When the EPA is under threat, so is business: 2 key examples

American businesses benefit tremendously from the robust voluntary and regulatory programs of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. These programs are now under threat of massive budget cuts and regulatory rollbacks.  In the coming weeks and months, the experts at EDF+Business will examine what a weakened EPA means for business. 

While some politicians may question the reality of climate change, most CEOs do not. So it’s no surprise that while Congress has been stuck, business has been busy addressing the problem. Luckily, they’ve had a helpful partner by their side: the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Contrary to now head of the EPA Scott Pruitt’s claim that business has been subjected to "regulatory uncertainty"—stated during this year’s Conservative Political Action Conference—the Agency has administered a number of voluntary and regulatory programs that help corporations respond to the challenge of climate change. For companies, future planning is simply good business. This is why many in  Corporate America—having long accepted that climate change is real— are continuing to transition towards low-carbon energy options and work with the EPA to move forward in a sensible, cost-effective manner.

But with the recent announcement on Pruitt’s plans to cut the EPA’s budget by a reported 24 percent—to roughly $6 billion, its lowest since the mid-1980's–it may be up to the business community to defend the instrumental role of the Agency in helping business thrive while protecting the environment.

Here’s a look at just two of the many EPA programs that have helped business transition to a clean energy future.

Forging a smart economic future with the Clean Power Plan

Many in the business community strongly supported the EPA’s Clean Power Plan (CPP)—the first-ever national limits on carbon pollution from power plants. The argument? Dirty sources of energy generation are becoming a growing concern for corporate America. These energy sources are increasingly uneconomic. Fortune 500 companies routinely set renewable energy and emissions reduction goals, but find roadblocks in many energy markets around the country.

Liz Delaney, Program Director, EDF Climate Corps

Fortunately, the CPP can open new opportunities for businesses interested in operating in a clean energy economy. The rule’s flexible framework puts states in the driver’s seat to set plans that call for the most appropriate and cost-effective solutions for meeting pollution reduction targets while spurring innovation. If you ask me, this satisfies Pruitt’s call to "restore federalism" by giving states more of a say in regulations. The plans provide clarity on the energy options available to businesses in different regions, helping to inform their long-term carbon reduction strategies and eventually increase access to cost-effective low-carbon energy.

This explains why last year major innovators including Mars, IKEA, Apple, Google, and Microsoft filed legal briefs in federal court supporting the EPA’s Plan. And more recently, leading executives from over 760 companies and investors—many of them Fortune 500 firms—called upon the new Administration to move ahead with policies to address climate change, like the Clean Power Plan.

The CPP is positioned to:

  • Generate $155 billion in consumer savings between 2020-2030
  • Create 3x as many jobs per $1 invested in clean energy as compared to $1 invested in fossil fuels
  • Lead to climate and health benefits worth an estimated $54 billion, including avoiding 3,600 premature deaths in 2030

The Green Power Partnership

The Green Power Partnership is a voluntary program launched by the EPA to increase the use of renewable electricity in the U.S. Under the program, businesses are armed with resources and provided technical support to identify the types of green power products that best meet their goals. Since its inception, the Partnership has made notable progress in addressing market barriers to green power procurement.

Through the Partnership, companies can reduce their carbon footprints, increase cost savings, and demonstrate civic leadership, which further drives customer, investor and stakeholder loyalty. Take Colgate-Palmolive for example: as one of the Green Power Partnership’s national top 100, the consumer products giant has generated close to 2 billion kWh of annual green power through wind power alone. This represents 80% of the company’s total electricity use.

Today, hundreds of Partner organizations rely on billions of kWh of green power annually. At the end of 2015, over 1,300 Partners were collectively using more than 30 billion kilowatt-hours (kWh) of green power annually, equivalent to the electricity use of more than three million average American homes.

Pruitt has ratified the belief that we can “grow jobs, grow the economy while being good stewards of the environment”–and he’s right. The renewable energy industry is now outpacing the rest of the U.S. in job creation; which is good news for business and the economy at large. American wind power now supports more than 100,000 jobs—an increase of 32% in just one year—and solar employs more people in U.S. electricity generation than oil, coal and gas combined.

Long-term economics versus short-term politics

We don’t know what will happen in Washington over the next few years. But many businesses are moving forward. Rather than shift course, corporations are increasing investments in clean, reliable power, a move that is consistent with sound business practices.

