John Marler - VP of Energy and Environment at AEG
John Marler is Vice President of Energy and Environment at AEG, the world’s leading sports and live entertainment company. In this role, John oversees AEG’s corporate environmental sustainability program, AEG 1EARTH, and AEG Energy Services, AEG’s corporate energy management program.
John came to AEG from Southern California Edison where he focused on renewable and alternative energy contracts and smart grid research and development. Before joining Edison, John practiced law for four years as an attorney in New York State, focusing on commercial litigation and business transactions. John also serves on the board of directors of GRID Alternatives Greater Los Angeles.
John Joins Sustainable Nation to Discuss:
Leading sustainability in the events and entertainment industry
Engaging employees across the company in sustainability
Updating AEG's GHG goals in response to the latest IPCC Report
AEG's 2019 Sustainability Report
Advice and recommendations for sustainability leaders
AEG has two different area to focus on around sustainability - the buildings that are owned and operated by AEG, and then managing events that are not in your venues. Is there a different approach to these two different operations within the business?
For us, it's three different scenarios. We have wholly owned and operated properties, which can be events or buildings. Then we have situations where we are a tenant in a building, which presents some different operating constraints and opportunities. Then we also have events in buildings where we are operating the premises on behalf of the client. All those scenarios have different opportunities and it really comes down to the particulars of the site and the relationship with the property to really drive a lot of the work. One example might be our Mary Moore Park Concert Series up in Seattle. That's owned by the local Parks and Recreation Authority. They provide a lot of the infrastructure and services so we work with what they're providing, whereas if we go into a site that we own and control, we have the direct relationship with some of those services and maybe approach it a little bit different.
Anything advice or recommendations you can share on how to engage employees across the company in sustainability?
I think the first thing is you have to build relationships. We spend a lot of time setting up quarterly calls. We have at least one call a quarter with all of our sites and I go through different operational issues, updates and talking about problems. It's really about recognizing that everyone in the company has a day job, and while we're all subject to the company's policies and procedures, not everyone is a subject matter expert in sustainability. Not everyone has that as the main focus of the job. So, it's trying to build relationships and understand what people's opportunities and constraints are and then helping them be successful within their own context. That takes a little bit longer. Sometimes it can take years to build productive long-term relationships, but ultimately I think that's a lot more successful. I don't think it's successful if you just come up with a list of requirements or demands and just blast those out in an email. That's not going to work very well.
So we really try to build those relationships, understand things through the lens of our internal clients and then work with them on whatever initiative that they can push forward. Sometimes there's not much that can be done on energy efficiency, because maybe we don't own the building or any of the infrastructure, but maybe we have more leeway to do something around waste and recycling. So, it's really about building relationships and looking at things from other people's perspective and then trying to fit in what yo can.
I see that AEG's 2019 sustainability report is out. I noticed a big drop in greenhouse gas emissions and that you've developed some new greenhouse gas emissions goals. Can you talk about AEG's work around reducing emissions and what led you to develop these new goals?
I would say the IPCC report that came out in October of last year really drove that. Starting around 2015 we realized that the goals that we had on the books at that time weren't really future proof. They made sense when we set them in the 2010 time period, but the company had grown so fast and diversified so fast that we needed to do something different. In 2016, we announced that we adopted science based targets and basically moved from an intensity based goal to an absolute goal on the theory that the planet doesn't care how much emissions per unit of production that you do if your carbon footprint, in aggregate, is bigger than it was in the past.
So, we felt it's the right thing to do to set an absolute target manage towards that. That was kind of the foundation, and then last year when the IPCC report came out, that was very eye opening and very concerning. Basically, the message for all of us is you've got less than 12 years now to essentially cut carbon emissions in half, and then achieve carbon neutrality by 2050. Those are pretty daunting challenges and we decided that we need to incorporate this. So, we did some scenario analysis and realized that, for us, it meant having a more aggressive target - moving from a 3.2% reduction per year to a 4% reduction. This was more aggressive, but I wouldn't say it was so much more aggressive that it seemed like it would be impossible.
Everything then started falling in line from that. Once we did the scenario planning and looked at the goals, one thing that our management always pointed out was that once we adopted our absolute goal they said they weren't seeing progress year to year. We're not getting worse, but we're not really getting better. We kind of explained that when you have a growing company, you can make improvements with efficiencies and sort of reduce your emissions, but if you have organic business growth you basically offset that.
So, those conversations along with the new goal led to us getting some additional resources to procure additional renewable energy certificates to offset our scope two emissions that come from our consumption of grid electricity. That's why you see that pretty marketed decrease in our emissions from 2017 to 2018, because once we adopted the more serious target and we got that message that was being sent from the IPCC, we thought now's the time that we have to take a little bit more drastic action. There's maybe some historic discomfort around using Renewable Energy Certificates (REC's) and offsets to achieve our goals, but I think after talking through that internally we got more comfortable with it.
What is one piece of advice you'd give other sustainability professionals that might help them in their careers?
The sustainability stuff is the easy part, right? Kindergartners know, reduce, reuse, recycle. The trick is, how do you work within your organization to make those things happen? That's all about knowing your organization and being able to influence and guide people to take better actions. So, I would say forget all the book stuff and just really work on influencing and working with your people and to be successful.
What are you most excited about right now in the world of sustainability?
Number one is the rapid decrease in energy prices. I'm also very excited about energy storage which is really blowing up. The other thing I'm really excited about is what we are seeing with plastic. This plastic thing for us started in 2018. Like others in this industry, it started with a picture of the turtle with the star in its nose, and almost overnight, you just got a lot of momentum and concern around single use plastics. I feel like that elevation where it's on the front pages of major newspapers is hugely helpful. Having people understand that it's not only an environmental crisis but it's a personal health crisis. A news article came out this week that said each of us consume like 80,000 pieces of micro-plastic a day or something like that. I think now that people understand that it's affecting them directly and it's not just this abstract global sea level rise problem, it makes getting people's attention and engagement on these issues easier.
What is one book you would recommend sustainability professionals read?
So, you're probably not going to like this answer, but my response would be if you have time to read books, you're not working hard enough. We've got 12 years on carbon emissions and this plastic stuff is everywhere. You don't need to read a book, just get to work. Work with people and move the ball forward. 12 years from now and we're all carbon neutral and there's no plastics we can all hang out and read books, but I honestly don't have the time for it.
What are some of your favorite resources or tools that really help you in your work?
I subscribe to so many different emails I couldn't really even name a lot of them. I would say you can find good resources like NGOs, United Nations, EPA, Cal Recycle. You can just Google 10 minutes and you can find a lot of stuff. What I like to do is just sign up to the organization's newsletter to get constant feeds in my email with articles on energy storage, renewable energy, the waste and recycling business, the trucking business and things like that. Just having that constant data stream that I can kind of skim through is really helpful.
Where can people go to learn more about you and the work that you're doing at AEG?
So you referenced our sustainability report. I think that's a great place to start. It's on our website aegworldwide.com. We have also stepped up our efforts to be more active on Twitter. We have our AEG1Earth@aegworldwide.com email address. Always happy to get feedback, advice, suggestions, complaints etc. at that email address.