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On the Record: Nick Franco ’87

On the Record: Nick Franco ’87

Nick Franco ’87 is the director of sustainability at U.S. Energy Services, an energy management company based in Plymouth, Minn. Franco graduated from Kenyon with a degree in mathematics, and continued on to Washington University in St. Louis, where he received a B.S. in electrical engineering. He worked at the Environmental Protection Agency for more than a decade, where he focused on laws involving disclosure of corporate energy use and legislative and policy analysis. Franco also holds two master’s degrees in administration. He returned to campus on Friday to give a talk titled “Climate Change, Energy and Life after Kenyon.”

How is Kenyon different now from what you remember when you were a student?

I think the biggest visible difference is all the new building construction that’s happened since I was here, but a lot of it looks the same if you just walk down Middle Path. I guess, coming back here, focusing specifically on sustainability, it’s interesting to see students more involved in those issues and topics, certainly more so than when I was here.

How can students engage in activism on campus surrounding issues of sustainability?

In terms of having influence, I would say a lot of people point out the problems. I think it’s important to think of the next couple of steps, because if you go to the administration and say, ‘Here’s what I don’t like,’ they may be sympathetic, but they’re all busy and they kind of don’t know what the next step is. So if you can take the time to think about what that next step is, even if you don’t have a solution, but you have a plan for reaching out to the people who will help us figure this out, I think you’d get much more of a buy-in with that than if you just say, ‘I don’t like this.’ Thinking about the solution, and showing that you’re going to help them figure out how to address it. At work right now, I’m working on stakeholder mapping for our company. Put yourself in the position of the person of whom you’re making the ask. Who are their stakeholders? Who do they have to answer to or convince?

What are your thoughts on the fossil fuel divestment movement from outside the college sphere but still inside the sustainability movement?

If you look at coal companies in particular, the biggest coal company in the U.S. just declared bankruptcy. Three or four other large coal companies have declared bankruptcy in the last six months. From a risk-mitigation-return point of view, you should be divesting from coal. So, now you can come at it from two ways: it’s bad for the environment, it sets a bad example and we’re probably going to lose a boatload of money. Peabody Energy’s stock was down about 98 percent in the last year, so why would you be invested? I agree with divestiture, so I would sell it. Last December, 195 countries agreed to the Paris climate treaty, and they’re all saying they’re going to cut carbon emissions by 25 to 30 percent or more. That means they’re not going to be buying coal, and they’re going to be getting rid of fossil fuels, which will impact the stock performance of those companies. Climate change aside, probably a bad place to be investing right now. You don’t have to change what your goals are, but you can change where you’re investing your money.

What recommendations might you make to the College, especially in light of the new construction included in the Master Plan?

LEED [Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design certification] is great, but becoming certified by LEED standards can be expensive, so the question is whether you need to certify or just follow the standards. We were just talking about the library, and the question was do you need a new library? The carbon impact of cement is upstream, so you’ll create a larger carbon impact for aesthetic benefit, I guess?  I guess the question is what’s the least kind of impactful path you can take. I think, too, that the College is starting out in terms of identifying their carbon footprint, and that’s an important thing to do.   

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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