To help make the business case for sustainability, the Environmental Defense Fund began a program in 2008 that recruits MBA students and puts them through a week of training in which they learn to talk about energy efficiency in ways that bean counters can relate to.
The nonprofit then places its Climate Corps fellows at companies for 10- to 12-week internships. “They come in with a sense of humility and open ears,” says Liz Delaney, who runs the program. “A fresh perspective uncovers real solutions.”
Elizabeth Turnbull was one of 125 who completed the Climate Corps training in 2010. She was assigned to work at Adidas’s offices in Canton, Mass., the global headquarters for the Reebok brand. Progress was slow at first, partly because her managers didn’t give her any money to invest. So Turnbull spent her summer reading white papers on energy efficiency and talking to building managers and IT technicians to gain insight into operations. When she graduated from Yale the following year, she was hired full time by the German maker of sports footwear and apparel to find the best ways to reduce energy consumption across its many offices and 2,700 stores worldwide.Turnbull presented her boss with seven projects involving mostly lighting retrofits and cooling systems. She got $750,000 to spend on the ones that could generate 20 percent returns. Using this venture capital model, Adidas has since funded 49 energy efficiency projects at a cost of about $5.5 million. The company now sets aside $2 million to $3 million a year for this purpose.