#118, Peter Fadoul, Associate Manager of the Sustainability and Circular Economy program at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation’s Corporate Citizenship Center

Peter Fadoul is associate manager of the Sustainability and Circular Economy program at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation’s Corporate Citizenship Center (CCC), where he contributes to the Foundation’s original research, programming, content and convenings in corporate sustainability. Peter brings particular expertise in climate solutions including clean energy and electrified transportation, and circular economy themes including recycling and recovery system optimization, circular business models, and alternative materials innovation.

Prior to joining the Chamber Foundation, Peter was a founding employee of Generation180, a national nonprofit committed to helping consumers embrace their role in the clean energy transition. Projects of focus included research and programming in renewables procurement for K-12 schools, electric vehicle deployment, and implementation of climate-focused consumer behavior change frameworks.

Peter is a Washington, D.C. area native and holds a B.A. in Philosophy, Politics, Economics and Law (PPEL) from the University of Richmond. He discovered his passion for sustainability issues while studying international politics and economics abroad in Cape Town, South Africa and Córdoba, Argentina.

Bigger Than Us Episode 118

This transcription has been lightly edited for readability.

Host Raj Daniels  02:04

If you were asked to share something interesting about yourself, what would it be?

Peter Fadoul  02:20

One aspect about me that’s important to what I do now, I come from a pretty international background. So my family is actually half Lebanese on my father’s side. And so I grew up with sort of a global upbringing and perspective. And I think that informs in many ways, what I do now, you know, these are global challenges that we face in terms of, of reaching a, you know, sustainable future, and they require kind of communal and global solutions. And I also, I’d say the desire to get involved in this in this industry in sustainability really crystallized in my study abroad trip. So I was very fortunate to be able to study it in Argentina and South Africa. So it was very eye-opening experience.s

Host Raj Daniels  03:19

Can you perhaps share some of those eye opening experiences? What influenced you specifically?

Peter Fadoul  03:24

Sure. So I actually have one story, that’s a pretty good representation of what I learned there. So in Argentina, we stayed with host families there. And the family that I was paired with was just an older woman by the name of Stella who was an Argentinian woman who Lived in and the province of Cordova, her whole life, which is the second biggest project province in Argentina. And it was just her by herself at that time. Her kids had moved out and I was living with her for the whole summer of the study abroad trip and during one instance, I had accidentally left the lights on in my bedroom. And Estella saw that and was came to chastise me and was very upset and berating me completely in Spanish. And I heard her out and turn the lights off and went about my day and felt a bit ashamed but it didn’t really click with me because that’s I feel like that’s a quite common habit in the United States is to leave the lights on. So I went about my day. And a few weeks later, it actually happened again, and I left the lights on. And this time Estella came to me and was instead of angry and upset this time she was truly sad and fearful. And I realized it was because she literally could not afford to be wasting energy like that.

And that moment really hit me and has sit with me forever since that time, and just it just really crystallized you know how much people care for resources and energy in other countries and how we could maybe do a better job of that in the United States. And I knew I had always wanted to do something mission-based with my career. But that was when it truly clicked with me what exactly to focus on.

Host Raj Daniels  05:59

This might date me a little bit, I was telling my children a story recently about how I remember being a small child in London. And this was in the 70s. And I remember, we had to put an in London, you know, the currency comes in pounds and pence. And we had to put a 50 pence piece in a meter in order to get gas in the house. And so being conscious about how much energy we use, whether it’s electric or gas, was extremely important to us. And I remember when we moved to America, that I moved to America much later, and when in my late teens, but I was surprised at just to your point, people leaving the lights on leaving the water running, we got our first apartment, and it was you know, quote, unquote, all bills paid. And it’s like you hit the utility lottery. Because you can’t believe that way. You get unlimited hot water and unlimited electricity. And, you know, don’t imagine call waiting. That’s a whole nother thing. But just having unlimited utilities was a very quote-unquote, foreign concept at the time.

Peter Fadoul  07:03

Certainly. And I think that experiences that kind of break you out of that comfort zone can can be Food for the Soul, and definitely nurturing of other perspectives that are important to have in mind. 

Host Raj Daniels  07:20

So Peter, can you give the audience an overview off the US Chamber Foundation and your role at the organization?

