Katie Ware manages marketing and communications at Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), an EarthShare member organization. Here she answers some questions about EDF Climate Corps, a highly competitive fellowship program that pairs specially trained graduate students with companies, cities and universities to take their energy management programs to the next level – whether they’re just starting out or are already leaders in the climate and energy space.
Where did the idea for EDF Climate Corps come from?
We recognized one of the fastest and most cost-effective ways to cut greenhouse gas emissions was through improved energy efficiency in buildings. Commercial and residential buildings account for more than a third of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States. McKinsey & Company estimates that the U.S. could reduce its annual energy consumption 23 percent through efficiency measures, which could save companies and consumers over a trillion dollars.
EDF launched Climate Corps in 2008 to seize this opportunity. We started with just seven student fellows in Bay Area companies. When those fellows found $35 million in energy savings in just one summer, we realized the model worked. We’ve since placed nearly 300 fellows in approximately 200 leading companies, cities and universities across the nation.
Since EDF Climate Corps began, we’ve uncovered energy efficiency opportunities worth $1 billion in net operational costs for participating organizations like Facebook, Boeing, Chicago Public School Systems and the City of Atlanta, and more than a million metric tons of avoided annual carbon emissions for the planet.
What are some common efficiency improvements that organizations make as a result of the program?
When we started the program, we wanted the fellows to take advantage of the low hanging fruit for energy opportunities – to go in and turn off the lights, so to speak. The fellows would crunch the numbers and work closely with companies to implement technical energy efficiency projects in areas such as lighting, HVAC and office equipment. More recently, we’ve also seen a shift in the fellows’ efforts toward helping develop more strategic projects and processes to improve energy management practices.
Many organizations task fellows with projects around employee engagement, behavior change initiatives, long-term goal setting and investment prioritization tools. We’ve especially seen this in organizations that have participated for multiple years. Each year, we’re able to take the engagement deeper and focus on making improvements to allow for long-term, comprehensive energy management. We’ve found that fellows are able to provide value to any organization, whether they’re just beginning to focus on energy management or are already an industry leader. There’s always more to do.
What challenges do companies face in implementing efficiency or sustainability measures?
Companies face many barriers to implementing energy-saving projects, most of which have nothing to do with technology and everything to do with the way people make decisions. Put simply, companies are made up of individuals driven by priorities, habits, and organizational cultures that often impede progress on energy efficiency.
We’ve been doing a lot of thinking around ways to overcome barriers. We recently released the report Breaking Down Barriers to Energy Efficiency: Findings from EDF Climate Corps 2011. It offers effective ways to motivate employees, create accountability for success, identify investment opportunities, ensure funding for financially attractive projects, measure cost savings, and scale performance gains continuously over time.
Whether a company is trying to get off the starting block, or taking its energy and climate initiatives to the next level, the report outlines proven strategies for getting beyond the low-hanging fruit to the tremendous savings that energy efficiency can deliver.
How do you ensure companies continue making efficiency upgrades after the students have left the program?
Fellows often identify folks to pass the baton on to before leaving the program. We follow up with host organizations to check on implementation in the years following the fellowship as well. It’s promising to see that most of the low-to-no cost projects get implemented right away. Many of the larger scale projects identified in the past couple years are already complete or underway too. A particularly interesting trend we’ve seen is organizations participating for multiple summers, with each fellow building on the work of their predecessor(s).
What changes does the program hope to make in the coming years?
While quick wins and low- or no-cost projects are critical to building momentum for energy efficiency, our goal is to move companies past one-off initiatives toward a comprehensive energy management strategy that delivers systemic and lasting reductions in energy use and greenhouse gas emissions. As we continue to expand our network and engage more deeply with organizations, we look forward to increasing our impact.
Do you represent a company or organization that would like to get involved with EDF Climate Corps to cut energy costs? Email EDF at [email protected] to learn more. Spaces are filling up fast for 2013, so be sure to contact them soon.