Entergy VP: You Can Drive ESG Progress and Financial Growth

By Hadley Thompson |  December 7, 2023

Entergy is a massive company — $13 billion in revenues and three million customers — that is chasing an ambitious sustainability goal: net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.

The utility is headquartered in New Orleans, and its roots trace back to 1913, when its forerunner company, Arkansas Power Company, was established to generate electricity by burning sawdust from a lumber mill. Today, it serves Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas, and it operates facilities that rely on everything from natural gas, oil, water, coal, and uranium to generate power.

How do you get such a big organization moving quickly? We spoke to John Weiss, Entergy’s vice president of sustainability and environmental policy. He joined the company in 2021 and is based in its Washington, DC office. Weiss and his team of eight report to Entergy’s Senior Vice President of External Affairs, who reports to the company’s general counsel. 

His team of eight works within the outlines of traditional environmental policy at the federal level, and keeps track of changes that affect the electric power business. They also ensure that information is then shared and implemented by their operating companies or managers who work to supply power. 

Weiss’s team works closely with business functions across the organization. They help them think about what their performance should be or can be and how to report that performance publicly. 

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Setting Goals and Measuring Progress

I would highlight here that ESG itself is not a singular thing… there is no such thing as ESG as a single performance measure. It is a combination of measures that define specific environmental and social performance outcomes, as well as governance structures.

We have a couple of [key measures]. One is, we measure our emissions intensity — our greenhouse gas emissions per megawatt hour of electricity that we produce and sell. We’ve had a goal for several years of cutting that to 50 percent of what it was when we first started measuring this, because it goes all the way back to 2000. Cutting that in half by 2030. 

We’ve added another interim goal, which is that by 2030, we want to be able to demonstrate that 50 percent of our electricity generation capacity is from carbon-free resources. That is obviously renewable energy, but we’ll also include our nuclear power assets, which obviously do not emit any greenhouse gasses during their operation.

Sustainability Oversight

We formed what we call our sustainability leadership team, which has about 40 members representing pretty much every business function in the company. It’s in part to make sure that we’re all sharing information and aware of what other parts of the organization are doing, but also to think about and vet ideas…

For example, what a new goal should be for the company, whether it’s something related to the diversity of our workforce, or other environmental goals. Should we have a publicly facing goal that talks about water consumption? These are the kinds of things we think about all the time.

Serving as a Central Clearinghouse

Increasingly, the ideas behind sustainability, or ESG, have really taken root across the compan. We’re increasingly seeing business functions come to us and saying, “We’ve been thinking about sustainability in our own part of the business, and we’d love your help to think about how to define that. What can we commit to? Are we gonna be able to measure it? What should our aspirations be?”

…We have a team dedicated [to sustainability] within our supply chain organization…separate from my team, but we work very closely with them to think about what kind of expectations might we have for our own suppliers, in terms of their contribution to our carbon footprint or our overall environmental footprint. Social issues as well are relevant in that context. 

ESG Versus Financial Growth

They’re not in conflict with each other most of the time. It used to be that folks would say that you had to choose one or the other: you can either have financial growth, or you can do all this ESG stuff, but you can’t do both. That’s no longer true, but it’s still not always that easy. 

We have to be so sensitive to the bills that our customers pay, [and] we have to think about how much we’re investing in certain initiatives. We have to find that right balance of how much money to spend…and make a really, really strong case to the folks who regulate us who make the decision about what money we’re going to spend.

Reporting on Progress

We don’t have a separate sustainability report. We combine our sustainability report with our annual report, because our sustainability strategy, our ESG strategy, is very much the same as [and] intertwined with our business strategy. The two go very much hand-in-hand. …So, we do that once a year. 

We, like many companies, provide information to third parties, through surveys that aggregate sustainability information across companies. We get information out that way. 

We certainly have a website that complements our annual integrated report and often provides additional detail beyond what’s in the report itself.

Then, we have direct engagement. …We engage with our investors routinely. There’s a period each year where we invite investors to have a call with us to focus just on these sustainability issues. We get a lot of responses. We often have two or three dozen investors that will contact us and have a one-on-one conversation. 

Then, we look for other opportunities throughout the year, whether it’s at industry conferences or elsewhere, to tell our story.

A sustainability strategy and a business strategy for us are not different. Our growth strategy is based on things like decarbonizing our very large industrial customers, which represent a huge part of our business…

Sustainability Strategy is Business Strategy

A sustainability strategy and a business strategy for us are not different. Our growth strategy is based on things like decarbonizing our very large industrial customers, which represent a huge part of our business — more than most utilities. They want to decarbonize their industrial processes, [and] we want to help them do that through electrification. We want to do that by providing electricity that’s increasingly carbon-free. If we can do that for them, they win, we win, society wins, and our company just continues to grow. It’s a very good growth story… You can see how the two go hand-in-hand. 

You don’t get to do all of this great decarbonization work with industrial customers if you don’t have the workforce in place to execute on that. 

You don’t have a motivated workforce unless you address the issues that are of concern to a workforce, things like diversity. All of these pieces really fit together nicely, and have been recognized internally from the very top of organization…that they are connected. 

A ‘Long-Term Journey’

We’re on this long-term journey toward essentially a decarbonized economy, which will not happen easily, and certainly won’t happen overnight. It’s critically important for us…but also critically important to our owners, to folks that invest in our company who care about these issues.

Advice on Making Progress

[Making progress] requires a lot of communication and collaboration internally, and a lot of good communication and collaboration with external partners. There’s so many players involved in these decisions… It’s important not to wall them off and not to just say, “We’re going to make this decision, and we kind of hope that everyone agrees with us…” Inevitably, someone will say, “Did you think about this?” 

If you’ve laid the groundwork first, for that kind of engagement, and [you] have more people helping you think through some of these issues and challenges, it should be [easier] to execute…It’s so hard to do, but you have to have a commitment to doing it.