That is the question participants were tasked to answer during the Reimagining Economic Growth in New York City Challenge (REG-NYC). A collaboration between PYXERA Global and the New York City Economic Development Corporation (NYC EDC), REG-NYC challenged participants to create innovative circular economy solutions.
"PYXERA Global designs challenges like the Reimagining Economic Growth in New York City project because it opens pathways for innovative circular thinking, tri-sector collaboration, and inspires corporate participants to create solutions for and with communities that are disproportionately negatively impacted by the linear economic model," explained Alexandra Smith-O'Connor, Associate Director, Global Pro Bono.
Enel X and the Circular Economy
For Enel X, the challenge was a natural extension of the values the organization emphasizes. Enel X served as a corporate partner for this initiative and was the first corporation to sign up, pledging $36,000 to support the challenge.
"Energy is at the forefront of circular economy and will play a critical role in making our urban energy ecosystems more resilient, equitable and climate-ready," said Surya Panditi, Head of Enel X – US & Canada when the challenge was first announced. "This challenge demonstrates a significant step forward in uniting collaborators from around the world to stimulate new economic opportunity and accelerate the transition towards a more sustainable and prosperous future for all."
The entire Enel organization (parent company of Enel X) is a strong proponent of sustainability, supporting a just transition for the energy sector and a transition to an inclusive and equitable circular economy. Enel also firmly believes in creating shared value for the communities we live and operate in. The challenge was an opportunity to share Enel’s principles and to learn from other participants.
The Details of the Challenge
From February 28 to April 3, four teams consisting of employees from Enel X, 3M, and SAP brainstormed and applied their individual insights and expertise to address how NYC can create economic benefits for low-and-moderate income New Yorkers and small businesses utilizing circular business models. Participants were instructed to leverage the Brooklyn Army Terminal as a circular economy innovation campus to pilot and test circular solutions and partnerships in New York City.
For many of the participants, this challenge was a perfect opportunity to learn more about circular concepts and apply those concepts in real-life settings. In all, Enel had 5 participants in the challenge: Angie Hanawa, Aniket Marathe, Cheri Tse, Cathy Wang, and Quinn Weber.
"While none of us were particularly well versed in circularity, we brought with us expertise in electrification, clean energy, corporate sustainability, manufacturing, supply chain management, and a passion for sustainable development,” Cathy Wang, Product Marketing, Enel X said. “One idea really stood out that leveraged our combined expertise and skillsets – the retrofit of NYC's aging buildings."
Cathy's team's proposal covered the reuse of raw materials to create prefabricated panels to retrofit buildings, plus creating training opportunities in the community for this work. "Although we did not win, a representative from NYCEDC expressed interest in the use of prefabricated panels for less-disruptive building retrofits, saying that it merits further discussion," said Cathy.
Winning Team’s Proposal
For Angie Hanawa, Energy Markets, Enel X participating in a New York-focused initiative was a "no brainer" as she regularly works with the NY Demand Response market.
"I'm someone who thinks energy, energy, energy 24/7, so coming up with a more integrated approach to community engagement and implementation of sustainability principles that were not totally dependent on energy was hard at first. But I had the chance to learn from my teammates from SAP and 3M, that come from totally different backgrounds, and were able to see sustainability from a different perspective, that ended up being more based on material flows and community inclusion than just energy efficiency and energy flows," said Angie. In fact, it was those different backgrounds that were essential to the success of her team's proposal.
"Because we had some teammates based in Europe, and that specialized in material flow sustainability, we ended up borrowing a lot of concepts from the sharing economy in cities such as London to pilot in NYC and came up with a Product-as-a-Service proposal to implement a ‘Library of Things’ at the Brooklyn Army Terminal, paired with an entrepreneurship residency focused on Circular Economy products," explained Angie. The proposal impressed the judges, winning first place in the challenge.
This is potentially just the beginning of this initiative with PYXERA Global, with similar challenges being discussed for other cities. For Enel X employees who took advantage of this development opportunity, they left the challenge with new contacts and new knowledge they could apply to their work.
"Circularity was no longer just a theoretical framework I discussed in the classroom; it took on a living form, to be molded to suit the needs of the local community," said Cathy.
To Learn More, Watch Enel at Circular City Week
As part of the upcoming Circular City Week (May 2–May 8), representatives from Enel will be speaking on 10 different panels, sharing lessons learned in enabling circularity around the world. Register to watch any of the full week’s exciting programming and learn how circular practices like reuse, recycle, and upcycle are transforming urban industries and cities as a whole.
And if you’d like to learn more specifically about the NYC Circularity Challenge, one panel featuring Peter Perrault, Director and Head of Circular Economy, Enel North America will reflect on the power of corporate engagement and partnerships as a tool to unlock circularity, sharing findings and lessons learned from the Enel X participation.