Here's why EDF Climate Corps' network-based approach is a game-changer for corporate sustainability

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!

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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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4 corporate sustainability trends all business leaders should be watching in 2018

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.

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IKEA assembles a cleaner planet

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.

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Cyber Monday you’ve met your match. What China’s consumerism means for our planet.

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.

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Superstorms: America’s new normal?

This year, the Atlantic basin had eight consecutive storms develop—the first time in 124 years. The storms—and by storms I mean big storms—have had catastrophic effects on families, communities and the economy at large. Millions of people were left powerless, access to clean drinking water was compromised and homes were destroyed. It will take decades for the country to recover from this devastation, and hurricane season is only halfway over.

And as the intensity of these storms increases, so do their price tags. Together, hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria, which hit the U.S. earlier this fall, are estimated to cost $150-$200 billion in combined destruction. This is an enormous blow to the economy and to tax payers’ wallets.

To those of us on the east coast, this sounds awfully similar to destruction caused by Hurricane Sandy, which hit New York City and New Jersey hard this time five years ago. That’s why it’s important to ask: could the devastation have been avoided, or at least reduced?

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Making large-scale energy efficiency easier (and more affordable)

Energy efficiency is a simple, quick and cost-effective method to reduce both costs and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. That’s why companies are scaling up their energy efficiency projects in an effort to achieve greater results. And it’s important that they do. Buildings play a considerable role in GHG emissions: Commercial buildings in particular make up roughly 20% of total U.S. energy. So it’s no surprise that optimizing building systems is on the rise.

Between 2006 and 2014, investments in commercial building energy efficiency more than doubled from seven billion to 16 billion, with projects ranging from heating and cooling, to refrigeration, energy management and more.

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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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NYC paves the path for a better future, encouraging other cities to follow

Earlier this week, New York City became the first city to devise a plan for meeting the goals outlined in the Paris Accord —the world’s first comprehensive climate agreement from which President Trump pledged to pull the U.S. from. The 1.5°C Paris Agreement-compliant climate action plan comes in response to Executive Order 26 (EO26), signed by Mayor de Blasio that reaffirms the city’s commitment to upholding the goals of the Paris Agreement.

The plan identifies specific strategies for reducing GHG emissions necessary to limit global temperature increase to 1.5 degree Celsius above pre-industrial levels, as set forth in the Paris Agreement. Leading the charge is the Mayor’s Office of Sustainability (MOS), which has been moving the city’s decarbonization efforts forward by accelerating the implementation of existing projects launched under the 80 X 50 initiative—a goal of reducing GHG emissions 80 percent by 2050.

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Four ways businesses and cities will get us to a low-carbon future

A little over a week ago, 20 of the world’s power houses came together for the Group of 20 summit. It was disappointing to see Trump hold firm to his decision to exit the Paris Agreement while 19 world leaders publicly reaffirmed their commitment. But something good has come out of Trump’s climate defiance, and I bet it’s not the reaction he was looking for: climate action.

The inability for the federal government to agree on climate doesn’t stop momentum– it fuels it. An enormous swell of energy and activism has swept across America. Businesses, states, cities and citizens are stepping up, creating plans to pursue lower emissions on their own.

There are now over 1,400 cities, states and businesses that have vowed to meet Paris commitments, sending a message that “we’re still in” and making enormous strides on devising climate solutions that keep the agenda alive. EDF Climate Corps' ten years of experience gives us an inside look into how companies, cities and non-profits are taking action.

Here are four ways that the private and public sector are preparing for a low-carbon future:

1. Scale energy efficiency. The low-hanging fruit of energy efficiency has for the most part been picked. It’s time to take things to the next level by focusing on larger-scale, portfolio-level energy efficiency projects. Last year, Shuvya Arakali worked with American Eagle Outfitters to recommend HVAC retrofits, and other energy efficiency measures that could be deployed across the store portfolio and save thousands of metric tons of CO2e each year.

Manager, EDF Climate Corps

2. Invest in clean, renewable energy. Evaluate opportunities for both onsite and offsite renewable energy projects, like PPAs and VPPAs. Other procurement options includes mechanisms like green tariffs. The City of Fresno enlisted EDF Climate Corps fellow Katie Altobello-Czescik to help promote clean, smart energy initiatives including renewable generation, battery storage and demand response. Together, they worked on advancing a community-scale energy project aimed at helping local businesses and creating a net zero neighborhood.

3. Make a commitment—then execute. Be willing to set big goals and develop ambitious GHG-reduction targets that are founded upon science. Once they are set, create strategies to meet them. In 2015, Mayor Bill de Blasio set a goal to reduce New York City’s greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent by 2050. The New York City's Mayor's Office of Sustainability has deployed multiple EDF Climate Corps fellows to help develop and advance strategies to meet these ambitious goals.

4. Go beyond your own company. Tackling climate change requires looking at the big picture, more than what’s happening within internal operations. Consider your supply chains by engaging suppliers and together identifying ways to reduce scope 3—both upstream and downstream—GHG emissions. This past spring, Walmart set a goal to remove 1 gigaton (1 billion tons) of GHG emissions from its supply chain by 2030. Companies throughout Walmart’s supply chain now have the directive to go beyond “business as usual” to focus on emissions reductions in their operations.

It’s difficult not to feel discouraged when our national climate policy is moving backwards instead of forwards. But that doesn’t mean the rest of the country is. United States’ leadership will continue, albeit in this new form, and businesses and cities will keep continue to advance climate solutions through smart policy, forward-thinking business and cutting-edge innovation.


Follow Ellen on Twitter, @ellenshenette


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