But business can’t do it alone. The EPA supports responsible companies who have committed to reducing their carbon footprints while safeguarding our planet. It’s time for business to not just leverage their scale and buying power to help accelerate the transition to a clean energy future, but to speak up in favor of maintaining a well-funded agency that continues to make decisions based on sound science and the law.

In his first address to the EPA, Scott Pruitt said, “you can’t lead unless you listen.” Let’s make sure he hears from the businesses that are focused on a future where both the economy and the environment can thrive.

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As Trump signals a rollback on environmental regulations, a new jobs report indicates that may not be such a good idea

Jobs coverPresident Trump’s regulatory freeze that halted four rules designed to promote greater energy efficiency appears to be just the first salvo in an ongoing plan to roll back environmental protections and slash environmental budgets. While that is obviously foolish from an environmental perspective, it is also problematic from an economic/job creation standpoint.

As program director of EDF Climate Corps, I have daily insight into how businesses are accelerating the transition to a clean energy economy while hiring the next generation of talented, motivated leaders – which is a good thing, because they’re needed.

Our new report, Now Hiring: The Growth of America's Clean Energy & Sustainability Jobs, underscores this trend. As the economy becomes more sustainable and energy efficient, a new market for clean energy and sustainability jobs is created. This market is large, growing and intrinsically local. Even better, these jobs span across economic sectors, including renewable energy, energy efficiency and other green goods and services, like local and state government, transportation and corporations.

The report revealed three key trends as sustainability jobs continue to grow across the country:

  1. Sustainability jobs represent a large and growing portion of the U.S. workforce across multiple sectors.

This isn’t a small, niche workforce. In fact, it’s outpacing the rest of the U.S. economy in growth and job creation. Solar employment opportunities alone are currently growing at a rate 12 times faster than the rest of the U.S. economy. And, they are generating more jobs per dollar invested–more than double the jobs created from investing in fossil fuels. Sustainability now collectively represents an estimated 4-4.5 million jobs in the U.S., spanning energy efficiency and renewable energy, to waste reduction and environmental education.

  1. Due to the on-site nature of many renewable and energy efficiency jobs, these jobs cannot be outsourced, and can pay above average wages.

 These aren’t just any jobs; they are well-paying, local opportunities that bolster our domestic economy. Most renewable and energy efficiency jobs can be found in small businesses, requiring on-site installation, maintenance and construction, making them local by nature. And, many pay higher than average wages. For example, energy efficiency jobs pay almost $5,000 above the national median, providing rewarding employment options to all Americans–even those without college or advanced degrees.

  1. Clean energy and sustainability jobs are present in every state in America.

The entire country has benefitted from the boom in clean energy and sustainability jobs, which has employed workers in every state. Energy efficiency alone provides 2.2 million jobs, spreading out across the nation.

Continuing the Momentum

So how do we continue this momentum? Investments in clean energy and sustainability pay off in the long run and foster a stronger economy—that equals more jobs and a cleaner future. This is why businesses are increasing their investments in sustainability. A recent survey found that three quarters of firms now have dedicated sustainability budgets, and even more have hired additional sustainability staff. But that doesn’t surprise me. Corporate America understands that prosperity and a low-carbon economy go hand-in-hand, and should continue to support investment in this area.

Policy makers at the local, state and federal level must also recognize the positive economic impacts of this new job class and support the policies and programs that encourage growth and investment in renewable energy, energy efficiency, green transportation and more. Efforts to roll back or weaken environmental and energy policies will negatively impact current and future U.S. jobs, while slowing clean energy innovation.

If the question is how to help both the environment and the economy, we don’t have to search for the answer: it’s already here. America is transitioning to a clean energy future—we can’t afford to stand in its way.


Additional Reading:

Will the new President flunk the climate business test?

China is going all-in on clean energy while the U.S. waffles. How is that making America great again?


Follow Liz Delaney on Twitter, @lizdelaneylobo


 

Working smarter, not harder: goals help companies get strategic about climate change

lizIt’s no secret that companies use goals to push their businesses in a positive direction. Whether it’s about creating more value or reducing impacts, goals provide focus, direction and a sense of urgency. Recently, a wave of corporate, climate-related goals, such as renewable energy and emissions-reduction targets, have grabbed the public’s attention. Companies, cities and other large institutions are stepping up and committing to reduce their environmental impact. But behind the scenes, are these goals actually leading to corporate action? And if so, what kind?

