Climate Corps Program Cuts Business Costs and Improves Efficiency

Climate Corps Program Cuts Business Costs and Improves Efficiency

Some students may have a hard time finding paid summer internships in these tough economic times, but 26 MBAs from universities across the country have an opportunity to get job experience and make an impact on the environment. On June 2, the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), a national nonprofit organization, announced its 2nd annual Climate Corps program that pairs these 26 Masters of Business Administration students with 23 firms to identify ways to improve energy efficiency and reduce costs.

This year, EDF partnered with Net Impact, a San Francisco-based international nonprofit, to recruit and choose fellows for the program. Net Impact, a membership organization of MBA students and business professionals, is at the juncture of those who want use their careers to make a positive social impact, said Sitar Mody, external relations manager for the company.

"We view this as much more than just one intern in one company or 26 interns at 23 companies," Elizabeth Sturcken, EDF's managing director for corporate parntnerships, explained in a phone interview.

"This is about two things: catalyzing environmental change broadly within these companies, and teaching the next generation of business leaders about the environment and its importance and business opportunities." From this perspective, Sturcken said, it is easy to see why such a small program has such huge potential."

Compared to last year, the program has quadrupled, growing to 26 students working with 23 companies from seven students working with seven companies. According the EDF, the program was able to improve efficiency in lighting and heating, cooling and ventilation systems and computer equipment, with a $35 million savings in net costs over a five-year span.

And based on last year's experience with companies such as Cisco and Intuit, this year the Climate Corps program will focus more on efficiency gains found in computer equipment. "Data centers are a huge electricity sink for a company, especially for technology companies in the Bay Area," said Sturcken. "So it only makes sense to start where there is the biggest opportunity."

Courtesy of EDF Due to the economic downturn and as a result of limited resources, the only way to expand the Climate Corps program was to create a partnership that would allow EDF to expand its network of potential fellows and host companies, said Sturcken. Working with Net Impact, "seemed ideal and really a perfect fit for us, given their connections to universities and companies," she said.

And with their wide network of contacts and similar objectives, Net Impact's vision seems to match up with EDF's goals. "We really feel part of our mission is to help to train the current and future business leaders to make decisions more responsibly," Mody said in a telephone interview. "That is, to make (business) decisions while considering the social and environmental impacts."

The students Net Impact recruited for the program have four key things that set them apart: "a demonstrated financial acumen, a technical background (either in finance, or engineering, or computers), demonstrated corporate advisory or consulting experience, and environmental passion," said Mody. "They are really well-aligned and stellar students," she continued. In addition, competition was fierce -- more than 160 people applied for the 26 positions.

EDF held a three-day training workshop in San Francisco, but notes that each fellow's experience will vary depending on the company. Broadly speaking, the students learned about conversions and units of energy to lighting technology and the implications of leasing structures. The internships will last approximately 10 weeks, with some students starting during the last week of May, and some will soon begin their work.

Aligning the right students with the right companies seems to be key to the success and perhaps the expansion of the program. "People know there can be a really good return on investment (in energy efficiency); resources are limited and we are providing a body to do the work," Mody said of the partnership with Net Impact and EDF. The reason why the fellows are MBA students are because they have the capability to do the financial -- and technical -- analyses needed to account for long-term investments, and federal, state and local incentives, Sturcken said.

"If the interns do their work right, they will show the company why this is important for their business and for the planet," she said. "Our experience shows that this little drop can create big waves, within companies and throughout industries."

Companies participating in this year's program:
Advanced Micro Devices, Inc. (AMD)
Ahold USA
Biltmore Farms
Cisco Systems
Bay Inc.
EMC Corporation
Grubb Properties
Houston Rockets/Toyota Center
Hewlitt Packard
Inuit Inc.
National Instruments
North Carolina Central University
Raytheon Company
Shorenstein Realty Services L.P.
Sony Pictures Entertainment
TXU Energy
Net Impact recently published a report with eBay profiling 15 "intrapreneurs" who went beyond their daily duties to lead innovative projects in their companies, and, along with Steelcase, held a sustainable design contest for Net Impact students, with the winners receiving trips to's Greener By Design conference, where they were given a chance to present their winning entries.