Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Environmental interns slash firms’ energy use

Environmental interns slash firms’ energy use
San Francisco Business Times - by Lindsay Riddell
Friday, September 12, 2008

A first-ever internship program sponsored by the Environmental Defense Fund is saving some Bay Area corporations big bucks by helping them reduce energy use.

The Climate Corps program matched seven M.B.A. candidates from the Presidio School of Management, University of California, Davis, Stanford University and other schools with seven companies including, Cisco Systems and Intuit to come up with strategies for energy use.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, commercial buildings make up 16.9 percent of all green house gas emissions from electricity use.

“It’s a huge sector to tackle and also a huge opportunity for companies to save money if they can reduce their energy use,” said Beth Trask, manager of the corporate partnership program for the Environmental Defense Fund in San Francisco.

There are many reasons though, that companies aren’t investing in energy efficiency upgrades including: lack of awareness, lack of time and lease agreements that deter companies from investing in infrastructure, Trask said. So the program’s interns looked at what companies could do.

The results?

Cisco’s new data center program will save the company $24 million over the next five years and pay off its investment in just a year and a half. It will also help the company reduce green house gas emissions by 3 percent, contributing to San Jose-based Cisco’s 25 percent reductions goal.

Santa Clara-based Nvidia expects to save more than $150,000 a year with simple programs like having security guards to turn off lights in unused sections of buildings at night and by requiring the company’s vending machine vendors to install motion sensor controls that limit electricity use during off-peak hours.

The program allowed Nvidia to assess and measure the true cost savings of energy efficiency programs.

“Having those numbers is power to go to your executives,” said Toni Hansen, Nvidia’s social responsibility manager. “If you’re an internal group like ours, you can’t just go around saying: ‘It’s the right thing to do so you need to invest $100,000.’ You need to present it from the business perspective.”

Nvidia’s intern, Marn-Yee Lee, an M.B.A. candidate at the Presidio School of Management, also helped the company measure savings in terms of emissions reductions.

The Presidio School of Management is working with the Environmental Defense Fund now to develop a marketing and strategic plan for the Climate Corps internship program to scale it up in coming years and get more M.B.A. candidates and companies involved. / (415) 288-4968