Helping Private Equity Ask the Right Questions About the Environment

The Corner Office Column1 of last Sunday’s New York Times (10/24/09) featured an interview with Tim Brown, the chief executive and president of IDEO, titled “He Prizes Questions More than Answers.” When asked about key leadership lessons, Brown responds by saying “It’s very easy in business to get sucked into being reactive to the problems and questions that are right in front of you. And it doesn’t matter how creative you are as a leader, it doesn’t matter how good the answers you come up with. If you’re focusing on the wrong questions, you’re not really providing the leadership you should.”

The importance of asking the right questions is a valuable and timely reminder not only for business leaders but also for environmental advocates working to promote change.  It’s especially timely for me given the new collaboration that EDF just launched with IDEO and Capital C Partners to help scale up our work in the private equity (PE) sector from a few leading firms to the entire industry. Read more

Creating Business Value for Private Equity Through Environmental Management

As the global recession has forced many industries to adapt from their 'business as usual' approach, the private equity sector has responded by focusing a greater portion of their attention towards improving the operational efficiencies of their portfolio companies.

Several studies published in 2008-2009 have indicated that the primary driver for creating value in the PE sector for the foreseeable future lies in improving fundamental business operations rather than financial engineering (according to Accenture, The Economist, BCG, IESE Business School, and others).  As such, many general partners (GPs) and their stakeholders are seeking new ways to drive operational efficiencies.

Environmental measurement and management can help firms find new opportunities to improve efficiency, cut operating costs and reduce their environmental impacts.  EDF’s Green Portfolio Project has several successful case studies from our work with KKR and its portfolio companies to prove it.

Now our challenge is taking these efforts to scale across the sector to make environmental management a new best practice. Read more

Peeking through the Chemical Curtain with GreenWERCS

In May, with very little fanfare, Walmart introduced an extraordinary new tool known as GreenWERCS. GreenWERCS assesses the composition of chemical intensive products – which is just about any non-food item on a Walmart shelf that you can pour, squeeze, dab or otherwise apply to your body or use in or around your home or car. GreenWERCS analyzes the composition of individual products from ingredient data entered by manufacturers, examining its potential impact on human health and the environment. Read more

Tools to Improve Driving Habits and Save Your Company Money at the Pump

More and more fleets are looking to their drivers to help reduce emissions. It is well known that how you drive impacts the fuel consumption of a vehicle.  The private sector has clearly taken note of the money that can be saved (and made) in this area. Several firms have launched products to improve the driving habitats of fleet drivers.

Environmental Defense Fund is doing our part to advance this market too. Today, I’m moderating a panel at the Green Fleet Conference in Chicago that is exploring what several leading fleets are doing to improve driving habits.

We are also releasing a suite of tools we have developed to help companies effectively engage with their drivers. These tools include: Read more

Washington Post’s Headline Got the Story Wrong

This is a guest post from Sharyn Stein via EDF's Climate411 blog

It must have been a late night for one of the headline writers at the Washington Post. That’s the best explanation we can think of for the seriously misleading headline on a generally balanced story by reporter Juliet Eilperin.

The story is about the testimony of the head of the Congressional Budget Office, Douglas Elmendorf, who appeared before a Senate energy panel yesterday.

The article points out that Elmendorf went out of his way to say the costs of shifting to clean energy would be “comparatively modest” and that his analysis didn’t even include the heavy cost of failing to take action to slow climate change.  He estimated a very small economic difference under the clean energy bill over a long period of time.

The headline writer summed it up this way: “Cap-and-Trade Would Slow Economy, CBO Chief Says.”

This is extremely misleading since many readers will interpret this to mean that economic growth would actually turn negative, which is absolutely NOT what Elmendorf said.

