Reflections on the 2023 Forum: Equitable decarbonization, showcasing innovation, and supporting the next generation

With historic federal funding setting the stage, the seventh iteration of the Getting to Zero Forum was an opportunity to convene at a pivotal time, when there is more support and resources for decarbonizing the built environment than ever before. The passage of the landmark Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) has committed nearly $9 billion for consumer home energy rebate programs to promote electrification, bolster innovative climate-saving technologies, while also focusing on providing support for low-income consumers. The latest 2023 IPCC report also noted that technologies aimed to reduce emissions have become more affordable for more than a decade, making the transition to all-electric options the most accessible it’s ever been.

NBI and RMI were thrilled to bring over 500 industry leaders together in Minneapolis, Minnesota for the 2023 Getting to Zero Forum. Collectively, these leaders were able to showcase the solutions, collaboration, and innovations driving building decarbonization.

Minneapolis was the optimal location for our first Forum hosted in the Midwest, convening stakeholders from all across the region and beyond. The entire state of Minnesota has proven itself to be a champion for climate action and energy efficiency. The state recently received the highest score in the Midwest from the ACEEE State Energy Efficiency Scorecard, placing 10th overall in the nation. The state has a proven track record on climate action, with its Governor recently signing a $2 billion budget package bolstering actions from the IRA, with incentives aimed to electrify homes, vehicles, and public buildings.

Support from the region also manifested through a strong representation of local Midwest climate action action and community organizations at the 2023 Forum. Some of this year’s community partners included AIA Minnesota, Elevate, Fresh Energy, Great Plains Institute, Illinois Green Alliance, MEEA, Midwest Building Decarbonization Coalition, Passive House Minnesota, and Missouri Gateway Green Building Council.

Equity and Equitable Decarbonization

The Forum’s Opening Plenary session kicked off with Trisha Miller, Senior Director of the White House Climate Policy Office, and Tonya Allen, President of the McKnight Foundation for a conversation about how federal and philanthropic investments are being made to further equitable decarbonization. In the session, entitled Investing in Progress: How Federal and Philanthropic Support are Spurring Equitable Climate Action, Tonya Allen said, “Our clean energy transition is inevitable, equity is not,” setting the stage for the next three days of programming focused on embedding equity in program development and implementation, community engagement, policies, and more.

Forum attendees collaborating in an activity during the workshop, The Nuts and Bolts: Coming to an Understanding on Equity and Equitable Decarbonization, hosted by Midwest Building Decarbonization Coalition.

NBI funded 26 environmental justice leaders to attend the conference and share their expertise and perspectives as speakers and attendees. One of the scholarship recipients reported, “The Getting to Zero Forum was a unique and inspiring experience. The discussions were rich, the connections meaningful, but what truly ignited my inspiration was the Forum’s commitment to address the often-overlooked intersection of mental health and energy burdens. The conversations illuminated how our collective work not only shapes the physical world but also impacts the well-being of individuals and communities. With the support of the scholarship fund, I was privileged to be part of this transformative conversation. I return to my work invigorated and more resolved than ever to contribute to a sustainable and compassionate future.”

The Forum closed with a panel discussion between Daryl Wright, Chief Strategy Officer of Emerald Cities Collaborative; Anne Evens, CEO of Elevate; and Betony Jones, Director of the Office of Energy Jobs. Their conversation focused on workforce development and how we can achieve a low-carbon economy while ensuring everyone has a place in it. When asked about effective ways of integrating equity into engaging people in the workforce, Anne Evens remarked, “Stop. Think. Listen to communities. Really come in with the commitment to do no harm and to make lives better.”

Daryl Wright summarized the closing well when answering the final question about visions for the future, “Forming multi-stakeholder coalitions that engage communities are really important as we embark on projects…believe that a group of committed people who want to solve a problem can do that. That’s what has certainly kept me going and I am sure it will keep you going, too.”

Showcasing Innovation

This year’s Forum introduced “Spark Tank,” a pitch session sponsored by EPRI in which companies had five minutes to present their inventive products and compete to be voted the most game-changing technology by Forum attendees. The companies were affiliated either with EPRI’s Incubatenergy Labs or Breakthrough Energy Ventures. Brimstone, who pitched their carbon-negative process for making ordinary portland cement, ended up walking away with the title of  “Spark Tank” winner.

Supporting the Next Generation

The 2022-2033 Next Gen cohorts, pictured at the Forum with RMI’s Victor Olgyay, NBI’s Ralph DiNola, as well as the Closing Plenary Speakers. | Credit: Complete Weddings + Events

The 2023 Forum hosted 36 students from NBI’s Next Gen program, a professional development program designed to bolster inclusivity in the industry by providing students of color with advanced learning, mentorship, networking opportunities, and more. At the conference, they had the opportunity to meet each other in person for the first time, attend sessions, and network with conference attendees. One student reported, “The Getting to Zero Forum was especially valuable as I was introduced to leaders in the community and all their inspiring work. The educational sessions opened my mind to the different applications of zero energy and specifically the different mindsets that should be held as we progress into the sustainable future.”

Next Steps

Join us in 2024 as we bring the Getting to Zero Forum to the Southeast. Hold your calendars for late May 2024 as we come to Charlotte, NC. Sign up for Getting to Zero updates to be the first to know as we release dates and updates about the next Forum. Interested in becoming a sponsor for the 2024 Getting to Zero Forum or NBI’s Next Gen Student Program? Please reach out to Meghan Humphreys to learn more.


by Leada Fuller-Marashi, Senior Project Manager



and Sarah Chaney, Marketing and Communications Manager



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