Smart Investments see Green: KKR reports savings and growth in third year of the Green Portfolio Program

Today, private equity giant Kohlberg Kravis Roberts & Co. (KKR) announced the third year of results for its Green Portfolio Program, a project we launched together in 2008. We piloted the program with only a handful of KKR companies and our goal was to demonstrate that private equity firms are well-positioned to take advantage of environmental management at the portfolio level.  Fast forward three years, and KKR’s now global program is reaping financial and environmental benefits at a scale that makes it clear that business and environmental performance go hand in hand.

Through a range of operational improvements at 14 companies around the world, the Green Portfolio Program has achieved over $365 million in operating cost savings and avoided 810,000 metric tons of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, 2.2 million tons of waste and 300 million liters of water since 2008.

These portfolio companies are taking advantage of opportunities across their value chains to improve environmental and financial performance:

  • Tarkett, a leading manufacturer of flooring and sports surfaces in France, improved manufacturing processes and upgraded cooling technologies to reduce water consumption more than 20 percent – the equivalent of over 120 Olympic sized swimming pools.
  • Dollar General, a discount retailer with more than 9,800 stores in the U.S., is reporting sizeable results for the second time. A continued focus on reducing and reusing cardboard at stores and distribution centers has helped Dollar General reduce waste by 74 percent , and add $80 million to their bottom line through cost savings and recycling revenue since joining the program. 
  • Pets at Home, the U.K’s largest retailer of pet food and products, focused on reducing emissions from its fleet, which makes deliveries to over 300 stores across the U.K. Through a combination of equipment upgrades, driver training programs and improved delivery scheduling, it reported early success – saving $1.8 million in fuel costs and sparing the air 3,400 metric tons of GHG emissions.

While the results of the Green Portfolio Program alone are impressive, they are even more significant because they illustrate an underlying commitment and rigor from KKR to enroll companies, identify opportunities and report results in a transparent manner.

Over the past year, KKR has made a number of moves that indicate the Green Portfolio Program and its broader environmental, social and governance (ESG) efforts are here to stay. KKR teamed up with Business for Social Responsibility to develop an approach to managing ESG issues throughout its global supply chain and brought on a handful of our EDF Climate Corps fellows to identify energy efficiency investments at portfolio companies. In September, KKR published its first annual ESG report, a comprehensive blueprint laying out the founder’s vision for responsible investing. Underlying all of these efforts is KKR’s commitment to bringing on dedicated full-time staff to focus exclusively on growing its ESG programs and impact.

On the investment side, KKR has been busy identifying opportunities to generate strong financial and environmental returns. Just yesterday, it announced a joint investment with Google and Recurrent Energy in a portfolio of solar PV farms that will provide the Sacramento Municipal Utility District with 88 megawatts of clean power in the coming years.  KKR’s investment will be drawn from a new venture, SunTap Energy LLC, formed to invest in solar projects in the U.S. with a $95 million line of equity. SunTap represents KKR’s first domestic renewable energy project and adds to its global portfolio of investments, including Sorgenia, a French wind park operator, and T-Solar, a Spanish solar company.

At EDF, we continue to seek significant opportunities in the private sector to improve environmental performance, and the private equity industry has shown its potential to move the needle in a meaningful way. KKR is helping to define an emerging set of best practices for the industry through its Green Portfolio Program and growing effort to manage ESG issues systematically. The time is now for more private equity firms to raise the bar for the industry, and make good on the opportunity to deliver superior returns – for investors, the environment and the communities in which they operate.

Idea Storm Session 2: How Do We Support Employee-led Sustainability Initiatives?

By John Pflueger, Principal Environmental Strategist, Dell

Every day, employees working in their businesses in their communities, supporting their families, have opportunities to affect the environmental sustainability of their organizations. Dell and Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) are working together to gather ideas for how the internet and social media can support their work.

Initiatives to make a company’s operations, products and services more environmentally sustainable come in all shapes and sizes. Some are broad initiatives covering an entire organization; some are smaller, more tightly-scoped, aimed at addressing specific issues. Some start in board rooms; others may start with a single employee working remotely from home on her laptop.

