Energy Efficiency Is Now Friends With Facebook: 3 Fellows Launch Treasure Hunt for Savings

EDF Climate Corps fellow | June 30, 2011

By Cynthia Shih, 2011 EDF Climate Corps Fellow at Facebook, MBA/MS Candidate at University of Michigan's Erb Institute



These bold-lettered signs are all over Facebook's Palo Alto, CA headquarters, and they're a perfect crash course on the culture here. Relentless experimentation ("hacking," as it's proudly called) is the heart of the company: come up with a good idea, recruit smart people to help, throw something together, keep improving on it. Welcome to the force that's built the world's biggest social network.

Walking around during my first day, as one of three EDF Climate Corps fellows working to identify energy-saving solutions for Facebook this summer, I feel both exhilarated and anxious. The three of us Climate Corps fellows definitely intend to move fast and fearlessly—the company is relocating to a new campus soon, with design and construction decisions happening daily. But how quickly can we find out what programs are already in place, who the resident experts are, what needs to be measured, and when decisions are being finalized? And what does energy efficiency in office buildings mean for a young, growing company with employees who work around the clock?

Fortunately, EDF has provided an invaluable tool to get us started: its new "Barriers to Energy Efficiency/Company On-Boarding Conversation Guide" that every Climate Corps fellow will fill out upon starting at his or her host company. Last week, the Climate Corps fellow at PNC also blogged about her experience with this thorough questionnaire on corporate energy efficiency.

It's a classic EDF win-win project: collectively, this year's 57 Fellows will provide a snapshot of how Corporate America approaches energy efficiency, while highlighting common hurdles. At the same time, each of us gets a roadmap for orienting at our host companies so we can start asking the right questions from day one:

  • Does the company have an energy efficiency manager? If so, at what level, with what kind of decision-making power? If not, which departments are involved in energy efficiency, and how are people incentivized to take initiative?
  • What's an acceptable payback period, and what kind of projects qualify?

Within an hour of sitting down with our supervisor with this document, we have contact info written next to every topic area, an informal organizational chart of who influences energy efficiency decisions, and a good understanding of how efficiency projects get financed. (We've scrawled plenty of question marks on there too, but done is better than perfect.)

Later that afternoon, we finally get a moment to work at our new desks. But not for long: one of us checks the computers' energy settings, which default to "maximum performance" instead of "power saver." And these big LCD monitors seem a lot brighter than they need to be…

Flashback to the EDF Climate Corps training the week before, where we learned how just changing the settings on computers and monitors can cut energy consumption by 20-40%. Multiply that across several buildings' worth of desks—especially with Facebook's people-dense, no-cubicles layout—and the impact on the utility bill adds up fast. This could mean hundreds of thousands of dollars in annual savings, and that's not even counting what we'd save from lightening the cooling load on the HVAC system, or any incentives that the utility might offer for reducing electricity demand. The best part? It wouldn't cost a penny in capital expenditures.

I make a beeline for the IT help desk, and ten minutes later I have an appointment with the head of Deployment to discuss PC power management. This is par for the course, we've discovered: all the people we've met at Facebook are amazingly accessible, open to new ideas, and often have plenty of energy-saving ideas of their own. We've got an incredible opportunity to make an impact here, and that also means the bar is set high. On my way back to my desk, I pass another sign: EVERY DAY FEELS LIKE A WEEK. Bring it on.

EDF Climate Corps matches trained students from leading business schools with companies 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.