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Elevating Communities through Energy Optimization with SaLisa Berrien of COI Energy

“There’s enough for all of us. There’s truly enough. You know, why waste all the energy we’re wasting when we can actually repurpose it for good?”

SaLisa Berrien, Founder of COI Energy

In this episode

Join SaLisa Berrien, Founder of SheEO Venture COI Energy, and Vicki Saunders, Founder of SheEO, as they discuss COI’s innovative technology that improves building energy performance and grid optimization—and how they’re using this tech to elevate communities that have been marginalized.

They also discuss:

  • COI’s energy dashboard and holistic approach to demand management
  • Partnerships with NGOs, enterprise customers, and mom-and-pop stores
  • A recognition of abundance and how we need to distribute better
  • SaLisa’s desire to see everyone live a dignified life
  • The shift towards a greater understanding of social impact + cocreation with support from SheEO
  • Her passion + energy for helping the community + building a better future for all

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Podcast Transcript:

The podcast is being transcribed by Otter.ai. (there may be errors, run-on sentences and misspellings).

SaLisa Berrien 0:00
There’s enough for all of us. There’s truly enough. You know, why waste all the energy we’re wasting when we can actually repurpose it for good?

Hannah Cree 0:08
Welcome to the SheEO.World podcast, where you will meet women who are transforming the world to be more equitable and sustainable. Your host for today’s podcast is the founder of SheEO, Vicki Saunders. Welcome to SheEO.World.

Vicki Saunders 0:27
Hello, SaLisa, how are you?

SaLisa Berrien 0:29
Good, Vicki, how are you?

Vicki Saunders 0:31
I’m great. I’m so happy to have you here today. I can’t wait to share what you’re doing with the rest of our community around the world. So tell us a bit about you.

SaLisa Berrien 0:39
Yeah, thank you. Thank you for the opportunity to be here. I’m super excited about the work COI Energy is doing. We’re really working to change the face of energy. We deployed our digital energy management platform that detects and eliminates energy waste in buildings. And what we do with that waste, we repurpose it for good. And so that good, we call kW for good. So it’s for like helping to balance the electric grid, helping to improve energy performance and buildings, and also helping marginalized communities get equitable access to Clean Energy Solution. So super excited about that. When you put all those pieces together, it helps clean up our environment,

Vicki Saunders 1:21
Which is the point. World’s To-Do List. Yay.

SaLisa Berrien 1:25
That’s right.

Vicki Saunders 1:26
Tell us a bit about this problem in the world. How big is it? What are the issues?

SaLisa Berrien 1:32
God, yeah, so everyone knows about the climate crisis and how huge this is. But when I just look at the piece that we’re focused on, we’re working with businesses and the average business waste 30% of the energy they consume. 30% of the energy consumed in 2017, that was $55 billion that was wasted. That’s not used, that’s waste. And then that was over 300 million metric tons of carbon emitted into the environment. I just was on a panel. And I saw that Southern California Edison with some of their goals. They’re looking at reducing carbon, at 57 million. Businesses alone wasted over 300 million metric tons of carbon.

Vicki Saunders 2:15

SaLisa Berrien 2:16
In a year.

Vicki Saunders 2:17
Yeah, in a year. And is this? So, does it matter—If your buildings are old or new? Is this like a problem everywhere? Or how does that impact your model?

SaLisa Berrien 2:28
That’s right, it doesn’t matter if it’s old or new. What happens when you when you commission a new building, it’s, you know, it’s tuned when you commission it, right. And then if you don’t continuously commission, that building, you start to have sags, and then that’s where the inefficiency happens. And a lot of it is because the process when you look at energy, it’s so opaque. It’s not transparent, so people don’t see what they’re doing. So you don’t know what you don’t know. And what we do is we bring that transparency and visibility to the table for all businesses. So now they know like, Okay, wow, why is this happening here? Okay, I have control, and I can stop and I can eradicate that waste.

Vicki Saunders 3:10
So what are the things—I can see behind you that no one else can because we’re on a podcast, is an energy dashboard. Is this, can you talk a little bit about how you bring that awareness to your customers?