And some of them are like the metaphorical snowball-on-a-hill, starting as a small nucleus and continually gathering both size and momentum.

Regardless of an initiative’s size, shape or genesis, it takes employees to nurture it and bring it to a point of success. The final decision and final action that leads to a more or less sustainable outcome is almost always in the hands of an employee. We are the people who make the day-to-day decisions and take the actions that lead to energy savings, smarter packaging, reusable products, sustainable designs, and more.

From now until January 9th, 2012, we invite you to use Dell's IdeaStorm platform to add your voice to the collaborative discussion. We want your suggestions, comments and stories on how the internet and social media can be used to empower the sustainability-minded employee. And we want you to vote on others’ ideas as well.

How do we provide employees the tools, knowledge, connections and motivation they need to make their companies more environmentally sustainable? When and where have employees been particularly successful? What are they doing that works? How and why do they do it? What do they need to be even more successful? 

To participate, please visit the "Employees Leading Sustainability" Storm session page on IdeaStorm and contribute your ideas (note: registration is required).

You can also read others' suggestions, add your own comments and vote ideas up or down. Share word of this "Storm Session" with your colleagues as a wide net will help generate more and more innovative ideas.

Your contributions will help inform Dell's activities, support EDF's work around employee-led sustainability, and be made available to a broader business and academic audience.

Thanks in advance for your engagement! We look forward to seeing your ideas! Get started here.

This content is cross-posted on Direct2Dell: Dell's Official Corporate Blog.

How the Sustainability Consortium Creates 'Hot Spots' for Innovation

By Will Pekel, Intern, Corporate Partnerships Program

What if there was one source for comprehensive and credible information about the environmental and social sustainability of everyday products? Could such a resource accelerate the environmental and social change we need across the retail industry, from suppliers to retailers to consumers?

In 2009, Walmart provided the initial funding for The Sustainability Consortium (TSC) to help answer these questions and make such a resource a reality. The goal of TSC is to develop and promote science and integrated tools that can improve informed decision making for sustainability throughout the entire lifecycle of everyday products.'s recent interview with Bonnie Nixon, TSC's executive director provides a great overview of the consortium's efforts.

But creating a comprehensive system to evaluate the sustainability of products in a rigorous, credible and transparent way across thousands of different product categories, each with tens or hundreds of products will be no small feat.

Take for example, a relatively simple product like sour cream. Walmart and Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) examined the environmental impact of its private brand sour cream, and discovered many "hot spots" throughout its life cycle. For instance, the methane gas from cows, emissions and fuel usage from transportation and distribution, and energy and water usage from pasteurization and homogenization processes, just to name a few. Now imagine doing this assessment for the thousands of products on every shelf across Walmart's more than 9,000 stores globally, and you begin to get a sense of the challenge at hand.

But with all of the resources at TSC's disposal, this organization has the potential to tackle these environmental and social challenges head-on and truly transform the retail industry. TSC already has over 75 corporate members, including retailers Ahold, Kroger, Marks & Spencer, Safeway and Walmart, and embodies an economic network that stretches around the world.

For EDF, TSC represents an unprecedented opportunity to develop the product and process insight required to create truly sustainable consumer goods. To that end, EDF has partnered with Innovations for Scaling Impact (iScale), a group with expertise in strengthening global multi-stakeholder efforts, to develop a strategy for how NGOs can help scale environmental change and maximize the impact of organizations such as TSC.

A recent meeting organized by EDF and iScale brought together key NGOs in Washington, D.C., to discuss how they can help TSC transform the consumer goods industry. Together, we discussed the challenges and the opportunities of TSC. EDF and iScale then created a set of recommendations that are being released to the public for the first time today [PDF].

