With COP28 UAE underway, we’re looking forward to the hot topics and announcements to come. Vartan Badalian, director of transportation at GreenBiz joined Larissa Padden to discuss the topics he’s focused on for COP, what he thinks transport companies are focused on in 2024 and his career as a transportation analyst at GreenBiz.
Transcript for podcast
Larissa Padden 00:00
Hello and welcome to Cogcast, Cognito's podcast where we talk to journalists and media pros on everything that's happening in the world of media and PR. I'm Larissa Padden, your host this episode and a former journalist turned PR professional. Today we are very lucky to have our Vartan Badalian from GreenBiz with us, Vartan originally joined GreenBiz as a transportation analyst and as now the publication's Transportation Director. Vartan is very passionate about his work and personal mission to transform the transportation industry and works across on-road vehicle, decarbonisation, aviation, maritime and more. He is joining us today to discuss his views on EVs and sustainability progress, which is very timely, as COP28 kicks off this week as well. Welcome, Vartan, thanks for coming.
Vartan Badalian 00:52
Thank you for having me.
Larissa Padden 00:53
So as I mentioned in the introduction, you are an analyst at GreenBiz. Can you give us an overview of what you do there, what you're currently focused on, and how that differs from a journalist?
Vartan Badalian 01:03
Sure, thanks. So GreenBiz is kind of a unique position in the media landscape. It functions across a couple or main different laterals, I would say. One of them is the media side of GreenBiz. We're a traditional journalists function and we have a number of journalists in-house that are writing articles that are across many different topics and climate. The analysts sit in a different kind of lateral within GreenBiz. The function as I would say, thought leaders and experts within their specific areas that have industry knowledge, robust industry knowledge in a specific topic. So I sit within the climate tech team, as we call it internally, that focuses on all things such as buildings, carbon, market, transportation, energy, and so forth. Then we have the green finance community as well. We have analysts in the green finance kind of space, we have analysts in the ESG sustainability space. So analysts typically function as thought leaders who are experts in that topic, and they share their thoughts. Sometimes that can be kind of confusing in the public space, because, we do publish articles, but they're more our thoughts and what we're seeing happen industry. And we and the conversations that we have with companies and experts alike on other topics.
Larissa Padden 02:12
Okay, so it sounds like functionally, you still speak to sources and as you said, you publish articles. So when you're covering the story, what kind of information do you look for and what will turn a conversation with a source into an article?
Vartan Badalian 02:26
Yeah, I think it really stems down to based on everything happening in X market, or X area for the individual, that analyst that GreenBiz is the company or the source doing something that's actually innovative within that space. For example, my Spectrum and transport covering altering transportation, I GreenBiz, the areas that I focus on stem around what's innovative with pushing the bounds, what a company is doing the right to progress the industry forward. And then I seek out companies to speak to that around that sphere of innovation. So it's mostly just what actions are the companies doing that we believe is right, and the others believe is right to based on all the conversations that we have with various individuals in the industry, and then from there kind of like trickles up, and stuff trickles down.
Larissa Padden 03:07
Interesting. So I know you're very passionate about sustainability within the transportation space. So how has that conversation evolved over this past year?
Vartan Badalian 03:16
I have a unique position where when people say transportation and sustainability, they often only think about one area of transportation, mostly they think about vehicles, for example, electric vehicles, come to mind mostly for people. I'm in the position where I cover, not just road vehicles, but aviation as well, maritime shipping, trains and everything else that basically moves and creates emissions. So within all those different areas, there's a lot that I could mention right now, but some of the things that kind of stand out to me is, we are seeing serious industry collaboration happen in the aviation space to address the shortage of sustainable aviation fuel. And that I think (is), really promising to see and a serious attention to how do we scale sustainable aviation fuel, that's super amazing, because that's what the industry needs to reach net zero by 2050. In the transportation space, there's so much happening on fleets decarbonizing their operations, by adopting electric vehicles, which you're just seeing happen at scale and right now a lot with like trucks, which is also just great. I could talk your ear off for hours about what's exciting this year. But I think that it all comes down to the fact that the industry, from an emissions perspective is moving and it's moving to decarbonize as quickly as possible. And actually, I forget the source that just said it, but a report came out recently, I think, a week or two ago, looking at all the various sectors and in the lead-up to COP and transportation is the only industry that I think is on track with net zero. So interesting.
Larissa Padden 04:43
Interesting. I know when I was a reporter, a lot of times you're so deep in a certain topic that it kind of feels like you're in an echo chamber, how much is the mass audience really taking it in and how much do they really care but I was on an airplane. I can't remember the airline, but now I'm seeing more and more they advertise on like the pre-recorded video that they show you, you know their goals and efforts around sustainable aviation fuel. So I feel like when conversations reach a mass audience like that you feel like it's really making an impact.
Vartan Badalian 05:11
Some of that I have a little bit of
Larissa Padden 05:13
Vartan Badalian 05:14
Skepticism more for sure, because a lot of it when it's portrayed to the public space released from the aviation industry, it often is done in a way we're, I forget the airline that did it recently, but they had pushed back over it because they portrayed themselves as already being net zero, but that was through credits. And that is just not a correct way. So it gives the consumer a false perception of what the reality actually is. But it's good that they're talking about it. That's, I think, a good thing to be doing.
Larissa Padden 05:15
Keeping on conversations. I know when I was still out there reporting, it was pre-pandemic, and I found a lot of my sources through going to conferences and live events, which obviously was much more difficult when that went away. But I think we can say that events are fully back in person now. This year, when you were at conferences, what were some of the worth it events, particularly in terms of strong conversations? And what made them worthwhile?
