EDF Bowes Fellow Works to Revolutionize Nitrogen Use in Farms

When was the last time you enjoyed a chicken sandwich for lunch, chicken wings at a bar, or grilled chicken at a family cookout? If you’re like many Americans – myself included – the answer is recently. We all know poultry is a staple. But what many don’t know is that producing all that chicken takes a lot of resources and creates a large environmental footprint that stretches from the plate to millions of acres of corn and soybeans. In fact, the largest part of poultry’s environmental footprint is from corn fields.

The reason? The corn that dominates poultry diets depends on huge amounts of fertilizer packed with nitrogen – a key nutrient to make things grow. That’s not a problem in itself, but here’s the rub: closely matching nitrogen applied to what the crop takes up is very difficult, and many farmers lack the information they need to be efficient.  Apply too much, and extra nitrogen runs off into water or is released to the atmosphere as greenhouse gas. But apply too little, and the farmer loses yield.

Fortunately, there is a proven solution to this challenge facing both farmers and the environment. A small but growing group of farmers from Iowa plains to North Carolina hills are approaching fertilizer differently. Armed with technology like GPS and aerial imagery, farmers gain much better information about the nutrient needs of their own fields. Empowered, they fine-tune how they manage nitrogen to apply the right rate at the right time and place. Those advances slash nitrogen runoff and greenhouse gas emissions. And they bring something equally important – cash savings for farmers who can cut fertilizer costs without hurting the yield they and their families depend on.

The exciting news is that the fact based solution is known. The challenge is that we need to take it to scale on the over 90 million acres of American corn farmland. As Corporate Partnership’s Project Manager and inaugural William K. Bowes Fellow, I will use my McKinsey consulting expertise to help find innovative business approaches that make that happen. If you have an appetite for this kind of progress, I hope you’ll stay tuned and share your voice.

EDF Climate Corps Blog Posts Have Moved

For those of you who've scoured EDF’s blogs for news from EDF Climate Corps, life is about to get much easier. From here on out, you'll find all posts and updates from EDF Climate Corps fellows, host organizations and staff on the EDF Climate Corps blog, which launched Tuesday.

For those of you unfamiliar with EDF Climate Corps, it’s EDF’s innovative fellowship program that places specially trained MBA and MPA students in companies, cities and universities to build the business case for energy efficiency. This year’s class of 98 fellows starts this week with an intensive energy efficiency training underway in Charlotte, NC before they’re set loose to sleuth out energy savings at 88 leading companies, cities and universities across the nation.

Visit us here for news from the frontlines of energy efficiency. This summer we'll also feature several ongoing series, such as a weekly report on themes in organizational change we see bubbling up from the collective experience of our fellows.

If you want to stay in the loop, don't forget to sign up for email alerts in the left-hand menu. If you're signed up for EDF Climate Corps alerts from the EDF Business Blog or the EDF Energy Exchange, you should sign up again at our new location to continue receiving them.

KKR Green Portfolio Program Celebrates Fourth Anniversary with Global Expansion

KKR’s Green Portfolio Program, a project we launched together in 2008 to identify ways to improve the financial and environmental performance of KKR’s portfolio companies, turned four years old yesterday. And by the numbers, it’s been a very busy four years.

Participating portfolio businesses have grown from our three pilot companies at the launch to 23 companies (out of 70 KKR holdings) around the world today, spanning a wide variety of industries and geographies. The growth and diversification are testament to the power of a framework designed to unlock financial and environmental value across diverse company operations. Last year, we announced a third year of results for the Green Portfolio Program, totaling more than $365 million in cost savings and additional revenue, and saved 810,000 metric tons of carbon and avoided 2.2 million tons of wasted material across 13 reporting companies.

Companies joining the Green Portfolio Program today include Del Monte Foods and healthcare supplier Capsugel in the U.S.; Danish telecom leader TDC A/SVersatel (telecom) and KION Group (logistics equipment) in Germany; along with telecommunications infrastructure provider Bharti Infratel and Dalmia Bharat Cement in India. (More on these companies is available at green.kkr.com.)

