Graham Sustainability Institute

Empowering Change Agents through Climate Corps

U-M Investigators

Sara Soderstrom – Organizational Studies and Program in the Environment
Todd Schifeling – Erb Institute

Project Summary

The Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) Climate Corps Program matches trained graduate students with leading organizations to advance clean energy projects and strategies. Through this summer fellowship program, more than 350 organizations have enlisted Climate Corps fellows to design customized solutions to energy-related challenges including energy efficiency, renewable energy, energy management strategy, and more. Since 2008, fellows have identified more than $1.5 billion in energy saving projects.
Researchers are interested in studying current and past EDF Climate Corps Fellows to learn how these individuals act as “issue sellers for sustainability,” or as change agents and sustainability leaders in the business sector.  Fellows in the program are embedded within organizations that are engaging in change towards more sustainability-focused goals, and they are engaging with a broader cohort of Climate Corps fellows with shared environmental identifies. The structure of the Climate Corps program allows for unique insights into issue sellers, addressing questions such as:
  • How do issue sellers leverage networks internal to the organization to enact change?
  • When do they engage with networks of similar professionals, external to the organization?
  • How do these different networks influence the motivations of the issue sellers and their abilities to mobilize others, thus empowering them as change agents?
Researchers are using a suite of social science methods to explore mechanisms of issue selling, including:
  • Analysis of archival survey data from the EDF Climate Corps program
  • New surveys of current EDF fellows, program alums, and host organizations
  • Interviews with a diverse subset of program fellows and host organizations
  • Analysis of fellow diaries collected at various points during their fellowship periods
Through this work, researchers can generate insights that will improve the effectiveness of the Climate Corps program and of sustainability advocates more broadly.

News & Resources

What 840 “Employees” Say about Creating Change (December 6, 2017) Network for Business Sustainability article higlighting findings that have lessons for long-term employees

The Environmental Defense Fund and Graham Sustainability Institute provided $20,000 of project funding in 2016.