It's likely that TSC will fail to achieve its lofty ambitions without having NGOs deeply and broadly involved in its efforts. The report makes the case for: NGO involvement in TSC leadership and decision-making; A transparent and inclusive process that focuses on scientific rigor; Broad participation by social and environmental groups from across the globe; Exploring financial support for NGO engagement; Use of tools beyond life cycle assessment (LCA) to ensure all environmental impacts are realistically represented; and Most importantly, moving TSC from measurement to action to drive real environmental change.

TSC is beginning to show signs of progress, recently completing 50 initial product category dossiers for goods ranging from beef to video game consoles. These comprehensive resources assess each product category's environmental and social impact, and will be peer reviewed and eventually turned into profiles that can be used by TSC member companies such as P&G, Dell and Coca-Cola to transform their value chains. TSC is also showing signs that it realizes the value of involving NGOs in its work, having recently appointed two NGO representatives to its board of directors from WWF and CARE.

Fundamentally changing the products we use every day will not happen suddenly or easily. It will require extraordinary effort and collaboration from all stakeholders. But, with this powerful collection of global retailers and consumer product goods companies, along with expert academics and scientifically grounded NGOS, we might just have a chance to succeed.

This content is cross-posted on

Private Equity: Breaking down the barriers of climate-related investment

By Euan Marshall, Program Manager, Environmental and Social Development, IFC

Addressing the climate finance gap will require investment across many asset classes. There is a particular need to fund small and growing businesses that are developing innovative low carbon products and services. According to a recent IFC report [PDF], Private Equity (PE) is particularly well suited to channel investments to these businesses.

However, capital market failures have constrained the growth of climate-related PE investment in emerging markets. While climate-friendly investments by PE/venture capitalists totaled $20 billion a year in 2010, less than 10 percent of these deals were in emerging markets. Therefore, in this arena, the PE industry faces key barriers in growing climate related investment. Some barriers include:

  • Fund Mobilization – Nascent sectors lack investment track records, which investors use as key inputs for investment decisions. This catch 22 is slowing the rate of fund formation and the ability of teams to successfully close.
  • Fund Deployment – Investments from climate funds are restricted for several reasons, each adding to an increase in overall transaction costs: incremental costs accrued by first movers in new markets; additional due diligence expenses with regard to climate related technology and regulations; and smaller than average deal sizes.

The report provides an important tool that will help shape the design and structure of public sector interventions to increase climate related PE investment. To support the growth of climate related PE funds, public funds can:

  • Provide anchor investment to help incubate new fund management teams
  • Support the fund formation process by sponsoring new investment teams
  • Provide grants, technical assistance and concessional loans to PE funds to support innovative climate friendly transactions.

By supporting new fund managers, public capital can help create a reinforcing dynamic within the PE industry. Easier fund raising would encourage more fund managers to form. More funds would lead to more investment, building track records and creating investor confidence in the sector. This virtuous circle will:

  • Quickly catalyze and leverage additional private sector capital into new climate related PE investments
  • Help develop a cadre of new intermediaries in emerging markets who can source and support new climate friendly business opportunities
  • Lead to investment in new innovative businesses that will both help create jobs and reduce GHG emissions.

For more information, you can read the report produced by IFC and supported by funding from the Governments of Japan and the UK and the Global Environment Facility.


Private Equity and EDF Climate Corps: A Growing Relationship

By Lillias MacIntyre, Corporate Partnerships, Program Associate

Mutual benefit is an essential characteristic of a successful relationship. At EDF – and especially within Corporate Partnerships – we continue to merge and strengthen the relationships within our networks to form alliances that work.

In May, I wrote about the increasing synergies between our Green Returns and EDF Climate Corps projects.  Both initiatives tap into important networks that make the business case for improving environmental management. To boot, in 2011, nine of the 49 companies participating in the EDF Climate Corps program were owned by private equity (PE) firms:

  • Booz Allen Hamilton (Carlyle)
  • Dunkin’ Brands (Carlyle)
  • Diversey (CD&R)
  • ServiceMaster (CD&R)
  • QTS (General Atlantic)
  • HCA (KKR)
  • SunGard (KKR)
  • Dave & Buster’s (Oak Hill)
  • ViaWest (Oak Hill)

Below are some examples of potential savings and reductions from projects identified by EDF Climate Corps fellows at PE owned companies:

Dunkin’ Brands – Tasked with identifying store-level energy efficiency projects and analyzing their financial potential, the fellow determined that a 15% reduction in electricity usage at 2,700 free-standing stores could result in collective savings of 80 million kWh, $12 million in energy costs and 47,000 MT in associated CO2 emissions annually.

