What presidential hopefuls can learn from the original “Climate Corps”

The 2020 presidential candidates are starting to introduce an array of proposals to fight climate change. Included in the mix are multiple calls for creating a “Climate Corps” – a national service initiative designed to engage America’s youth to advance climate solutions.

I’m excited by the increased attention on climate change and about the debate on how best to involve the next generation in solving the climate crisis. As candidates and public officials look to develop their policy ideas, they might look to lessons learned from the original Climate Corps – Environmental Defense Fund’s fellowship program that empowers the next generation of sustainability leaders to help major companies, organizations and industries to take action on clean energy and climate.

Here are four considerations to help inform the effective design of any national climate-related service initiative.

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Meet the young minds solving the climate crisis

As a Cruise Director for an expedition travel company in the Arctic and Antarctic, Meghan Kelly often found herself in conversations with locals about the receding coastline. She heard how decreasing sea ice is diminishing traditional hunting grounds, along with the passages between one community and the next in the Arctic. For the families who have been there for generations, surviving means adapting to a warmer climate.

To many of us, these remote locations may seem far away. But stories like this are happening much closer to home. Climate change is altering, and in some cases destroying, the environments we grew up in.

It’s easy to feel hopeless when hearing these stories. But here’s one reason why I’m optimistic about the future of our planet.

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Their vote and their jobs: Millennials’ new tools for climate advocacy

A new poll by CNN shows that climate change now ranks as the very top issue among Democratic voters – beating out historically popular issues like healthcare.

Engaging in climate advocacy is growing globally. And what I find to be especially interesting is the innovative approaches that people are taking to make their voices heard.

Climate change’s time could be now, and people are seizing the opportunity. People like Summer Sandoval.

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3 inspirational examples of sustainability leadership to ring in the New Year

A lot happened in 2018. The U.S. made some notable progress with the first Muslim and Native American women elected to Congress, and and SpaceX launched the world’s most powerful rocket. (I also became a first-time dad! And remember Yanny vs. Laurel?). And we experienced some major lows, with hundreds of innocent lives lost to multiple mass shootings and families torn apart due to the current administration’s troubling immigration policies. Now, with 2018 coming to a close, attention is being redirected to the year ahead.

But before I begin anticipating what’s to come in 2019, I want to step back and celebrate a few big corporate sustainability accomplishments from 2018 that I’m particularly encouraged by.

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This Election Day, leverage your influence on climate

I remember the exhilaration I felt as my mom and dad drew the curtain to fill out their ballot, and I know I’ll experience a similar sensation tomorrow when I cast a vote for what I believe in: A cleaner, better future.

Findings from last month’s IPCC Special Report show the dramatic effects that climate change is already having and will continue to have on our planet. It’s a world of more extreme storms, rising sea levels and vulnerable global supply chains. It’s a world that looks vastly different from the prosperous, clean energy future so many of us desire.

That’s why tomorrow, I’ll head to the polls with my wife and my 6-month-old daughter, and we’ll vote for candidates who support policies that help stabilize our climate. From there, I’ll head to work where I’ll fight for a low carbon future in another way: By empowering business leaders to make climate action a top priority within and outside of their four walls.

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Grad student helps Blue Shield of California cross the finish line on solar project

Yesterday afternoon, local officials and Blue Shield of California employees gathered in El Dorado Hills as CEO Paul Markovich cut the ribbon on the healthcare company’s newest solar power installation. I’m always excited to see companies breaking ground on clean energy projects, but I’m particularly thrilled about this one. That’s because three years ago, I met Radhika Lalit – the grad student who laid the foundation for this project.

Investing in clean energy is a smart decision for business, but it’s not always an easy path. It takes time, money and bandwidth, to move projects from an idea to reality. So in 2015 when Blue Shield of California partnered with EDF Climate Corps for help with developing its renewable energy strategy, I was hopeful that Radhika, a grad student at Stanford at the time, could give Blue Shield what they needed – an extra set of hands and dedicated project management.

