7 Questions for a Sustainability Professional:
Angela Rodriguez, CPS Energy

by Tiara Chapman

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Tag Archive: professional

  1. 7 Questions for a Sustainability Professional: Angela Rodriguez, CPS Energy

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    It takes a village to raise the bar on sustainability. CPS Energy is making great strides to help the San Antonio community achieve its 2050 goal of net zero carbon emissions by ensuring their neighbors are all in for energy conservation!  

    Texan by Nature’s network of business members is essential to achieving our mission of advancing conservation, and the sustainability professionals in these organizations are important allies in connecting industry with conservation.

    Meet Angela Rodriguez, the Managing Principal of Sustainability & Grants at CPS Energy, a 2023 TxN 20 Honoree, is transforming the utility’s approach to sustainability by doubling down on public outreach. Read more below about her work to engage local residents in energy conservation and move the city forward in achieving large-scale sustainability success!

    Pictured Angela Rodriguez the Managing Principal of Sustainability & Grants at CPS Energy. Photo Courtesy of Angela Rodriguez

    Angela Rodriguez, the Managing Principal of Sustainability & Grants at CPS Energy

    How would you explain the importance of ESG strategy to someone who wasn’t familiar with it?

    The E stands for Environmental, the S stands for Social and the G stands for Governance, but for decades before it got a clever acronym, in the municipal utility industry we simply called it “being a good community member.” An ESG strategy includes all of the things that make you a good community member, such as keeping environmental responsibility top of mind, including reducing air emissions, saving water, and recycling. The social part includes our volunteer work, from delivering meals to seniors or block walking to spread the word about our programs that help customers pay their bills. Community input is a necessary part of our governance. All of these buckets play a role in creating a long-term strategy to serve our customers with reliable, affordable, and environmentally responsible power.

    When planning environmental sustainability targets, what do you use as a guide to set these goals and commitments?

    We analyze local and federal policies and make sure our strategies and metrics align. Plus, we are part of industry groups such as the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI), where we benchmark against our utility peers to learn and share best practices. At a local level, our owner, the City of San Antonio, adopted a Climate Action & Adaptation Plan (CAAP) in 2019. That plan calls for our community as a whole to be net zero carbon by 2050, showing a 41% reduction by 2030 from 2016 levels and a 71% reduction by 2040. Our CPS Energy Board committed to the CAAP targets and we use them along with a broad range of customer/stakeholder input.

    CPS Energy representative speaking to the public during one of their Open House community events. Photo: CPS Energy

    CPS Energy representative speaking to the public during one of their Open House community events. Photo: CPS Energy

    A great example of community input in action was the development of our Vision 2027 Power Generation Resource Plan. We used the CAAP carbon goals as metrics, along with other factors such as flexibility and affordability. After about 18 months of community engagement work, our Board approved a plan that moves away from coal while adding lower-emitting gas along with renewables and storage to balance emissions reductions, reliability, climate resiliency, and affordability.

    What is the first step for implementing ESG strategy for a company looking to engage in environmental sustainability for the first time?

    One fun way is by going to similar companies’ websites and searching for their ESG Report, which is often called a Sustainability Report or Community Impact Report. Different companies call them different things, but they all contain similar types of ESG information. It is very cool to see all of the ways companies are supporting their community. Some reports have graphical representations, photos, or narratives in addition to metrics. Look for examples of stories or charts you think your customers would find valuable and start an outline of items you would want to see in your own ESG strategy. If you are a business, such as a community-owned utility, one first step is setting up a process where the community you serve can give input. In our local community, on top of the City’s Climate Action & Adaptation Plan, some businesses and entities also use the United Nations’ Sustainability Development Goals as an easy way to view sustainability and start weaving it throughout strategies, metrics, and goals.

    In 2023, what was your most interesting lesson learned in your work as a sustainability professional?

    That we have to do better at communicating that sustainability and economic development go hand in hand. People often think sustainability initiatives will only cost a company money and not make any. However, sustainability strategies and economic development strategies have similar goals viewed from different perspectives. I usually think about things through the environmental responsibility lens, but showing the financial benefits of a strategy is often what can get it over the finish line. 