The program is also gaining new depth. KKR has added two full time professionals to its teams since 2008 to focus exclusively on building a robust Environmental Social and Governance (ESG) program including a comprehensive annual report (the second one is due this summer).  The firm has also launched key partnerships with Business for Social Responsibility focusing on supply chain sustainability, and Transparency International to concentrate on governance.

See EDF’s Fred Krupp and KKR’s Henry Kravis discussing four years of Green Portfolio experience.

KKR’s efforts are critical in our effort to raise the bar for the private equity industry more broadly.  In fact, we’re now seeing a number of top firms competing on environmental performance, as they discover the financial benefits that come from looking at their businesses with fresh eyes.

So congratulations, KKR. We look forward to what the next four years will hold and hope to see an even faster race to the top.

EDF Climate Corps Turns Five, Continues to Surprise

If Facebook were a country, it would be the third largest in the world. With over 900 million users, the social media site now has a market valuation of $104 billion – all because of a clever idea conceived in a college dorm room eight years ago.

A good idea taken to scale can be surprisingly powerful. EDF Climate Corps is just that. Each year since 2008, EDF has placed specially trained MBA and MPA students in companies, cities and other public entities to develop customized energy efficiency investment plans that cut costs and emissions.  To date, this program has identified $1 billion in energy savings, enough to power 100,000 homes each year and avoid the emissions of 200,000 cars.

EDF Climate Corps started five years ago as a good idea, with just seven fellows working in Bay Area companies.  When these fellows found $35 million in energy savings, EDF realized we had a powerful model that we could both scale nationally and extend into other sectors.

Today, we’re announcing the 2012 EDF Climate Corps fellows and the 88 organizations – including Facebook – where they will be working to bring energy efficiency to scale.  With this class, we will have trained and embedded 285 fellows in 186 organizations. And the power and versatility of this good idea keeps surprising us.

Delivering results across sectors

The EDF Climate Corps model has proven successful across the public, private, and nonprofit sectors.  This year we’ve got a more diverse group of host organizations than ever, with tech giants Google and Facebook, industrial companies Caterpillar and Cummins, public school systems in Boston, Chicago and Houston, city governments in Dallas and New Orleans, and even the America’s Cup sailing race.

Engaging human capital

When we started EDF Climate Corps, it was all about technology – lighting, climate control systems and office equipment. Now, more and more organizations are tasking their fellows with developing employee engagement campaigns – organizing office green teams and challenging employees to take charge of reducing their energy use. This is consistent with the trend we see of looking beyond the low-hanging fruit to the organizational changes that can deliver systemic and lasting reductions in energy use and greenhouse gas emissions.

Building the movement for energy efficiency

A growing number of national and place-based initiatives have emerged to capture the huge economic and environmental benefits of energy efficiency.  We’re seeing increasing overlap between these programs — including the DOE’s Better Buildings Challenge, the C40 Cities, and the Seattle 2030 and Cleveland 2030 districts, and EDF Climate Corps.  By identifying immediate and cost-effective ways to cut energy use and greenhouse gas emissions, Climate Corps puts organizations on the fast track to meeting their commitments under these programs.

One thing hasn’t changed in the last five years:  EDF Climate Corps delivers real results for the climate and the bottom line.  The program works well regardless of where an organization is on its energy efficiency journey.  For hosts that already have a robust energy management program, EDF Climate Corps fellows provides skilled hands and a laser focus on efficiency that gets projects over the goal line. For others, the fellow is there to get the ball rolling, identifying quick wins and building momentum for further progress.

Happy fifth birthday, EDF Climate Corps!  Stay tuned to our blog all summer, where fellows, host organizations and EDF staff will report out on the good ideas they have this summer and the surprises that are sure to accompany them.


EDF Climate Corps Blog Posts Are Moving! Subscribe now to continue receiving them

The flag's about to drop on EDF’s 2012 Climate Corps season, which kicks off Tuesday, May 22. We’re ramping up for the largest class of fellows EDF Climate Corps has ever seen, and we want to make sure you don’t miss a minute of the action. That’s why Climate Corps is launching its own blog platform – the EDF Climate Corps blog. From this day forward, you'll find all of your favorite updates from EDF Climate Corps fellows, hosts and staff on this new online platform. Sign up here to ensure you get the latest from the EDF Climate Corps blog directly in your inbox.