Diversey – Four primary infrastructure improvements were proposed: on-demand hot water heaters, direct-fire space heaters, lighting sensors/controls, and a new compressed air system that could generate savings greater than $200,000 and 900 MT of CO2 annually over the life of each project.

Service Master – The fellow built on work from the previous year and found ways to reduce fleet fuel consumption and corporate electricity use by developing business cases for hybrid and electric vehicles in addition to identifying lighting upgrades.  These projects could reduce CO2 emissions by 143 MT, cut 114,000 kWh of electricity and save $15,500 in electricity costs annually.

QTS – With energy initiatives already in place, the fellow validated and improved those practices.  The company was enrolled in demand response programs, alternate energy solutions were implemented, and recycling and e-cycling plans were developed.  If rolled out to a few facilities, these programs could cut 60 million kWh of electricity, 40,000 MT of CO2 emissions and 15 million gallons of water use annually – saving QTS $4.3 million in net operating costs over project lifetimes.  QTS plans to invest $10 million to implement the identified projects – a solid indication the company understands the value these initiative will add to its operations.

HCA – HCA participated in the program in 2010 and is also part of the KKR/EDF Green Portfolio Program, but despite this, the 2011 fellow was able to identify and evaluate two project ideas: the installation of Variable Refrigerant Volume (VRV) heating and cooling systems and modular boiler systems.  Both projects could yield reductions of 2.3 million kWh of electricity and 81.5 million kWh of natural gas, saving $2.3M in energy costs and more than 16,000 MT of CO2 emissions annually.  This could potentially save the company $16M in net operating costs over the 20 year project lifetime.

SunGard – In addition to being a part of the KKR/EDF Green Portfolio Program, this company participated in the EDF Climate Corps program last summer.  To build on current initiatives, the fellow developed a framework for establishing office Green Teams and Energy Treasure Hunt campaigns to identify additional opportunities.

ViaWest – The fellow focused on recycling, water efficiency, employee engagement and energy efficiency.  Recommended projects included corporate-wide electronic and cardboard recycling, PUE (Power Usage Effectiveness) reduction targets, energy efficiency financing and lighting maintenance projects.  These projects could help ViaWest recycle approximately 75 MT of computers and cardboards and save 7 million kWh in annual energy use – cutting roughly 4,400 MT of CO2 emissions and generating$500,000 in cost savings.

The entire group of 2011 EDF Climate Corps fellows (including those placed at cities and universities) identified $650M in potential net operating cost savings; potential reductions in energy use equivalent to what 38,000 homes use per year; and opportunities to avoid CO2 emissions equivalent to the emissions of 87,000 passenger vehicles annually.  (Complete results and highlights can be found on our website.)

Host companies pay fellows $1,250/week for 10-12 weeks and reimburse for travel expenses to the EDF Climate Corps training and end of summer network event.  With an 86% implementation rate for energy savings over the first three years, the IRR of an EDF Climate Corps fellow can be greater than a top quartile PE fund.  Furthermore, by hiring a fellow, firms can jumpstart their environmental management programs and generate momentum for implementing the program throughout their holdings.

After this year’s results, we expect to have even more PE firms and portfolio companies involved in 2012.  Companies are signing up now as the February 23rd deadline approaches, so I encourage you to visit our website and learn more!

EDF Climate Corps places specially-trained MBA and MPA students in companies, cities and universities to develop practical, actionable energy efficiency plans. Sign up to receive emails about EDF Climate Corps, including regular blog posts by our fellows. You can also visit our Facebook page or follow us on Twitter to get regular updates about this project.

