Meet the 2024 Abstract Review Committee

 Meet the 2024 Abstract Review Committee

Each year, Verdical Group assembles an Abstract Review Committee comprised of a group of subject-matter experts in climate, net zero, ESG, equity, carbon, and resilience. The committee members evaluate the abstracts submitted with a focus on diverse, high quality, and educational content for the Net Zero Conference program. This year, we have 10 individuals hailing from various industries. Read their bios below to learn more.

Committee Members

First up, we have Amanda von Almen, Senior Director of Emissions Reduction at Salesforce. Amanda leads the cross-functional team dedicated to executing Salesforce’s decarbonization strategy. She drives progress towards Salesforce’s corporate climate goals to reduce emissions by 50% by 2030, and 90% by 2040 working across the company’s supply chain, data centers, real estate, business travel, events, and employee commuting. Additionally, she leads the company-wide carbon data measurement and analysis, including footprinting, and forecasting and oversees the internal utilization of Net Zero Cloud. Amanda has served on USGBC NorCal’s Market Leadership Advisory Board (MLAB), Building Transparency’s board, the LEED Technical Advisory Group (TAG) for Water Efficiency, and mindful MATERIALS’ board, among others. She also served on the City of San Francisco Mayor’s Task Force for Building Decarbonization, introducing a plan to electrify the city’s new building stock. Currently, she is a board member for Everybody Solar, a nonprofit focused on solar installation for other nonprofits.

Bobby Almeida, Verdical Group’s very own Director of Commissioning, heads up all commissioning and energy auditing efforts. He is a Professional Engineer (PE), Certified Building Commissioning Professional (CBCP), and Certified Energy Manager (CEM). Bobby is an expert in optimizing HVAC controls to minimize energy use without compromising user comfort or ongoing maintenance needs. At Verdical Group, Bobby brings a sustainability mindset to the commissioning process, complementing our project management services. Prior to joining Verdical Group, Bobby provided commissioning and energy services at other green building consulting firms. Bobby has provided commissioning services on over $2 billion worth of projects, based on total development cost. 

Gaspar Cabrera joined Mace in October 2023 as an Associate Director to lead their Responsible Business | Sustainability service across the Americas. He has 20 years of sustainability strategy, decarbonization plan implementation and energy experience that spans the planning, design, construction, and operation phases of projects involving new and existing buildings, portfolios and city- wide programs. Gaspar’s prior service in a variety of roles provides him with the technical and managerial expertise needed to plan, lead and execute complex scopes and projects. He specializes in decarbonization consulting, stakeholder engagement, owner’s representation and commissioning, energy audits and site assessments, leading and facilitating integrated project teams for new and existing building projects and MEP system optimization.

Hayley Powers, Energy & Sustainability Consultant at Arup, is a driven Professional Engineer (P.E.) with a demonstrated history working in the built environment as a technical lead and project manager. Having worked as a mechanical engineer and sustainability focused consultant, she is skilled in coupling best sustainable design practices with technical engineering designs within the built environment. Hayley has expanded her previous focus on building operational carbon to the infrastructure level with a renewed focus on energy resilience and decarbonization analyses and how engineering designs, programs, and policies impact social equity. She is driven by a passion to make the infrastructure sector resilient, sustainable, and equitable.

Jeff Benavides brings dynamic skills in infrastructure, public policy, net-zero building design, and finance to his current role as Director of Portfolios Performance at Scale at U.S. Green Building Council. Jeff previously served as Orange County Government’s FL first Chief Sustainability & Resilience Officer. Serving in many unique roles, he has managed over 320 sustainability certifications, 200 solar PV projects, 5 net-zero energy buildings, and award-winning sustainability programs across hotels, resorts, multifamily, mixed-use commercial and local government portfolios. Jeff’s passion for education enabled him to serve as a Professor for Energy Management Controls Technology Engineering, an NSF funded program at Valencia College. Jeff is based in Raleigh and proudly serves locally on ULI’s Net Zero Technical Assistance Panel, ULI Triangle’s Local Housing Committee, and served on the United Nations SDSN U.S. Deep Decarbonization Action Plan.

