It's the first time the company has used EVs in any of its upstream sites, including the Permian Basin. Photo via exxonmobil.com

ExxonMobil has upgraded its Permian Basin fleet of trucks with sustainability in mind.

The Houston-headquartered company announced a new pilot program last week, rolling out 10 new all-electric pickup trucks at its Cowboy Central Delivery Point in southeast New Mexico. It's the first time the company has used EVs in any of its upstream sites, including the Permian Basin.

“We expect these EV trucks will require less maintenance, which will help reduce cost, while also contributing to our plan to achieve net zero Scope 1 and 2 emissions in our Permian operations by 2030," Kartik Garg, ExxonMobil's New Mexico production manager, says in a news release.

ExxonMobil has already deployed EV trucks at its facilities in Baytown, Beaumont, and Baton Rouge, but the Permian Basin, which accounts for about half of ExxonMobil's total U.S. oil production, is a larger site. The company reports that "a typical vehicle there can log 30,000 miles a year."

The EV rollout comes after the company announced last year that it plans to be a major supplier of lithium for EV battery technology.

At the end of last year, ExxonMobil increased its financial commitment to implementing more sustainable solutions. The company reported that it is pursuing more than $20 billion of lower-emissions opportunities through 2027.

Cowboys and the EVs of the Permian Basin | ExxonMobilyoutu.be

A new program at Rice University will educate recent graduates or returning learners on key opportunities within energy transition. Photo via Rice

Rice University introduces new program for energy transition, sustainability

future of energy

A Houston university has committed to preparing the workforce for the future of energy with its newest program.

Rice University announced plans to launch the Master of Energy Transition and Sustainability, or METS, in the fall. The 31 credit-hour program, which is a joint initiative between Rice's George R. Brown School of Engineering and the Wiess School of Natural Sciences, "will train graduates to face emergent challenges in the energy sector and drive innovation in sustainability across a wide range of domains from technology to economics and policy," according to the university.

“We believe that METS graduates will emerge as leaders and innovators in the energy industry, equipped with the skills and knowledge to drive sustainable solutions,” Rice President Reginald DesRoches says in the release. “Together we can shape a brighter, more resilient and cleaner future for generations to come.”

Some of the focus points of the program will be geothermal, hydrogen, and critical minerals recovery. Additionally, there will be education around new technologies within traditional oil and gas industry, like carbon capture and sequestration and subsurface storage.

“We are excited to welcome the inaugural cohort of METS students in the fall of 2024,” Thomas Killian, dean of the Wiess School of Natural Sciences and a professor of physics and astronomy, says in the release. “This program offers a unique opportunity for students to delve into cutting-edge research, tackle real-world challenges and make a meaningful impact on the future of energy.”

The new initiative is just the latest stage in Rice's relationship with the energy industry.

“This is an important initiative for Rice that is very much aligned with the university’s long-term commitment to tackle urgent generational challenges, not only in terms of research — we are well positioned to make significant contributions on that front — but also in terms of education,” says Michael Wong, the Tina and Sunit Patel Professor in Molecular Nanotechnology, chair and professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering and a professor of chemistry, materials science and nanotechnology and of civil and environmental engineering. “We want prospective students to know that they can confidently learn the concepts and tools they need to thrive as sustainability and energy transition experts and thought leaders.”

The executive who manages the ConocoPhillips sustainability and technology teams has announced his retirement. Photo via ConocoPhillips.com

ConocoPhillips exec overseeing sustainability, tech set to retire

leadership shift

After decades at the company, ConocoPhillips's executive vice president of strategy, sustainability, and technology is retiring.

ConocoPhillips (NYSE: COP) announced that Dominic Macklon, who's been in his role for two and a half years and at the company for 33 years, has elected to retire effective May 1.

“I want to thank Dominic for his leadership, dedication and significant contributions during his distinguished 33 years with ConocoPhillips,” Ryan Lance, chairman and CEO, says in a news release.

“Dominic has played an important role in identifying and driving value from low cost of supply opportunities across our global portfolio while positioning our company for the energy transition and accelerating our emissions reduction initiatives," Lance continues. "I wish Dominic the best in retirement as he relocates back to the U.K.”

In his role, Macklon oversees the teams focused on corporate planning and development, global technical functions, information technology, sustainable development, and low carbon technology, according to the company's website. He previously worked on managing operations of the Gulf Coast and Great Plains business units, as well as land and commercial gas activities, finance, human resources and health, safety and environment.

A graduate of University of Edinburgh, his other leadership roles at the company include vice president of corporate planning and development, president of ConocoPhillips United Kingdom, and senior vice president of Oil Sands.

ConocoPhillips did not reveal any details on who is to succeed Macklon at this time.

Although sustainability has invariably moved to the top of the corporate agenda across various sectors, businesses still face challenges in effectively implementing these transformative changes. Photo via Getty Images

Greening the bottom line: Houston expert on the ups and downs of sustainability transformation, reporting

guest column

Amid remarkable fund allocation towards tackling environmental, social, and corporate governance issues, investors deeply concerned about climate change exert substantial leverage on firms and regulators to make reforms.

Furthermore, the Securities and Exchange Commission has proposed new rules requiring all publicly listed corporations to disclose climate change risks in their regular filings with clear reporting obligations, such as information on direct greenhouse gas emissions (Scope 1), indirect emissions from purchased electricity or other forms of energy (Scope 2), as well as GHG emissions from upstream and downstream activities in the value chain (Scope 3).

Although sustainability has invariably moved to the top of the corporate agenda across various sectors, businesses still face challenges in effectively implementing these transformative changes. Many companies are still dealing with questions like:

  • What problems and possibilities should they prioritize?
  • Where should they devote time, effort, and money to have the most long term effect via business processes?
  • What principles, policies, and internal standards should be implemented to initiate the process and get good ESG ratings?
  • When do corporate sustainability challenges necessitate collaborations with other businesses to meet commitments and achieve goals?
  • What organizational behavior and change management measures should be incorporated to induce sustainability into the corporate culture?

One-fifth of businesses still need a sustainability plan in place, and fewer than 30 percent feel the effect of that strategy is evident to all employees.

Introducing climate-related practices across businesses and corporations takes time and effort. Since sustainability transformation initiatives span multiple business functions and units, whether they are helping or hurting the bottom line is often a fuzzy picture. It is not easy to quantify near-term profitable impacts directly emanating from sustainable strategies, disincentivizing many businesses from setting ambitious carbon reduction targets.

Businesses often struggle with what they intend to assess and what "good enough" performance looks like for the firm. Furthermore, sustainability performance reporting is infested with the inherent stakes of the legitimacy of data collection, defining the metrics and materiality, accountability to the stakeholders, the dynamism of the business environment, the complexity of reporting standards, and the risk of obsolescence of the tool.

For context, there are approximately 600 sustainability reporting standards, industry efforts, frameworks, and recommendations worldwide. Additionally, the one-directional data collection method used by the carbon market trading systems for scoring analyses often leads to intentional or unintentional greenwashing.

So then, what is the path forward?

An effective strategy would involve adopting a synergistic approach, just like the yin and the yang elements that embody balance and harmony on two distinct yet interconnected levels. The yin aspect, prevailing at the government level, would require a robust standardization of reporting frameworks via policymaking and regulations that can effectively implement suitable transformation engines for businesses. It will entail developing adaptable market mechanisms to successfully guide businesses and consumers to identify, plan, navigate, strategize, and execute greenhouse gas reduction initiatives. It will require answers to foundational questions like:

  • What tools and resources can help businesses improve their financial performance by reducing energy waste and energy costs?
  • How do manufacturers engage their suppliers in low-cost technical reviews to improve process lines, use materials more efficiently, and reduce waste?
  • How can waste management and recycling help a business by saving money, energy, and natural resources?

There is a dire need to standardize and consolidate the industry benchmarks and reporting frameworks against which businesses can assess their performance for climate action and potentially improve their bottom line by investing in appropriate carbon mitigation activities. This will create a fundamental shift in the mindset of corporates and raise the level of conversation from "Should we implement sustainable business frameworks?" to "How we could best implement sustainable frameworks for better ROI and an impactful bottom line?"

On the other hand, the yang element operates at the business or corporation level. Successful execution of sustainability strategies entails interweaving the sustainability thread into the business core across strategies and processes, operations and personnel, and products and services.

What is the business case for sustainability efforts? From operational cost savings to expansion in new markets, from enhanced brand equity to investor interest and share expansion, companies that incorporate robust and scalable sustainable practices have opportunities to unlock new sources of value capture and new markets that can deliver immediate financial rewards. Such measures will demonstrate the overall sustainability transformation's power and potentially provide money or cost savings to fund other components.

One way to do it is by introducing circular business models to reshape the whole product usage cycle: re-engineering product designs with more sustainable materials, redesigning the manufacturing lifecycle, recycling products, packaging, and waste, and reducing emissions in transportation, water, and energy consumption activities. By leveraging technology and AI in the extended system of interactions within and outside the business, companies can monitor, predict, and reduce the carbon emissions in their supply chains and yield immediate financial results.

Designing, implementing, and managing the foundational governance of sustainable business practices, strategies, structure, and tactics will require robust governance of sustainability efforts in all key business areas, including marketing, sales, product development, and finance. Additionally, organizational values, leadership initiative from the CEO and board level to the employees, and stakeholder interest are necessary to drive value for business policy. Involving employees in decision-making will help induce better commitment and accountability to implementing economic, social, environmental, and technologically sustainable interventions and initiatives.

Finally, businesses need to understand that they could truly develop long-term business success and shareholder value when they stop viewing sustainability from a compliance or ESG reporting lens. Long-term business success cannot be achieved solely by maximizing short-term profits but through market-oriented yet responsible behavior that automatically drives enhanced business bottom lines. This demands a collaborative partnership between policymakers, the private sector, nonprofit organizations, academia, and civic society to usher in economic growth, competitiveness, and consumer interest. This partnership is essential for environmental protection and social responsibility to ensure a sustainable future.

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Ruchi Gupta is a certified mentor and vice chair at SCORE Houston.

Houston Methodist has several ongoing and future initiatives dedicated to reducing the hospital system's carbon footprint. Photo via HoustonMethodist.org

How this Houston hospital is leading sustainable health care

seeing green

The United States health care sector contributes around 8.5 percent of greenhouse gas emissions, and one Houston hospital is committed to doing its part in reducing the industry's carbon footprint.

Houston Methodist, which recently opened a new tech hub in the Ion in midtown, has put in place several initiatives that reflect a more sustainable future for health care. The organization, which has seven hospitals in the Houston area, revealed some of these ongoing and planned projects at a recent event.

"Houston Methodist is always looking ahead on ways — not only of how we are taking care of patients — but what are we doing to create this environment and making the right efforts for sustainability, which we should all be doing," Michelle Stansbury, vice president of innovation and IT applications at Houston Methodist, says on this week's episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast. "We have to protect this environment that we have or it may not be the same for our children going forward."

The hospital system is currently in the design phase for installing solar panels on the Josie Roberts Administration Building in the Texas Medical Center. This project, in partnership with Houston Methodist's Energy and Facilities workgroup, will be the first step toward renewable energy consumption for the hospital.

Houston Methodist has already rolled out food composting initiatives at its locations in Sugar Land, The Woodlands, and Willowbrook locations — with plans for additional campuses to follow. According to a presentation from Jason Fischer, director of the Office of Sustainability at Methodist, the hospital system has already diverted nearly 100,000 lbs. of food waste from landfills.

Preventing waste recycling or reusing items is another focus of Houston Methodist, Stansbury says, from creating a workflow that enables reusing items that are able to be sanitized rather than thrown away to sustainably getting rid of expired materials. The U.S. has rules about the shelf lives of health care products, but other countries don't have as strict of mandates.

