Ending the Battle Between Planet and Profit: Fellow at Washington Gas shows a company can focus on both

By: Andrew Seal, EDF Climate Corps Fellow at Washington Gas, 2012 MBA Candidate at George Washington University's GW School of Business

The leading companies that participate in EDF Climate Corps are already very good at what they do. They have become successful by focusing on the core fundamentals that deal directly with their central operations. Perhaps paradoxically, this highlights the opportunity for EDF Climate Corps fellows to optimize peripheral systems with energy efficiency projects that cut costs, mitigate environmental risk and enhance a firm's return on equity.

One example is my host company this summer, Washington Gas. Washington Gas has been providing safe, reliable natural gas service to its customers since President James K. Polk was in office. The company has paid dividends on common stock for nearly 160 years and has increased that dividend for the past 34 consecutive years. Yet, in just a few weeks, the company has identified energy efficiency projects that will save hundreds of thousands of dollars in net operational costs while simultaneously reducing greenhouse gas emissions by several hundred metric tons annually. These projects include:

  • Adjusting seasonal temperature set points for periods when buildings are unoccupied
  • Replacing obsolete industrial and commercial lighting with new, more efficient technologies
  • Installing daylight and motion sensors in order to integrate passive design concepts

As such leading companies increasingly realize the need for resource stewardship, and as shareholder value increasingly begins to be shaped by the triple bottom line (people, planet, profits), EDF Climate Corps fellows and all champions of Clean Technology solutions can use the following strategies to create lasting value:

  1. Be inquisitive and personally engage the spectrum of stakeholders. One of the most challenging - and exciting - parts of the Clean Technology field is that success depends on a multidisciplinary approach. No one person or department has cornered the market on great ideas.
  2. Use data driven, expert vetted and reasonable assumptions. All capital budgeting processes require some element of conjecture and energy efficiency projects are no exception. However, cash flow is often more stable and predictable and, therefore, may be subject to a lower hurdle rate.
  3. Develop quantifiable, actionable and well researched projects. Clean Technology development faces a variety of challenges that any emerging industry experiences during its infancy stage, but tangible and substantial economic value can be realized through discernment and due diligence.

In the words of one of my Clean Technology mentors, Greg Kats [PDF], "the U.S. is the Saudi Arabia of energy efficiency." Through Climate Corps, EDF's strategy of "finding the ways that work" is realized tactically - by demonstrating that efficient energy solutions and a shift to sustainable strategies offer promising opportunities to preserve the environment and stimulate economic growth.