Targeting Campus Efficiency, EDF expands Climate Corps to the Public Sector

By Jill Logeman, Energy Program Coordinator, Environmental Defense Fund

(This article appears in the August, 2010 issue of The ACUPCC Implementer)

If improving building energy efficiency were as simple as flipping a switch, universities could easily cash in on big cost savings and emission reductions. Instead, limited resources, information gaps, and organizational barriers prevent universities from taking advantage of smart energy investments.  Environmental Defense Fund’s new summer fellowship program can help colleges and universities overcome these obstacles.

Climate Corps Public Sector trains talented graduate students from top schools in energy efficiency and places them in public organizations, such as colleges and universities.  Working with facilities management or sustainability staff, each fellow or pair of fellows develops a customized energy plan designed to meet the host’s needs.

Fellows work across host departments to:

  • Inventory the host’s energy use through the review and analysis of professional energy audits, interviews with key employees, and direct observation;
  • Model the financial impact of upgrades to lighting, office equipment, and heating & cooling systems, factoring in available rebates and incentives;
  • Facilitate collaboration among multiple energy efficiency stakeholders; and
  • Map a strategy for energy efficiency investments and present the business case to key decision-makers.

Climate Corps Public Sector fellows have also helped their hosts with a range of new policies and systems – such as strategies for engaging students and university staff on sustainability, improving LEED performance of new buildings, and instituting energy-smart summer building use policies on campus – that integrate energy efficiency into core operations.

Last summer, EDF piloted Climate Corps Public Sector with two prominent Historically Black Universities (HBCUs) in North Carolina: Johnson C. Smith University and North Carolina Central University.  The fellows at these schools uncovered efficiencies in lighting, computer equipment, and heating and cooling systems that will help the host universities:

  • Save over $14 million in energy costs in 5 years.
  • Cut 52,307,761 kilowatt hours of electricity per year—enough to power 4,738 homes.
  • Reduce over 28,000 metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions per year—equivalent to taking more than 4,516 SUVs off the road.

EDF continued this work in 2010, partnering with ACUPCC Signatory Elizabeth City State University and expanding the program to include municipalities and houses of worship.  Through these partnerships, Environmental Defense Fund hopes to aid campuses in their energy choices, prepare students for a changing economy, and highlight the wide array of environmental leaders.

To achieve these goals, EDF is going beyond campus building efficiency and also partnering with Minority-Serving Institutions (MSIs) on curriculum development and student engagement.  For example, EDF recently worked with North Carolina A&T State University to create a “green business and e-commerce” course for its MBA students.  Students were asked to develop green IT improvements and practices as well as a marketing strategy for these “products” to educate students, faculty and staff on improving energy efficiency and reducing waste in computer labs across campus.

To engage students on energy and sustainability issues, EDF looked to the existing Greek campus infrastructure, which has a strong commitment to community service during college and beyond.  Joining forces with Alpha Phi Alpha, the nation’s oldest African American fraternity, EDF aims to educate the student and alumni chapters on climate change, energy efficiency, green jobs, environmental justice and other sustainability issues.  Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity has 5,000 student members on over 350 US campuses and 95,000 alumni members.

EDF is dedicated to protecting the health and environmental rights of all people, including future generations, and our work with MSIs, municipalities and other diverse constituents in the Climate Corps Public Sector program is an integral part of achieving this goal.

In 2011, EDF is expanding Climate Corps Public Sector to place additional interns at North Carolina and Texas public organizations and will be starting to launch the program in other states as well.