Energy Sleuths Uncover $350M Potential

For all the money being invested in new energy technologies, it’s easy to forget that simply becoming more efficient can pay huge dividends, financially and environmentally. For three years, the Environmental Defense Fund’s “Climate Corps” has been providing a reminder of that fact, spending the summers sleuthing around major companies—with permission—to uncover potential energy savings.

This year’s result? A stunning $350 million worth of overlooked efficiencies in lighting, computer equipment and heating and cooling at 47 companies. In environmental terms,  that’s 400,000 metric tons in annual carbon emissions, according to an Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) press release.

image via Environmental Defense Fund

The Climate Corps was just seven strong in 2008 when it began. This summer 51 fellows, all MBA students from top-flight schools and all trained for the task, peeked under the energy-use covers at companies such as Bloomberg, eBay, McDonald’s, Pepsi, Target, Verizon and Xerox.

An example of the kind of thing the Corps did:  Nick Fassler, from the Erb Institute at the University of Michigan, was dispatched to HCA Healthcare in Nashville, Tenn. By the end of the summer, he had pinpointed savings in lighting practices that would reduce energy use by up to 30 percent, potentially saving the company $7.8 million a year, and avoiding 52,000 metric tons of annual carbon emissions.

And there’s evidence that companies are taking the Climate Corps insights to heart: According to the EDF, projects accounting for 84 percent of the energy savings identified by 2008 and 2009 fellows are either complete or underway.

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Pete Danko is a writer and editor based in Portland, Oregon. His work has appeared in Breaking Energy, National Geographic's Energy Blog, The New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle and elsewhere.