No sleep when you ELEEP: A personal reflection on US study tour

Sleep or ELEEP it? That is the question. I’m on the plane home from the US bringing together my thoughts of a sponsored trip that will influence policy and learning. My return from a study tour of Colorado and California provides a firm foundation and inspiration to move forward some key EU policy projects while beefing up my teaching material. And while the ‘business’ side is important, it must be inserted at the start that the personal bonds and connections I developed with my travel companions are equally important.

I am a member of Emerging Leaders in Environment and Energy (ELEEP), under the umbrella of the Atlantic Council and the Ecologic Institute . The EU and the Bosch Foundation provide the funding for our group. We interact on an online Facebook platform, where we share information and have in-depth discussions. Despite the ‘Facebook’ label, this is immensely useful method for sharing information. We are also able to go on trips which brings us into contact with policy makers, business people and in general the people who are making it happen. The group is populated by the ‘who’s who of who is not yet who.’ Thus, about 60 tier-two people that inform and influence the tier 1 people. We are the influencers of the influencers. And one day, despite our self-effacing jokes, will be the tier 1 people. Thus the great outcome of the project is investing in future leaders.

This trip held the objective of informing us of energy issues, mainly revolving around shale gas and renewables. In fact, you can’t talk about US energy policy without a discussion of the impact of shale gas and the fracking technology. It succeeded on this level. The people that we met with and what we saw really helped us contextualize the debate around the gas. In addition our exposure to the success or failure of different policies could be seen as we drove around Colorado and California this past week. The significant footprint of solar power in Colorado – with 300 days of sun, reflected Colorado’s pursuit of a 33% Renewable Portfolio Standard; while in California our legislative staff roundtable, in the Capital building in Sacramento, proved to be a highlight while the legislative staff discussing the issues around shale gas and net metering in the state. Our meeting with the California Air Resources Board was also great.

ELEEP members at the California Legislative Staff Roundtable discussion on energy and environment

In my other life before a career, marriage and fatherhood I had a penchant for traveling to distant and odd places in the Middle East, Russia and Europe (I include Budapest on that list). My purpose was always to give me a better sense of what was going on in these places. No doubt those experiences still play a role in my analysis of events in these locations. In a similar vain – and with similar results, this trip, brought me into direct contact with the people that are at the forefront of progressive energy policies and businesses. They are the ones leading the charge on what our global economy will be based on after the current shake-out stops. It is clear to me that the value of investing in the ELEEP program will result in more transatlantic awareness and real influence on policy and business. There are many common issues that are being grappled with on both sides of the Atlantic. Understanding the contextualized nature of certain programs or technologies instills a robust knowledge that can be applied in each of the ELEEP member’s areas.

All this knowledge is not without a price. Sleep is what we paid. Our packed days and travel itinerary meant squeezing the most out of every hour. One week felt like three weeks.  Sleep was squeezed but the results were worth it. Overall, the trip exceeded my expectation. I will be following up with some of the people I met to help inform my work on shale gas policies and regulations in Europe. Also, the courses I teach on sustainability in business and energy will be enhanced using the material I came across on the trip. I’m now indebted to the program and the people I met in ELEEP and in each state. Both my professional and personal life are richer for this travel experience. But time now for a little shut eye before the plane lands – then the action to implement change begins.