Celebrating Earth Day with Environmental Progress at Essential
First held on April 22, 1970, Earth Day is an annual event to show support for environmental protection from things such as pollution, climate change and deforestation. At Essential, environmental protection is a critical component of our mission to deliver the Earth’s most essential resources safely and reliably to our customers and communities. We believe that proper stewardship of our lands leads to healthy and resilient water supplies, and we are proud to be an industry leader addressing the critical issues of climate change and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions reduction. We are committed to making progress every day to create a better, more sustainable and equitable future.
In this month’s Careers and Culture, we’re highlighting two employees who are passionate about the environment to discuss their roles in ensuring clean water at Aqua and advancing clean tech innovation at Peoples. We spoke with Christine Brisbin and William Sapon to learn more about how their roles within the Essential family exemplify the mission of Earth Day.
Christine: Christine is the director of the water quality lab at Aqua. She holds a Bachelor’s degree in Biology and a Master’s degree in public health with a focus on environmental health. Christine has been with the company for 35 years, starting her journey as a chemical technician in the chemistry lab. She later moved to the microbiology lab as a technician, where she worked her way through the ranks until she was ultimately promoted to Director of the lab. Christine has always loved microbiology and loves the important work she does to safeguard clean water and public health.
William: William joined Peoples Natural Gas five years ago and is the senior advisor of clean energy and transportation in the business development department. Prior to joining Peoples, William was selected as an EDF Climate Corps Fellow, a prestigious environmental fellowship program, during his graduate studies at the University of Pittsburgh’s Katz Graduate school of Business. He currently sits on the Board of Directors of the University of Pittsburgh’s Business Alumni Association and the Pittsburgh Region Clean Cities. William is proud to work for a company with actionable ESG commitments. In his role, he inspires others to lean toward sustainability, even if it’s not in their job descriptions.
This year’s Earth Day theme is Invest in Our Planet – what does this mean to you, and how does Essential support this?
CB: “Two-thirds of the Earth is covered in water, but only a very small percentage of that water is potable. To invest in our planet, we must strive to commit to zero waste by reusing and recycling and protecting our water sources from pollution. Essential supports these commitments in our water quality lab, where a team of environmental scientists work together to protect watersheds and monitor the precious resource we all need. Essential invests in our planet by sponsoring tree plantings and stream cleanups throughout our watersheds and invests in infrastructure replacement to mitigate water loss.”
WS: “There is a business concept called the “triple bottom line” that refers to the idea that we should be measuring social and environmental impact in addition to our financial performance, rather than just focusing on generating profit. These bottom-line categories are often referred to as the three “P’s,” which stands for people, planet and profit. Essential understands that if our communities thrive, we thrive, and there is no doubt that creating value while helping our communities thrive is rewarding. One prime example of Essential’s ESG efforts and investment in our planet is our public-private partnership with the Allegheny County Airport Authority’s Pittsburgh International Airport. In 2020, we invested in developing one of the most unique microgrids systems in the U.S. The microgrid will supply all the electricity needs of the airport’s campus and will reduce 8.2 million pounds of carbon dioxide emissions per year. It increases resiliency, maximizes public safety and reduces energy costs, making the Pittsburgh International Airport one of the most sustainable airports in the world.”
Small actions and changes in our everyday lives can add up to big changes. What are some examples to make the planet more sustainable? How can this impact future generations?
CB: “When I was in graduate school, I completed a project looking at the amount of plastic waste from single use water bottles that end up in landfills, oceans, and as trash in our streets. Switching to reusable water bottles is an easy change that can have an exponential impact. We need to be more considerate of our actions and leave the planet cleaner for future generations. This includes recycling, striving toward zero waste and keeping streams and rivers free from pollutants. Water is a precious resource, and Essential is committed to protecting it and providing it in a safe manner for our customers. By switching to a reusable bottle and filling it with tap water we can make big strides toward a more sustainable planet for future generations.”