The blog will feature several ongoing series, including regular updates from the 2012 EDF Climate Corps fellows on the energy efficiency frontlines, a weekly trends piece on themes bubbling up from the collective experience of those fellows, and real-time insights from representatives at the companies, cities and universities in our network.

If you’ve enjoyed the EDF Climate Corps posts from the EDF Business blog and the EDF Energy Exchange, don’t miss out.

Sign up here to continue experiencing EDF Climate Corps.

Cool Buildings, Parched Cities? EDF and AT&T Target Water Savings

By John Schinter, Executive Director of Energy, AT&T, and Gwen Ruta, Vice President of Corporate Partnerships, Environmental Defense Fund

We live indoors, we work indoors, we shop indoors, we even often play sports indoors.  With so much of the modern American economy taking place indoors, and population centers shifting to warmer regions, the environmental and economic impact of building cooling systems is on the rise. We often hear about the energy needed to power and cool this sprawling infrastructure.

But there’s another crucial dimension that is only just starting to surface: water.

As water becomes a more expensive, and sometimes contentious, commodity in many regions like the drought-stricken southwest, managing thirsty commercial buildings is going to become an increasingly important challenge for building owners.

In most large commercial and industrial buildings, tens of thousands of gallons of water flow through a big apparatus called a cooling tower (about the size of a two-car garage, they’re usually on the roof), where it evaporates out the top.

The U.S. Geological Survey estimates that commercial, residential and industrial buildings use approximately 47 billion gallons of water each day. And the EPA found that a typical office building uses more than 25 percent of its water supply for cooling towers.

Now, with all that water adding up, leading-edge companies are starting to rethink these systems. Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) is teaming with information and communication technology (ICT) giant AT&T, which operates thousands of facilities across the country. Together, we’re looking to develop operational improvements and best practices that can cut water, chemical and energy use in these cooling systems and improve overall building efficiency.

AT&T has calculated its water footprint, discovering that just 120 of its facilities accounted for nearly half the company’s 3.4 billion gallons of water used in 2010. The company rolled out its Water Scorecard to pinpoint potential water-savings opportunities and trained facility managers in an effort to increase awareness and understanding of water usage. It was clear that cooling towers represented an opportunity to improve efficiency.

Together, EDF and AT&T will build on those learnings. We will evaluate facilities and operations for efficiencies, and explore more creative ways to drive water and cost savings. We will look at the whole cooling process and pursue ways to eliminate cooling tower water use by utilizing cool, outdoor air to cool indoor space where feasible.

Quick calculations suggest that improving operations in the cooling towers at AT&T's largest facilities could save millions of gallons of water per year. Adopted on a broad scale, these solutions could save billions of gallons of water annually.

For example, if operational improvements were adopted across all existing commercial office buildings and manufacturing facilities in the Dallas/Fort Worth area in Texas, the water savings could be over 12 billion gallons per year. That’s equal to the water use of nearly 500,000 homes or approximately 13 percent of the water use in the region. Together, EDF and AT&T  have agreed to pilot best management practices and new technology at target facilities, and we plan to share our progress as we move forward with the project. Stay tuned for more updates as we uncover opportunities to improve efficiencies at the water/energy nexus.

Eco-Challenge Series Seeker Spotlight: EMC

InnoCentive, EMC and EDF recently announced a new Eco-Challenge seeking solutions for tracking shipments of used electronic components and subsystems and ensuring that they are disposed of responsibly. Safe, legal and transparent e-waste disposal is an ongoing concern for both industry and environmental groups, which want to make sure heavy metals and chemicals are not released as part of the recycling process.  We asked Kathrin Winkler,  Vice President and Chief Sustainability Officer for EMC Corporation to tell us more about the Challenge.


Hi Kathrin – thanks for talking with us about your Challenge.  Can you tell us why responsible e-waste disposal is such an important issue for EMC and for the electronics industry as a whole?

