Climate Corps 2010: Investigating Energy Use in the Big Apple

EDF Climate Corps Fellowship: One week down, nine more exciting weeks to go!

How do I feel after my first week, you ask? To be honest ... I feel like Sherlock Holmes.

It has been nearly a month since the Climate Corps training in San Francisco, where I joined 24 of this year’s 51 Climate Corps fellows to get down to the nitty gritty of energy efficiency. I walked away from the training with a sense of excitement, ready to take on energy efficiency at the VivaKi (Publicis Groupe) offices in New York City. Armed with my EDF handbook, I was ready to hit the ground running in the Big Apple.

From training, I learned that lighting retrofits, HVAC upgrades and employee engagement are all important aspects to keep in mind when making the case for energy efficiency. My job was to investigate. Like any good detective, I started asking questions. This initial list of questions with which I broke the ice may prove helpful as a starting point for other companies looking to tackle the curious case of the missing energy budget.

I questioned the lighting:

  • What upgrades have been made to the lighting in the last three to five years?
  • Are there any official lighting policies (e.g. are the lights dimmed after a certain time)?
  • Are the lights on when rooms are unoccupied?

I questioned the HVAC:

  • Who operates the HVAC system, and how could I meet with them?
  • Which controls are automated and which are manual?
  • Who sets the temperature standard?

I questioned employee engagement:

  • Are there incentives in place for employees to be efficient with energy consumption?
  • Is there a single department responsible for green initiatives? 

With these questions in mind and a busy week one agenda in hand, I traveled to New Jersey and Pennsylvania to tour over 500,000 square feet of rentable space. I interviewed a director of real estate, senior vice president of facilities, building manager and principle of a project management company.

Some days were packed with meetings and traveling. Most days, I found myself wandering the floors of the main building. With notebook in hand, a keen eye and a curious mind, I found myself quietly tiptoeing through empty, air-conditioned conference rooms and climbing up onto bathroom sinks to examine light fixtures.

From an elevator poster, I learned of an employee-initiated “Green Team.” From working late, I learned about official lighting policies from the cleaning crew. With each walk-through and encounter, I discovered little nuggets of information. Like Sherlock Holmes’ gift in matters of observation and deduction, I too hope to be able to draw conclusions -- money-saving, energy-reducing conclusions -- from my discoveries.      

Though I may be wandering the halls by myself, few great detectives work alone. Working alongside me are 50 other fellows from the nation’s top business schools that are stationed at some of the world’s leading corporations. With weekly conference calls and constant emails, ideas and advice on topics from foot-candle conversions to green retrofits are shared among us.

With this dynamic group of leaders, I am certain we will be able to make a compelling business case for our respective companies to cut costs and reduce carbon emissions. It’s a triple win -- for the fellow, the environment and the company’s triple bottom line.  

With training from EDF, support from the fellows and educational preparation from Pepperdine University, I get closer everyday to piecing together a comprehensive plan and standard for VivaKi to use going forward. If the first week is a harbinger of the rest of summer, I can’t wait to see what mysteries I will uncover in the nine weeks to come.   

Tracy Liu is a 2010 EDF Climate Corps fellow at VivaKi and a Net Impact chapter president. She is an MBA candidate at the Graziadio School of Business and Management, Pepperdine University. This content is cross-posted at the Environmental Defense Fund Innovation Exchange Blog. Further coverage of the Climate Corps program is available at GreenBiz.com/edfclimatecorps

Images in the photo illustration above CC licensed by Flickr users by chrisdlugosz and Brooks Elliott.