What he said (and what Eilperin reported) is what’s reflected in the CBO analysis – that the economy is expected to grow strongly and thrive whether we pass a carbon cap or not. Read more

Emissions Reduction Efforts at the Nation’s Largest Commercial Fleet

Who’s the largest commercial fleet in the U.S.? If you guessed FedEx, UPS or Coca Cola, you’re wrong. AT&T operates 86,099 vehicles, ranking them first on the Automotive Fleet Top 300 Commercial Fleets list.

Last March, AT&T announced a major initiative to “deploy more than 15,000 alternative-fuel vehicles over the next 10 years.” AT&T’s efforts were recognized with several awards including a NAFA GreenFleet Award and a 2009 National NGV Achievement Award. Now the Center for Automotive Research (CAR) has released a study on the environmental and economic impact of their efforts. Among the key findings are that once AT&T’s program is fully implemented it will reduce emissions by nearly 32,000 metric tons of greenhouse gases per year.

These savings are significant: Read more

2009 Climate Corps Fellows Bring Excitement back to Energy Efficiency

So maybe energy efficiency has never captured the imagination in the same way that renewable energy has, but attention to the importance of energy efficiency has surged in recent months.  Why?  Because it saves both money and greenhouse gas emissions.

President Obama’s administration has touted energy efficiency as the cheapest, cleanest, fastest energy source and a July 2009 McKinsey report concluded that, “energy efficiency offers a vast, low-cost energy resource for the U.S. economy – but only if the nation can craft a comprehensive and innovative approach to unlock it.”

EDF has developed an innovative approach to unlock energy efficiency in the commercial building space.  It’s called Climate Corps, and here’s how it works: Climate Corps places talented MBA students from top-ranking business schools in leading companies to make the business case for energy efficiency investments in office buildings and data centers.

We just completed our second year of the program and the outcomes are quite impressive.  Overall, the 2009 class of Climate Corps fellows uncovered efficiencies in lighting, computer equipment and heating and cooling systems that could:

  • Save more than $54 million in net operational costs over the lifetime of the projects;
  • Cut the equivalent of 160 million kilowatt hours of energy use annually—enough to power 14,000 homes;
  • Avoid 100,000 metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions per year— equivalent to taking more than 12,000 SUVs off the road.

How did our fellows achieve such astounding outcomes?  By keeping an eye toward the “low-hanging fruit:” the no-cost or low-cost solutions that can provide companies with loads of savings.

Here are just a few of this summer’s stories: Read more

Hunting for Energy Savings at GE

Last week, I had the pleasure of participating in GE's latest energy Treasure Hunt. The Treasure Hunt methodology, developed by Toyota, uses lean manufacturing techniques and a focused, employee-led process to identify opportunities to cut energy costs and carbon footprint.

GE has conducted more than 200 treasure hunts at its facilities worldwide, a process that has driven a reduction in GHG emissions of 400,000 metric tons and saved the company over $100 million. (Read more about how they did it on GreenerBuildings)

The event marked the culmination of a three-day process where teams of GE employees combed its plant in Lynn, Mass., which manufactures jet engines, marine engines, turbofans and aircraft engines, looking for energy savings.  Team members confessed that they were a bit skeptical about finding much this time around Read more

Product Lifecycles Next on Corporate Energy Agenda

I’m convinced that the principles of environmental sustainability have gained a firm foothold at today’s leading companies. Why? Because even in the grip of the worst recession in 30 years, companies across the Fortune 500 list – from Wal-Mart (1) and GE(6) to Owens Corning (422) and SunGard (435) – are actively pursuing sustainability agendas.

At the same time, legislation to cap greenhouse gas emissions is making its way through Congress and the world community is preparing to hammer out a new climate treaty in Copenhagen this December.

So are we done? Not by a long shot.

While many on the biggest companies “get it,” there remains “the next 50,000” – those companies that make up mainstream corporate America that don’t yet get environmental sustainability or worse, haven’t even heard of it. So where must we go from here to spread environmental sustainability from the Fortune 500 to the next 50,000? Read more