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 or contact

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

It’s Actually OUR Honor to be an EPA SmartWay Affiliate!


Cheryl Bynum, National Program Manager at US EPA, SmartWay, presents the 2015 Affiliate Challenge Honoree award to Environmental Defense Fund.

EDF has long been a champion of the SmartWay program, EPA’s highly successful public-private partnership between more than 3,000 organizations that are committed to improved fuel efficiency and environmental performance. So we were thrilled when EPA named us a 2015 Affiliate Challenge Honoree for our efforts to promote the program in our Green Freight Handbook.

We were recognized last week at the Transportation Intermediaries Association (TIA) conference, and we will participate in a virtual awards ceremony tomorrow. We have impressive company: the American Trucking Association, Penske, TIA, Wisconsin Clean Cities, and the North Central Texas Council of Governments were all named as honorees as well.

The program has helped facilitate positive results in many areas, perhaps most impressively in the goods movement sector.

Success in Texas and across the nation

SmartWay’s approach is one of partnership. The program brings together partners from the public and private sectors, to demonstrate the way modified operational practices can benefit both the environment and the bottom line.

Read more

EDF Climate Corps Continues to Drive Results for Private Equity Firms

The results are in. As my colleague Victoria Mills wrote recently, this year’s cohort of EDF Climate Corps fellows found $130 million in potential energy savings across 102 organizations.

Among the engagements, 12 fellows worked with private equity firms and portfolio companies on a diverse set of projects. Each engagement offers its own story, but we’d like to showcase a few examples demonstrating the value the Climate Corps program can bring to firms of all sizes and at all stages of understanding of energy management.

Energy audits and retrofits for a major manufacturing company

amiHellman & Friedman’s portfolio company Associated Materials, which specializes in exterior building products, hosted two fellows this past summer, its first year with the EDF Climate Corps program.

Fellow Karunakaren Muthumani Hariharan audited two of the firm’s 11 manufacturing locations to identify opportunities for energy efficiency, including lighting upgrades, process equipment upgrades and manufacturing process modifications. He suggested improvements with potential net present value savings greater than $1.4 million and reductions of greenhouse gas emissions by approximately 2,700 tons per year. Hariharan also proposed funding the energy efficiency projects through a new Green Energy and Sustainability Fund.

Krishna Chaitanya Vinnakota analyzed Associated Materials’ total expenditure on energy, over $15 million, and focused on energy saving opportunities in the company’s supply centers, including an approach that could result in energy expenditure savings of 20 to 50 percent in some supply centers. He also suggested strip doors as a simple but effective way of conserving energy during winter. It’s a project that could save the approximately half a million dollars per year if rolled out across the company’s 125 supply centers and 11 manufacturing plants. Read more

SXSWEco Day One Epiphanies, Head-scratchers, and Bravery Awards

SXSWEcoThere is so much going on at SXSWEco this week that it would be impossible for one person to do a comprehensive wrap-up, so please take this commentary as a slice of a very big pie. And, note that my particular slice is viewed through a very marketing- and business-oriented lens. Still, as an EDF’er working with the private sector, I’m always looking to share new, pragmatic ideas and business cases for saving the environment. I think the most pleasant surprise of SXSWEco Day One was that so many others feel the same.

But first a head-scratcher. Why is it that the regions that are the most climate and socially vulnerable (Southern U.S.), are also home to some of the biggest climate science-denying politicians? Many thanks to Dr. Robert Bullard of Texas Southern University for so eloquently tying environmental justice to social justice; for me this was a necessary epiphany for how we think of building resilience in the face of climate challenges.

At EDF we believe that the corporate sector can thrive by valuing, protecting, and improving the environment, so the session on Creating Climate Wealth held a ton of appeal. Ann Davlin and Jigar Shah threw out business scenarios for environmental impact like candy from a parade float. I managed to grab a few choice nuggets: Read more

Want to Market the Realities of Climate Change? Get a Handsome Vampire

…and the Terminator, and Indiana Jones, and a Titanically popular director and more. If you don’t get where I’m going with this thread, you may have been under a rock for the past week, because when Hollywood talks about climate change, all kinds of new audiences listen.

Years of Living Dangerously is an incredibly ambitious documentary on climate change airing on Showtime. It is also a fascinating case study in how to market a scary, complicated concept to mass audiences and stimulate new conversations across both virtual and physical communities.

al goreAl Gore – Won the Nobel Peace Prize


ian somerhalderIan Somerhalder – has 4.85 million followers on Twitter


al tweet

Al Gore, with 2.71m followers, is no slouch in social media – I’m just illustrating that perhaps Mr. Somerhalder has a bit more active fan base.

There are many different ways to tell a story and start a conversation. At EDF we focus on science, economics, partnerships and bipartisan outreach to find solutions to climate change. Our stories stem from the results we drive, and yes, we love talking about science and statistics.

The teams behind both the making and the marketing of the YEARS documentary are focusing on the human element. The series uses celebrities as the lens to educate the audience through human stories and simple language. They find the real value in communicating climate change at an emotional level.

Years of Living Dangerously - Ian Somerhaler

There’s also a human component in experiencing the documentary. There's no need to watch YEARS alone from your couch. The YEARS team is promoting human interaction: from social sharing through millions of celebrity followers, to spurring community action , to providing tools to host your own “viewing party” and find groups to watch with in your neighborhood.

Ian tweetYears tweet

In order to get climate change into the mainstream conversation, we need to lean on people who have high visibility in the mainstream. The bold names extending their environmental passion to this documentary include: Jessica Alba, Matt Damon, Michael C. Hall, Don Cheadle, Olivia Munn, America Ferrera, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Lesley Stahl, Thomas Friedman, Harrison Ford, Ian Somerhalder and Chris Hayes.

Because EDF is chock full of scientists and economists, I’d be shunned in the break room if I didn’t provide you with some statistics:

twitter stats

Take over 16 million followers x thousands of tweets, favorites and shares, and YEARS just gathered a massive mainstream audience around an important issue.

At EDF, we are especially proud to be featured in the Years of Living Dangerously documentary.  Our flagship fellowship program, EDF Climate Corps, is featured in the May 26th episode, as Jessica Alba follows three of our Climate Corps fellows through their summer internships working with Caesars, Office Depot and Texas Southern University to help those organizations find energy efficiencies and become more sustainable.

In the coming weeks, we’ll be introducing you to our Climate Corps fellows and the important work they do every year in hundreds of organizations. And yes, we’ll also be inserting ourselves into the mainstream conversation, so please feel free to tweet and share (#YEARSProject, @EDFBiz). Especially if you’re Jessica Alba …

Jessica Alba retweets EDF


Additional reading:

Craig K. Comstock of HuffPo says YEARS could be the 2014 version of The Day After

How YEARS came to EDF’s Eric Pooley with a great idea –