Sustainability Students Join Environmental Defense Fund Fellowship This Summer

by |July 16, 2020

The Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) is a non-profit organization that tackles environmental challenges by driving the science and advocacy that lead to federal action, introducing management systems that have direct environmental benefits, and persuading companies to adopt environmentally friendly business practices.

The EDF Climate Corps fellowship is an opportunity for graduate students to be matched with companies and organizations that are working toward meeting and advancing their environmental goals. It is a great opportunity for students who want to start building their professional network and an environmental career. By joining the EDF Climate Corps Fellowship, students will also be contributing to making a difference that not only will help the organizations they join, but also the environment.

Since 2008, EDF Climate Corps has placed over 800 fellows in leading organizations, including Under Armour, NRG Energy, PepsiCo, City of Los Angeles, and General Motors. This summer, 11 students from the Sustainability Management and the Sustainability Science programs will be joining the fellowship cohort. We spoke to some of them about why they decided to apply to the fellowship program, what they are or will be doing, and why they chose the position they are currently working on.

Ofelia M Lopez Aranda Trewartha

I applied to the EDF Climate Corps Fellowship in 2020 because of EDF’s outstanding reputation and the once in a lifetime chance to join such an amazing network of accomplished and thriving people. I wanted to match with a company within the financial sector because I’m convinced that capital allocated with a sustainability mindset is a fundamental part of addressing challenges such as climate change. I’m now working with Citizens Bank on a project integrating sustainability and innovation in financial products. It has been an enriching and exciting experience and which I hope will prove impactful.

Rahul Vemuru

Following my passion for sustainability was not an easy choice to make, especially given that I was traveling several thousand miles away from home to educate myself and give myself an opportunity to make a change. I was lucky enough to receive that opportunity, first at Columbia University’s Earth Institute, and then via the Environmental Defense Fund’s (EDF) Climate Corps Fellowship. This fellowship gave me a real shot at being a catalyst for change in a major organization devoted to improving their sustainability footprint. My work with Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center — one of the world’s largest cancer research institutes — in Manhattan, New York, has given me a chance to work on one of the most stringent emission reductions laws in the world, Local Law 97. According to this law, NYC buildings over 25,000 square feet have to adopt measures to reduce their emissions by 40 percent by 2030, and 80 percent by 2050. Failure to comply will result in heavy penalties.

I believe this law has the potential to make a significant difference in the way other cities and countries approach their emission reduction or science-based targets. At the end of the day, we are all working toward a common goal: saving the world. Our contribution could be as small as using energy efficient lights in our homes, but I assure you, therein lies the beauty of this global fight against climate change. Every small effort counts!

Isabela N. Brown

Throughout my studies in Sustainability Science, I have been interested in developing science-based and data-driven tools to help decision-makers take environmental action.

The Climate Corps fellowship offered me an avenue to develop these sorts of tools in an applied setting. I will be working with the Washington Metro Transit Authority (WMATA) which will allow me to use my data, programming, and sustainability skills to create and support community-based environmental solutions for people across a wide spectrum of socio-economic groups. For me, environmental justice must be considered at every stage in my work process: from programming to setting science-based targets, to supporting and developing policies. I feel that it is critical to make sure sustainable solutions are accessible to everyone, not just the wealthy. In particular, I will work to assess the impact of WMATA’s recent energy reduction upgrades, which have been implemented as part of their Energy Action Plan. If successful, the Energy Action Plan will result in net energy savings equivalent to taking 35,000 vehicles off the road each year. I am excited to ensure that success.

Pamela Kauppil

After 20+ years in the finance industry, I decided to make a career transition and focus on sustainability. In my classes at Columbia, I’ve learned about the tools and policies used by businesses to measure and help reduce the use of resources to become more resilient for the future. One of my professors mentioned the EDF Climate Corps opportunity as a way to get hands-on experience in sustainability, highlighting their strong training program. Once I saw the list of companies seeking EDF sustainability fellows, I was immediately drawn to New Mountain Capital (NMC) since, as a private equity firm, they are well-positioned to implement sustainability initiatives at their owned portfolio companies. In addition, I had met the NMC team, in a former role, when they launched their first fund and was impressed with their strategy of “defensive growth” which, years later, has proven very successful. During the summer, I am helping NMC broaden and enhance their existing ESG [environmental, social, and governance] framework and key performance indicators. In my first few weeks, I’m seeing broad interest across the firm to take action on ESG risks and opportunities.