    What component of working in environmental sustainability is your favorite and why?

    I was an Air Compliance and Permitting professional for a decade and enjoy getting nerdy about carbon emission reductions. I love talking about how our carbon intensity has decreased since 1980 while simultaneously our power generation has increased. Recently, we have started doing more with TREES! Trees help offset carbon, reduce urban heat island impact, clean the air, reduce stormwater runoff, make the city more beautiful, and more. I could go on and on about the benefits of trees.

    “We give away 1,200 trees so San Antonians can do their part in making our environment healthier. Our team of employees distributes 1-gallon trees, tree guides, and supply bags at the event every year.” – Angela Rodriguez

    A CPS Energy outreach table giving away tote bags containing native tree saplings at a community event. Photo: CPS Energy

    A CPS Energy outreach table giving away tote bags containing native tree saplings at a community event. Photo: CPS Energy

    From the eyes of an environmental sustainability professional, what makes a conservation project stand out? What can conservation projects do to make it easier to partner with them?

    Conservation projects really stand out when their benefits can speak to a broad range of stakeholders in your local community. Take for example coordinating a tree-planting project for your local park. You can attract people who care about health by communicating the health benefits and then attract the economic development community by speaking on its impact to the local economy. We do this for our Green Shade Tree rebate program, highlighting the benefits of planting a tree in the right spot to reduce air conditioning use therefore saving money on your bill.
    In addition to using the term “conservation” to help protect resources such as land and water, we also use the term “conservation” to speak about our energy efficiency and energy conservation program. Our Sustainable Tomorrow Energy Plan (STEP) helps customers reduce air emissions and save money. When trying to attract partners, be sure to always highlight both the economic and environmental benefits of projects.

    The Sustainable Tomorrow Energy Plan (STEP) program aims to reduce our community’s energy demand by 410 megawatts by 2027. Additionally, the program will weatherize 16,000 homes and 20,000 multifamily units, resulting in a 1% energy savings per year, ~2M tons of avoided Carbon Dioxide (CO2), and avoidance of approximately ~140 tons of Nitrogen Oxide (NOx), an ozone precursor, over the life of the program.

    What sustainability goal are you most looking forward to working on in 2024?

    At CPS Energy, we are developing products and services that help our customers meet their own Net Zero goals. As we engage with customers we find that many of them have sustainability targets that are more aspirational than the City’s Net Zero by 2050 goal. Some business and non-profit customers want to be Net Zero as early as 2030 or 2035. When you are the energy provider, your own Scope 1 power plant emissions become your customer’s Scope 2 emissions or emissions that come from using power in their businesses.

    As the local electric and gas provider, we can help them achieve their goals by offering renewable, energy storage, resiliency, and energy efficiency programs. We have local businesses and corporations with global goals as well. It is really fun engaging with Sustainability Professionals from other industries, hearing what their goals are, and then collaborating on how to achieve them. Working together helps benefit our entire community and everyone we serve.

    Texan by Nature’s vision is for every business and every Texan to participate in conservation and for Texas to be a model of collaborative conservation for the world.

    We’re grateful to Angela and the many sustainability professionals and companies who are future-proofing their businesses and our state. Their operational innovations and conservation investments advance environmental sustainability in their sectors and provide successful models for the world to follow.


    Learn more about the annual
    TxN 20 program, which recognizes leadership in environmental sustainability in industry, by visiting the TxN 20 website, and keep an eye out for more insight from other sustainability professionals to come.