Certainly.  Electronic waste actually contains a lot of material of value – particularly precious minerals like gold and copper. In fact, it is often said that a ton of eWaste contains more valuable metals than an equal amount of ore! The problem is that extracting this material needs to be done responsibly to protect human health and the environment. Too often, it ends up in the hands of informal workers – usually exported (often illegally) from developed economies to those still developing, but increasingly from waste generated in-country. These workers do not have the knowledge or resources to take proper precautions to protect their health and their environment. Or it finds its way into municipal landfills where some of the manmade substances in the equipment can have long-term environmental  impacts. Another primary concern is data security. At EMC, people rely on us to set the bar in terms of protecting customer data, which includes secure disposal. Responsible disposal of eWaste helps ensure that data is secured, which benefits everyone.

Why is it so difficult to tracke-waste now?

There are really two major challenges to tracking eWaste. The first is that much of it is disposed of by the consumers or users of the equipment, and as vendors, we have no way to know what happens to it. The second challenge is that the disposal process itself involves many players, each of whom tends to break it down to smaller component parts that are mixed with material from other sources and then passed on to another processor.

How close do you think the industry can come to 100% trackable e-waste?

You know, I think it’s unlikely that we will ever be able to trace everything. Ideally, we can remove the need to trace eWaste if the proper incentives and solutions are put in place to manage it responsibly. I am a bigger fan of trying to solve the underlying problem, than simply attempting to control a process we don’t like. Unfortunately, we’re not there yet, so traceability is an important bridge until the underlying system is improved.

On the other hand, we  have such a plethora of new tools available to us – from satellite data to Big Data analytics to new materials – that we may well have a breakthrough. I do think what may well arise is a means of either tracking sample streams rather than all of the eWaste, or else an approach to better understanding where it ended up without having to track its entire path. In that case, we’d hopefully have a handle on each end of the journey and could then reverse engineer the route it took.

Where do you think a solution to this problem might come from?

It’s probably most likely to come from an iconoclast – someone who sees patterns where others don’t – recognizing an analog from a completely different problem domain.

What do you plan to do with the solution?

Hard to say, without knowing what form it takes. First analyzing feasibility, hopefully performing a test or proof-of-concept, ideally with a partner or two. After that, results will determine the course of action. One thing we do know – if it’s a breakthrough idea that is broadly applicable to the market, we will want to share it!

Is there anything else you’d like our Solvers to know about your Challenge?

Yes. We have a grand vision, and it is more than stopping eWaste from going to developing countries. What we’d really like to see is an ecosystem of parties and economic model that allows eWaste processing to both be safe, and to provide economic opportunity in areas that depend on it for subsistence. And if we can create a financially sound model for recovering the maximum value from used electronics, we can do a better job of closing the loop and reducing the extraction of raw materials. This Challenge is an important step in a re-imagining the future!

Very interesting – thanks Kathrin and good luck with your Challenge!

Thank you.

This content is cross-posted on InnoCentive's Perspectives on Innovation blog.

A Hydrating Dose of Energy Efficiency: EDF Climate Corps Fellows at Nestlé Waters

By Justin Lindenmayer and Jenny McColloch, MBA Candidates, Yale University's School of Management, EDF Climate Corps Fellows 2011

With the most LEED certified factories (9), most water-efficient production process among all  packaged beverage companies in the US, and well on its way to achieving its goal of a 20% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions below 2006 levels by 2013, what more could Nestlé Waters North America possibly do to improve its energy and water footprint? This is exactly the question that faced us on our first day as EDF Climate Corps Fellows at the largest bottled water company on the continent.

We began our journey armed with a week-long, EDF-led crash course in corporate energy efficiency and the peace of mind that Nestlé is dedicated to environmental stewardship.  Walking around the brand new corporate headquarters — another candidate for LEED Certification – during our first week gave us a virtual best practices manual in office energy efficiency but did nothing to build our confidence that we would find many “easy wins.”  (Here,  occupancy sensors, fluorescent lamps, tinted windows and Energy Star equipment abound.)

