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Lesson Learned – From Climate Change EDF Fellow to Startup COO

Originally posted on the March 31, 2011 at EDF Business Blog

Start Me Up: The first Climate Corps fellow takes his knowledge to a startup

originally posted on the March 31, 2011 at EDF Business Blog

By Jeff Crystal, COO of Voltaic Systems

New York, NY

In 2007, EDF Climate Corps helped launch me into my career at the intersection of business and the environment. When the opportunity came to work with Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) on an innovative new program called Climate Corps, I jumped at the chance. The team at the time was small, and the program wasn’t yet clearly defined yet, just filled with unknowns. Having been at four startups prior, this felt just like home to me.

As the unofficial first Climate Corps fellow, I spent that summer working on a financial model, while running EDF’s own energy audit and implementing changes to reduce the NGO’s energy consumption.

The next summer, EDF brought 7 official Climate Corps fellows on board to search for energy efficiency opportunities at leading companies on the West coast.

Now here we are, three years later, and the program has expanded seven-fold – with more than 80 total Climate Corps fellows working at Fortune 1000’s around the country to identify projects that could avoid more than 557,000 metric tons of GHG emissions. Though it’s seen its share of tweaks, the financial model I developed that first summer has been used to analyze all of these projects along the way.

Climate Corps confirmed my love for “hands dirty” operational work, and almost immediately after I completed my fellowship, I joined a startup that focuses on producing small scale energy systems, Voltaic Systems. Voltaic designs solar chargers and solar backpacks for powering electronics from cell phones to laptops and will soon introduce solar lighting.

Longer term, the Climate Corps experience has opened up a network of technical resources, a framework for thinking about sustainability and the knowledge to talk intelligently about this topic with a broad range of people in the industry.

This fellowship has also given me a whole new vocabulary supported by a background of training and hands-on experience. I love being able to talk about the need for proper ballast settings on a T5 bulb or about the payback period of an HVAC tuning session.

The appreciation I maintain for sustainability is evident, not only in my company’s end-products but in all aspects of our business. Voltaic is constantly looking at ways to make our products more environmental friendly. We try to use fabrics and materials that use less energy to produce and require fewer (or no) toxic materials in their production process.

I’ve kept in touch with former colleagues at EDF who have advised me on packaging providers that are doing interesting things with recycled PET, the limits of a Material Safety Data Sheet and emerging standards on phthalates.

When discussing my job opportunity with Voltaic, one question  that came up was whether that team could have a big enough environmental impact. EDF’s staff tends to think in terms of policies and programs that can remove millions of tons of carbon.

Could a startup producing solar products make a dent? When we think about introducing new products that could have a negative carbon impact and potential ways to pressure our suppliers to use more recycled materials, EDF is in the back of my head, urging me to do more.


Authors Bio:

Before joining Voltaic as COO in October 2007,  Jeff Crystal completed his MBA at Kellogg School of Management, Northwestern University after which worked with EDF as a Climate Change Fellow   Jeff was on management teams at the telephony and grassroots technology company, Spoken Hub and the JAVA software development environment, NetBeans.  He was employed as a consultant at McKinsey after graduating Tulane with a degree in biomedical engineering.


Editors Note: Aman Singh, CSR Editor for and Global Advisory Board Member of Aman and I first became acquainted in April 2010, when Aman began to think about if a CSR MBA graduate could get a job?   Upon completing her initial series on this topic, Aman was invited to a very unique meeting; a training for the 51 EDF Climate Change Fellows, who had been selected to work for 48 companies.

By September 15, 2010 Aman reported this result:

Consider these numbers: $350 million in net operating savings over the projects’ lifetimes. 400,000 metric tons of annual greenhouse gas emissions. More than 650 million kilowatt hours of electricity per year.” — Victoria Mills, EDF’s Managing Director for Corporate Partnerships

These are the savings identified this year by the 51 MBA students who participated in Environmental Defense Fund’s (EDF) Climate Corps internship . “Finally, an internship program that gets sustainability” was my reaction back in May when I heard about the program that encourages companies to seek out sustainability efforts by focusing on energy efficiency solutions.

These are real numbers and carry a real ROI for companies’ sustainability efforts. As Mills succinctly points out: “If MBA students can come up with results like these in a 10-week summer fellowship, what could happen if businesses all across the country got serious about energy efficiency.”

Celebrating the fellows that allowed us to be a part of their summer internships this year, here are a few examples of what they accomplished with companies like PepsiCo, News Corp, eBay, RBS/Citizens Bank and Yahoo!:


This report from Jeff Crystal adds another perspective of the value of these programs for mature career professionals seeking to leadership positions in sustainability and CSR! What do you see as key to ingredients of creating a professional portfolio that assures employment in CSR and Sustainability in the current economy?


Lavinia Weissman


1 Comment»

  Can Sustainability Sustain? « thestoryofmeaningfuluse wrote @

[…] EDF’s mission is to find market-based solutions based on sound science built from unlikely partnerships and non-partisan policy. EDF’s best practice fellowship program resulted in 51 MBA students generated for EDF’s corporate partners, “$350 million in net operating savings over the projects’ lifetimes. 400,000 metric tons of ann… […]

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