Peter Fadoul  07:30

I work for the US Chamber of Commerce Foundation on the associate manager of the Sustainability and Circular Economy Program there. The chamber foundation is the 501 c3 affiliate of the US Chamber of Commerce, which is the largest trade association in the world, it’s been the voice of business for thousands of companies across the United States and internationally, for over a decade. Whereas our counterparts at the chamber focus on policy advocacy and policy design, we focus completely on the kind of what I characterize as best practice education and amplification for the private sector. specifically regarding kind of the key corporate responsibility and societal goals that businesses are helping achieve. So we like to say that we help businesses do well by doing good. I work in what’s called the corporate citizenship center. And we cover a wide range of issues including diversity and inclusion, economic empowerment, disaster response and resilience, tech for good, and my portfolio, which is the sustainability and circular economy program.

Operationally, in terms of what we actually do on a day to day, we have a couple of different pillars that we uphold. So we produce original research that feels kind of unique knowledge gaps in the field. Other long and short-form content such as editorials or blogs, or webinars, and events, such as large scale conferences, which are obviously virtual nowadays and more intimate roundtables, where we can dive deep on on certain issues, and then continuing in that kind of collaboration vein, coalitions that we form to solve certain problems through sustained coordination between a usually across sector group of companies. And it’s important to note that we don’t just work with the private sector in companies, though that is sort of our core we work very closely with local communities, academic institutions and research groups, other NGO experts and government officials in order to change both the experts and the practitioners on the private sector side and be the conduit between them.

…how do we channel these terrific best practices from all of these private sector actors and help them overcome their key challenges, but also help other businesses do the same?

Host Raj Daniels  10:09

So you mentioned many issues that are top of mind right now. Sustainability, circular economy, diversity and inclusion. Can you share from a tactical perspective how you help businesses navigate some of these issues?

Peter Fadoul  10:24

Yeah, I would say that one of the biggest strengths of the chamber in the chamber foundation is being that voice of the business community and giving them a safe space to work collaboratively on these issues. And again, channeling those experts from other sectors, and then packaging those learnings up to help other businesses and the general public, accomplish those same goals, whether it’s in sustainability or in diversity and inclusion, economic empowerment, again. So that’s kind of our role as a 501 c3 is, how do we channel these terrific best practices from all of these private sector actors and help them overcome their key challenges, but also help other businesses do the same?

Host Raj Daniels  11:19

So let’s say I’m a business owner, and I want to perhaps get engaged regarding sustainability or learn about how I can perhaps have a more circular economy within my own organization? How would you walk me through that? How does that how does the foundation walk a business through that?

Peter Fadoul  11:38

We assemble a really robust bank of resources, across all of those main core competencies that I listed, whether it’s white papers, case studies, those are a big one for us is case studies because we think those are the kind of the most replicable pieces of content that we have, where you get a glimpse into what the leaders in the space, which are typically larger companies, you know, you think of the Googles and the Microsoft’s that you hear in the news with their extremely robust sustainability commitments and efforts and then we try to package those up and present them in a way that’s helpful for businesses that are saying, just getting started. And also convening those businesses in the same room as the leaders prove to be a really inspiring and useful conversation.

Host Raj Daniels  12:44

So it sounds like part of your program is almost like a mentoring relationship.

Peter Fadoul  12:50

I would say that we it’s, it’s more about kind of getting the umbrella of resources together and then getting these companies in the room with one another. So the experts can kind of work out their questions with one another. And we find that peer to peer advisory and collaboration is extremely powerful in helping businesses move along that pathway of sustainability from laggard to leader.

Host Raj Daniels  13:26

if you will, and how have you seen businesses navigating? You know, issues around sustainability, especially during this time of COVID?

Peter Fadoul  13:36

Yeah, that’s, that’s a really good question. And I would say that it’s been one of the pleasant surprises of this year that we are seeing an acceleration of these sustainability efforts in spite of the pandemic. And I think that a lot of that is coming from the fact that, you know, the pandemic and other monumental events of this year are making all facets of society, especially businesses reexamine kind of what’s imperative, and building for the future is, is one of those imperatives, right. So I think that myself and a number of other pundits in the space could have easily anticipated a slowdown in sustainability efforts for this year. But in fact, we’re seeing a true acceleration of those sustainability efforts. And I think you’ll see that contrast did you know in the beginning of the year and late last year, you saw some monumental commitments from say, Microsoft or JP Morgan Chase, or BlackRock and those have only we’ve seen no decrease in the kind of number of those commitments and frequency across other actors. We’ve been, in fact seeing an increase in those in those numbers.

