A New Corps for a Green New Deal

A New Corps for a Green New Deal

Seven MBA students helped big name companies such as Google, Yahoo and Cisco identify energy efficiency opportunities in their operations that will save $35 million in net costs over five years.

They are part of the Climate Corps, an Environmental Defense Fund pilot program that pairs business students with corporations to explore strategies that save energy, greenhouse gas emissions and money.

The pilot was a success and now EDF wants to scale up with a partnership with Net Impact, the nonprofit focused on fostering tomorrow's socially responsible business leaders.

"Within five years, we want to have done 200 companies," Beth Trask, a manager of EDF's corporate partnerships program, told GreenBiz.com Wednesday. "We want to build a body of case studies to show that energy efficiency can really pay off."

Yahoo!, Cisco, Intuit, NVIDIA, Salesforce.com, Crescent Real Estate Equities  and KKR participated in the pilot program, which ran 12 weeks over the summer. The seven MBA students identified efficiency initiatives that will reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 57,000 tons annually.

One Climate Corps Fellow working at NVIDIA in Santa Clara, Calif., discovered some areas were overlit using a light meter. A subsequent de-lamping project to pair down the lighting will save the company $83,000 a year, Trask said.

Another fellow working at Cisco helped create the plan to install energy saving devices in the company's R&D labs, a move that will save Cisco some $8 million annually. The project's ROI is 18 months and it will trim the company's emissions 3 percent.

A third fellow paired with Crescent Real Estate Equities identified energy efficiency upgrades that will save the company $400,000 in energy costs every year.

EDF estimates no-cost or low-cost initiatives can save companies as much as $40,000 for every 50,000 square feet in office space, yet many businesses aren’t taking advantage of the opportunities. The program is meant to address the common barriers, such as the lack of time, staffing or awareness of new technologies.

"We also wanted to channel this new generation of MBA students," Trask said. "Give them the training and opportunity to focus on energy efficiency challenges and give them experience that they can take into their first job after school."

EDF and Net Impact are now actively looking for 15 to 20 host companies to participate in the 2009 Climate Corps program. Eligible fellows will have finished their first year of business school.

Nearly 100 students competed for the seven pilot slots, Trask said. Some 2008 fellows have already been informed they are wanted back after they finish school.

"For some environmental managers," she said, "it was just a godsend."