Nicolette Maury studied to be a chemical engineer expecting to spend her days developing innovative products and playing a role in solving the world’s biggest challenges. The real world had different ideas. After graduation, her opportunities were in quality control and cost-cutting, which, she says, did not excite her. 

Being nimble, she shifted to management consulting. “It introduced me to the world of business and strategy and big-picture thinking,” she says. “And I loved the intellectual challenge.”

Still, she missed the practical application of building something tangible.

Maury, who joined YPO in 2018, fused her first love, engineering, and her experience in business with her youthful aspiration to make a difference in the world when she became Chief Executive Officer of the Sydney-based Avani. In her role leading the technology company that decarbonizes buildings, Maury is working toward solving the globe’s biggest challenge – its own viability.

“Commercial real estate is one of the largest contributors to global carbon emissions, but it’s a complex problem,” says Maury. She adds that while companies increasingly have sustainability targets and ESG plans in place, most aren’t confident that they can deliver the improvements needed to drive real change. 

Avani, she explains, has spent almost two decades developing advanced integration technologies that actively decarbonize buildings by changing the way they behave. The platform connects with existing building technologies, usually in larger commercial buildings but anywhere there is significant energy usage or resource usage – heating, lighting, water – anything that goes into the operations of a building. 

Avani’s systems work to eliminate waste by accessing a building’s data, applying self-correcting automated actions to change the building’s behavior, and tracking the improvements of sustainability initiatives through a series of user-friendly dashboards and reports. 

“Decarbonizing buildings is our opportunity to make a lasting impact on climate change while helping our clients unlock a greater impact of their own,” Maury says. 

Decarbonizing buildings is our opportunity to make a lasting impact on climate change while helping our clients unlock a greater impact of their own. ”
— Nicolette Maury, CEO, Avani Solutions share twitter

By “changing a building’s behavior,” Maury means they can help their clients shift the time of day that they use certain energies, reduce the overall amount that they’re using and help them use energy when there’s more renewable energy in the grid, not when they’re exclusively pulling dirty sources of energy.

Real-life examples

A chain of grocery stores uses a lot of energy to maintain the proper refrigeration for its products. With the data Avani collects, the store can choose when to push power into its freezers, based on when the renewable energy grid has ample supply, or when to pull back. 

“What’s powerful about that is that instead of these buildings being a drain on the energy grid or contributing negatively to climate change, they become part of the solution,” Maury explains.

Do you bring a sweater into a movie theater even though it’s hot enough to fry an egg on the pavement outside? Avani solves for that by integrating a cinema chain client’s ticketing platform data and creating rules that match the cinema’s operations to the attendance numbers, saving energy.

“Let’s say a showing at a particular time is at less than 50% capacity,” Maury says. “The system knows to dial down the air conditioning. Not only are you saving energy and saving money, but you are also not freezing your patrons.”

She adds, “That example shows that rather than there being a trade-off between emissions cost and human experience, in most cases we can make it all better, and it becomes a win-win.”

How to prove a negative

Maury acknowledges that it is sometimes difficult to measure the impact Avani is making. 

“A lot of the work we do is preventing usage of energy or resources, so we’re effectively finding ways to stop people from emitting more carbon, to stop people from using more water, to stop them from generating more waste,” Maury says. “So it can be hard for clients to measure the impact of their actions without having the data to back it up”.

One way to gauge the impact is to measure the baseline energy usage and carbon emissions that a company was producing across their building operations and then assess what happened when they implemented the Avani platform. 

For one client, Maury says, they found they were saving over 1,100 tons of CO2 per year.

Another client cut 21% of their energy usage, which saved them almost 50% of their operational costs. 

Explains Maury, “It wasn’t just the reduced energy that was having a benefit. They were also having operational savings from the central view they had of what was happening across their building operations. They were able to better manage their maintenance work across their buildings and better manage their staff so that they were doing higher value-added work.”

Making a difference at home

Before coming to Avani, Maury led teams at various companies that solve problems or disrupt industries through technology. ‘Engineer’ Maury enjoys defining clients’ unmet needs where innovation can help while ‘business consultant’ Maury likes leading people through the processes of transformation and change. 

“I get excited about the role that technology can play in solving complex problems,” she says. 

She left Australia in 2019 and spent four years in Europe, getting involved in the ESG strategy for a major European bank. She returned in 2023 because, she says, she was passionate about finding a way to accelerate Australia’s journey into becoming one of the key players in solving climate change worldwide, instead of, in her words, “punching below our weight.”

She adds, “That’s what brought me to Avani. I was looking for an opportunity to apply those transformational change skills and technology platforms to climate change in Australia and to help us become a global contributor to the overall climate change challenge.”

Like many parents, Maury, who has three sons from primary school age to teenage, feels the pressure to protect the planet. “The concept of what world I want to leave behind for them is such a hugely emotional topic that makes me say ‘far out,’” she says. “We have been irresponsible in how we have used our natural resources. I want to leave this world better than we found it.”

She thinks of that when she’s feeling particularly challenged at work. “At the end of the day, goodness gracious, we’ve got so much work to do to make this planet healthy, sustainable and thriving. And we’ve got the technology to do it, so that makes me hugely optimistic.”

Collectively getting to zero

Next for Maury is Avani’s Net Zero Tracker, which will help companies define their target timelines to reach net zero and plan out how to get there – and course-correct along the way.

She explains, “This moves companies from an aspirational net zero target to an achievable and accountable one. In some cases, it can take them to what we call real zero, which is not relying on carbon credits but getting them to a point where rather than taking resources from the world around you, you are contributing beneficial outcomes.”

Speaking to her YPO member peers, she says, “We all have a huge responsibility as YPO members no matter what business we’re in to understand how we can have a positive impact on the world. In every business I’ve been in, my focus has been on how I can amplify my work so that in addition to generating business results, it also generates social or environmental results. Everyone at YPO has the power to make a difference.”