Research and Learning
Since 2008, EDF Climate Corps has worked deep within hundreds of 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. See our white paper entitled Breaking Down the Barriers to Energy Efficiency for greater detail.
Our latest iteration of this research, The Virtuous Cycle of Strategic Energy Management, is a model of change we've found to apply to energy efficiency across even radically different organizations with five powerful, interdependent components.
The five components of the “Virtuous Cycle” influence one another and work together to influence energy performance. Improving performance in one category provides positive feedback for the entire cycle while barriers to any individual component can negatively impact the performance of the other components. In an optimized organization, all components function at full capacity, and the virtuous cycle will run smoothly to improve energy performance, generating maximum financial and environmental returns.
1. Executive Engagement
The executive leadership team is responsible for setting the organization’s direction and establishing long term strategy for success. By assigning formal roles and responsibilities for improving organizational energy performance, the leadership team can build accountability and prioritize energy management strategies and goals. The leadership team can then create a comprehensive energy reduction strategy supported by ambitious goals, which will help differentiate the organization as a green leader and drive innovation through targeted strategies designed to meet those goals.
2. Resource Investment
To empower their organization to capture energy savings, executives make strategic, capacity-building investments to free up the necessary human and financial resources to enable concrete action. Making funding consistently accessible allows dedicated personnel to purposefully plan and implement effective energy management. 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 optimized energy performance will maintain the momentum needed to make real progress and inspire innovative solutions.
4. Projects & Data
What gets measured gets managed. Making energy data visible and accessible provides organizations with the information needed to make thoughtful energy performance improvements. 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. Ongoing energy usage tracking validates persistence of savings and provides feedback to inform future investments.
Sharing successful results that are informed by tracking projects helps to maintain momentum beyond a first round of projects. Ongoing engagement of top-level executives validates their prioritization of energy performance as a key strategy while external sharing and reporting establishes transparency and improves accountability for tracking performance indicators. Success stories make the business case for implementing additional energy projects and encourage the investment of additional human and financial resources to go after even bigger wins.
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”
"Having an EDF Climate Corps fellow allowed us to focus attention on long-term energy investment planning as well as on a couple of short-term projects that we needed answers on right away. As a one-person sustainability program at the City of Bloomington, having an additional person makes a huge difference in my ability to have an impact. I wouldn't hesitate to participate in the program again."
- Jacqui Bauer, COB Sustainability Coordinator, City of Bloomington