Blair C Diehl

I applied to be a 2020 EDF Climate Corps fellow because I saw it as an opportunity to gain real-world sustainability experience and network with other amazing graduate students that share the same passion for climate solutions. I was awarded my fellowship with Sustainable Jersey, a non-profit organization that supports municipalities across New Jersey in efforts to reduce waste, cut greenhouse gas emissions, and improve environmental equity. The objective of my fellowship was to work with a distressed community on their energy actions and determine energy efficiency upgrades for the town’s facilities. I happily accepted the position as an opportunity to learn more about the energy field, something I had little experience in outside of the classroom. This summer, I am working with the City of Orange Township, NJ to help analyze their energy costs and usage. In doing so, I will research and advise them on available incentives to save money and reduce their environmental impact. I am so grateful to be an EDF fellow as I have already learned so much and know that the network and experience will be extremely useful as I enter the job market post-graduation.

Daniel Miller

What interested me most about the EDF Climate Corps Fellowship program was the recognition that it is an opportunity to be put into a position of influence within an organization that has prioritized sustainability initiatives. Additionally, the resources and network that come along with participation in the program have proven to be invaluable. My fellowship is with the private equity firm TPG Capital’s sustainability team. I was attracted to working for a financial institution in a sustainability/ESG capacity. The exposure to multiple business models and the opportunity to help set sustainability initiatives and strategies for companies operating in different fields and in different stages of their sustainability journey was exciting to me.

My fellowship is broken up into two major workstreams. The first is portfolio company engagement working with two dairy processing companies based out of Uganda and India, and a promotional branding company in the U.S. I’m addressing three different aspects of sustainability for each, from smallholder farmer resilience to operational efficiency to waste and reduction strategies. The other major workstream is on TPG’s internal ESG strategy, developing metrics and key performance indicators that will be incorporated and operationalized across the different business units at TPG.

Fiona Li

Since sustainability is a rapidly evolving space, I sought to gain practitioner experience to augment the knowledge I am attaining through Columbia’s M.S in Sustainability Management (SUMA) program. In conversations with SUMA alumni, EDF Climate Corps was a highly recommended summer fellowship program known for its diverse sustainability projects and varied organizations in both public and private sectors, caliber of resources and training available to fellows, and access to an extensive international network of experts that are committed to mentoring fellows on their summer projects and career.

EDF Climate Corps took all my matching preferences into consideration and placed me with Colgate-Palmolive’s sustainability team this summer. As a renewable energy enthusiast and a problem solver, I was interested in organizations that had projects with a focus on renewable energy as part of their sustainability strategy. It was also important to me that I shared the same values as the organization.

My projects this summer include developing a framework and toolkit that will enable the rollout of the global sustainability strategy to all facilities, standardizing the evaluation of renewable electricity technologies, and creating automated data analytics that would lend itself to the development and performance tracking of localized and regional renewable electricity strategies.

Kyla M Aiuto

I learned about the EDF Climate Corps Fellowship while attending the 2019 Earth Institute Sustainability Careers Reception, where I spoke with a SIPA alum who had participated in the program before assuming his current role. While I’d initially thought that Climate Corps opportunities focused on only renewable energy projects, I later learned that the program had expanded and now offered projects related to corporate sustainability strategy, GHG measurement, and supply chain sustainability. I applied to the fellowship because I had an interest in gaining experience with scope 3 emissions reductions and supplier engagement strategy. Based on my background and interests, I was also keen to develop my career in the food, beverage, and consumer packaged goods space, and EDF had partnered with a number of key players in this space in the past. I was delighted to be nominated for the position with PepsiCo as a member of the climate team, where I am currently analyzing the company’s supply chain emissions data and developing targeted engagement strategies based on my findings. My SUMA studies have been exceptionally valuable in positioning me for success at PepsiCo, and my experience in the role continues to be exciting, challenging, and rewarding.

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Maya Fischhoff
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Maybe fun: We published an article on this wonderful program a year or two ago.https://www.nbs.net/articles/what-840-employees-say-about-creating-change
Here’s the take home: “Summer interns with EDF Climate Corps have made many companies greener. Their experiences have lessons for long-term employees.”