Vartan Badalian 06:04
Yeah, I'm not going to plug our own events. I won't do that, because GreenBiz does do events.
Larissa Padden 06:09
I’m going to plug that later.
Vartan Badalian 06:10
Yeah, 100%, there were a number of events that I've gone to this year that were actually quite amazing. But I think we're also in like a moment of post-COVID event like, surge, where I think now we're going to go back down to like normalcy of like what people attend and whatnot what's worth their time. Attended CES for the first time this year in 2023 at the beginning, in January, and I had some amazing conversations, from a tech perspective with people in transportation. Again, a lot of it was focused on EVs, and less so in other areas of transportation; well that's the consumer focus of the Consumer Electronics show, so obviously, that makes sense. But from an industry perspective, Act Expo, I think was a place where again, a lot of consumer, a lot of fleets individuals were focused on. So companies that the most Fortune 100 companies of the world were all there showcasing or attending or participating in some fashion, to understand how they can decarbonize their their vehicles. So the conversations there, I think, are really tangible, where you see technology, and you see how companies are implementing that technology and you see how you can reduce your emissions. I think that's where the most conversations happen.
Larissa Padden 07:11
Are there any that you plan to attend already in 2024? Or that you would advise people in this space to attend?
Vartan Badalian 07:18
Like I said, the landscape is changing, what's worthwhile to attend 2024 might be different than what what 2023. I for sure, personally, will be attending less for a number of reasons largely because (I'm) prioritizing different efforts and whatnot. But I think Act Expo is once again, when I would attend from from from a transportation perspective. But yeah, I can't speak to - none for right now. But I'm also in the mindset of like, scaling down at the end of the year to then scale back up in January.
Larissa Padden 07:43
We work with a couple conferences, and we definitely have seen the competition to get journalists to attend was harder this year than it was the year before. And I think you're right, it's part of that post-pandemic boom has gone away.
Vartan Badalian 07:56
Larissa Padden 07:56
Vartan Badalian 07:57
Larissa Padden 07:58
So here's where I will plug your event. GreenBiz has GreenBiz 24 coming up next year. Can you give us an idea of what the type of attendees are, what kind of speakers you're looking for, and maybe a little peek into what that process is? How can people apply? What do you look for in a speaker?
Vartan Badalian 08:15
Yes, so I actually don't work on GreenBiz at all. So my focus in the larger sense, focuses on the climate tech event, Verge, which already happened in October. But the colleagues I work closely with the colleagues who do put on GreenBiz. And the way they find speakers there is very similar to how our other events happen. I would say there are three different ways companies can get involved in GreenBiz, or any of our other events. One is through the submission portal on the website, which closes well in advance right now. It's already closed, but people can submit their session topics they want to speak on. And what company is actually submitting. Another venue or a way to get in front of GreenBiz is through just engaging in these kind of conversations with us, like connecting with analysts, pitching a story for an article or something or just having a conversation in general on background is a really good way of getting in front of our eyes and just understanding how sharing what you're doing and what you think is innovative. I think those are the two main ways that companies get involved. And then it's really just us kind of like seeing what's happening in the space and putting sessions together and understanding in that year, what's most important talk about and then building sessions around it.
Larissa Padden 09:22
Great. So it sounds like it's part kind of throughout the year building that relationship with GreenBiz so that when opportunities do arise, there is kind of already a knowledge base of what this person could bring to a panel or conversation.
Vartan Badalian 09:34
100% and then that obviously - those two ways are the earned methods. There's obviously the sponsorship route where companies can sponsor and then they get themselves put into a session that an analyst creates or they can create their own session.
Larissa Padden 09:45
Interesting. So similarly, COP28 starts this week, what are some of the potential conversations that may come out of that event that you are interested in hearing and how will GreenBiz be covering the event?
Vartan Badalian 09:59
GreenBiz covering it, I'll start with the second, GreenBiz is covering it, and I would say more ways than I actually know. Because my focus is not from a journalist perspective, I know we have one or two individuals going to COP just to be there and attend meetings and participate. And then we have journalists functioning in the virtual format as well. I can say personally, from my perspective, what I'm interested to look at is the more global conversation that's supposed to happen around aviation and shipping, maritime shipping. I think the road-view conversation at some point already has become to, to "solved", and I'm putting that in quotes or quotation marks right now because the road conversations already progressed to a point where it's not really I think, personally, is as worthy to discuss in a global context at COP, we've had a lot of progress there. So I think aviation and maritime shipping conversations are really interesting, I will be interested to see how the conversations kind of sway in x or y direction, given the focus of COP.
Larissa Padden 10:51
So you've imparted some really great information on what you've seen grow and change over the past year. But I wanted to end by looking forward to 2024. Based on your conversations with your sources and experts looking at the EV sector, aviation and sustainability issues within the larger transportation system. Are there any topics that you think are going to be a bigger focus for companies next year? What do you think we're going to hear more of and I know you've already said this is a shifting landscape and that's a very broad question, but I'd love to get your thoughts.
Vartan Badalian 11:19
Yeah, I think companies right now are going to start focusing more on scope three transport emission decarbonization. I think in the end, they can - everyone can focus on it - If everyone does scope, focus on our scope one emissions, then everyone scope three's will be solved. It's not happening, so people are increasingly focusing on their scope three emissions, to really push their suppliers, their companies that are working with them to really innovate and decarbonize as quickly as possible. I think the scope three decarbonization is where the conversation is going to focus.
Larissa Padden 11:46
Thanks for being here for being here Vaartan.
Vartan Badalian 11:47
Thank you so much.