A Conversation with National Geographic’s Sustainability Trailblazers

EDF Climate Corps fellow | July 26, 2012

Fellow: Katie DeWitt, 2012 EDF Climate Corps fellow at National Geographic Society, MBA candidate at University of California Berkeley Haas School of Business

Organization: National Geographic (Nat Geo)

Opportunity: A decade of experience in sustainable and energy-efficient operations

On my first day at National Geographic (Nat Geo), I was given a tour of the company's extensive sustainability infrastructure. It was immediately clear that my challenge as an EDF Climate Corps fellow wasn't to convince the operations staff the value of energy efficiency, but to identify additional eco-business opportunities for Nat Geo.

And what better way to forge into new territory than to learn from the original trailblazers? I sat down with Bob Cline (General Services VP) and Frank Candore (Chief Engineer) to discuss Nat Geo's sustainability initiatives.

Me: What motivated Nat Geo's original investments in energy efficiency?

Cline:  It wasn’t just about the potential for savings – it was also goal congruency. We had a "vision for the new millennium," which incorporated conservation and sustainability into Nat Geo's mission. Global exploration has been important to us for 100 years. For the next 100 years, we want to work on sustainability too.

Johnson Controls told us we were an excellent candidate for LEED for Existing Building certification. Our CFO liked the idea of being the first in the country to get the certification, and so we achieved it by 2003. 

Me: What were your biggest upfront investments? How did you get senior management to fund them?

Cline: Our biggest upfront investments were on mechanical infrastructure – variable-speed drives, new chillers and air handlers. The building already ran well, but it wasn't energy efficient. We sold senior management on improving the asset value of our facility – efficiency achieves better credit ratings and interest rates on loans, especially for nonprofits. And our CFO found a low-interest bond with the city of D.C.

Me: After these initial changes, how did you identify new opportunities for improvement?

Cline: We continued to reexamine ourselves, our use of the facilities. We had engineers walk the floors and check for opportunities to cut back on operating times without affecting the staff’s ability to work.

Also, our employees are really important. When the Green Building Initiative started in 2003, it was facility-focused, but after an employee green team was approved by the CEO, we began to develop a corporate culture around environmentally responsible behavior. You can’t do this as a facility alone. 

Candore: We enrolled in a demand response program with EnerNOC three years ago. That actually got employees to really take ownership and participate, which exposed a lot of new opportunities.

Me: What advice would you give an organization that's just starting with energy efficiency? And to one that's looking to improve its efficiency?

Cline: Three things: 1) Don’t get complacent – stay up to date with the best information and with what other companies are doing. 2) You can’t manage what you don’t measure – you need to constantly monitor equipment to know if it's performing properly. 3) Sustainable operations and services are best practices for facility managers – it’s becoming the new norm.

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.