Surprise shake-ups at NRG, SolarCity; Airbnb's new policy ace

Names in the News

Surprise shake-ups at NRG, SolarCity; Airbnb's new policy ace

NRG Energy, Airbnb, Joule, sustainable business executives
Clockwise from top left: David Crane, NRG Energy; Michelle Wyman, National Council for Science and the Environment; Andrew Bowman, Land Trust Alliance; Michele Whyle, 3M; Luca Alinovi, Global Resilience Partnership; Laura Spanjian, Airbnb.

Don't count on a year-end lull in the world of sustainable business. The United Nations COP21 climate summit is well under way, and 2015 is also coming to a close with a bang in terms of new hires and executive shuffles at major organizations.

Energy is a big part of the equation, but the global push for climate resilience and the continued expansion of sharing economy behemoths add to a full slate for this month's Names in the News roundup of movers and shakers in green business.

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Green energy evangelists hit a roadblock

One of the energy industry's most vocal proponents of the shift to renewable energy, NRG Energy President and CEO David Crane, resigned Thursday following a slide in share prices from around $26 in January to less than $11 this week.

In 12 years as NRG's chief executive, Crane has spurred the independent power producer based in New Jersey and Texas to grow its supply of clean energy. Late last year, the utility now valued at more than $3 billion made headlines after announcing a plan to cut carbon emissions 90 percent by 2050.

The news from the utility world also comes at a time when volatility in the financial performance of clean energy companies is under fire. Share prices for SunEdison, for example, have plummeted more than 80 percent in the last year.

At SolarCity, too, the end of November saw a shuffling of its executive offices with CFO Brad Buss announcing that he will retire early next year and the company also naming a new president. Tanguy Serra, former chief executive of Vivint Solar and currently SolarCity's chief operating officer, has been promoted to the new leadership role.

<p>Brad Buss (left) and Tanguy Serra of SolarCity.</p>

Prior to the move, SolarCity's stock price had fallen more than 40 percent this year. The company also recently lowered installation targets for 2016 and vowed to focus on reining in overhead costs that have grown with rapid expansion.

While the lasting effects of all the energy exectuive shuffling remains to be seen, the existential issues raised by the clash between Wall Street investors and evangelists of the long-term shift to low-carbon energy are already starting to come into focus.

Speaking at an event I attended in San Francisco earlier this year, Crane opined that the "slow death" of utilities' core business models will necessitate a fundamental shift in perspective.

"The best hope we have for climate change is for millennials to basically vote with their purse or their wallet,” Crane said. "To suddenly think that fund managers themselves will get fossil fuel companies to act on their own is never going to happen."

Resilience goes global

Longtime United Nations official Luca Alinovi is shifting his focus to climate resilience after taking the reins last month as executive director of the Global Resilience Partnership.

The partnership is a public-private initiative of The Rockefeller Foundation, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (not to be confused with the city-focused resilience offshoot of the Rockefeller Foundation, 100 Resilient Cities).

From his base in Nairobi, Alinovi will work to connect the dots on issues such as climate change, global resource scarcity, extreme weather and geopolitical issues such as refugee migration.

"By focusing on resilience, we can ensure that communities can prepare for, adapt to and recover in the face of shocks and stresses," Alinovi said in a statement. "But in order to make a difference to the lives of people living in harm’s way, we have to engage more players from across a wide range of sectors and regions, including the private sector."

Previously, Alinovi served as the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization Respresentative to Kenya and officer in charge of the FAO's efforts in Somalia. He has an academic background in agricultural and natural resources economics.

Who's news

Michele Whyle, 3M

A veteran of engineering, operations and regulatory affairs at 3M has been promoted to the company's director of global sustainability. As of October, former Director of Global Quality, Regulatory Affairs and Sustainability Michele Whyle has taken over the role.

Laura Spanjian, Airbnb

From San Francisco to Barcelona, sharing economy giant Airbnb is in the thick of several regulatory battles around the world. Laura Spanjian, former sustainability director for the mayor of Houston, is taking up the policy mantle in Texas.

Spanjian, also a veteran of the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, started last month as Airbnb's policy lead for the Southwest region of the U.S.

Brian Baynes, Joule

As part of a merger between biofuel producers Joule and Red Rock Biofuels, investor Brian Baynes has been named chief executive of the company that will still operate under the name of Joule. Baynes, a partner at Flagship Ventures and lead investor in Red Rock, will take over the CEO role.

On the move

- The current director of environmental programs at the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, Andrew Bowman, will assume the role of president at conservation advocacy group the Land Trust Alliance effective February.

- Aaron Pickering, formerly senior of communications at Ceres, has joined Cone Communications as as an account director for corporate communications.

-Marketing veteran Tiffany Meyer has been named director of marketing and engagement for EcoDistricts. Based in Portland, the group works to build "just, resilient and sustainable cities, from the neighborhood up."