Host Raj Daniels  15:00

Now I’m going to switch gears here a little. When I was looking through your website, I came across this milkman model. Are you familiar with that?

Peter Fadoul  15:09

Yes. In terms of like a circular economy and take back programs?

Host Raj Daniels  15:13

Yes. Can you can you share a little bit about that milkman model and the future of consumption?

Peter Fadoul  15:19

Yeah. So I can use that analogy to speak to kind of the circular economy in general. I think what that is enumerating that that piece might have been specifically might have been before my time here, but I would say that in terms of the circular economy, that is one tactic for designing waste out of the system. So how do we provide goods and services to consumers without generating the waste typically, associated with those products? Those typically are associated with consumer packaged goods. But there’s ways to do this with things like capital equipment and capital assets as well.

I’ll give you one really interesting example. There is a company called Algramo that’s, that’s based in Chile. And what they do is they essentially partner with consumer packaged goods, companies to provide staple products and staple goods to consumers in reusable containers that have smart chips embedded in them, so they can actually track those containers. And what it does is it allows for more flexibility for these consumers to get the goods that they need without having to pay for that packaging. There’s actually a phenomenon they call it, essentially a poverty tax is how it would be translated in English. But essentially, these low-income consumers have to buy in small quantities usually, of these staple products. And every time that they are paying for those goods, they are paying in a small part for the packaging that they come in as well. And with Algramo, they are able to buy solely what they need, and remove that kind of packaging cost that’s associated with buying those products in small quantities each time. So I think that’s a really interesting example of intersectionality between kind of sustainability and economic empowerment where you’re able to, these consumers are able to reap both the financial and environmental benefits of the circular economy.

…I am humbled to be a part of the corporate sustainability world currently, just due to the kind of momentum that it can generate.

Host Raj Daniels  18:09

You know, while you were speaking, I was thinking about, it’s been said a few times that the first trillionaire is going to be someone that’s involved in the broadly speaking, cleantech, green tech sustainability sector. And while I don’t encourage anyone just to chase financial gains, I think that there are so many different opportunities, especially with technology, you mentioned the smart chips, coming to light now where, you know, perhaps companies or individuals can really take a hard look at, you know, what could be considered the end of life for a product, and think about how instead of just end of life and end up in the trash, or in the, you know, waste or in a landfill, what does end of life look like? You know, and I, and again, I love the idea about the milkman, because again, the story of London, we always used to put the bottles out, get new bottles, every day, we would wash the bottles, they would go back and it was just part of life. Same as you know, now we look at taking our own grocery bags to the grocery store, as you know, almost normal. Now, a lot of people that I know have these, you know, reusable bags, but slowly but surely over time, if we as a whole or collective can start thinking more about that end of life. And I think the part that you really touched on there, it’s really important is the inclusivity part of it. And what I mean by that is that not just the people that can afford to participate in this movement, but also considering the people that can’t afford to participate and how we can include them in the movement. 

Peter Fadoul  19:38

Certainly, I think that’s very well said and there’s numerous other examples of that span things like energy as well that I’m happy to touch on. But I think that all Algramo example is really good.

Host Raj Daniels  19:53

Please do share the energy stories.

Peter Fadoul  19:56

Yeah, so one of my personal favorites. So this helps the overcome the challenge of what’s called the energy burden and the higher energy burden that some underserved communities and financially challenged families face. So energy burden is essentially the share of household income that is spent on electricity, heating and cooling, transportation, etc. And Google has a really awesome program, they have acquired nest, which is the smart thermostat company, obviously. And they’ve engaged in a partnership with consumers energy, which is a utility in Michigan, to provide I think it’s something like 100,000 of these smart thermostats to electricity customers across their region, and many of which are part of, you know, underserved communities or low-income communities, and what they’re in, they provide them for free and, and what they’re able to do there is essentially use all of the features that these smart thermostats have kind of innately to save money on energy bills and reduce kind of heating and cooling loads across these different households.

And they’re also able to engage in an amount of demand response, which it for folks who aren’t familiar is essentially any kind of system that that manages the flow of energy into customers end point of use for those products. So for instance, they’re able to shift heating and cooling use away from peak load times where energy is at a higher cost for these customers. And so through all those features, they’re able to use these smart thermostats which they provided for free to save those underserved customers money on their energy bills, and then also and reduce that energy burden. But also, you know, realize some really tremendous environmental benefits, heating and cooling is, is that is the single largest load share for households across the United States. That’s, that’s true.