Kavita Rodrigues is an Energy Efficiency and Conservation Advisor at Southern California Edison. She has a Bachelor of Architecture from Manipal, India and a Master of Building Science from USC. Kavita’s career in architecture began in 2001 and has been centered on the idea ‘Form Follows Climate’. Her interest in sustainable design has been a driving force in her educational and career choices, from designing passive houses in India to designing Zero Net Energy homes in California. In 2011, she was recruited by SCE to join the New Construction Services team, reviewing projects and providing technical support to builders of energy efficient homes for the California Advanced Homes Program (CAHP). In 2018 Kavita helped design the Clean Energy and Resiliency Rebuild Program for victims of natural disasters, and the all-electric extension of CAHP. Kavita presently works at SCE’s Energy Education Center creating and developing curriculum on Building Electrification and Decarbonization with the hope of educating a wide range of audiences on California’s climate goals, the urgent need for decarbonizing the building sector, and how building electrification will play a key role in the clean energy transition.

Mara Ley serves as the Sustainability Manager for California-based activewear company, Vuori. In this role, Mara is responsible for driving and optimizing the organization’s impact strategy and commitment to environmental responsibility. With this, Mara plays a critical role in spearheading Vuori’s supply chain traceability and carbon accounting, to better inform the brand’s ability to make data-driven decisions to minimize its ecological footprint. Prior to Vuori, Mara served as Sustainability Coordinator at Reformation, a prominent women’s fashion brand. While at Reformation, Mara helped to automate the RefScale tool, a simplified lifecycle assessment tool to quantify the environmental impact of their products. Mara holds an M.B.A. and B.S. in Environmental Science, both earned from Loyola Marymount University. She is also an Adjunct Professor for the Engineering School at the University of San Diego.

Peter Dering is the founder and CEO of Peak Design, a San Francisco-based company he started in 2010 that makes photography, outdoor, and lifestyle carry gear. Since launching Peak Design, Dering has overseen 11 Kickstarter campaigns, raising $36M and proving the validity of crowdfunding as a method to maintain financial and operational independence from outside investors. Growing acutely aware of his company’s increasing carbon footprint, Dering co-founded Climate Neutral: an independent non-profit organization that enlists private businesses to achieve net-zero carbon emissions through a simplified, four-step process. In recognition of his work with Climate Neutral, Outside Magazine named Dering as a 2019 “Outsider of the Year.”

Sara Neff is Head of Sustainability for Lendlease Americas, where she is helping the company meet its ambitious goal of achieving absolute zero carbon across every scope by 2040 while creating $250 million of social value by 2025. In 2022, under her leadership Lendlease earned the top residential score in the Americas on GRESB and multiple green leasing awards from the Institute for Market Transformation. Previously, she served as Senior Vice President, Sustainability at Kilroy, where she helped the company achieve carbon neutral operations in 2020. She is a LEED Fellow and holds a BS from Stanford and an MBA from Columbia Business School.

Sarah Yourgrau, a two-time Emmy award-winning storyteller and pioneering social anthropologist, is the visionary force behind Common Ground Studios. With over a decade of diverse media experience from Saturday Night Live, to United Nations and Netflix, she’s a trailblazer at the intersection of social impact and storytelling. Renowned for her Emmy-winning series ‘Returning the Favor,’ celebrating changemakers and community leaders all across America, Sarah possesses a unique capacity to build bridges between seemingly disparate subcultures, communities and ideas, inspiring tactical solutions and fostering cross-cultural collaborations for a better future.

Abstract submissions are now open! Submit your abstracts by April 8, 2024 for a chance to speak at the 2024 Net Zero Conference. View submission guidelines here.