How Google, Facebook and Verizon uncover huge energy savings

Many companies have good intentions: They want to cut down on their energy use. But figuring out how best to do so isn’t always easy. The Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) aims to ease the process with a fellowship program that helps companies identify and overcome barriers to successful energy saving. The program, called Climate Corps, has, since its inception in 2008, uncovered more than a billion dollars in savings at companies like Google, Facebook and Verizon.

“We’ve seen that there’s a pretty clear set of common barriers that can stand in the way of smart people making good decisions,” said Gwen Ruta, EDF vice president, during a recent GreenBiz webcast.

To boost energy performance, it’s vital for a company to understand how these barriers function, and how best to overcome them, she said.

That’s where EDF Climate Corps comes in. Each year, EDF trains around 100 graduate students on the fundamentals of energy efficiency, then places them in summer internships at organizations around the country. The students help the company or institution calculate the financial and environmental benefits of energy saving projects. They also help develop an energy strategy, set corporate goals, evaluate renewable and other alternative energy sources, and look at innovative funding opportunities.

“The program is powered by our future leaders,” Ruta said. “They are dedicated energy problem solvers.”

Ruta likened a company’s energy performance to a series of cogs in a machine. Cogs include such areas as executive engagement, resource investment, and sharing experience. If these cogs are working in harmony with one another, it creates what Ruta calls a “virtuous cycle.” Oftentimes, however, one or more of the cogs get stuck, she said, which can affect the smooth running of the machine. If an executive loses interest in an energy saving project, for example, he or she may cut the budget, which means there would be fewer energy projects for managers to get excited about. This could lead to the cycle stopping all together, Ruta said.

“We see these challenges at every organization where we’ve worked,” she said.

But the right practices implemented together can go a long way to overcoming barriers to energy saving, and therefore keep the cycle moving, she said.

Next page:  The Climate Corps program