That's a Wrap! EDF Climate Corps fellow at Humana reflects on results

John-Paul Fontelo is a 2011 EDF Climate Corps Fellow at Humana and an MBA Candidate at University of Notre Dame’s Mendoza College of Business

Upon returning to Notre Dame this fall to kick off my second year of business school, I found myself reflecting on the real value of my summer fellowship as an EDF Climate Corps fellow at Humana. So to round out the series of blogs I wrote this summer about my experience, below are the key results and takeaways of my EDF Climate Corps fellowship.

John Paul FonteloFirst, the results:

  • I helped identify significant cost savings for Humana through analyzing Variable Frequency Drives (VFDs) and airflow management solutions;
  • the Johnson Controls Inc. (JCI) engineers we worked with suggested that Humana take advantage of free cooling in the data centers*, which could allow for the data center operators to shut down the Computer Room Air Conditioners (CRACs) for 6000+ hours a year; and
  • We identified an added benefit from the VFDs in that they would help the cooling operate so efficiently that a few CRAC units could be shutdown indefinitely.

All in all, the projects I helped identify could save nearly 16 million kWh or $620,000 in electricity costs per year, which translates to about 11 metric tons of carbon emissions.

And along the way of identifying these energy-saving solutions, I learned a few things. My key takeaways are:

  • Even though much of the “low-hanging fruit” has been picked, one can always find more efficiency projects.
  • A common theme I’ve noticed is the importance of influencing human behavior as well as proposing recommendations.  No one gets that more than Humana, where the HR organization is huge.  In a field as vast and people-oriented as health and wellness, this company realizes that the key to success lies in engaging its employees on a meaningful level.
  • Louisville is a place where any civic-minded person who wants to get involved in the community can easily make an impact.  I had the privilege to meet with the CEO of a Fortune 100 company (Mike McCallister) and the Mayor back-to-back, and there are not a lot of cities where that would be possible.

The outgoing dean of the business school at Notre Dame, Carolyn Woo, told us when we first arrived in South Bend last August that business should not be thought of as a “necessary evil.”  Rather, it is a “necessary good” because it can be a force in solving society’s problems, such as over-pollution.  I have seen that on display this summer, with engaging people at Humana, Johnson Controls and other sustainability partners who possess the courage and moral imagination to “ask more of business.”

*Note: The free air cooling project we worked on with JCI is quite interesting. For more information on free-air cooling, see this EDF-produced video about how the practice could cut the energy needed to cool AT&T’s buildings by up to 50 percent.

This content is cross-posted on In Good Company: Vault's CSR blog.

EDF Climate Corps places specially-trained MBA and MPA students in companies, cities and universities to develop practical, actionable energy efficiency plans. Sign up to receive emails about EDF Climate Corps, including regular blog posts by our fellows. You can also visit our Facebook page or follow us on Twitter to get regular updates about this project.

Trucks continue to be VIP

Earlier this year, I wrote a blog post discussing the Hybrid Voucher Incentive Program (HVIP) by the California Air Resources Board (CARB). The program, with a little over $11 million in funding, is still going strong into next year albeit with a few minor changes.

Vouchers still range between $10,000-30,000 on a first-come, first serve basis, but for FY 2011-12, there will be higher voucher amounts for the first three vehicles purchased by a fleet, with declining amounts for subsequent vehicles purchased. The program’s intention is to encourage participation by fleets considering hybrid and zero-emission vehicles for the first time while still allowing for the continuation of larger volume purchases.

If you are planning to purchase a large number of hybrid and zero-emission vehicles, it might make sense to do so prior to these changes, which will occur in early 2012. Any unallocated funding from FY 2010-11 funds will be rolled into this new fiscal year.

On the other hand, it may be beneficial for fleets considering a purchase of just a few vehicles to wait for launch of the new FY 2011-12 HVIP guidelines, when the voucher amounts will be higher for the first three vehicles purchased. See the chart below for more details.