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How Google, BlackRock, Hilton are doubling down on sustainable business

If you were asked five years ago “What types of companies are thinking about – and acting on –sustainability?” you would likely answer with the usual suspects: Patagonia, REI, etc. Less likely on your radar, I’d venture to guess, were players like TPG Capital, Novartis or Caterpillar. Today, companies across all sectors are re-envisioning what it means to be sustainable, and EDF Climate Corps is helping them do so.

Last week I attended my 7th EDF Climate Corps training – the annual kick-off to the summer fellowship. I left the reception with the feeling that this year would be different than previous; partly due to my new role as manager of the program, but more so from the conversations I had with this year’s cohort of 115 EDF Climate Corps fellows. There was a shared feeling that the mindset around corporate sustainability has changed from a nice-to-have to a must-have. And it was inspiring to hear how this group of determined, talented individuals plans on helping some of our country’s largest businesses meet and strengthen their climate goals.

It’s inspiring people like these – coupled with the broader trends at play – which give me so much confidence in the EDF Climate Corps model to help more companies tackle larger, more impactful and more innovative energy-related projects. Here’s why:

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Big brands drive change in China’s manufacturing hub

In just a few days I, along with EDF+Business’ Xixi Chen, will be traveling across China to talk with companies and students about corporate energy management. The trip comes one week after China’s “Golden Week”—the country’s eight-day-long national celebration. Each year, the holiday marks the largest week for tourism, bringing in over 700 million tourists at home and abroad to the nation’s streets and roughly $87 billion in revenue.

But while the streets are bustling, China’s industrial and manufacturing powerhouse comes to a standstill. This is a mandatory national holiday for all citizens, which means, for the entire week, almost everyone is off of work, businesses and factories are shut down, shipping lines are put on pause, and companies with suppliers in China are busy preparing for a week of silence.

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China: the new leading voice on climate change?

This is the first of a three-part blog series covering corporate sustainability in China. Experts from EDF Climate Corps examine how businesses are shifting the ways they approach energy management in response to increasing climate commitments.

This past June, 197 countries reaffirmed their commitments to reduce GHG emissions in an effort to curb global climate change. The U.S. was not one of them. This decision, a major backpedal for America, made room for a new frontrunner to take the reins on global climate leadership. And that’s exactly what has happened.

After President Trump backed away, China, the largest GHG emitter and coal consumer, recommitted to forge ahead with the Paris agreement. The nation recognizes climate change as a major challenge faced by all mankind and a threat to national security, which is why Beijing has deemed the Paris agreement its “highest political commitment”. China’s participation in any international agreement on climate is not only critical, it’s an opportunity to dominate the clean energy sector and inspire others to take action.

Manager, EDF Climate Corps

Here are three ways China is positioning itself to meet its targets (America, take note):

1. Enforce goals at every policy level.

China has set aggressive targets aimed at reducing the nation’s greenhouse gases that are supported and enforced by climate policies at the international, national and local level. This alignment allows for greater consistency and cooperation between the private and public sectors, enabling greater efficiency in working towards these common goals.

At the international level, China reaffirmed its promise to meet the commitments (working closely alongside the EU) outlined in the Paris agreement, including peaking CO2 emissions by 2030. Domestically, China has both short-and long-term plans to help ensure their energy goals are met. The Strategic National Energy Plan was completed this past April and China is on track to achieve its energy goals outlined in the 13th Five-year plan.

At the local level, cities have their own carbon-cutting plans. Shenzhen, one of China’s manufacturing hubs, aims to peak the city’s carbon emissions by 2022—eight years ahead of the national target. Companies, too, are ramping up their efforts.  For the past two years, EDF Climate Corps has placed four fellows in IKEA’s Shenzhen offices to help meet these targets by focusing on increasing the sustainability of the company’s supply chain (Stay tuned for more on this kind of corporate engagement in the next post of this series).

2. Invest in clean energy.

China continues to expand its dominance in renewable energy. Recently, they committed to investing $360 billion in clean energy development. According to China’s National Energy Administration, renewable energy already employs 3.5 million people in China (compared with less than a million in the US) and this new investment is expected to create 13 million more jobs in the renewable energy sector by 2020. That’s enormous growth.  

