The Environmental Defense Fund and MIT Sloan work closely on a variety of issues, from climate change to sustainable fisheries.

Thinking holistically about economy and environment creates a natural affinity between the Environmental Defense Fund and the Sustainability Initiative at MIT Sloan. Collaborations with students and faculty have led to restoring fisheries and advancing corporate climate change strategies.

MIT Sloan extends Environmental Defense Fund’s reach

Until recently, alewife and blueback herring couldn’t swim up the St. Croix River to spawn because fish ladders built to circumvent dam on the river were blocked off. For years, the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) had been a part of a broad coalition of fishing and environmental organizations that urged the state of Maine to reopen the ladders that were closed in 1995. In April 2013, Maine's legislature finally voted to open the ladders on the St. Croix, which forms the Maine-New Brunswick border. One tool that EDF contributed to this successful effort was a report initiated in an MIT Sloan Sustainability Business Lab (S-Lab) class.

The S-Lab project showed that allowing fish passage and rebuilding the herring population in the area would provide the state's signature lobster industry with a local, inexpensive source of bait, said Jake Kritzer, a Senior Scientist with EDF's Oceans Program. "We had many stakeholders asking us for a copy of the report that came out of the S-Lab team's work,” he said. “I like to think it played some role in the decision going the right way."

EDF engages businesses in market-based approaches to environmental problems. This makes the organization a natural partner for MIT Sloan on sustainability. EDF initially partnered with the school on a series of S-Lab projects, including improving the energy efficiency of heavy trucking fleets, optimizing grocery packaging for Walmart, and facilitating collaborative freight distribution.

EDF's relationship with MIT Sloan has also expanded to include a close collaboration on the organization's Climate Corps initiative. EDF Climate Corps places graduate student fellows in companies, universities, and cities to help the organizations build the business case for energy efficiency. Each year, MIT Sloan places students in the highly selective program, but their support and participation for this initiative goes far beyond that. Faculty members Peter Senge and Jason Jay facilitate a large-scale annual network meeting that brings several hundred fellows and alumni together to share and learn energy management and organizational best practices. In addition, MIT Sloan has collaborated with EDF on the development of the Virtuous Cycle of Energy Efficiency framework (see EDF Climate Corps: http://edfclimatecorps.org/research-and-learning),and is currently supporting the application of this framework to EDF’s regional learning networks, the design of energy efficiency diagnostic tools, and other initiatives. “Collaboration with MIT Sloan has elevated the strategy of EDF Climate Corps and strengthened our potential to change the way organizations manage energy,” says EDF Managing Director Victoria Mills.

Following the successful St. Croix River project, EDF's Oceans Program participated in an S-Lab project to develop a business plan for a startup Community Supported Fishery (CSF) in Scituate, Massachusetts. CSFs are the seafood equivalent of Community Supported Agriculture farms that offer consumers memberships to receive a regular share of the local harvest.

Both Oceans Program S-Lab projects have pushed EDF initiatives forward, said Kritzer. "For a fairly minimal investment of time on the part of our staff we got four to five really bright young experts turning their attention to our issues."

The Oceans Program also benefited from the MIT Sloan Sustainability Internship program said Kritzer. Oceans Program intern Natacha Hardy worked on a long-standing problem: how to generate demand for underappreciated fish species that have healthy populations – like pollock, red fish, dogfish, and hake. This will, in turn, reduce pressure on overfished species like cod and flounder. Hardy found that universities could be key institutional buyers that help spark markets for the target species.

EDF has found that MIT Sloan students bring a lot to the table – not only an eagerness to work and learn, but also real expertise, said Kritzer. "I'm a biologist, so even as students, they have expertise and perspectives that I just don't have," he said.