I was at a unique event this morning: The first day of training for the Environmental Defense Fund's (EDF) Climate Corps Class of 2010, which this year boasts 51 MBA students (double from 2009) and 47 companies (a sevenfold increase). Once again this year, these companies will allow EDF-trained "fellows" to combine their business school teachings and energy efficiency training to identify energy saving opportunities that hit to the heart of EDF's mission as well as contributing to the sponsoring employers' own bottom line.
Although, a fairly new internship program (in its third year), Climate Corps has evolved from seven interns in its first year (2008) to 26 last year. Together, they managed to identify $89 million in savings in net operational costs over the project lifetimes, for the host companies. What is even more gratifying for EDF as well as the students? Companies report that they are implementing projects accounting for 84% of the energy savings identified by the fellows.
This growth isn't typical for internship programs, especially in a year that will be remembered more for layoffs and diminished bottom lines, than growth and hiring sprees. However, last year's Copenhagen Climate Summit also ensured that everyone from journalists and senators to academicians and consultants were pondering on what climate change would imply for their careers, their jobs, their industries and their role in the marketplace. Contextually, the success EDF has experienced with their Climate Corps program is encouraging because it shows a reciprocal interest from businesses that energy efficiency and conservation must be addressed with or without government regulation.
Connecting these dots between businesses' priority for ROI and growing interest from graduate students and schools in corporate sustainability is also why the program has built momentum so quickly. The wide diversity of industries represented by host companies, encompassing retail, manufacturing, banking, internet, media, technology, consulting, and food service providers, as well as the public sector, is yet another reason to be hopeful. Also worth noting is the meticulous matching that the EDF conducts along with Net Impact, an organization that connects students and professionals interested in sustainability, to ensure that the companies get full benefit of the students' background, interest and specialization. The 10-12 weeks program this year includes students from business schools like Yale, Thunderbird, Duke's Fuqua School, Georgetown, Penn State, Carnegie Mellon, Virginia's Darden School, NYU's Stern School, and Chicago's Booth School, among others across the country.
As these students get ready to work with leading companies like eBay, Xerox, PepsiCo, FedEx, Akamai, Autodesk, Bank of America, Cisco and Wells Fargo, stay tuned for glimpses into their days at the companies and their achievements as they work with these multinationals to encourage approaching sustainability as a holistic cultural and operational change. I've said this many times before: Sustainability, corporate responsibility or CSR, whatever you want to call it, doesn’t always have to begin from the top. With the right knowledge base and a culture that encourages creativity, responsible business and ethical judgment, it can begin at any level within the company. Even from that intern's desk. .
As always, please feel free to comment, email In Good Company or connect with me on Twitter @VaultCSR.
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