UMass hosts second annual Clean Energy Connections conference

By Christa Romano

The University of Massachusetts has an extensive history of providing clean energy research and education and is quickly becoming a nationwide leader in green research, advocacy and campus sustainability.

On Tuesday, UMass hosted its second annual Clean Energy Connections conference in Springfield. The event was geared toward career and business development and networking for anyone interested in working in the burgeoning green economy.

Many speakers were present throughout the ten-hour event, discussing topics such as the different possibilities for careers in energy efficiency, how to begin and finance a clean energy business and ways to foster a green economy within a community.

Alexandra Risley-Schroeder spoke about utilizing the resources at the conference to gain experience, in the hopes of beginning a green career.

“You don’t need to learn how to put solar panels on a roof right away,” she said. “But you can use short term training opportunities as a launch pad for something more significant.”

Even volunteering, Schroeder said, would be beneficial to anyone aspiring to get into the clean energy industry.

“You may be thinking ‘I can’t volunteer, I’m trying to start a career here,’ but never underestimate the training possibilities it can provide,” she said.

“The thing about volunteering is that there is such a variety out there,” she said, “but companies will need help installing solar energy water heaters.”

In addition to the lectures taking place all day, over 50 tables were stationed in the Mass Mutual Center where the conference took place, demonstrating the fact that sustainability and clean energy are emerging as critical drivers of business development, job creation and economic growth in Massachusetts and nationwide. The tables were stations for representatives from a wide variety of companies, ranging from banks to home construction to higher education.

Goals of the different companies ranged from recruitment purposes to marketing and awareness. One company present at the opportunity fair was Green Monster E-Cycling, which will pick up any old electronics and recycle them, keeping out-of-date computers and cell phones out of landfills.

Another company represented was Peoples Bank, which Xiaolei Hua, head of the company’s environmental company, said is “working toward improving internal green standards as well as promoting green energy externally.” Hua explained to passersby that Peoples Bank is pushing for more electronic transactions and will be holding paper-shredding events to safely destroy financial information while recycling.

Keeping up with the theme of energy efficiency and sustainability, a free rideshare service called was available to conference attendees. Those looking for a ride to and from the event were able to look up names in a directory of car-owners in order to share the cost of parking and gas and the automotive burden on the environment.

There were about 400 registered attendees who were able to sit in on lectures as well as several hundred others visiting the opportunity fair. Among the hundreds who showed up to support Clean Energy Connections were students from UMass and other colleges in the Pioneer Valley and the Springfield area.

One student, Seth Bristol, said that he attended the conference because the green movement will soon be impacting his future career in carpentry.

“When wind towers and solar panels get big that could be something that contractors could be getting into,” he said.

Sam King, a student at Greenfield Community College said that he is very interested in getting into the engineering or social marketing of wind turbines.

“I think turbines are important because they offer such a large amount of energy and wind is completely sustainable,” he said. “They have a low maintenance cost and there is already a lot of money and innovation going into them,” he continued.

Another student from GCC, Molly Steinmark, said that she doesn’t necessarily want a career directly related to clean energy but feels strongly about what the conference had to offer.

“I just want to learn as much as I can so I can help educate others,” she said, “I didn’t come here to discover a career, I’m just passionate about saving the environment.”

Christa Romano can be reached at [email protected]