    About Angela

    Angela Rodriguez is the Managing Principal of Sustainability & Grants at CPS Energy and has been in that role since early 2018. She started in CPS Energy’s Environmental Planning, Compliance & Sustainability department in May 2007 and led the Air Permitting and Compliance section for 10 years. Her team works across the company to ensure initiatives are aligned with climate & sustainability goals at a local, state, and federal level. Her team attends various community events to present on and gather public feedback on CPS Energy’s path to Net Zero. Her team is also responsible for looking for ways to reduce costs to customers by taking advantage of federal grant money. Angela serves as the CPS Energy representative on the City
    of San Antonio’s Climate Action and Adaptation Plan Committee. She represents CPS Energy on various community and industry groups that have an environmental focus such as the Alamo Area Council of Governments and Large Public Power Council Environmental Task Force. She has a B.S. in Chemical Engineering from Texas A&M in Kingsville. Prior to working for CPS Energy, Angela worked for Luminant/TXU, the utility company in the Dallas Fort Worth area, as a gas-fired Power Plant Engineer and Environmental Coordinator doing air, water, and waste compliance. She also worked as a Chemistry Lab Supervisor at TXU’s Comanche Peak Nuclear Power Station. She enjoys volunteering for various events that help our youth learn about STEM careers, particularly in sustainability and protecting our environment. In her spare time, she enjoys volunteering for dog and cat rescues and walking her dogs and foster puppies on the beautiful San Antonio linear park system trails. 

  2. 7 Questions for a Sustainability Professional: Sarah Ziomek, DFW Airport

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    Have you ever thought of an airport as an ecosystem? Sustainability professionals at Dallas Fort Worth (DFW) International Airport look at operations with an ecosystem perspective to better understand how systems impact one another and maximize resource efficiency. Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) strategy is a priority at DFW; from becoming the first carbon-neutral airport in the Americas to training employees to spot and stop human trafficking, the airport makes the most of its position as a travel hub to achieve ESG goals. DFW Airport’s status as a global leader in sustainable transportation and ESG impact is thanks to the behind-the-scenes work of strategists like Sarah Ziomek, Enterprise Sustainability Programs Manager at DFW Airport.

    How would you explain the importance of ESG strategy to someone who wasn’t familiar with it?

    “In simple terms, an ESG strategy is a way for a company to proactively manage the environmental, social, and economic impacts of its activities as well as the impacts of environmental, social, and economic factors on business performance. In other words, it includes both an internal and an external focus on the environment, people, and economics – the ‘triple bottom line’ of sustainability. 

    Developing and implementing an ESG strategy enables a company to identify and manage risks, enhance its reputation, engage stakeholders, and drive business value.”

    Impact by the numbers: DFW Airport covers more than 17,000 acres, uses 100% renewable energy from Texas wind farms, and recycled, reused, or salvaged more than 57,000 tons of construction waste in 2022.

    When planning environmental sustainability targets, what do you use as a guide to set these goals and commitments? (i.e. successful industry models, stakeholder concern, natural resource use?)

    When updating our sustainability management plan and corresponding commitments, we looked to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDGs), a set of 17 global goals designed to address the world’s most pressing social, economic, and environmental challenges. Then, we mapped these global goals to our specific business objectives. As a result, we ultimately settled on six key focus areas for our strategy, effectively illustrating the connectivity between sustainability goals and business performance.

    One underlying theme across our strategy is to drive a net positive impact. In Net Positive, Paul Polman and Andrew Winston define a net positive business as one “that improves well-being for everyone it impacts and at all scales…and even future generations and the planet itself.”  This concept is echoed by William McDonough and Michael Braungart in Cradle to Cradle as doing “more good” instead of “less bad.”

    DFW’s six “Sustainability North Stars”: Climate Action; Energy Performance; Circular Economy; Water & Biodiversity; Equity; and Health, Safety, and Wellness. These priorities align with elements of all 17 UN SDGs.

    What is the first step for implementing ESG strategy for a company looking to engage in environmental sustainability for the first time? 

    A good first step is to start with an analysis of macro trends – global issues that may impact your business today or in the future. Since sustainability involves future-proofing, it’s important to develop your strategy with a forward-looking mindset. This review will position you to conduct a materiality assessment – a process to identify the issues that are most relevant to your company’s operations and its stakeholders.

