EDF Climate Corps Family Reunion: Reflecting on where we’ve been and determining where we’re headed

In March, Duke’s new Center for Energy, Development and the Global Environment (EDGE Center) approached the EDF Climate Corps team with a novel idea: convene a one-day reunion  for all past Climate Corps fellows and companies to distill lessons learned from the program’s three years of work breaking down barriers to energy efficiency.  Since Duke’s EDGE Center seeks to become a thought leader in this space, they imagined no better way to learn, capture and re-apply energy efficiency insights than with rich examples from three years of Climate Corps.  So with generous support from 2010 EDF Climate Corps companies Ingersoll Rand and Eaton Corporation, nearly 100 Climate Corps participants made the trip out to Blue Devil country for our “Capturing the Energy Efficiency Opportunity: Lessons from EDF Climate Corps” workshop on September 17th.

I had a unique perspective: I am both a Climate Corps alumna (at Cisco Systems in 2008) and an EDF staff member on the Climate Corps team now.  As you can imagine, I was unsure of what to expect, especially since the word “reunion” often elicits anxiety around seeing an old flame and the dreaded comparisons that ensue.  I was also curious to see what kind of discussions would unfold and how candid participants would be sharing their experiences around corporate energy efficiency.

However, the energy (pun intended!) and enthusiasm of participants was infectious. Fellows and companies were excited and curious about the progress of their peers, and were eager to swap stories on creative answers to energy efficiency. In fact, the energy and creativity of the fellows was on display even before the conference began. For example, Ryan Mallett wrote a song about his 2010 EDF Climate Corps experience at Verizon and Sarah Will, a 2010 fellow at REI, created homemade “Retro-Commissioning” T-shirts that were available for others to purchase.  Fellows were excited to be there, and it showed.

Climate Corps alumni fellows reunited at "Capturing Energy Efficiency Opportunity” – see Sarah’s “Retro-Commissioning” T-shirt!

The event began with “climate leaders in conversation”: Michael Lamach, Chairmen, President and CEO of Ingersoll Rand speaking with Peter Senge, Director of the Society for Organizational Learning at the MIT Sloan School of Management and author of The Fifth Discipline. While Michael Lamach made a resounding push for energy efficiency, Peter Senge warned that energy efficiency might lead to a greater dependence on coal.  Nick Fassler will talk more about Senge’s provocative point of view in his blog post tomorrow, so be sure to check it out!

My take-away: we have to look at our energy problems at a systems level and avoid putting all of our eggs in one basket such as energy efficiency.  That being said, energy efficiency is an excellent common-sense opportunity both to avoid GHG emissions and to contribute to a company’s bottom line.

After the keynote, the day included three panel sessions and break out conversation to discuss the topic at hand. The organizing framework for the conference will be the “energy efficiency process” (Fig. 1) which views energy efficiency in corporations as a series of decisions regarding:

1)     Energy Efficiency Motivation and Identification

2)     Energy Efficiency Financing

3)     Energy Efficiency Implementation and Benchmarking

Each panel was moderated by professors from Duke’s Fuqua School of Business and included 2-3 company representatives to share their experiences around the energy efficiency in corporations.

Because both the fellows and company representatives participated in a shared experience – EDF Climate Corps regardless of when and where they participated – we really were able to have rich discussion around our tables. For example, in the Energy Efficiency Financing discussion Jeramy Lemieux, Senior Auditor of Environmental Health and Safety at Diversey spoke about Diversey’s energy strategy:

1)     Avoidance – the cleanest energy is the energy we don’t use;

2)     Efficiency – the energy we do need powers best in class energy-efficiency technology;

3)     Generation – Ensure that the energy we are using is generated from clean sources.

Diversey uses this strategy to guide a portfolio approach to evaluating environmental investments.  Instead of requiring every single energy efficiency measure to meet a 3-year payback, a suite of measures with a spread of paybacks can accomplish the same financial parameters.  Jeramy’s energy efficiency initiatives have led to direct savings so in turn, Diversey’s CFO is on board for this holistic approach.  Jeramy’s anecdotes led to excited brainstorming about how to approach financing and implementation at other companies in a similar fashion.

In the end, this experimental event was a huge success. In the past, our Climate Corps results have been all about numbers – the total potential energy, cost and GHG emissions savings that our fellows identify over the course of a summer.  However, events like this remind us that stories, best practices, and idea exchanges can be far more impactful to break down barriers to energy efficiency in a systemic and lasting way. We aren’t trying to compete with ESCOs or energy managers or energy consultants, but nudge energy efficiency along in the corporate sector and make a dent in the energy savings opportunities that exist if commercial buildings adopt efficiency measures.  Our team of EDF staff, a growing number of EDF Climate Corps alumni fellows and companies, and leading research institutions like Duke are all driving transformational change.  And so we’re banking on having a lot more of these “reunions.”

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