As program director of EDF Climate Corps, every summer I get a glimpse inside the operations of 100 large organizations that are working to manage energy and carbon in progressively responsible ways. This past summer, 125 EDF Climate Corps fellows – talented graduate students armed with training and expert support – worked to advance clean energy projects in large organizations across the U.S. and in China. Their project work reveals that organizations are more strategic, focused and results-oriented than ever. More than 70 percent of EDF Climate Corps host organizations have energy or emissions-reductions goals, and to meet these targets, our class of 2016 fellows was strategically deployed to help achieve them. In fact, the majority (two-thirds) of our entire cohort of fellows worked on strategic plans and analyses that will help turn these goals into action. So what did we see this summer?

  1. Ambitious goals are driving big impacts at the building level

A great example of goals driving smart and strategic action in buildings is our recent work in New York City. Over the summer, more than 25 fellows worked within companies, city agencies and even a local utility to design strategic plans to help meet Mayor de Blasio’s ambitious 80 x 50 goal that pledges to reduce city greenhouse gas emissions 80% by 2050.  Rather than approach this one boiler room at a time, our fellows worked on ambitious, portfolio-wide equipment replacement and onsite renewable energy plans, with the potential to impact thousands of buildings at once. It’s great to see a municipal goal drive strategy from both the public and the private sector. The mayor’s goals are clearly spurring action and large-scale strategy is the way to drive rapid improvements that would take much longer through an incremental approach.

  1. Public goals allow leaders to shine, but also inspire others to follow

Many corporations maintain internal sustainability goals but shy away from publicizing them for a multitude of reasons – from fears of greenwashing to competitive advantage. But we’ve recently observed that this trend is changing, with more and more of our host companies realizing that smart, data-driven analysis can help them set public commitments with confidence. For example, EDF Climate Corps host Amalgamated Bank wanted to incorporate climate change mitigation in its mission, but first needed to dig deeper into its data to create smart goals and a strategy to achieve them. With the help of their EDF Climate Corps fellow, who conducted the first greenhouse gas emissions inventory and an assessment of its carbon footprint, Amalgamated Bank got the information it needed to set ambitious goals, culminating in a September announcement to become the second largest net-zero energy bank.

  1. Supply chains are beginning to benefit from corporate goals

While many corporations have articulated impressive goals related to their corporate operations, setting targets in supply chains is an even more ambitious endeavor. Corporate supply chains are the source of significant carbon emissions and are notoriously hard to manage. Longtime EDF Climate Corps host Verizon – a corporation with a history of setting and achieving sustainability goals –knew that by working strategically it could tackle this daunting challenge. This past summer, Verizon asked its EDF Climate Corps fellow to help the company cross the finish line on its 2017 supplier target. By creating a holistic strategy that used a combination of risk-identification and supplier engagement, Verizon is now on track to accomplish its 2017 supplier goal and formally launch its next target to help manage supply chain carbon emissions.

The EDF Climate Corps community is a living laboratory. Through our fellowships and engagement with large energy users, we see companies and cities trying new things, and working smarter, not harder, to achieve ambitious goals. We’ve mirrored this journey as well, moving from a “one boiler room at a time” mentality to broader, more strategic engagement with companies to help drive progress. Through a focus on smart energy strategy, driven by goals, we know that companies can generate a virtuous cycle of positive returns for their organizations.

Is mainstream corporate America jumping on the clean energy bandwagon?

It’s no secret that renewable energy is becoming cheaper, and while we’ve seen companies like Google and Microsoft investing in utility-scale renewables, what about mainstream corporate America? Are large corporations jumping on the clean energy bandwagon or are they dragging their feet? As a data analyst at EDF Climate Corps, I turned to the numbers for answers. Fortunately, I didn’t have to look far. An analysis from our recently release report: Scaling Success: Recent Trends in Organizational Energy Management, says it all.

For almost a decade, EDF Climate Corps has been partnering with business to save money and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by improving energy efficiency through our graduate fellowship program.

As I followed the numbers, a new clean energy trend stood out: over the last 5 years, clean and renewable energy projects have grown five-fold, with 1/3 of our partner organizations working on at least one clean energy project in 2015. Companies have been using their EDF Climellen_blog_box3-finalate Corps fellows to decipher the complex landscape of technologies, policies, procurement strategies, and financing options for renewable energy. As we tally the results for our 2016 fellowship program, we expect the focus on clean energy to continue to grow, and don’t plan on it stopping anytime soon.