    Once you have prioritized key issues to address and determined your company’s baseline performance in these areas, you can develop an ESG strategy with specific, measurable, and time-bound targets. It’s critical to establish a system for monitoring and reporting on your progress toward these targets early on. This will help ensure that commitments are backed by action.

    In 2022, what was your most interesting lesson learned in your work as a sustainability professional?

    One lesson that I have learned is the importance of systems thinking. The challenges we face are complex and interconnected, and sustainability professionals must be able to analyze the interconnections and interdependencies between different systems (or disciplines within an organizational structure) to identify the root causes of issues and implement effective solutions.

    What component of working in environmental sustainability is your favorite and why? (ie. Water, wildlife, biodiversity, operational innovation, waste diversion, land, energy etc.)

    It’s hard to pick! I was drawn to the field of sustainability because of the interdisciplinary approach to problem-solving that it encourages. I’m an environmental scientist by training, and my background is in ecology, so I really enjoy working on biodiversity-related projects. More recently though, I’ve grown to love working on waste diversion initiatives. Waste is a problem that every individual has a personal connection to as well as an ability to positively influence

    From the eyes of an environmental sustainability professional, what makes a conservation project stand out? What can conservation projects do to make it easier to partner with them? 

    The landmark 1987 Brundtland Report, published by the World Commission on Environment and Development, defined sustainability as meeting “the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” The report emphasized that the concept of sustainability recognizes the limits imposed by finite natural resources and the planet’s ecological means. Conservation and environmental protection are inherent in the concept of sustainable development. 

    “We found everywhere deep public concern for the environment, concern that has led not just to protests but often to changed behavior. The challenge is to ensure that these new values are more adequately reflected in the principles and operations of political and economic structures.” – Our Common Future (aka the Brundtland Report)

    A project that stands out is one that generates not only environmental benefits but also social and economic benefits. This is known as the triple bottom line approach, and projects that apply this mindset make great partners. Such a holistic approach ensures that a project is not just good for the environment, but also good for people and businesses in the long run. 

    What sustainability goal are you most looking forward to working on in 2023? 

    I’m looking forward to making progress on our goal to improve our landfill diversion rate. At DFW, we’re implementing a circular economy approach to waste management, which aims to keep materials in use and design out waste and pollution. In 2023, we will expand our composting program, improve recycling collection processes, and increase education around waste management practices. 

    Fast-paced and dependent on resource-intensive infrastructure, an airport is emblematic of the challenges — and the opportunities — for industry to engage in sustainability. DFW Airport’s principled approach to ESG strategy provides an example to airports around the world of how to achieve environmental sustainability and economic prosperity. 

    Texan by Nature’s vision is for every business and every Texan to participate in conservation, and for Texas to be a model of collaborative conservation for the world. 

    We’re grateful to Sarah, DFW Airport, and the many sustainability professionals and companies who are future-proofing their businesses and our state with operational innovations and conservation investments that advance environmental sustainability in their sectors and provide successful models for the globe to follow. 

    Learn more about the annual TxN 20 program, which recognizes leadership in environmental sustainability in industry, by visiting the TxN 20 website, and keep an eye out for more insight from other sustainability professionals to come.

    More about Sarah Ziomek

    Sarah Ziomek is the Enterprise Sustainability Programs Manager at Dallas Fort Worth International Airport (DFW Airport) and is responsible for developing and advancing DFW’s sustainability strategy, implementing the Airport’s roadmap to achieve net zero by 2030, overseeing the environmental grants program, and managing the zero waste program. She supports the Airport’s strategic partnership with the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) as the DFW lead on projects related to energy optimization and renewables integration for buildings and fleets. 

    Sarah received her B.S. and M.S. in Environmental Science from Texas Christian University. She is a Certified Ecologist and has served in the capacity of environmental scientist and wetland specialist. Her previous experience includes environmental consulting for multiple industries as well as work for the Botanical Research Institute of Texas and the National Park Service.  In her free time, Sarah enjoys spending time outdoors playing tennis, cycling, and backpacking.

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