Research and Learning
In the past five years, EDF Climate Corps has worked deep within nearly 200 leading companies, cities, universities, and nonprofits to cut energy costs and curb carbon emissions. Along the way, we've tracked and analyzed what does and doesn't work, reporting the common barriers to energy efficiency that fellows have encountered and the most powerful strategies for breaking them down.
Our latest iteration of this research, The Virtuous Cycle of Organizational Energy Efficiency, is a model of change we've found to apply to energy efficiency across even radically different organizations with five powerful, interdependent components.
Jump to a section:
- The Virtuous Cycle of Organizational Energy Efficiency
- The 2013 On-Boarding Tool
- Additional Resources
The five components of the “Virtuous Cycle” model affect one another for better or worse. When the performance of one component (e.g., Executive Engagement) improves, the performance of other components (e.g., Resource Investment) is made more likely to improve in a “virtuous cycle” of positive feedback. Conversely, if the performance of one component worsens, this can negatively impact the performance of other components through a “vicious cycle” of negative feedback. In an optimized organization, all components function at full capacity, and the virtuous cycle runs smoothly to improve energy performance, generating maximum financial and environmental returns.
To better understand how the model works, we explain each of the key components below:
1. Executive Engagement
Top-level executives recognize energy efficiency as a key strategic priority for generating cost savings and building long-term value. They shift from seeing energy as an inevitable and growing cost, and instead see its optimization as a source of continuous leverage for building an efficient and resilient organization capable of meeting its broader mission and goals.
2. Resource Investment
In order to empower their organization to capture energy savings, executives make strategic, capacity-building investments to free up the necessary human and financial resources to make concrete action possible. Energy efficiency projects will pay for themselves but need dedicated seed capital to get started and attentive managers to ensure those seed funds grow and are reinvested on an on-going basis.
Resources are deployed to build staff capabilities and equip them to go after efficiency opportunities. Providing training opportunities, organizing cross-functional teams and establishing full-time positions all help to build employee knowledge, foster enthusiasm and create accountability for improvement. A workforce that feels ownership and responsibility for its energy use at all levels and is actively encouraged by leadership to work toward a shared vision of efficiency will maintain the momentum needed to make real progress.
4. Identification, Implementation, and Results M&V
In order to aid the organization's staff, effective processes and tools are developed and refined over time to make sure increasingly ambitious projects are identified and implemented. Comprehensive and detailed energy data collection is vital to identifying sources of inefficiency and measuring the energy savings achieved through specific interventions--generating the verified financial and environment results that prove the benefits of taking action in the first place.
5. Stories and Sharing
To maintain momentum beyond a first round of projects, successful results are leveraged into stories that are shared directly back with top-level executives, validating their prioritization of energy efficiency as a key strategy and proving the business case for doing additional energy projects. By re-engaging the executives continuously, success stories keep energy performance at the top of the agenda and encourage the investment of additional human and financial resources to go after even bigger wins, keeping the virtuous cycle spinning for yet another round.
EDF developed the On-Boarding Tool to help Climate Corps fellows identify barriers and leading practices related to energy management within their host organizations and share these findings back with their supervisor and other stakeholders. The tool is ever-evolving--EDF uses each year's learnings to make the tool as relevant and comprehensive as possible. Climate Corps host organizations who complete the tool benefit from the personalized assessment provided by their fellow, benchmarking data comparing their responses to peers and competitors, and specific recommendations for improvement delivered by EDF experts. They are also able to engage in peer learning and coaching with other Climate Corps organizations through the annual network event, online forums, and other network activities that help to maintain momentum for improvement.
The 2013 On-Boarding Tool is available for download. We encourage you to use the tool to engage stakeholders throughout your organization to think deeply about the barriers and leading practices that impact your approach for energy management, consider strengths and weaknesses in that approach, and identify significant opportunities for improvement. After completing the tool, we encourage you to reach out to EDF to learn how a Climate Corps fellow could help your organization act on the opportunities identified.
- Guardian (March 11, 2011) “Breaking Down the Barriers to Energy Efficiency”
- Environmental Defense Fund (April 2012) “Breaking Down Barriers to Energy Efficiency: Findings from EDF Climate Corps 2011”
- Fast Company (April 24, 2012) “Smart Energy Management Takes More Than Technology”
- American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE) (August 2012) “The Virtuous Cycle of Organizational Energy Efficiency: A Fresh Approach to Dismantling Barriers”
- Environmental Defense Fund (October 9, 2012) “EDF Unveils "Virtuous Cycle" Roadmap for Organizational Energy Efficiency”
- GreenBiz (October 8, 2012) “5 Components of a Virtuous Cycle for Energy Efficiency”
- Environmental Leader (October 9, 2012) “EDF Climate Corps Describes ‘Virtuous Cycle’ of Energy Efficiency”