face increased distributed generation and fewer and fewer people left to pay for it. I don’t think utilities are necessarily going anywhere – they serve an important purpose and I don’t think it will turn out to be efficient for everyone to maintain their own reliability individually — but I do think they will need to radically change their approach to business to survive.
What do you think are some challenges and opportunities facing women in the environmental movement today?
Part of the challenge for women in environmental fields is just knowing where the other women are. Both water and energy are historically large, utility-driven or irrigation-district driven fields, where there still are not a lot of women. There are still many meetings that I go to where I’m the only woman. It’s important to build relationships across the ecosystem of whatever field you are in – regulatory, utility, non-profit and private industry – because it’s the growth of that ecosystem that will lead to us each looking out for each other, and helping each other into leadership in these industries. That’s what groups like WEN and others are perfect for, but it doesn’t happen overnight. It takes time and investment. With regard to opportunity, there’s huge potential in the utility sectors, because that workforce is aging and retiring, and will require a sea change in thinking to continue to be relevant. Who better to lead that than a sea of women? I’m also seeing more entrepreneurial women leading industrial clean technology companies, in biofuels or micro-hydro for example, and it’s really refreshing. Lastly, women can do really well in environments where there isn’t a precedent. For example, many private companies are getting more involved in sustainability efforts and greening their energy and operations; that hasn’t existed before and so it’s a perfect opportunity for women to create a vision and shape a strategy.
What are your suggestions on how WEN members can become more involved in your sector and the environmental movement?
When I first moved into the energy sector from water in 2005, I knew nothing about it. It took about 3 years to really understand to scope of the sector and figure out how all the players interacted. I did that by soaking up every market research news piece or analysis I could – just reading them consistently – and attending every professional conference, networking event and launch that I could. I would have gone to the opening of an envelope in those days! But, it helped me build a great network, stay current with what was happening in the industry, and get the call when new opportunities came up. Get to know who’s doing what, and don’t be afraid to reach out to people you find interesting and want to know more about what they are doing. A thoughtful note on LinkedIn goes a long way. I still feel the way I did back in 1998; these fields are evolving and there are still huge problems to be solved. We need women to jump in now. It won’t happen overnight, but there’s a life’s work of real, meaningful change in there for anyone who wants it.