Host Raj Daniels  22:40

I think demand response is going to become a real necessity going forward. I am honestly in full transparency, apprehensive or hesitant about letting Google or any other large company, you know, from a data perspective, but if they could clean that, you know, to take if they could allow me to have that peace of mind regarding the data. I think it’s a great opportunity there. The examples I’ve given is that you know, I live in a masterplan community. And I think if we all had smart thermostats and the thermostat kind of knew our patterns coming and going with the house who’s in the house, but in the house, and there is a, you know, a load issue, like in the middle of summer, they can adjust thermostats by a couple of degrees higher, that would essentially relieve the load on the grid. So I really do think that DR is going to play a much larger role going forward.

Peter Fadoul  23:29

Certainly, certainly, that’s kind of on that. It’s already taken, taken root in, in many places in the United States. But I think it’s on that cusp of really taking hold kind of nationwide as we move forward.

Host Raj Daniels  23:42

Absolutely. So, Peter, I’m going to switch gears here and come to the crux of our conversation, which is the why behind what you do. You know, you mentioned your travels earlier. But you know, I’m looking at your LinkedIn profile, and I see your background, you’ve been involved in energy work, and now you’re involved with a US foundation. With your skillset. You could be doing many other things but what motivates you What drives you? What’s your why to stay engaged in this line of work?

Peter Fadoul  24:09

Yeah, it’s a great question. Personally in and just in terms of being involved in sustainability in general, I’d say that this prospect of helping solve one of if not the biggest challenge we were facing and will face as a society in achieving a sustainable future. That is a super humbling thing for me and something I take great pride in being a part of, and then in terms of kind of private sector sustainability or corporate sustainability. One of the things that convinced me to get involved in this line of work was just the leadership demonstrated by some of the largest companies in the world to set and achieve these ambitious sustainability goals and really how important that is to the movement of sustainability as a whole. I mean, these are truly market and, and paradigm-shifting efforts that we get to be a part of in terms of amplifying them and helping them overcome kind of key challenges, and also spreading their methods to other companies, other cities, other NGOs. So that is really why I’d say I got involved in corporate sustainability. And then that’s not to say that there are other very, very important sectors.

I started my career by helping start-up a nonprofit in Charlottesville called Generation 180 that was focused on helping consumers and communities embrace their role in the clean energy transition. So we talked a lot about consumer-level technologies like residential solar, and personal electric vehicles, and how those have kind of changed the game in terms of individual decarbonization. But also, we had some really impactful community-level programming. I managed a program that was focused on solar development and deployment on K through 12. schools throughout the country. So again, bring it back to kind of the whole picture, I am humbled to be a part of the corporate sustainability world currently, just due to the kind of momentum that it can generate. But there are also a number of incredible sectors and great work going on within those sectors to advance the sustainable future.

Host Raj Daniels  26:58

Where does your desire to help stem from? 

Peter Fadoul  27:04

I would say it dates back to when I was younger. I certainly was like many kids who wanted to be a superhero, or, you know, a police officer when they grew up and help fight bad guys. But, you know, as I grew up, I realized there were a lot of different ways to kind of help people and this just feels like one of the best ways to help the most people in mass. Though, you know, the time horizons on how these efforts will help in the future are quite long, I still take a lot of pride in the kind of setting us up for success now.

I’d say we’re at a really interesting time in history at this kind of crucial outset of the decade of action or the decade to achieve the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. And we were also hit with this pandemic and the other crucial events of this year in 2020. And when you see the kind of acceleration that is happening in sustainability, among all of the other crucial issues like diversity and inclusion, like economic empowerment, it can be really heartening and inspiring.

Host Raj Daniels  27:59

Well, you know what they say, not all superheroes wear capes.

Peter Fadoul  28:03

Well, I can, I can hardly claim that label compared to, you know, some of the healthcare workers and others that have played such an important, important role in this moving forward. So I would say that those are, you know, that’s just another very crucial and immediate way in which people are being superheroes out there these days.

Host Raj Daniels  28:29

I strongly agree with you. So, Peter, what are some of the most valuable lessons that you would say you’ve learned about yourself on your journey?

Peter Fadoul  28:40

About myself, I would say that I’ve grasped a pretty good understanding of all of the different aspects there are to sustainability and it’s not just about energy consumption, or fuel consumption, in transportation, or waste to landfill. It’s the combination of all of those different aspects of sustainability working in harmony with one another in being able, you know, I consider myself a storyteller in some regards. That’s a lot of what we do. And being able to tell stories around how those can all fit together, and how they can work in concert and complement one another is something that I’ve been I’ve been very fortunate to, to learn about as, as my career has progressed.