FY 2011-12 HVIP: Eligible Truck and Bus Voucher Amounts

(Upon launch of FY 2011-12 HVIP in early 2012)

Gross Vehicle Weight
in Pounds (lbs)

Base Vehicle Incentive

First 3* vehicles

4 to 30 vehicles

31 to 65 vehicles

66 to 200 vehicles

5,001 – 8,500 lbsZero-Emission





8,501 – 10,000 lbsPlug-in Hybrid










10,001 – 19,500 lbs





19,501 – 33,000 lbs





33,001 – 38,000 lbs





> 38,000 lbs





Each fleet begins with zero vehicles purchased for the purpose of the FY 2011-12 HVIP
(i.e. purchases from prior HVIP funding years do not count).

An ARB-certified hybrid vehicle above 14,000 lbs is eligible for an additional $5,000 voucher.
Public school buses are eligible for an additional $5,000 to $10,000 per vehicle voucher.

For more information regarding this year’s HVIP, visit:

New York City Housing Authority Works with Environmental Defense Fund, Finds $56 Million in Cost Savings with New Technology

By: Rory Christian, Director, Energy Department, New York City Housing Authority

Though the first official day of winter isn’t until December 22, New York City is already well into heating season. And with over 178,000 apartments to keep warm, the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) knows all too well that cranking up the heat means drastic spikes in energy bills. However, that is not the case for one of our Bronx developments.

This year NYCHA installed a new technology known as Wireless Energy Modules in the 14 buildings that make up Castle Hill Houses. This technology allows NYCHA to provide consistent, comfortable temperatures to our residents in the 2,023 Castle Hill apartments throughout the year, while actually saving money and energy. NYCHA worked with Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) on this effort. EDF is a national organization widely recognized for innovative solutions to tough problems, such as increasing energy efficiency and reducing carbon emissions.

With the help of EDF Climate Corps, NYCHA analyzed the potential of installing Wireless Energy Modules across our entire portfolio. We found that NYCHA could save $31 million in annual heating costs and up to $25 million in annual electric costs and avoid 177,000 metric tons of CO2 emissions each year. Check out this two-minute video about the project and its savings potential.

What is even more exciting than the impressive savings opportunities is the power of scale the technology offers. The benefits of Wireless Energy Modules aren’t unique to NYCHA and can be realized by public housing authorities and private landlords across the nation. The ability to measure temperature at the apartment level and to heat buildings more consistently provides immense savings potential, as well as greater comfort for residents.

At NYCHA we are eager to share what we've learned with our contacts across the country. This includes national and regional public housing authority associations, as well as our network of private landlords in our Section 8 program.  And you can help spread the word too. Please share the video  with public and private landlords who are interested in cutting their energy costs, avoiding CO2 emissions and keeping their residents comfortable during heating season.

If NYCHA can save $56 million and avoid tons of emissions each year  in New York City alone,  just think of the savings that would result from a national commitment from housing authorities and private landlords to improve energy efficiency.  Now that's a New Year’s resolution worth making, and keeping!

EDF Climate Corps places specially-trained MBA and MPA students in companies, cities and universities to develop practical, actionable energy efficiency plans. Sign up to receive emails about EDF Climate Corps, including regular blog posts by our fellows. You can also visit our Facebook page or follow us on Twitter to get regular updates about this project.

What Happens If Everyone Gets a Star?

By: Stephanie Judd, MBA/MS Candidate at the University of Michigan’s Erb Institute, 2011 EDF Climate Corps fellow at Belk

Belk, a major regional department store company based in Charlotte, NC with 303 locations across the South, is working to improve energy efficiency as part of its sustainability program. And it tapped the Environmental Defense Fund’s expertise as it started down the path toward smarter energy management. That’s where I come in.

