For Sândina Ponte '22 MTL, capstone project advanced decarbonization breakthrough

Technology leader achieved business and academic goals in tandem through her Critical Challenge Project.

Greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from the building sector represent a significant portion of emissions globally. Just ask Sândina Ponte ’22 MTL, who knows a thing or two about the challenges in reducing GHG emissions by decarbonizing buildings. Trained as an industrial and systems engineer, she has been with the Swiss technology giant, ABB, for almost two decades.Headshot of Sandina Ponte

For nearly five years, Ponte was the company’s USA Green Real Estate Manager, overseeing 200 sites in the United States and supporting properties in Canada and Mexico, as well. Her responsibilities included implementing sustainability and energy-efficiency measures to decarbonize ABB’s buildings. And that’s where she hit a snag.

“Our biggest challenge was collecting energy consumption data,” Ponte says. “The first step in any sustainability initiative is to baseline so that once we implement sustainability and energy efficiency measures, we can quantify the improvements and correctly report reductions in carbon emissions. The lack of data granularity limited our insights and implementation.”

To solve the problem, Ponte pitched an energy data collection project to ABB’s real estate and IT teams. At the same time, she applied to the Master of Science in Technology Leadership (MTL) program at Brown, with the thought of dovetailing her data collection proposal at ABB with her MTL degree’s Critical Challenge Project, an independent capstone in which students address a real-time challenge and work alongside an advisor to develop viable solutions. The confluence of her professional and academic work would benefit both Ponte and her company.

Solving the energy data problem

Ponte says she researched the MTL program for a couple of years before summoning the courage to apply. “It was a perfect fit, providing me with the business knowledge I lacked and allowing me to brush up on the latest innovations in technology,” she says. “Most importantly, it helped me develop as a technology leader.”

“ [The program] was a perfect fit, providing me with the business knowledge I lacked and allowing me to brush up on the latest innovations in technology. Most importantly, it helped me develop as a technology leader. ”

Sândina Ponte '22 MTL

In the early stages of her degree work, Ponte was offered a promotion to Global Product Manager for Energy & Sustainability at ABB, which is within the company’s Smart Buildings division. While she accepted, making the move from technical and specialist roles to the new business and leadership position concerned her. “It was an interesting transition from being the internal customer piloting and implementing ABB’s products and solutions to managing the ABB portfolio of solutions that help our internal and external customers achieve their sustainability goals,” she says. “I am grateful to the MTL program for helping me make the transition with confidence.”

After taking on her new responsibilities at ABB, Ponte tweaked her capstone project to develop the business strategy for her team’s Energy and Sustainability digital solutions portfolio. “The Critical Challenge Project was crucial in that I was learning and implementing new concepts and tools simultaneously, which led to the launch of the ABB Ability Building Analyzer in March 2023, less than one year after I graduated.” 

The cloud-based Building Analyzer solution enables companies to identify decarbonization opportunities, meet sustainability targets, improve their building management system’s ROI, and manage their entire property portfolio, regardless of building locations. “It feels great to finally solve the energy data problem I identified over ten years ago,” Ponte says.

Evolving leadership style

Ponte says her biggest takeaway from the MTL program was that “leadership is an art – adaptive, pragmatic, and continuously evolving.” She also notes that followers have the power and responsibility to influence leaders. “My leadership philosophy continues to be ‘lead by example,’ but now I also practice letting go of perfectionism, and I have increased the time I spend mentoring, supporting others and asking for feedback.” She says Professor Robert Allio’s Effective Leadership Theory and Practice course helped her gain a clearer understanding of how she became the leader she is today. 

Ponte advises potential MTL degree candidates to get clarity on what they want to become or achieve. “It’s easy to know what we don’t want,” she says. “The current job or current boss. But creating a vision of what you want to become takes time. With some idea of what you want in life, you can check if the program will help you get there.” Ponte discerned that she wanted to learn the business side of her work, concentrate on environmental issues, and become a more effective leader.

“The program helped me refocus my efforts on what really matters to me,” she says.

“ Leadership is an art – adaptive, pragmatic, and continuously evolving. ”

Sândina Ponte '22 MTL

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