Giving Library-produced question & answer video featuring our executive director, Carol Werner.
An overview video can be seen here.

Why was your organization created? 

EESI was founded by a bipartisan group of members of Congress (Richard Ottinger, John Heinz, John Seiberling, and Gilbert Gude, in particular): they identified a need for policymakers to have more access to fact-based information on energy and environmental issues, and created EESI to fill it. This gives us a privileged position as a trusted source of credible, non-partisan information about energy and the environment for our elected officials. But we were set up as an independent nonprofit without any Congressional funding!

How long has EESI been around?

EESI is celebrating its 30th anniversary in 2014! Promoting environmentally sustainable societies has been key to our mission from the beginning.

What is EESI's approach?

We have a three-pronged approach to promote environmentally sustainable societies:

  1. Policymaker Education. We inform Congress and other policymakers through our highly-respected briefings on Capitol Hill, as well as through our fact sheets, policy papers, and newsletters.
  2. Coalition Building. We play an important role as a convener, framer, and synthesizer of issues, information and ideas. We act as a conduit between international, federal, state, and local stakeholders, as well as between academia, business, media and government.
  3. Policy Development. We are bipartisan and work with Congressional offices on both sides of the aisle as well as other stakeholders to develop practical, "win-win" policy solutions that are sustainable.

Interdisciplinarity is fundamental to our approach: true sustainability can only be achieved by thinking holistically and addressing many factors, including economic, social and political ones, in addition to environmental factors. That is why we invite academics from a wide range of fields to speak at our briefings (from climate scientists to polling experts), and why our briefings also feature industry and business representatives, as well as non-governmental organizations and policymakers from all levels of government. Encompassing a wide range of perspectives makes our work more credible and compelling.

Likewise, international collaboration is also a key part of our work, even though we focus on U.S. policymakers. Climate change is a global issue, and can only be addressed by cooperation on an international scale. Our friends overseas can teach us a lot about what works, and what doesn't.

What are you seeking to accomplish, and what do you need to get there?

The United States must transition to a clean economy based on energy efficiency and renewable energy. This will slow, and hopefully reverse, climate change – caused by the greenhouse gases emitted by coal, natural gas, and oil. It would also make us more energy secure: no more need to import oil while also exporting hundreds of billions of dollars out of our economy every year. It would create new economic opportunities, not to mention thousands of jobs. And, it would make us all healthier by reducing pollution.

To get there, as our founders emphasized, we must cut to the chase and go to our nation's policymakers. That means Congress and the wider policy community: the executive branch, think-tanks, state and local officials, media, other nonprofits… and citizens like you and me. As voters, we're all policymakers!

Which energy issues does EESI focus on?

EESI covers a wide range of issues, from electric vehicles, to renewable energy, from Combined Heat and Power (CHP) to pedestrian-friendly cities. There is no silver bullet: we need to make progress on many fronts to achieve long-term sustainability. All of these issues are linked and provide multiple benefits. Reducing greenhouse gases to address climate change is the driving force behind all our work.

Because we work with Congress, it's important for us to promote policies that have bipartisan appeal and can be seen as sensible "win-win" solutions. Showcasing solutions from across the country and across the economic spectrum are key to helping us deliver our message.

Perhaps the most bipartisan solution of all is energy efficiency. