Meet the Honorees: Peter Perrault, Head of Circular Economy, Enel North America

by | Feb 1, 2022

The Environment+Energy Leader honoree program is an annual list that recognizes the environment and energy “doers” who break trail in creating new solutions, programs, platforms, best practices and products to help their companies – or other companies – achieve greater success in commercial and industrial environment and energy management. Meet the Honorees… is an ongoing series that will feature one Honoree from 2022 each week. See the complete list of 2022 Honorees here.

Meet Peter Perrault, director and head of circular economy at Enel North America.

Please tell us about your job responsibilities and day-to-day activities.

Peter Perrault: As the Head of Circular Economy for North America, my day-to-day is never the same! But having said that, my primary responsibilities are to develop positioning and thought leadership on behalf of the company that is specific to the region; to educate and train colleagues on our circularity strategy, approach and goals; to help surface and advance circularity projects that have demonstrated economic value; and last but not least engage with cities and municipalities on fostering the transition for society. All that along with target setting and reporting for our performance in the space.

It’s a lot to unpack and there’s never a dull moment; on any particular day I could be working with Engineering & Construction, Operations & Maintenance, our product development teams, legal, finance, procurement, our customers — you name it, really. Sustainability is considered a shared services or staff function, so we really interact with all other parts of the company. We’re also a highly matrixed organization, so I’ve got global counterparts I work with for each of the business lines as well as our holding or group level.

One of my favorite aspects of the day-to-day is to witness the growing ecosystem of partners — be they business partners, across the value chain, NGOs or community organizations, or academia — all coming together to address the challenges we’re facing as a society. The network just continues to grow so I’m always learning something new from colleagues within and outside of the company.

What do you see as your biggest challenges, and how your addressing them?

PP: There are several challenges; I’m not sure I could narrow it down to just one! If we couch the conversation in the race to net zero, which we know is necessary to combat the climate crisis and curb global warming, from there we can begin to peel back the layers. Net zero requires looking at all emissions outside your company up and downstream, therefore we begin to look at embodied emissions and can introduce the topic of circularity in a way most people can understand. And with that I think the biggest challenge is getting people to recognize it is not simply an end-of-life or waste/recycling issue but that it actually starts at the design phase. There’s a lot of swimming upstream that needs to occur to tackle these challenges.

If speaking to more practical or tangible examples, I’d say data management is always a challenge, particularly when we’re trying to standardize our tracking and reporting across five business lines in over 30 countries. It’s being addressed with standardized KPIs and data validation by our finance team, but still takes some hunting for data and educating colleagues at times. We’re also working on scaling out digital tools to support and manage the effort.

One other big challenge is how to develop new life cycles for renewable energy generation assets, in particular wind turbine blades, PV panels and battery energy storage systems. We work with colleagues in Innovation to test new/emerging processes and technologies, working to extend useful life of assets as well as find novel solutions to avoid landfill. But that also means working with OEMs and our procurement team to set standards based on LCAs, EPDs and product category rules so that we’re addressing areas of concern up front in the design phase to minimize and eliminate issues that may surface later in the life cycle.

What was a successful project or implementation you worked on at your company that you can share? Do you have any tips that would help colleagues at other companies who are contemplating similar projects? Please don’t hesitate to point out people in your organization who helped make it a success and who also deserve recognition!

PP: One successful project I’d like to highlight was actually a jointly funded research project with our partner, Arup. We set out to examine what is truly “best practice” for dual land use opportunities in developing new PV plants, which we know will require a lot of land and are often best suited for areas that may be historically used for agriculture. We looked at a current Enel Green Power solar-plus-storage project that was over 200MW; we compared current state against Enel’s five pillars of the circular economy, as well as against the performance-based Envision standard, developed by the Institute for Sustainable Infrastructure, which is essentially LEED for infrastructure.

This led to us examining embodied emissions and ecotoxicity of the physical assets, how our business processes either addressed or could address the challenges, as well as the development of a tool to assess all the various dual use options (i.e. – agrivoltaics, native vegetation, grazers for land management, etc.). We’re now working to see how this tool can be leveraged in early stage design, development and planning along side our other existing tools (climate change risk assessments, ecological restoration plans, etc.). We also found we performed quite well already against the Envision standard; I can’t share too much but hopefully more news on that will come in the near future.

What I can say is that the project brought together a lot of fragmented teams within the company and got us all sharing information and marching towards the same goals. It also opened up and deepened relationships with external partners and provided a lot of insights we’re building from; connecting the dots in more ways than one. We were also able to produce an external facing document on the project and topic more broadly to share our insights with the industry and our community partners. I need to give a few special shout outs to EGP’s Head of Engineering Douglas Meneghel, Barbara Gajardo with our Environment, Archeology and Biodiversity team, Jacob Fehlen in O&M, and the many other colleagues that contributed to the effort. And from our partners at Arup I’d like to recognize Ewan Frost-Pennington, Emily Walport, Frances Yang, Jonna Turesson and Cole Roberts; they’re a terrific partner and we’re looking forward to building on the collaboration.

What trends do you expect to see in the market in the next few years? What challenges will the industry face and what technologies or organizational changes will overcome them?

PP: Net zero is the name of the game, so I think trends will center around the challenges and opportunities that ambition poses. We’re going to see more disclosure as companies push (or pull) value chain partners to join them on the journey, from emissions reporting to product content and LCAs or EPDs. We’re also going to see higher levels of collaboration, be it across industries, pre-competitive within industries, with academia or  in public-private partnerships. I firmly believe the transition to a circular economy needs to be just, inclusive and equitable, so I expect to see greater community engagement around the topic that will also include job retraining, capacity building and economic opportunity for previously under-represented stakeholders.

On the industry and technologies front, I think that means topics like digital twins, materials passports, blockchain enabled solutions — all those will continue to grow. We’re also going to hopefully see an emerging materials commons, if you will, as well as new and innovative materials and resources that are bio-based and regenerative in nature. That’s the hope, at least, and fortunately there’s a lot of brilliant people working on this stuff more and more.

Tell us about a favorite hobby, passion or book you’ve read recently that has had an impact on you and your work.

PP: Anyone who’s known me for a while is likely aware that I’ve been a big hip hop head since I was a kid; I love the culture, the music, the artistry and community the four elements bring together. As part of Enel North America’s COVID-19 relief response, with the help of our friends at PYXERA Global, we developed our Shared Value Collaborative, which was an effort to maximize our collective impact by crowdsourcing ideas from employees. It was a hit and we managed to generate a lot of added value for communities where we live and work by taking the partnering approach with employees, customers and our entire ecosystem.

As an employee, I submitted a project to help support the hip hop community, and in particular breakers who had lost their live events, spaces to practice and frankly their livelihood due to the pandemic. Kids were also cooped up and going crazy, as I’m sure every parent recalls. Our partners at the Urban Dance and Education Foundation selected Boston’s own Floor Lords Crew to help implement a program teaching kids about breaking and get them active and they were fantastic. They hosted virtual dance classes for our employees’ kids which are now opening up to the general public. They also volunteered 100% of their time throughout the project, and in lieu of paying these world class professional dance athletes, together we were able to open a dance studio in Cambridge, Massachusetts, for the entire community to enjoy and learn. That’s right in Enel’s back yard!

It’s always exciting to connect a very deeply personal experience and history with what we can do at work, and this project was definitely inspiring and motivating. Breakdancing is going to be an official sport at the Paris 2024 Olympics — of course where the Paris Climate Accord was signed years ago. So we’re connecting youth and education with clean living and inclusive cultural activities. Clean energy supported all of that; I mean, come on, there’s even a dance move called the windmill, I knew it had to work!

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

PP: Thank you very much to my colleagues at Enel North America and globally for the support and inspiration; to a person they all demonstrate a passion for our purpose that motivates me to do more. Thanks to the E+E Leader team for this distinctive honor and congratulations to all the other honorees.

Finally, I’d like to challenge readers to apply design thinking in all that they do and to take a circularity mindset from the very earliest stages of their projects or work. The challenges we face are significant and the risks are too great to be shortsighted or singular in our vision. But with every risk we find an opportunity and I’m genuinely excited about the opportunities ahead for our industry and society. Act now!

Editor’s note: nominations are now open for this year’s E+E Honorees. Nominate a colleague — or yourself — for the 2022 E+E Honorees today.

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