Fast forward ten weeks. After countless conversations with Nestlé Waters engineers, facilities and plant managers, financiers, accountants, EH&S experts and third party vendors; visits to bottling plants in Maine and Ohio; and consultations with E-Source, EDF Staff, and our peers in the Climate Corps community – we’ve identified three themes that have largely defined our experience, and that we feel are critical to bear in mind when playing in the energy efficiency sandbox.

1. Fresh eyes bring new perspectives

As well-established as a company’s existing energy efficiency infrastructure may be in terms of staff, money, commitments and overall resources, it is important to infuse it with new blood every once in a while. This allows consideration of previously unconsidered ideas, questions long-standing assumptions, and inspires some “why not” experiments. Moreover, new eyes always have the potential to identify new varieties of low-hanging fruit or fruit that’s been growing behind the leaves.

It didn’t take us long to notice the bright blue refrigerators holding Nestlé Waters products that flank the coffee stations on each of our office’s four floors. Our early conversations with the building engineer confirmed that the fridges stay on all night, despite the fact that no one is looking for a cold, refreshing, non-perishable bottle of water at 1 AM. Recognizing that all other energy-using equipment of significance shuts down each night in “unoccupied mode,” we asked ourselves and the building engineer why the fridges couldn’t be added to the unoccupied mix with a few simple programmable timers. A few calculations and conversations later, we teased out an extremely low-cost, almost immediate payback project for which we and the building engineer are equally enthusiastic about endorsing.

2. Even when opportunities are identified, they need legs to get them moving.

Regardless of how obvious the energy savings and discounted payback may seem on an energy efficiency project, at large manufacturing corporations, energy efficiency project proposals often need multiple champions to get them off the ground for implementation. Energy-related projects are regularly initiated by the plant personnel who double as efficiency sleuths on the factory floor. But identification is just the first step in an efficiency project’s journey through a deep web of savings calculations, layers of approvals, capital allocation and technology tweaks before reaching final implementation and realizing energy savings.

To implement energy efficiency improvements at scale nationwide, a coalition of advocates must understand corporate efficiency priorities and funding criteria, appreciate the differences in production systems across plants, and most importantly, utilize an effective communication system to leverage efficiency “wins” across such a sophisticated supply chain.

While most of the low-hanging fruit was addressed across Nestlé Waters’ plants long ago, a second generation of energy-saving projects unique to the beverage industry has developed and proved  challenging to scale across  diverse production environments nationwide. Our presence at Nestlé Waters this summer has facilitated communication among engineers, efficiency experts, plant managers and corporate champions –  enabling discussion of “apples-to-apples” best practices across plants and helping Nestlé Waters standardize the energy and cost saving calculations of plant-specific innovations.

3. Just because it’s hard to quantify doesn’t mean it’s not important.

While the EDF Climate Corps program has enabled the identification of millions of kilowatt hours and operational cost savings at leading corporations over its short history, a Climate Corps fellow’s projects often go far beyond the traditional numerical calculations that make energy efficiency projects so compelling. Many fellows help companies expand their energy management strategies, to design employee engagement systems or to review the latest energy efficiency financing approaches. This work is often difficult to quantify, but the project outcomes are vitally important to the success of widespread energy efficiency project implementation, and eventually, energy and cost savings.

At Nestlé Waters, one of our projects has involved working with the energy managers to establish the efficiency strategies for two very newly acquired brands: Sweet Leaf & Tradewinds Tea, which represent NWNA’s first foray into non-water beverages. While we are not responsible for calculating NPVs of potential efficiency improvements at these new facilities at this stage, our EDF Climate Corps training has been fundamental to our contributions.

With Nestlé Waters’ prioritization of energy efficiency across its operations, it’s been no surprise to us that the company has achieved such remarkable greenhouse gas emissions reductions despite its sustained growth. Indeed, Nestlé Waters’ bottled waters have the lightest carbon-footprint in the entire U.S. packaged beverage industry. It may be difficult to place a dollar figure on such a responsible corporate energy efficiency approach, but there’s no denying its value.