Sustainability Practitioners as Polyglots: An EDF Climate Corps Fellow's Perspective on Multilingualism at Coinstar, Inc.

EDF Climate Corps fellow | December 14, 2011


By Spenser Shadle, 2011 EDF Climate Corps Fellow at Coinstar, MBA Candidate at Yale School of Management and Master of Environmental Management Candidate at Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies.

 Through the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) Climate Corps program, I had the opportunity to spend 12 weeks embedded in a fast-growing company that recognizes the need for further developing its emerging sustainability practice. Voted by FORTUNE as one of the 25 fastest-growing companies, Coinstar, Inc. is a leader in automated retail and most well-known for its redbox self-service DVD rental and Coinstar self-service coin-counting brands. As an EDF Climate Corps fellow, I was responsible for sleuthing out energy efficiency opportunities at Coinstar and developing a practical, actionable plan for implementation.

Energy Efficiency as a Second Language

This summer taught me that successfully developing a corporate sustainability practice requires one to be a polyglot – that is, one with proficiency in multiple languages. Immediately upon beginning my fellowship, I was immersed in new languages. Kick-starting our fellowships with a crash-course training hosted by EDF at MIT, more than 50 MBA students began learning the language of energy efficiency, with a comprehensive EDF Climate Corps Handbook as our textbook. Beginning with basic vocabulary, we learned about energy versus power , thermal bridging, building envelopes, HVAC technologies (‘chilled beams',' heat wheels'), ESCOs, lamps versus luminaires, ballasts versus ballast factor, magnetic ballasts versus electronic ballasts and T12 versus T8 versus T5 lamps. Proficient in energy efficiency, we then scattered across the country to work towards fluency in those technical areas that we found most applicable to our host companies.

From the Field to the Boardroom: Translating perspectives

While still absorbing the material covered in training, I immediately began exploring the automated retail industry and yet more languages. In order to identify opportunities for energy efficiency, I met individually with over 60 employees to learn their perspective, from the field to the boardroom. Shadowing a redbox field service representative, I learned about the redbox kiosk's many components that support a seamless consumer interface, from the ‘picker' (robotic arm that selects the consumer's DVD of choice), to the ‘sky-brain' (internal computer), to the ‘drum' (a large rotating deck of DVDs available for rent), among the many other innovative applications of technology nested inside the kiosk. Distilling two months of energy data collection into a concise presentation at the end of my fellowship, I moved from technical conversations with the company's engineers to strategic conversations with the executive team as we discussed the broader opportunity to harness the existing activities that often unintentionally improve the company's environmental performance into a focused sustainability strategy that could further propel the company as a leader in "small-footprint" retail.

Cross-Divisional Language Lessons

Within every team at Coinstar and redbox I found champions of sustainability who were often already thinking about how to employ the company's resources efficiently and were eager to explore further opportunities while improving their fluency in energy efficiency alongside me, including teams from Finance, Operations, Engineering, Supply Chain and New Business Development. What I found unique to the role of an EDF Climate Corps fellow, and to the role of sustainability practitioners more broadly, is the opportunity to serve as a cross-divisional and cross-functional resource that must be fluent in translating between perspectives, whether it is between environmental performance and financial performance, engineering constraints and new energy efficiency technologies, or facilities and manufacturing.

I initially chose to pursue an MBA because I wanted to learn the language of making the business case for improving corporations' environmental performance and a Master of Environmental Management to learn the language of how to measure environmental impacts. My summer at Coinstar allowed me to move beyond the classroom and begin testing my proficiency within a rapidly growing company while beginning to add many new languages, including those spoken fluently by experts in the fields of supply chain, operations, and engineering. Now that I understand the importance of the polyglot, I'm excited for my next opportunity to "study abroad."

EDF Climate Corps places specially-trained MBA and MPA students in companies, cities and universities to develop practical, actionable energy efficiency plans. Sign up to receive emails about EDF Climate Corps, including regular blog posts by our fellows. You can also visit our Facebook page or follow us on Twitter to get regular updates about this project.