SaLisa Berrien 3:20
Yes, so on our dashboard, so we have developed this platform where businesses can see what their demand is. So we take a holistic approach for demand management. And so for each building, when you think about the energy and electric grid and the environment, it’s all about your capacity. And capacity basically, is if you have your building, and you turned on every piece of equipment at once, that’s your capacity. And so no one operates at 100. They typically operate around 65-70%. But you spike sometimes at that 100 level. And that’s where all this waste is created. So the grid has to be able to have enough power to meet your spike. Even though it might happen for 15 minutes in a day, our platform—now we are able to show businesses, how they’re doing right now and predict what their future capacity is going to be based on their past behaviors and current conditions.

Vicki Saunders 4:28
That’s amazing. And so okay, so many things. The next thing I want to just ask around is the inequities in communities of color in like communities have been marginalized, essentially, around this. Tell us a little bit about the landscape on this for people who don’t know.

SaLisa Berrien 4:45
Yeah, so when you look at, first of all, let me just give you a background on myself. I came from what we called marginalized communities. I remember as a kid not having power. And so for me, it was really always an embarrassing thing. And I just felt like I didn’t have dignity. So when I started this company, my whole purpose was to make sure that others didn’t have to go through what I went through. And so when you look at all of the waste that businesses do, if you just bottle that up and repurpose it, like these communities, we don’t have to go without like, good infrastructure, we can re—you know, focus those funds to those areas, to help them with weatherization programs, to help them with community solar, so they can have access to clean energy solutions, to help them with energy management. Like how do you run your home more efficiently? And we do all this through NGO. So we partner with NGOs, since our platform is a business to business platform, the savings that the businesses create on our platform, they give a portion of that to these communities, through the NGOs and NGOs make sure that the different communities are able to take advantage of this, the savings to improve their homes and their community.

Vicki Saunders 6:09
So one of the things I’m wondering about, which I think about a lot is this concept of there is enough for everyone. The challenge is how its distributed. Is that the same in the energy space?

SaLisa Berrien 6:20
That’s exactly it. I mean, there’s enough for all of us, there’s truly enough. And if we all stopped wasting, just like I’ve been using this metaphor over the last year since the pandemic of the mask. You know, I remember when the pandemic hit last year, folks were like, Why are those people not wearing a mask? You know, that’s just not right. And they never thought about the fact that maybe they couldn’t afford a mask. And so if it’s between me buying a mask and food, I’m getting food.

Vicki Saunders 6:52

SaLisa Berrien 6:52
And so what we have to recognize is that if we have the resources, why not help give others masks, so we all could live? And that’s the same thing when you think about energy. You know, why waste all the energy we’re wasting when we can actually repurpose it for good? And we can help people that don’t have the same economic resources that we have, in order to live a dignified life. And because we all you know, everyone deserves the right to live a dignified life. It shouldn’t be based on our social, economic, socio economic status, it should be just based because we’re humans, and a part of living, dignified life is having food, clothing, shelter, power, good education, access to technology. I mean, like we’ve seen it through like the pandemic, where these marginalized communities, people were like, oh, we’re gonna do virtual learning, they forgot that they had dial up phones, that, you know, they didn’t have computers at home, you know, they didn’t have Wi-Fi, they didn’t have any of those things. You know, and so we got our like, look at the whole ecosystem. And when we consider the whole ecosystem, then we can we can all elevate together.

Vicki Saunders 8:02
Yeah, I mean, this has just been such a fascinating part of COVID, just like, you know, pulling the curtain back on all the inequities that exist. And I think people have a lot more of these issues sort of present in their minds. And I wonder, have you noticed a shift? I mean, we’re not out of the pandemic, well, I’m in Canada at the moment, we’re definitely not out of the pandemic, you’re farther ahead than us. But have you noticed a shift in your customers, potential corporations kind of paying more attention to this inequity and, and reaching out to you?

SaLisa Berrien 8:34
Absolutely. So as you know, being, you know, one of the SheEO Ventures, in the last six months, we’ve gotten so much interest in our platform. Whereas a year ago, people didn’t even understand the concept of the gifting didn’t know why it was important. And investors, definitely we’re like, you know, take that out. We’re not interested in that piece. And now folks are like, wow, we’re all interconnected. And if we don’t do this, it’s gonna mess this all up. So now I have a lot of interest from from investors to corporates. I mean, with all the ESG goals and everything, it’s, it’s a no brainer. And it makes a lot of sense for people now, which I’m glad.

Vicki Saunders 9:21
Yes, while we’re getting there, as the old world sort of dies away, and this like predatory inequality that just like built into our systems starts to be recognized. I mean, I, your phrase hurts my heart when you’re like, take that out. Right? Take out the social impact part. May that just disappear that whole phrase in the future?