Following the money

But why have we observed this recent uptake in clean energy projects? It seems to be “all about the Benjamins.” Our data shows that fellows are increasingly able to build a solid business case for clean energy projects. In just 2 years, the average payback for clean energy projects decreased dramatically from around 4 years to under 2 years and we’ve seen a surge in positive Net Present Value (NPV) clean energy projects. This tell us that clean energy projects are becoming increasingly cost competitive – a mirror image of industry trendsfig9_es_blog.

Which brings us back to our initial question – are large corporations jumping on the clean energy bandwagon? Yes, mainstream corporate America IS adopting clean and renewable energy- and they are doing it cost-effectively. The winds of change are blowing in the right direction (and hopefully through a wind turbine!) and our EDF Climate Corps fellows are proving that investment in renewables makes good business sense. However, there are still challenges to getting clean energy adoption at scale. Many renewable energy projects with large returns also require large upfront capital investments, and although the projects may have a positive NPV, some still fall outside the required payback period for corporations. We’ve seen that lack of funding and competing internal priorities are still major barriers to implementation.

How companies can continue to drive forward

And so, a new question emerges – what should companies be doing to drive clean energy projects internally? First, corporate leadership should set targets for renewable energy procurement and benchmark against their peers. Second, energy managers should pilot clean energy projects to demonstrate their viability. These pilots can serve as proof points for future projects and larger-scale investments. While navigating the complex clean energy alphabet soup (PV, PPAs, RECs, RPS, ITC, etc.) can be tough, especially given the nuances in state level policy and regulations, partnering with a third-party organization (such as a program like EDF Climate Corps, another NGO or a vendor) is a great way to accelerate your clean energy projects. You just may find that making the business case for clean and renewable energy isn’t as hard as you thought.

I invite you to learn more about what 8 years of EDF Climate Corps data tells us about trends in energy management and clean energy by reading our Scaling Success report.

 

 

 

 

 

Companies know reducing their carbon footprints makes good business sense—and that’s why they support the Clean Power Plan

Companies across the country are tackling climate change in their individual portfolios—reducing their carbon footprints by harnessing cost-effective investments in energy efficiency and clean energy. These companies are taking actions all across our nation, driving major investment in low-carbon energy resources at the local level through individual projects and investments.

liz

Liz Delaney, Program Director, EDF Climate Corps

These leading companies want well designed national-scale policy that complements their own efforts to mitigate climate change. The Clean Power Plan, America’s first-ever limits on carbon pollution from power plants, is a crucial opportunity to align national policy with this increasing demand for low-carbon energy. The rule provides investment certainty, while incorporating a flexible framework that ensures that its pollution reduction targets can be met in the most cost-effective manner available.

 That’s why major innovators like Google, Microsoft, and Apple—companies that employ tens of thousands of Americans across the country—are reducing their contributions to carbon pollution and supporting the Clean Power Plan. As a Google official put it, with the Clean Power Plan it’s possible to drive “innovation and growth while tackling climate change.”

 There is robust demand for clean energy solutions

Each year, EDF Climate Corps works with approximately 100 large organizations to lower energy costs and reduce carbon footprints through strategic energy management. Since 2008, we have deployed over 700 Climate Corps fellows to leading organizations to build the business case for investment in energy efficiency and clean energy, identifying cost effective ways for companies to save money while mitigating climate change.

A recent analysis of our work demonstrates several interesting trends in emissions management, many of which can be advanced by implementation of the Clean Power Plan. We are seeing companies embrace energy efficiency and deploy it at scale. Companies are taking responsibility for their environmental impact and are investing in broad solutions. For example, the report describes how Comcast identified ways to cost effectively eliminate more than 6,000 metric tons of annual carbon pollution by scaling its investments in energy efficiency over three years.

More and more corporations are also demonstrating a significant interest in zero-carbon energy. Over 80 companies, including General Motors, P&G and Walmart, have made bold and public commitments to use 100% renewable energy in their operations.

Mainstream companies are embracing the economic opportunity and societal imperative to clean up their emissions profiles, and are willing to invest in zero-carbon energy resources. In fact, in 2015, one in three Climate Corps host organizations worked with a fellow to build the business case for investment in clean energy.

Leading companies are taking individual action and supporting national scale policy solutions

By greening the nation’s power supply, we can mitigate climate change by harnessing a transition and an evolution that has already begun.

But companies are increasingly recognizing that they need to do even more than just mitigate their own pollution and procure clean energy to supply their needs. They need to advocate for smart policies too.

