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.
You know that feeling when you’re cheering for your team to win, and they do? That’s the feeling I get to experience every day in my job as Manager of the EDF Climate Corps network (aren’t I lucky?!) Yesterday GreenBiz announced it’s “30 Under 30" – a global search for emerging leaders who are shaping the next generation of sustainable business. To my delight, I saw Kayla Fenton, a 2015 EDF Climate Corps fellow, included in this impressive group. This was exciting, but not surprising; the EDF Climate Corps network is filled with inspiring leaders, just like Kayla, who are tackling corporate sustainability issues every day.
I first met Kayla when she was preparing for her summer with Nestle Waters NA. In just ten weeks, she managed to surpass everyone's expectations. “Kayla’s detailed analysis and cross-company collaboration created the internal engagement and buy-in to move forward with a Power Purchase Agreement (PPA) for my last company. Her great work inspired me to bring on an EDF Climate Corps fellow in my new role with Danone Waters of America to advance carbon reductions in North America for our carbon neutral brand, Evian." Recalled Debora Fillis-Ryba, Kayla's former supervisor at Nestle, now with Danone Waters of America.
Now, with Amazon, Kayla manages programs to minimize the company’s footprint by eliminating packaging waste. Her efforts save the company money and energy, and optimize delivery by reducing material across the supply chain. It’s innovative, it’s sustainable and it’s economic – it’s winning!
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:
Today marks my one year anniversary of joining EDF Climate Corps, where I’ve spent the last 12 months helping companies think through the strategies for meeting – or setting – their climate goals. What I’ve learned in this short time is that companies are going beyond the “safe bet” to tackling bigger and more impactful projects. In doing so, I’ve identified four important trends in corporate sustainability this year that all business leaders should be watching.
But before we get into these trends, let’s step back and look at how corporate sustainability has evolved. In my previous role as president of Green Impact Campaign, I helped thousands of small businesses get their foot into the sustainability door by investing in energy efficiency. It was a low-risk, reliable way to cut costs and reduce their carbon footprint. Now, with EDF Climate Corps, I’m working with businesses to go beyond implementing the already-proven strategies – like energy efficiency – to setting new trends that others will follow.
I remember some of the first interactions I had with companies working in the clean energy industry. I was an analyst at the time, which meant the conversations were more often than not, very technical, wonky and with men. At first, this was overwhelming. But my all-women MBA program prepared me for the male-dominated business world. I turned these initial concerns into motivation, and I built my technical expertise so that I could hold my own in conversations. If my knowledge was questioned, I was ready with an answer.
I’m not alone in this experience. Like many other STEM industries, women are underrepresented in the energy workforce, counting for only roughly 20-35 percent. The good news is that this trend is changing, and clean energy is leading the way. The clean energy sector is the farthest along in closing this gender gap compared to other energy sectors, opening up numerous opportunities for women looking to start their careers in this field, and I’m proud to be helping to make this possible.
Two years ago I had my first conversation with Stefan Karlsson, the Sustainability Compliance Manager for IKEA Purchasing Service (China) Co., Ltd. We talked about how IKEA was rethinking its business operations in order to green its global supply chain – and as the world’s largest go-to for affordable furniture – you can imagine how big a job that is. Right away, I could tell Stefan, and IKEA, was on to something big: encouraging hundreds of their suppliers to drive innovation and promote sustainability.
A goal, an opportunity and a partnership
IKEA isn’t unique in that it strives to provide affordable furniture. However, it is unique in that it strives to make products in ways that are good for people and the planet. That’s why in 2016, the company set a goal of encouraging its direct suppliers to become 20 percent more energy efficient by August 2017. As part of this target, IKEA initiated the Coal Removal Project – reducing coal use as a direct source from the energy portfolios of over 300 local supplier factories in China.
Just yesterday, the administration announced plans to cut the Department of Energy’s (DOE) renewable energy and energy efficiency program budgets by 72 percent according to a leaked draft of the DOE budget for fiscal year 2019. This is the second major blow to the renewable energy industry, coming only days after Trump imposed a 30% tariff on solar imports.
I find this ironic. On Tuesday, Trump stood before our country to deliver his first State of the Union address. It was a story on “America First” and domestic policy took the center stage – tax cuts, trade, the economy, jobs…and more jobs. But as he praised the accomplishments in these issues over the past year, I couldn’t help but see the other side: the opportunities we’re missing and the jobs we’re giving up (now even more so).
Earlier this week, Trump announced his decision to impose a 30 percent tariff on imported solar panels. A tariff will have a negative impact on solar – one of the fastest growing industries in the entire country.
Environmental Defense Fund released its second annual jobs report yesterday, In Demand: Clean Energy, Sustainability and the New American Workforce, following Trump’s decision. The report shows that solar jobs now outnumber those in the coal industry 1.6 to 1, with coal employing only 160,000. Even better, these jobs are local, well-paying and available to individuals from all types of educational backgrounds and career history.
But now, solar jobs are at risk. Yesterday, Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) estimated as many as 23,000 jobs would be lost under Trump’s tariff. The supportive policy environment that encouraged this growth is no longer in place. Let me explain.
Happy Cyber Monday everyone.
For those of us who didn’t break the bank on Black Friday, we’re filling up our online shopping carts with Cyber Monday sales – seeing if we can break new records of consumerism. I know I am.
Last year’s Cyber Monday was the biggest day in the history of U.S. e-commerce, totaling $3.45 billion in online purchases. That’s an enormous amount of money. But it’s just a drop in the bucket compared to the $25 billion spent on China’s Singles Day – a recording-breaking day for sales.
What started as an anti-Valentine’s day holiday for single Chinese people, Singles Day makes our Black Friday and Cyber Monday look like any ordinary day of shopping. Singles Day has become the world’s largest online shopping holiday. When you look at China’s population, it’s no surprise they out-shopped us. The economy will be made up of 500 million middle class consumers in the next five years – an exploding population – all of which are embracing the convenience and material abundance of consumerism.
Photo credit: Rhys Gerholdt (WRI)
After the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris (COP 21) in 2015, where the historic climate accord was established, it was near impossible to imagine a future COP where the US federal government wouldn’t play a central role. Yet now, at COP 23 in Bonn, Germany, the US government doesn’t have an official presence at the event – for the first time ever.
To fill the void of federal policy action, companies and organizations from across the US are voicing their support for the Paris agreement at the U.S. Climate Action Center, a pavilion sponsored exclusively by non-federal US stakeholders.
The Climate Action Center is an initiative of the We Are Still In coalition of cities, states, tribes, universities, and businesses that are committed to the Paris Agreement. Thus far over 1,700 businesses including Apple, Amazon, Campbell Soup, Nike, NRG Energy and Target have signed the We Are Still In declaration – evidence that public climate commitments are quickly becoming the norm.