The Fundamentals of an Effective Energy Efficiency Program: Don't Overlook the No-Brainers

Guest Author | June 11, 2010

By Ryan Whisnant, MBA, Ross School of Business, University of Michigan, Director of Sustainability at SunGard, 2009 EDF Climate Corps Fellow at SunGard

Two weeks ago, I was fortunate enough to have the chance to participate on a Climate Corps alumni panel during the 2010 Climate Corps training in New York. Along with Trish Kenlon (MBA, NYU '10, 2009 Climate Corps fellow at TXU Energy) and Sarah Shapiro (MBA, Michigan '11, 2009 Climate Corps fellow at Cisco Systems), I spoke to 30 of this year's 51 Climate Corps fellows who have since set off as champions of energy efficiency at corporations across the nation.

We shared our veterans' insight on experiences out in the field during the previous summer as EDF Climate Corps fellows. I was happy to spend a little time reflecting on my experiences at SunGard and contrasting them with those of Sarah and Trish. As we spoke to the group of fellows, four themes resonated throughout the alumni panel. These takeaways might prove useful to the 2010 fellows and to others working on energy efficiency goals within companies.

1. Relationships matter. While this may seem like a no-brainer in the age of LinkedIn, building relationships isn't necessarily something one would expect to hear about in a program that focuses on technical observations and number crunching  to produce a business case. Yet all three panelists stressed the importance of establishing good (and genuine) relationships when making headway on energy efficiency within companies.

2. There are real barriers to energy efficiency in organizations. While Climate Corps fellows have identified huge savings in the past on relatively low risk projects, companies still struggle with financial, organizational and operational barriers to pushing these projects through. Make sure you understand these barriers and are equipped to address them. Fortunately for the fellows, the Climate Corps training provided tools and resources for doing just that.

3. There is always room for improvement. Each company is in a different place when it comes to energy efficiency. Some fellows will walk into companies that have hardly thought about the issue. Others will find their companies are quite sophisticated in this aspect, with a great deal of work already complete. Even in these companies, there are bound to be opportunities to innovate and improve. The outside perspective of the Climate Corps fellows is invaluable here.

4. Keep chipping away. You never know where you will find the document, the employee or the cooling unit left running that will result in energy savings. Past fellows have consistently found there was a point in the summer where they turned a corner. Whether they stumbled upon a big find or realized the collective impact of all of their smaller projects, they eventually turned that corner. The energy savings are there and they add up, so don't stop knocking on doors.

It was fun to meet the incoming class of Climate Corps fellows, and I have no doubt that they will do great things. They seem like a smart and talented bunch, and I'm sure they'll outdo our efforts last summer. After all, there are twice as many of them, growing from 26 to 51 fellows in just one year- an ambitious effort on EDF's part.

We are looking forward to hosting a Climate Corps fellow again this year at SunGard. Good luck to the Climate Corps class of 2010!