This is why over 100 companies, including DuPont, General Mills and Starbucks have urged “swift implementation of the Clean Power Plan” and why Google, Apple, Amazon, Adobe and others are standing up to defend the Clean Power Plan in court.

The Clean Power Plan establishes common sense national targets for reducing carbon pollution

The Clean Power Plan is an important component of a cost-effective, strategic approach to tackling climate change. It will complement and harness individual efforts to address climate change by companies across the country.

But don’t take my word for it—major businesses that are supporting the Clean Power Plan said so themselves.

Take Google, Apple, Amazon, and Microsoft. In their amicus brief filed in support of the Clean Power Plan, they noted:

By limiting emissions of carbon dioxide from existing fossil fuel-fired power plants, the Plan will help address climate change by reinforcing current trends that are making renewable energy supplies more robust, more reliable, and more affordable. Tech Amici welcome these developments. (Tech Amici brief at 2-3.)

Or IKEA, Mars, Adobe, and Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts. In their submission in support of the Clean Power Plan, they noted:

The Amici Companies have a salient interest in the development of sound policy and economically responsible environmental regulations because, as electricity consumers and purchasers, planning strategically and financially for their energy resources needs is critical to business success. (Consumer Brands Amici brief at 3.)

The way forward

Through public commitments to clean energy and through their collaborations with EDF, we know that major companies want access to clean, affordable, low-carbon energy.

It’s time we tackle climate change with federal climate policy that reflects and harnesses these powerful trends.

 

Energy Management Then and Now: What You Need to Know About the Latest Trends

Liz Delaney, Program Director, EDF Climate Corps

In 2008, EDF launched Climate Corps, an innovative graduate fellowship program committed to jump-starting investment in corporate energy efficiency.

Now, after almost a decade of embedding over 700 fellows inside large organizations across all sectors—public, private and non-profit—we’ve taken a step back to survey the broader landscape.

What did we find? Energy management today looks very different than when we started out. As large organizations have shifted to take on more sophisticated approaches, significant advancements in management strategies have emerged.

And for those of you toiling away on a daily basis in the complicated world of energy management, we’re pleased to offer you a mile-high view of how your efforts fit into a larger picture of progress.

In our new report, Scaling Success: Recent Trends in Organizational Energy Management, we examine the efforts of more than 350 large organizations over eight years. Through careful analysis of over 3,000 energy project recommendations, we have identified five key trends:

  1. Energy efficiency was just the beginning. Companies have become more strategic and sophisticated about energy management over the years. Equipment upgrades and retrofits have paved the way for higher-level energy analyses and plans, integration of clean energy technologies and more.
  1. Organizations are turning one win into many. By scaling up energy efficiency projects to be multi-site and multi-facility, companies have clearly moved past the “pilot” or “one-off” stage and are now deploying efficiency measures at scale.
  1. Companies face front-loaded costs, but are realizing greater ROIs on energy projects. The days of the low-cost/no-cost energy efficiency improvement may be over. Projects now require substantial upfront capital investments, but these projects deliver more value.
  1. Energy projects now pack more environmental bang for the buck. As technologies have improved and companies have become more strategic about how they direct spending, investments in energy efficiency are providing significantly more greenhouse gas reductions per dollar spent than they did eight years ago.
  1. Strategic energy management is still hard work. Despite progress made over the years, corporations, municipalities and other large institutions still face significant barriers to project implementation.

To distill it down even further: strategic energy management has evolved from a one-off initiative into an organizational imperative. Despite the barriers, companies are scaling up their efficiency efforts, integrating clean energy more regularly and using data to drive their smart energy strategies.

If you’ve been a part of this evolution (or revolution?), congratulations! If you haven’t, now is the time to take advantage of all these lessons learned and get on board.

Either way, we invite you to learn more about our key takeaways, read our full report and keep moving forward on accelerating your clean energy projects.

Leadership + Collaboration = Impact: The Equation That Will Lead to Climate Solutions

Hand of a student pointing at green chalk board2015 has been an exciting year for action on climate and energy management. In the EDF Climate Corps network, there is a strong feeling of momentum, as company after company steps up to answer the call on climate action and demonstrates concrete ways that they are greening their energy programs. Looking around at last week’s Energy Solutions Exchange (ESE), which brought together 150 people from top organizations to share stories and insights, I was struck by all of the connections and interactions taking place in the room.