"We're sending (supplies) to other countries that can still use these products," Stansbury explains. "Knowing that we're helping to care for other individuals, to me I think it's very valuable. Other countries don't have the resources that the United States does."

Another notable initiative is incorporating greenspace for patients to enjoy. Houston Methodist is currently in construction on a 26-story hospital tower in the Texas Medical Center that will feature the Centennial Rooftop Garden on the 14th floor.

The Houston Methodist's sustainability team has several other initiatives both ongoing and in the works. More information is available on the hospital's website.

Centennial Tower’s 14th floor will feature an outdoor rooftop garden. Rendering courtesy of Houston Methodist

With its blend of biotechnology, conservation, and education, RioRaiz seeks to inspire a new generation of conservationists. Photo via RioRaiz/Instagram

Houston nonprofit commits to sustainable biodiversity efforts

impact-driven

For centuries, humans have been negatively impacting the natural world around them. A Houston organization is looking to leave an impact on the environment — but this time for the better.

Based in Houston, RioRaiz is a 501c3 nonprofit organization charting a unique course in the world of conservation and education. Founded in March of 2021, RioRaiz – meaning "root of the river" in Spanish, a nod to its deep-rooted connection with South American culture – seeks to preserve biodiversity through biotechnology and offer transformative learning experiences to contribute to a healthier planet.

Led by Jeff Carlson, the president and CEO, RioRaiz's mission is driven by three core pillars: conservation, scientific discovery, and education.

Currently, the nonprofit's efforts are focused on regions on the edge of ecological disruption, specifically the East Texas area and the Tropical Andes. In Texas, the organization aims to expand the biome of the Big Thicket National Preserve in Kountze as well as engaging locals by hosting clean-up drives. In the Andes, RioRaiz aspires to establish biological corridors between national parks and natural reserves, diminishing potential disruptions to animal migration patterns.

The timeline for these critical initiatives, Carlson said, hinges on donations.

"We have a list of priorities that is cataloged from input from our scientific collaborators, as well as our ability to deliver on our promises to our donors and supporters,” Carlson said.

Partnerships form a critical role in RioRaiz's work, notably those with academic institutions in the United States and Colombia. One of these collaborations saw Carlson spend three months in Colombia, working with the local Páez tribe, also known as the Nasa, to explore the potential of their traditional medicines for modern treatments.

"We're really excited to learn and to share our techniques and our knowledge," Carlson said, underlining the organization's commitment to partnering with traditional and indigenous knowledge sources.

With its blend of biotechnology, conservation, and education, RioRaiz seeks to inspire a new generation of conservationists. By offering an intimate virtual glimpse into the world's biomes, the nonprofit aims to instill a deep-rooted respect for nature and encourage sustainable action.

"If you expose students to these different kinds of environments at an early age, that might inspire somebody to go into conservation," Carlson said.

With a progressive effort, RioRaiz is harnessing the power of virtual reality to redefine education. The organization uses specialized filming equipment during its expeditions, capturing moments like the discovery of new species or conducting bio surveys. RioRaiz's visually compelling stories will surpass language barriers, transporting students virtually to different biomes. In time, Carlson hopes to distribute pre-loaded systems to communities with limited internet access, taking the classroom to every corner of the world. These virtual reality experiences are expected to launch within the next year.

"We want to bring the rainforest into the classroom," Carlson said.

Through its work, RioRaiz aims to demonstrate that the route to a sustainable future lies not just in face-to-face interactions, but in a global, interconnected approach to education and conservation. Its vision is clear — to grow far beyond traditional reaches, preserving biodiversity and fostering a healthier world.

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This article originally ran on InnovationMap.

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3 Houston sustainability startups score prizes at Rice University pitch competition

seeing green

A group of Rice University student-founded companies shared $100,000 of cash prizes at an annual startup competition — and three of those winning companies are focused on sustainable solutions.

Liu Idea Lab for Innovation and Entrepreneurship's H. Albert Napier Rice Launch Challenge, hosted by Rice earlier this month, named its winners for 2024. HEXASpec, a company that's created a new material to improve heat management for the semiconductor industry, won the top prize and $50,000 cash.