This summer Belk hired me on as an EDF Climate Corps fellow to evaluate the company’s store portfolio with the EPA’s ENERGY STAR program and study the risks and advantages of using ENERGY STAR as a benchmark for energy efficiency over the long term.  While wading elbow-deep into all things ENERGY STAR, I realized that other companies may in fact be seeking answers to the same questions I was. So in the holiday spirit of sharing and helping others, here are the four big questions I asked myself and some of the answers I dug up:

1.       Is the ENERGY STAR standard a good one?

ENERGY STAR scores for commercial buildings are based on how a building’s energy efficiency compares to that of other buildings with similar uses.  In 2003 the Commercial Building Energy Consumption Survey (CBECS) analyzed different buildings and their energy use intensities to create a baseline understanding of energy efficiency in buildings across the country.  To be eligible to receive the ENERGY STAR, a building must score at least a 75, indicating it is in the top quartile of energy efficiency for its building category.

In theory the ENERGY STAR model is robust, addresses the risk of market saturation and maintains integrity as a standard over time. As building owners invest to improve the energy efficiency of their buildings, the baseline average energy performance will improve, thereby increasing the level of efficiency required for ENERGY STAR qualification.  To remain eligible for the ENERGY STAR, building owners must continually invest in new efficiency measures.  However, ENERGY STAR scores are based on formulae discerned from data collected by CBECS, which is supposedly conducted on a quadrennial basis.  Yet the last time the survey was conducted was in 2003.  The standard’s baseline hasn’t been updated in almost a decade and there’s no news about plans for this year.

2.       What will ENERGY STAR mean to Belk’s store guests?

Part of the consideration for adopting a standard is Belk’s expected customer response and the affect of the ENERGY STAR on Belk’s brand identity.  But ENERGY STAR is widely associated with home appliances, electronics and other products because of the huge success the standard enjoys in that space.  Will customers be confused if Belk stores earn the ENERGY STAR?  When discussing buildings consumers recognize the LEED standard more readily, but LEED requirements for energy efficiency are actually lower than those for ENERGY STAR. That said, LEED does address additional issues like human comfort, air quality, sunlight and even human health.  How will the recent adoption of the ENERGY STAR standard by other retail chains change customers’ ideas and emotional response to the stores that display the ENERGY STAR logo on their doors?  (Hint: Read the fabulous blog my peer EDF Climate Corps fellow wrote about creating an ENERGY STAR plan for Target). Because Belk has opened a new LEED-accredited store and is planning others, it will be important for the company to maintain clear messaging around building quality and energy efficiency standards.

3.       How will ENERGY STAR impact the business?

The ENERGY STAR online portfolio manager helps users calculate the expected kilowatt hour savings and avoided emissions should a building’s score improve.  What’s harder to determine is the financial and human resource commitment required to achieve that improvement in the first place.  ENERGY STAR calculations consider many variables, including weather information from NOAA, so stores with higher scores do not necessarily require less investment to become ENERGY STAR qualified.  A store in South Carolina rated a 53, which is just above the national efficiency average, and requires only a 22% reduction in energy use to be ENERGY STAR qualified. Meanwhile another store in Mississippi with the same score requires an energy use reduction of more than 75%.  Without running an in-depth audit of the entire suite of stores it’s tough to reasonably estimate the resources necessary to make the Belk portfolio one that boasts the ENERGY STAR across the board.

4.       Will the ENERGY STAR program effectively guide energy efficiency investment?

Perhaps the most salient characteristic of the ENERGY STAR program is that a building has either earned the ENERGY STAR or it hasn’t.  Yes – technically the buildings are scored from 1-100. And yes – an 86 is better than a 79.  But everything over a 75 earns an ENERGY STAR label.  Obviously, as Belk works to achieve the ENERGY STAR across its portfolio, a clear yes/no data point helps prioritize investments and formulate measurable goals.  But what happens when the entire portfolio is ENERGY STAR qualified?  What will be the motivation to keep improving?  This has already become an issue with the ENERGY STAR label on products. This year marked the launch of a new “Most Efficient” designation that recognizes the products in several categories that rank in or about the top 5% of energy efficiency.  Will buildings have the opportunity to earn a similar specialty label when ENERGY STAR alone no longer distinguishes a building?