But if I learned anything from this year’s event, it’s that in order to continue this momentum and create lasting impact, we need to form a new equation: leadership + collaboration = impact. Leadership and collaboration are essential as there is a limit to how far we can get by ourselves – to get the big stuff done, we have to work together.

Companies are leading, but they need to talk about it more

I learned from our dynamic speakers that organizations are doing amazing things in energy management: like pioneering microgrid installations, scoping out solar PPA agreements, and scaling LED and VFD retrofits across their operations, yet many more are doing things that we don’t even know about.  To truly lead in this space, we need companies to start talking about their concrete energy solutions. Read more

Denver Housing Authority Sets Bar for Municipalities Nationwide

To many, it may seem that pursuing environmental sustainability would fall relatively low on a municipal housing authority’s goals.  After all, providing moderate and low-income families with clean, stable homes in the face of uncertain federal subsidies and increasing taxpayer scrutiny is challenge enough.

North Lincoln Homes - PV SystemsThe Housing Authority of the City and County of Denver (DHA), therefore, deserves praise for its innovative solar power program that not only provides renewable energy, but creates revenue for the housing authority, creates green jobs in the region, and saves taxpayers’ money – all the while reflecting the spirit of the federal Department of Energy’s Better Buildings Challenge, which looks to reduce energy consumption by 20 percent by the year 2020. DHA serves as a model for municipalities across the country.

Andrea Davis of the DHA’s Real Estate Department and Chris Jedd, portfolio energy manager, showed the creativity and sheer will to make a lofty renewable energy goal affordable, manageable and successful, while providing their communities with empowerment, economic opportunity, and a vibrant living environment. Read more

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.

The Role of Buildings in a Low-Carbon Future

Zpryme talked with Ellen Bell, Senior Specialist, Environmental Defense Fund, for her thoughts on the role of buildings in a low-carbon future, the rise of microgrids, and how graduate students in EDF’s Climate Corps program get her excited about energy.

ZP: What do you look forward to the most in your business day?

ellen_bell287x377Bell: We’re tackling something big—creating a new, low-carbon energy system—but we’re doing the practical, “in-the-weeds” work of doing it in individual buildings. Because of that, I look forward to two things: 1) working with great people—like building management and their engineering staffs, and 2) implementing our approach of finding the business case for operational efficiencies in energy management.

ZP: How does EDF fit into the Midwest energy ecosystem?

Bell: The Midwest has a large and thriving energy ecosystem of technology entrepreneurs, dedicated academics, innovative non-profits, utility partners, etc. While this network can be complex to navigate, all of these stakeholders are dedicated to working together to make the right decisions that will shape energy use in our changing world. EDF is proud to be a part of this alliance and dedicated to bringing our expertise through the Clean Energy program and our boots-on-the-ground talent in the form of EDF Climate Corps. We’re all about driving market adoption of the most effective solutions.

ZP: What is the role of commercial real estate in smart energy?

Bell: Buildings account for approximately 70% of all emissions in the City of Chicago, so focusing on decreasing those emissions makes environmental sense. But the infrastructure changes that lead to reductions also lead to fiscal savings that can impact how a building is marketed, how it interacts with its tenants and what those tenants may share with other offices across the country. So the commercial real estate industry has a unique opportunity to bring together the right stakeholders with the newest technology and best practices in energy management and tenant engagement—all of which can influence audiences with unparalleled reach.

ZP: Where do you see microgrids going in the next five years?

Bell: Because of concerns about reliability and the desire for more clean distributed generation, microgrids are poised for rapid expansion. Within the next five years, developers will experiment with a variety of business models that enhance the grid’s flexibility and efficiency.

ZP: What individuals (i.e. thought leaders) get you excited about energy?

Bell: Personally I am inspired every year by the brilliant graduate students who sign up to be part of our Climate Corps program. Individually they are all incredibly different, they come from diverse backgrounds that include degrees in everything from mechanical engineering to finance to urban planning, but they share a dedication to the desire to change the world through understanding how energy efficiency and making the business case for advanced energy management will transform not only the organizations where they spend the summer but the world at large. They apply a unique perspective to the questions at hand and I think of each of them as thought leaders because their fresh approaches to the issues and opportunities that face the energy industry drive the innovations that change the world.

Ellen Bell will be speaking at Zpryme’s ETS@chicago event, July 22-23 in Chicago. To learn more about the ETS@chicago and all of its speakers, please visit ets-chicago.com or contact info@zpryme.com.

This post originally appeared on Zpryme's Energy Thought Summit blog.