The private sector is tapping into this market as well. Chinese companies already dominate among the most profitable clean energy companies in the world with 35% of the top 200 publicly traded corporations earning significant revenue from renewable energy being Chinese. Simply put, in China, clean energy is viewed as smart business and smart economics.

[Tweet “China takes the lead on climate change action w/ plans to invest $360bil in clean energy development. Where’s the US?”]

3. Use a multi-faceted approach:

Manager, EDF+Business

China is coming at climate change from all angles. In addition to the policy mechanisms and promotion of clean energy mentioned above, China is securing long-term investment and sustained financing to encourage innovation and the adoption of new technologies. For example, this year China launched five pilot zones to promote “Green Finance”, a vehicle aimed at raising funds for pollution clean-up.

Also this year, President Xi Jinping pledged to launch the world’s largest national carbon market; a decision EDF played an important role in by providing the Chinese government with critical technical support and consultation. The market will hasten the transition to a low-carbon economy and send a message to the world that China is serious about finding solutions. Additionally, this presents an enormous opportunity for the private sector to curb emissions. Companies are incentivized to innovate and reduce their emissions, selling excess allowances and opening up new revenue streams.

The road forward for China

The momentum we’re seeing in China is in sharp contrast to Trump’s America. It’s this strong leadership and creativity that is needed to address GHG emissions within China. And it sets an example for others to follow. Delivering on its many commitments and aspirations won’t be easy, but for China to declare them as necessary is a big step in the right direction–one that has the potential to create massive positive change.

In our next blog post, we’ll take a closer look into how companies are already making and delivering on plans to do their part in helping China achieve its climate commitments.


Follow Scott and Xixi on Twitter, @scottwood_, @Talk2Xixi


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EDF Climate Corps Proves its ROI for Private Equity Firms

As summer officially gets underway, the 2015 EDF Climate Corps fellows are already off to the races seeking out energy and cost-saving opportunities for some of the world’s largest companies and organizations. Among those participating, we are pleased to place 13 fellows with private equity firms and their portfolio companies, the largest such cohort in a single summer, besting last year’s record of 12 fellows. This brings the grand total up to 57 EDF Climate Corps fellows who have worked in the private equity sector (including with portfolio companies) to date.

EDF Climate Corps fellows Yien Huang (left) and Jiamu Lu (right) collaborating at the fellow training

EDF Climate Corps fellows Yien Huang (left) and Jiamu Lu (right) collaborating at the fellow training

Since 2008, EDF has worked with the private equity sector to drive environmental results, beginning with a partnership with KKR & Co. L.P., and later with The Carlyle Group and Oak Hill Capital Partners. Resulting from this work was a suite of free tools designed to help firms identify and manage environment, social and governance (ESG) issues. EDF Climate Corps offers private equity firms a powerful resource that continues to deliver environmental benefits alongside real financial returns.

This year, as in past years, we continue to see a diverse range of participating companies and projects:

  • In 2015, we welcome new hosts Guitar Center, NBTY (vitamin/food supplement supplier), Ortho Clinical Diagnostics (medical equipment manufacturer), Pharmaceutical Product Development, and Gelson’s Markets (a grocery chain in southern California).
  • Among returning companies, we’re excited to welcome back Floor & Décor, Philadelphia Energy Solutions, Avaya, and Caesars Entertainment, the last of which was featured in episode 7 of the Showtime series Years of Living Dangerously (now available on Netflix, Hulu and Amazon Prime), which profiled the efforts of EDF Climate Corps.
  • HCA Healthcare will also be returning, marking the company’s sixth straight year of participation.
  • KKR & Co. L.P., Carlyle Group, and Hellman & Friedman will have fellows working at the firm level this year.

The work that these fellows will engage in this summer ranges from energy benchmarking and efficiency upgrades to demand response assessments and green revolving loan fund design. We’ve written previously about the myriad ways that fellows can add value both at private equity firms and portfolio companies and we’re excited to see new stories unfold this summer. Watch this space as well as our Climate Corps-specific blog, where fellows across a variety of sectors will share their experiences and accomplishments.