Welcome to the fourth in a series of articles I’ve been writing about Simon Sinek’s book The Infinite Game.  When I came across Simon’s description of a Just Cause (only 28 pages into the book) I immediately formed a belief that providing clean, affordable, reliable, and safe electricity to every human being on the planet is a great example of what Simon calls a Just Cause.

Simon posits that there are five characteristics of a Just Cause and so far in this series I’ve looked at two of them:

·        For something – affirmative and optimistic

·        Inclusive – open to all those who would like to contribute

The third characteristic is described as “Service oriented – for the primary benefit of others” and that’s what I’ll examine in this article.

A Just Cause involves two parties – the contributors and the beneficiaries – and Simon tells us that in order for a Just Cause to pass the test of whether it is service oriented, the primary benefits must go to people other than the contributors themselves.

Even without the qualifiers of clean, affordable, reliable, and safe, electricity is one of the few things in our lives where the benefits we receive from it far outweigh what we pay for it.

As I think about the impact that COVID-19 has had on our world in 2020 it’s hard to find any aspect of life that hasn’t been impacted. Schools…churches…workplaces…restaurants…shopping…business travel…vacations…weddings…funerals…sports…the list goes on and on. But to borrow a phrase from Terence Mann in Field of Dreams, the one constant throughout the COVID-19 pandemic is electricity. It’s hard to imagine how much worse this crisis would be without electricity. Utility companies – whether investor-owned, government-owned, or member-owned – continue to work tirelessly (and mostly unnoticed) to keep the lights on at hospitals, research labs, drug companies, and manufacturing companies…and of course in our homes. As my friend Loretta Mabinton from Portland General Electric said at the height of the pandemic, “Utilities are responding in the way only utilities can. When all of this settles, society will remember.” I can only hope that it will.

Living in a part of the country where hurricanes are prevalent, it’s not uncommon to see convoys of utility field crews from neighboring states on I-40 and I-95 headed our way to help with restoration efforts when hurricanes and tropical storms hit North Carolina. And as a Duke Energy customer for the last 24 years, I love to see their trucks on the way to help their neighboring utilities in the Southeast and the Gulf coast when it’s their turn in the barrel. Voluntary mutual assistance programs administered by the Edison Electric Institute, the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, and the American Public Power Association help ensure that post-disaster restoration of electric power is done safely, effectively, and efficiently.

Clearly the benefits of reliable and safe electricity accrue primarily to consumers rather than to the producers. The service orientation of affordable electricity is even more apparent. In the pre-COVID19 world I had frequent opportunities to speak at events and conferences. Affordable energy wasn’t a primary concern of most of the people in the audience who (like me) might not like it if their electricity bill increased dramatically but would handle it simply by shifting funds from discretionary spending. At a conference in Atlanta a few years ago I made this point right before introducing the next speaker – a senior executive from a large Southeastern utility. Before beginning her prepared remarks she thanked me and said that 40% of their customers made less than $40,000 a year and what they wanted from their utility was affordable electricity.

Energy poverty is real in the third world…and it’s real in the United States of America. Zpryme’s Energy Thought Summit is one of my favorite non-SAS events and as is the case with most conferences I attend, the audience is made up primarily of people who can afford electricity. Kudos to Zpryme for introducing me to Dana Harmon of the Texas Energy Poverty Institute (TEPRI) and Saunteel Jenkins of The Heat and Warmth Fund at ETS19 in a conference track titled “Love Thy Neighbor.”

That brings us to clean energy. Who does clean energy benefit? Ourselves. Our children. Their children…and their children…and their children. Wildlife – whether on the ground or in the air or in the water. The planet.

Ideagen recently concluded their 17 Days of Sustainability Summit in which over 100 speakers shared their insights and perspectives on the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. Goal #7 – Affordable and Clean Energy – featured a discussion between Heather Lux from Microsoft and Katherine Neebe, Duke Energy’s newly appointed Chief Sustainability Officer. I included a link to the video in my previous article in this series and indicated that some of Katherine’s comments would fit in well with the theme of how a Just Cause must be service oriented.

Before joining Duke, Katherine spent 20 years working at what she called “the intersection of business and society” including at the World Wildlife Fund and at Walmart. In her opening comments in the video she described the notion of “shared value” and described it as a way to align business outcomes and business value with societal outcomes and societal value. That’s clearly the product of an infinite mindset.

Katherine pointed out that when you look across the 17 Sustainable Development Goals, the connective tissue that runs across the ability to achieve them relies upon the ability of utilities to provide reliable, affordable, and clean power. In one of the memorable moments of the interview, Katherine said that when she speaks to students who are trying to figure out their future and their path forward, sometimes they feel that they have to choose between doing something good and making money. Her response to that – “I refuse to buy into that argument…I think you can do good and make money” is both notable and quotable. It’s also a great title for this article.

Simon Sinek didn’t write The Infinite Game for the leaders of non-profit corporations. He wrote it for leaders of for-profit companies who face competitors in their marketplace. Simon makes it very clear that the service orientation of a Just Cause doesn’t mean charity. Investor-owned utilities who are pursuing the Just Cause of providing clean, affordable, reliable, and safe electricity aren’t choosing between doing good and making money. They are doing something where the primary benefits accrue not to their investors but to this planet and all the people who live on it.

In my next article in this series I’ll address Simon Sinek’s assertion that a Just Cause must be resilient – meaning that it is able to endure technological, political, and cultural change. Energy and technology and politics and culture make for a fascinating mix and the timing couldn’t be better given the upcoming election.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on the service orientation of providing electricity and I’ll hope you’ll check out my next article about a slightly different take on the term resiliency.