EDF Climate Corps: promoting a virtuous cycle of efficiency

EDF Climate Corps places graduate student fellows in organizations to work on energy management projects that cut costs and emissions. MIT Sloan has placed a dozen students in the highly selective program since 2009, and helped EDF Climate Corps develop its five-part organizational strategy: the Virtuous Cycle Model.

Although the term “synergy” is sometimes considered a cliché in the business world, it aptly describes the relationship between the MIT Sloan School and the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF)'s Climate Corps. EDF’s Climate Corps places graduate student fellows in companies, universities, and cities to help the organizations increase energy efficiency and reduce greenhouse gas emissions In this mutually reinforcing relationship, Sloan provides academic research and expertise and EDF Climate Corps provides a real-world laboratory that trains students and generates data.

MIT Sloan has placed over a dozen students in the highly selective program since 2009. Some results:

  • Ian Lavery helped IT vendor EMC Corporation identify facilities and software upgrades that promise to reduce energy use in one of the company's buildings for a potential annual savings of $443,000 and 1,900 metric tons of CO2 emissions. 
  • Greg Zielinski found that rail giant Union Pacific could save $569,000 and cut carbon emissions by 5,500 metric tons of CO2 annually by switching to LED lighting in its shops.
  • Jef Benbanaste showed that soup maker Kettle Cuisine could save $60,000 a year in electricity costs by installing variable frequency drives to control its refrigeration system's water pumps and by lowering condenser water temperature during cold weather.
  • Sarah Meyers earned a Sustainability Certificate as a graduate student at MIT Sloan and was an EDF Climate Corps fellow in 2011. She sparked a closer relationship between MIT and EDF by suggesting that the school host that year’s training for EDF Climate Corps fellows. This prompted Sloan faculty members Peter Senge and Jason Jay along with the EDF Climate Corps directors to add a component on better understanding organizational behavior to the training program. MIT’s own facilities staff helped train fellows on the technical side of energy efficiency and gave them a tour of flagship building E62.

MIT Sloan now brings current and past EDF Climate Corps fellows and host organizations together on campus for peer learning sessions after each summer. Practitioners and organizations learn from each other and build a community of practice for energy efficiency and climate strategy. Jason Jay and Peter Senge facilitate the events.

In preparing for the peer learning event in 2011, Dr. Jay helped the Climate Corps refine its On-Boarding Tool, a survey fellows use to identify energy efficiency practices and barriers at their host organizations. He also convened a combined MIT-EDF research team to make sense of the survey data and the experiences in the Climate Corps community. The result of this sense-making was the Virtuous Cycle Model, a five-part system for promoting energy efficiency in organizations. The model builds on two decades of research at MIT Sloan on organizational learning and the dynamics of continuous improvement.


MIT Sloan and Climate Corps jointly developed the Virtuous Cycle Model, a five-part system for promoting energy efficiency in organizations.

The Virtuous Cycle Model has five parts:

1. Executive Engagement
2. Resource Investment
3. People
4. Identification, Implementation, and Results Measurement & Verification
5. Stories and Sharing

At the last step – Stories and Sharing – results are translated into stories and shared with the host organization's executives. This keeps energy efficiency at the top of the agenda.

EDF Climate Corps' strategy is “increasingly about making this cycle happen in organizations," said Victoria Mills, Managing Director of EDF Climate Corps. Initially, the program aimed to find immediate savings that might catalyze broader change in the organization, he said. “The model that Jason helped us develop gave us a roadmap to doing that much more strategically," she said.

The Sloan faculty have “brought a new level of academic rigor to our thinking”, said EDF analyst Jake Hiller, who co-authored a paper on the model with Jay and EDF colleagues Emily Reyna and Chris Riso for the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE).