Meeting our Future Environmental Leaders: My Summer with the Environmental Defense Fund

This year’s Climate and Society class is out in the field (or lab or office) completing a summer internship or thesis. They’ll be documenting their experiences one blog post at a time. Read on to see what they’re up to.

By Catherine Rack, Climate and Society 2014

Newspaper headlines and media discussions love to focus on the potential of implementing renewable technologies. It is an alluring subject; the prospect of widely using a form of energy extracted from the sun or the moon or the wind is thrilling, and news of advancements spread quickly. However, these new inventions can sometimes overshadow a method of cutting greenhouse gas emissions that does not warrant such ribbon-cutting excitement.

Increasing energy efficiency is usually more cost effective and involves relatively small changes. It avoids siting controversies involved in building wind or solar farms and implementing efficiency measures can provide immediate benefits. Becoming more efficient also side steps policy uncertainties surrounding renewables. Because of this, energy efficiency is at the core of much of the work being done with Environmental Defense Fund (EDF).

This summer I was fortunate enough to snag an internship as a marketing and communications intern with EDF’s Corporate Partnerships program. Within the program, there are many projects that seek to work with companies to help them become more sustainable while also saving money. Then it is up to the marketing team to take these lessons and share them with others. 

A Tropicana freight car (Source: Emmett Tullos/Fickr)

A Tropicana freight car (Source: Emmett Tullos/Fickr)

One great success story is green freight. An unlikely partnership formed between Tropicana and Ocean Spray when, with the help of EDF, the companies realized they were each shipping goods between New Jersey and Florida; full crates were going one way and then empty crates were being sent back. Now, Tropicana brings orange juice up the coast and returns with Ocean Spray cranberries on the way back down, no longer wasting gas by driving empty trucks. It’s a win-win because the partnership allows both to save money and shrink their footprints. 

However, if achieving energy efficiency was as simple as flipping a switch, everyone would be doing it. But it’s not always that easy because it requires extra thought and planning. So since 2008, a fellowship program also focused on corporate partnerships called EDF Climate Corps has been training and sending out individuals to assess energy usage at companies like Walmart and DreamWorks to point out how they can save money by using less energy.

The program has some definite successes. On average, each fellow has found $1 million in potential energy savings for their host organization. This year the focus has even gone beyond energy; multiple fellows are honing in on saving water with the help of a water efficiency toolkit developed by EDF and AT&T. Showtime even featured EDF Climate Corps in a docu-series about climate change called Years of Living Dangerously. The competitive program is certainly gaining traction fast.

Lastly, one of the key aspects of this work is sharing it with the world. Documenting the experiences of fellows and sustainability best practices are paramount in spreading the gospel of energy efficiency. This is where I come in. This summer I have met and interviewed and helped fellows share their unique EDF Climate Corps stories through writing. From those working with small real estate firms to those overseas in China, each narrative is vastly different and each fellow is analyzing a new situation. I feel fortunate to be meeting future environmental leaders every day, and I can’t wait to see how a foundation in energy efficiency training propels them forward.



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