Founded by Rice Ph.D. candidates Tianshu Zhai and Chen-Yang Lin, who are a part of Lilie’s 2024 Innovation Fellows program, HEXASpec is improving efficiency and sustainability within the semiconductor industry, which usually consumes millions of gallons of water used to cool data centers. According to Rice's news release, HEXASpec's "next-generation chip packaging offer 20 times higher thermal conductivity and improved protection performance, cooling the chips faster and reducing the operational surface temperature."

A few other sustainability-focused startups won prizes, too. CoFlux Purification, a company that has a technology that breaks down PFAS using a novel absorbent for chemical-free water, won second place and $25,000, as well as the Audience Choice Award, which came with an additional $2,000.

Solidec, a company that's working on a platform to produce chemicals from captured carbon, and HEXASpec won Outstanding Achievement in Climate Solutions Prizes, which came with $1,000.

The NRLC, open to Rice students, is Lilie's hallmark event. Last year's winner was fashion tech startup, Goldie.

“We are the home of everything entrepreneurship, innovation and research commercialization for the entire Rice student, faculty and alumni communities,” Kyle Judah, executive director at Lilie, says in a news release. “We’re a place for you to immerse yourself in a problem you care about, to experiment, to try and fail and keep trying and trying and trying again amongst a community of fellow rebels, coloring outside the lines of convention."

This year, the competition started with 100 student venture teams before being whittled down to the final five at the championship. The program is supported by Lilie’s mentor team, Frank Liu and the Liu Family Foundation, Rice Business, Rice’s Office of Innovation, and other donors

“The heart and soul of what we’re doing to really take it to the next level with entrepreneurship here at Rice is this fantastic team,” Peter Rodriguez, dean of Rice Business, adds. “And they’re doing an outstanding job every year, reaching further, bringing in more students. My understanding is we had more than 100 teams submit applications. It’s an extraordinarily high number. It tells you a lot about what we have at Rice and what this team has been cooking and making happen here at Rice for a long, long time.”

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This article originally ran on InnovationMap.

ExxonMobil's $60B acquisition gets FTC clearance — with one condition

M&A moves

ExxonMobil's $60 billion deal to buy Pioneer Natural Resources on Thursday received clearance from the Federal Trade Commission, but the former CEO of Pioneer was barred from joining the new company's board of directors.

The FTC said Thursday that Scott Sheffield, who founded Pioneer in 1997, colluded with OPEC and OPEC+ to potentially raise crude oil prices. Sheffield retired from the company in 2016, but he returned as president and CEO in 2019, served as CEO from 2021 to 2023, and continues to serve on the board. Since Jan. 1, he has served as special adviser to the company’s chief executive.

“Through public statements, text messages, in-person meetings, WhatsApp conversations and other communications while at Pioneer, Sheffield sought to align oil production across the Permian Basin in West Texas and New Mexico with OPEC+,” according to the FTC. It proposed a consent order that Exxon won't appoint any Pioneer employee, with a few exceptions, to its board.

Dallas-based Pioneer said in a statement it disagreed with the allegations but would not impede closing of the merger, which was announced in October 2023.

“Sheffield and Pioneer believe that the FTC’s complaint reflects a fundamental misunderstanding of the U.S. and global oil markets and misreads the nature and intent of Mr. Sheffield’s actions,” the company said.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said it was “disappointing that FTC is making the same mistake they made 25 years ago when I warned about the Exxon and Mobil merger in 1999.”

Schumer and 22 other Democratic senators had urged the FTC to investigate the deal and a separate merger between Chevron and Hess, saying they could lead to higher prices, hurt competition and force families to pay more at the pump.

The deal with Pioneer vastly expands Exxon’s presence in the Permian Basin, a huge oilfield that straddles the border between Texas and New Mexico. Pioneer’s more than 850,000 net acres in the Midland Basin will be combined with Exxon’s 570,000 net acres in the Delaware and Midland Basin, nearly contiguous fields that will allow the combined company to trim costs.