ESW Virtual Conference 2021: The Re-cap

We wrapped up ESWcon21 last month, and it was a success! From engaging sessions and innovative content, there was a lot to learn.  In case you missed it, don't worry. I am going to summarize the main points of the conference for you.




Energize. Restore. Implement. That was this year’s Virtual ESWcon21 conference theme. Energizing our infrastructure in a sustainable way, restoring, by developing a green infrastructure and implementing sustainable innovative solutions. This theme flowed throughout the conference as the panelists and guest speakers shared their insights on the importance of sustainability. The conference was hosted by the University of Buffalo ESW Chapter. ESW Headquarters and University of Buffalo collaborated to highlight the Buffalo community by inviting speakers from Buffalo and New York State. The diverse list of guest speakers addressed topics such as clean energy transition, a fight against climate change, carbon pricing, double energy input and sustainable chain management.  


The live virtual conference was hosted via Airmeet, which was user-friendly and interactive. Despite the virtual setting, ESWcon21 created an engaging environment with fun activities and networking opportunities. The layout included a “Reception Area” with three videos highlighting the conference theme “Energize. Restore. Implement.” The “Sessions Area” listed the upcoming events with links to the live sessions. The “Virtual Booths” hosted rooms dedicated to sponsors Tesla, Peace Corps, RIT, Dayaway, Earth Hacks, The Green Program, RRC Power Solutions, and Votorantim Cemintos. The virtual “Lounge”, Zoom and Discord were reserved for games, a ramen cooking session, ESWcon game night, an Earth Hacks mini hackathon, and the event’s annual cocktail hour. On the networking side - a career fair, poster session, session discussions and chapter leader summit. The three-day event was a fully packed schedule of activities, with a variety of sessions to choose from.





Panel Sessions 

ESW Headquarters staff hosted a panel discussion to kick-off the conference. (Participants included Michael Vasuddevan, Sarah Barr Engel, Miguel Fraga, Kavya Niranjan, Chris Alice Kratzer and Kyle Gracey). It was nice to virtually meet those who manage and handle the inner workings of the organization. Each person shared their story about how, when, and why they became a part of ESW. The discussion was lively and informative and a perfect start to ESWcon21. 


The Day Two panel discussion walked us through the behind-the-scenes process of high-performance building design with industry professionals Roxanne Button, architect and sustainable design advocate, and Amir Rezaei, engineer and high-performance building analyst. Amir believes building design is “a little bit of art and a little bit of science”. 


Day Three panel discussion attendees learned what sustainability will look like in the future with Amanda Pike, Senior Sustainability Consultant and Tracy Skalski, Sustainability Coordinator. Amanda and Tracy spoke about the roles private and public sectors play in the future of sustainability. The public entities create new policies to help drive change in the private sector and this can influence and advocate for certain laws that drive outcomes.


Keynote Speakers Sessions

During Day One keynote presentation, National Grid Principal Program Manager Sara Cavanaugh addressed the role customers, regulators, and stakeholders play in the clean energy transition. Sara’s presentation provided a description of the functions, responsibilities and influences the three groups have on clean energy. “The commonality among these three groups at this point in time is a move toward a clean energy future. Local state and federal policies and agreements are being matched by increasing customer support for a cleaner greener industry.” This was a great session to kick-off the conference as we learned about the different factors that impact the clean energy transition.





Mark Lowery, the Climate Policy Analyst for the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, dived into the regulatory steps New York is implementing to help reduce greenhouse emissions. In 2019, the New York State legislature adopted the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act or Climate Act. The Climate Act set emissions limits, established clean energy goals, and set New York on the path to carbon neutrality. The state has an ambitious goal to reduce 40% of emissions by 2030 and carbon neutrality by 2050. Mark’s presentation provided great insight from the regulatory perspective by breaking down and defining the legislative process, internal structure, goals, and implementation. 





The founder, Melissa Lee, began her presentation by telling the story of how she was inspired to establish the Green Program after visiting a wind turbine farm in Costa Rica. The countries involved in the Green Program are Iceland, Nepal, Peru, and Japan. Students get the opportunity to visit and work on projects at the Atomic Agency in Fukushima Japan and Hydro-electric dam near Machu Picchu Peru. Later, Melissa engaged the audience by asking thought-provoking questions. She asked, "who is here to make a social impact?” The attendees responded with their ideas of what social impact looks like; Felicia said, “volunteering in our communities,” and Sophie said, “educating those around us about sustainable change.” Melissa’s session was interactive, informative, and engaging.



Sponsors Tesla, Votorantim Cemintos and Peace Core sessions were right on theme! 

Energize! Tesla session speakers Kim Gaslowitz, Tina Li, and Luke Mille are Tesla employees and ESW alumni who shared details about the projects they are currently working on with the company. Luke gave the audience some insight about Tesla’s Supercharging Network; Tina Lee discussed working with Lithium-Ion Battery Manufacturing; and Kim provided an overview of the Energy Storage Systems. 

Restore! Votorantim Cimentos' Shawn Kalyn and Eric Albrecht gave attendees an overview of their company. The presentation was focused on “Our Sustainability Journey'' to be carbon neutral by 2050, work across the value chain of the environment and create a circular economy for concrete.

Implement! Peace Corps Anne Tatarsky shared personal stories about her experience working for an Environmental Education project in the Dominican Republic where she worked with a community to build cooking stoves for families in need. Her presentation also detailed the values and purpose of the Peace Corps and the countries they work with. 


Breakout Sessions

A total of 20 breakout sessions ran during the three-day conference. The live Q&A at the end of each session was engaging and informative. Attendees had the opportunity to participate live by typing their questions and the session moderator discussed it with the speakers. 



The theme of the Earth Hacks event at ESWcon21 was modular environmental education. Participants worked together during the afternoon of the last day of the conference to design STEM-focused environmental education frameworks that produce tangible benefits to the communities they serve, while equipping students with the skills needed to keep the projects functioning and the knowledge they can apply to a variety of applications. These projects were designed with the goal of being adaptable to different skill levels, ranging from elementary school to adult education. Check out the links below for the Earth Hacks mini-hackathon project ideas.  

Cool Earth:

Green Renovations:

Courtesy of Earth Hacks Sanjana Paul 


ESWBio 2020 Challenge Results

ESWBio was a biodiversity competition where participants could upload photos of organisms they found to the community science platform iNaturalist. Anyone could participate if the photos were uploaded from schools with an existing ESW chapter. Participating schools contributed more than 34,000 observations of more than 5,000 species, with more than 4,500 participants. Despite the pandemic, participating schools uploaded 17% more photos to iNaturalist in 2020 than last year. Cornell University won the challenge with 1,103 species logged, followed closely by Purdue and Penn State.  


Courtesy of Chris Alice Kratzer and INaturalist

Annual Photo Contest Winners

Day 1 - Citizen Science - Andrea Oaks

Day 2 - Trash Tag - Robylene Seapno

Day 3 - Where am I - Sarah Barr Engel



Thank You!

Thanks to all our speakers, sponsors, and attendees who joined ESWcon21 and a special shout out to the University of Buffalo Conference Committee and ESW HQ Events Coordinator Alyssa Owens for a remarkable event! Remember to Energize. Restore. Implement. 


We would like to improve your experience at our next event. Please provide your feedback about this year’s conference at