SaLisa Berrien 9:39
Exactly. And I’m so grateful for SheEO because you guys were like, keep that in. That’s what we need.

Vicki Saunders 9:47
This is—the point of everything. I mean, this is this is the moment that we’re in where we get to redesign and redefine and I’m, you know, the people who understand these issues are the ones who should be designing the systems future. So we’re really grateful for your leadership around this as well. So tell us like, do you have a specific—Like, is there a dream client, a dream customer? If people are listening to this, and they’re like, Oh, that is unbelievable. I need to introduce SaLisa to XYZ, who are those people?

SaLisa Berrien 10:15
Yeah, any enterprise customer, so like, you know, the Amazons of the world, the Microsofts of the world, but then also, your mom and pop shops, because our platform can go from your smallest customer up to your largest customer. So if they were able to see the dashboard, they would be able to see where you’re able to, you know, to identify how much revenue savings and all those things. And so we can help the smallest customer and the largest. Right now, we just, we just closed this huge deal with CPS, which is Care Purchasing Services, and it’s all health care communities across the United States. And if you look at them individually, they’re you know, smaller businesses. So they benefit on our platform, as well as your enterprise customers. So to say, what would be my wish list? You know, let’s get the biggest players, the Amazons, the Walmarts, you know, the Whole Foods, all those different organizations engaged on a platform that’s transparent. It provides visibility, and it gives everybody the opportunity to improve their energy and then sell their excess. So you’re constantly optimizing.

Vicki Saunders 11:35
Do you have—who is the sort of purchaser? Like, what role do they play in the organization just so that can also spark people’s minds?

SaLisa Berrien 11:42
Yes. So I typically work with the VP of operations, facility managers, and at nursing homes, it was actually a little bit different. It was like their head of maintenance. So it depends on the organization. And then on a lot of the enterprise companies, we’re working with their Chief Sustainability Officers, or their VP of Engineering and operations.

Vicki Saunders 12:06
Are you having fun?

SaLisa Berrien 12:08
Oh, my god, yes, people are like, aren’t you tired? I mean, you hear my voice, because my, I’m losing my voice now. But I get up excited every day, because I realized that I’m doing something that’s bigger than me. And it’s having an impact on the world, you know, people for me—seeing communities not have to suffer, and everyone has access, and then we clean up our environment. When I think about future generations, when I think about my children’s children, and how they will have a better environment, they’re going to inherit something better. Because we decided to do this. It keeps me excited. Like, I’m always ready to go, like I work hours. And I know it’s not good, because people are like, you need the downtime, but it literally, I’m passionate about I get these ideas, you know, when I’m sleeping, and I finally had to put my phone near the bed. So I can start typing in my phone when I wake up. And I’m like, Oh my god, I gotta remember that thought. But it’s just super exciting. I wouldn’t change it for anything in the world.

Vicki Saunders 13:15
Well, we’re so grateful for your leadership, I feel you on the energy side of life, too. I think when you’re doing stuff that you’re passionate about, and it’s a really strong why inside of you to, you know, counter an injustice that we see out there. It’s, it’s just like, incredibly energizing. So thank you for sharing your heart and soul and your vision. And we’re here to help. So do you have an ask beyond? Specifically the, you know, introductions to businesses?

SaLisa Berrien 13:41
Yeah, I mean, my my simplest ask is really, when you look at businesses that are out there. And you see there’s an opportunity for them to do something, or if there’s an NGO that you think we should partner with, in order to give the solutions. Please share that with us. Because we’re really trying to make sure that we create this integrated ecosystem where everyone rises. So it’s not just the businesses, it’s not just the communities. It’s not just like the COI team. It’s the whole thing—the environment improves, everybody improves. And it’s going to take all of us working together. So anyone has any suggestions on NGOs? Let us know. We’re trying to go across this nation, all across North America. So even in Canada, where we can help make sure that those marginalized communities are supported.

Vicki Saunders 14:33
Awesome. Well, thank you very much. It’s been great talking to you today.

SaLisa Berrien 14:36
Thank you.

Hannah Cree 14:40
Thank you for listening to the SheEO.World podcast. Like, comment, subscribe and share this podcast with your friends. We invite you to join a global community of radically generous women at SheEO.World.

Transcribed by https://otter.ai

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