Host Raj Daniels  29:49

I love the idea of storytelling. I think it’s the most powerful way to convey information. 

Peter Fadoul  29:55

Yeah, and I would say that those, again, I mentioned case studies earlier in the interview, those are some of our what we think is some of the most powerful storytelling out there is having that kind of real-world ethnographic stories that we can tell to help demonstrate that these things are these efforts are possible. They have tremendous benefits, and here’s how to achieve them. We kind of call it actionable storytelling, as I like to lovingly refer to it. And I know we are about to release our latest case study which will be focused on climate action broadly. And that will actually examine about seven different companies from different representative sectors and how they’re approaching that through either transportation and logistics through UPS, manufacturing through royal DSM, telecommunications, from AT&T perspective, among several others, so, and all of those sectors that are in the case study are super important to decarbonization, and zero waste goals. So we’re excited for that to come together, it actually should be released in the next week or so.

Host Raj Daniels  31:20

I look forward to seeing the study, and by the time that comes out, should be publishing this episode. So I’ll put a link to it in the show notes.

Peter Fadoul  31:26

Certainly, that would be great.

Host Raj Daniels  31:29

So two last questions. One, let’s say there’s a business owner right now listening in thinking how they can get involved in the circular economy or, you know, sustainable future sustainability, what would be the best step for them regarding getting in touch with you to perhaps learn more?

Peter Fadoul  31:47

Yeah, certainly, I would say visit the Chamber Foundation’s digital properties and site, I’m also happy to provide my contact info and that will be readily available, and it should be already on our site and things like my LinkedIn. So I would say that’s one way to get plugged into the Chamber Foundation, and the great work that we do, generally. Another thing I would say, and I’m glad you asked it this way, I would say that folks looking to get involved with sustainability in their company, I would say there’s a huge opportunity to look to where your company can make, whether it’s your company or your organization, your government agency, look to where you can make the most impact, even outside of your own kind of enterprise operations or your direct footprint.

So I can give you an example of that. Citibank and Wells Fargo, for example, are two, obviously, the biggest banks in the United States and they are part of the kind of close support network of companies that we work with. And they both have really, really ambitious sustainability goals. And a large part of those goals focus on their kind of what I call enterprise sustainability, or what that what their direct footprint is, but they also have really, really significant environmental finance goals. So Citibank, for instance, I think, just set a new goal of about $250 billion worth of environmental finance that they’ve committed to, between now and I believe 2025 and that’s building on it $100 billion commitment that they made between 2015 and 2020, that they achieved early so you can see where they’re not only focusing on say, their bank branches and kind of the obvious environmental footprint they have, but they’re also flexing their financial muscles and really knowing what they’re good at and using that to affect kind of a sustainable future for everyone.

Another key example that I love. National Geographic has, obviously a huge, maybe the world’s most renowned storytelling platform. And they use that to tell stories about the environment and how it’s changing and solutions we need to implement to protect that environment. And they’re a partner that we’ve worked with as well. We had some of their speakers on our latest Sustainability Summit Series, to talk through some of that, how they approach that through their grantmaking and their storytelling efforts. So that’s just another example of where they realize kind of their core strength and are using that to affect sustainability as a whole.

Host Raj Daniels  35:08

I appreciate you sharing those examples. So, last question. If you could share some advice or words of wisdom with the audience, it could be professional or personal. What would it be? 

Peter Fadoul  35:20

I would say, professionally, back to what I just said, if you can put kind of critical thought into that, and approach your leaders with ideas on how to how to get your company in involved in in these efforts, that would be a tremendous win if we did that across the country and across the world, even, especially for companies that are not fully engaged in these issues already. And then, personally, I would just say, keep the faith. I’d say we’re at a really interesting time in history at this kind of crucial outset of the decade of action or the decade to achieve the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. And we were also hit with this pandemic and the other crucial events of this year in 2020. And when you see the kind of acceleration that is happening in sustainability, among all of the other crucial issues like diversity and inclusion, like economic empowerment, it can be really heartening and inspiring. So look to those examples. And draw energy from them and use that to either affect these positive changes in your personal life or within your company.


Before we go, I’m excited to share that we’ve launched the Bigger Than Us comic strip, The Adventures of Mira and Nexi.

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Raj Daniels

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