Good news is some success came from asking all these questions. My work culminated in the creation of a large-scale energy strategy for Belk and a 5 to 10-year goal that is aggressive, but achievable and ties into the sustainability and carbon footprint reduction strategies of the company. I also developed a system of prioritizing stores for energy efficiency improvement and constructed financial models that illustrated the necessary expense and expected energy savings throughout the building portfolio.  These recommendations could result in almost a 20 percent reduction in Belk’s carbon footprint, and save the company over $10 million annually in energy costs if the entire project were implemented. Whether it’s through ENERGY STAR or not, there’s no question that energy efficiency measures are certainly worth it.

EDF Climate Corps places specially-trained MBA and MPA students in companies, cities and universities to develop practical, actionable energy efficiency plans. Sign up to receive emails about EDF Climate Corps, including regular blog posts by our fellows. You can also visit our Facebook page or follow us on Twitter to get regular updates about this project.

Private equity changes ripple across the pond

Over the past few years we have been working with The Carlyle Group (Carlyle), Kohlberg Kravis Roberts (KKR), and other industry leaders to develop new best practices that create environmental and business benefits for our partners, and ripple effects across their industry.  Our goal is to make measuring and managing environmental performance a standard practice for value creation across the private equity sector.

In October, I traveled across the pond to London for Capital Impact 2011, hosted by The Financial Times and the Emerging Markets Private Equity Association (EMPEA), and meetings with a number of private equity industry contacts.  I came home inspired by the progress we have made, the best practices that are emerging in the industry, and the competitive ripples flowing back and forth across the Atlantic.  Here are a few reflections from my trip:

Sign here

To date, over 900 organizations have inked the United Nations Principles for Responsible Investment (UNPRI) — up 70 percent since 2009.  That's impressive growth for any industry.  It indicates that more and more investors see responsible investment principals as the place to start and a solid foundation for building environmental, social and governance (ESG) programs.  It's a great first step, but the real test will be how firms convert the principles into action.

Help wanted

The secret is out.  Hiring in-house ESG professionals provides a great return on investment.  That's why ESG hiring is on the rise in private equity.  Nearly a dozen ESG experts are now working at major firms, including 3i, Actis, Blackstone, Doughty Hanson, KKR, Riverside and TPG.   These professionals are making an impact and all indications point towards more ESG hiring at private equity firms and portfolio companies.

Environmental management is about risks AND opportunities

Strategic private equity firms have figured out that best in class environmental management means both mitigating downside risks and capitalizing on upside opportunities throughout the investment process.  These firms are now beginning to identify and take advantage of upside opportunities to increase efficiency, reduce pollution and waste, and drive cost savings at their portfolio companies.   Carlyle's EcoValuScreen and Apax's Value Programme are both examples of innovative due diligence approaches designed identify and capitalize on these opportunities.  Both efforts were featured in Private Equity International's February 2011 Responsible Investment Compendium.

Metrics matter

Leading companies are moving beyond ESG policies to ESG metrics.   Over time, these firms are realizing that if they measure and manage ESG performance with the same rigor and metrics they use to manage financial performance they will unlock new opportunities to create value for their portfolio companies and investors.  The results reported on KKR's Green Portfolio Program website are a great example of industry leading environmental and financial performance metrics.

Hot off the presses!

Moreover, 2011 was a banner year for publications about responsible investing in private equity.  Mega buyout firms Carlyle and KKR released their first corporate citizenship reports.  BVCA, CDC, Doughty Hanson, World Wildlife Fund UK and others issued reports on ESG practices and responsible investment for private equity.   With institutional investor interest in ESG management and performance at an all time high, 2012 should bring even more reporting on responsible investing in the private equity industry.

Awareness that systematic ESG management drives increased value creation is on the rise in private equity.   As a result, private equity firms are no longer asking why they should focus on ESG, but how to do it.  The trends highlighted above point to some of the best practices that are emerging in both Europe and the U.S.  This is a promising start, but there's still a long way to go before these ripples turn into an industry wide wave.  In an increasingly competitive private equity industry, I'm looking forward to seeing which firms ride the ESG wave to the top.