The Power of Networks to Drive Environmental Results

This commentary originally appeared on EDF’s Climate Corps blog.

The world’s top scientists reminded us last week that the case for action on climate change has never been more urgent.  And turning the corner on carbon emissions and avoiding the worst impacts of a warming world will require nothing less than a full-scale transformation of our energy system.  That is a huge political, technological and cultural challenge – one that no individual, organization or country can solve on its own.  It will take the leadership and collaboration of people across the world, pulling together toward a common goal.

Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) has a staff of 400 – small in the global scheme. That is why we are experts at deploying powerful networks to get results. Our success with businesses – whether it’s improving the safety of products sold at Walmart, or saving water at AT&T – all rest on our ability to tap into the knowledge, connections, and influence of our partners.

One of our most successful networks: EDF Climate Corps.  Hundreds of organizations ranging from PepsiCo and Office Depot to the Chicago Public Schools and New York City Housing Authority have tapped EDF Climate Corps for energy strategies and solutions that cut costs and emissions.  And best of all, our hosts and fellows are now spreading these innovations through their own networks, creating a multiplier effect that expands our impact exponentially.

Case in point: EDF Climate Corps fellow Jenise Young spent this summer working with professors and administrators at Texas Southern University (TSU).  She learned that minority communities, like those surrounding TSU, are already experiencing the effects of climate change. This inspired Young to help develop a climate education consortium for historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) across the Southeast. In addition to identifying energy efficiency upgrades on TSU’s campus, Young helped the dozens of HBCUs in the region see why they should invest in such upgrades too.

EDF Climate Corps fellow Kate Daniels worked with the Mayor of Sacramento on one of the nation’s largest Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) projects, which uses innovative financing so that property owners can invest in energy upgrades. Daniels tapped into a network of community leaders to expand this initiative across the city.  Beyond immediate energy cost savings, the project is expected to deliver a huge economic boost to the region, as energy retrofits keep contractors busy and facility upgrades attract and retain businesses – all without spending public dollars.

EDF Climate Corps is bringing a networked approach to saving energy in Chicago, where buildings account for 70 percent of the city’s greenhouse gas emissions.  We’ll provide boots the ground to help building owners enrolled in Retrofit Chicago meet their commitments to cut energy use by 20 percent over the next five years.  We’ll bring building owners together to share their energy challenges and solutions.  And we’ll engage utilities, vendors and other partners essential to transforming the regional energy system.

We’re building a similar network in Boston in collaboration with the Boston Green Ribbon Commission, and our work in these cities represents a microcosm of what EDF Climate Corps can do nationwide.  We are weaving a web of connections among the people who have the power to transform the energy system:  large energy consumers, passionate young professionals, policy makers, utilities and our colleagues in the environmental community.  By forging connections and collaboration with and among these key players, we will create change on a scale that is equal to the challenge at hand.

About EDF Climate Corps
EDF Climate Corps (edfclimatecorps.org) taps the talents of tomorrow’s leaders to save energy, money and the environment by placing specially-trained EDF fellows in companies, cities and universities as dedicated energy problem solvers. Working with hundreds of leading organizations, EDF Climate Corps has uncovered nearly $1.3 billion in energy savings. For more information, visit edfclimatecorps.org. Read our blog at edfclimatecorps.org/blog. Follow us on Twitter at twitter.com/edfbiz and on Facebook at facebook.com/EDFClimateCorps.

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  • About the author

    Managing Director
    Victoria Mills leads EDF Climate Corps, an innovative program that taps the talents of tomorrow’s leaders to save energy, money, and the environment.

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