WS: It’s important to always remember that the projects we are working on now will leave a legacy for future generations and a future we will never experience. The future that I envision includes economic prosperity, technological innovation, diverse workforce and social equity. Something I learned from reading Small Action, Big Difference is that everyone should aim to become a sustainability generalist, focusing not on the “why” but on the “how.” This ensures everyone in the organization views their role with sustainability in mind and allows the organization to integrate sustainability leaders throughout the company.”
In your role, how do you support protecting the environment and planet?
CB: “In my role, I support the chemists and microbiologists in the lab who receive thousands of water samples each year, including samples from our distribution system, wells and watersheds. They analyze the water for contaminants that affect water quality. The lab team also monitors treated wastewater discharge to ensure it goes back into the environment safer and cleaner than when we received it at the treatment plant. I can’t think of a more important mission than protecting public health. We do that every day through the water quality testing that is performed in the lab to ensure it meets federal and state regulations and is safe to drink.”
WS: “To protect our environment and our planet, it is understood that governments, private businesses and consumers must transition toward a sustainable, low-carbon energy future. This transition is focused on removing or sequestering carbon emissions from sources of energy and places enormous pressure on utilities, like us, to accelerate the energy transition while balancing affordability, resiliency and sustainability on the energy we supply our customers. As a senior advisor, it is my job to reshape how the utility operates under a decarbonization scenario and how we can generate value by developing new business models, adopting sustainable practices and forming strategic partnerships to future-proof our business. This includes marketing and offering new, efficient energy technologies like combined heat and power, fuel cells and solar arrays to our residential, commercial and industrial customers as they look to reduce their own carbon footprint.”
Natural gas is the cleanest of fossil fuels and an extremely important resource for reducing pollution and maintaining a clean and healthy environment. Essential is dedicated to exploring and supporting the creation of new technology to reduce methane emissions and carbon footprint. Why is this important?
WS: “According to the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) most recent report, climate impacts are already more widespread and severe than expected, prompting businesses to adapt to climate risk. On the bright side, feasible solutions already exist. Our region has innovation in its DNA; we have seen Pittsburgh transform from an economy dependent on steel production to an economy thriving on innovation in technology and energy, among others. Additionally, in 2021, I led the ESG reporting for the entire gas utility division, which included all operating gas utilities in Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Kentucky. To further our ESG commitment, we have also publicly stated our goal of reducing our company's Scope 1 and Scope 2 GHG emissions by 60% by 2035, from our 2019 baseline. Most of our emission reductions are attributed to ongoing initiatives that utilize proven technologies that exist today, underscoring the importance of investing in new technologies that will enable us to further reduce our carbon footprint. This includes exploring and investing in low-carbon fuels, like hydrogen, renewable natural gas (RNG) and carbon offsets, which will play a pivotal role in our path to reduce our company's carbon footprint and diversify our energy supply.”
Why should others consider a career with Essential? What is the best part?
CB: “I’m proud to work for Essential and am proud of what we do. Essential provides a stable work environment, and the company offers great benefits and truly cares about the health and safety of its employees. There’s room for professional growth and upward movement throughout the company – I’ve experienced this myself. The work we do matters to the company and the community, and it keeps me passionate and focused on working hard every day. I’m so fortunate to work for a company that allows me to pursue my passion, which keeps me coming back every day.”
WS: “I strongly believe the workforce of tomorrow is environmentally conscious and demands that businesses address the social issues that impact our society. Over the last century, Essential established a proven track record of being a responsible corporate neighbor and following through on our commitments to our community partners. Through the Essential Foundation, we remain a strong advocate of the environment and social issues that include diversity, equity and inclusion. These investments support the vital work and programming of our local nonprofits that address racial injustice, structural inequity and economic disparity. I get to tackle climate change and the energy transition and educate our customers on their ESG journey. I don’t just sell products; I sell a vision that power can be generated sustainably and efficiently in a cost-competitive way.”
Thank you, Christine and William, for sharing your insights! It’s clear that your commitment to the Earth and passion for what you do makes a difference at Essential and providing a better tomorrow. Visit esg.essential.co to learn more about Essential Utilities’ commitment to sustainability.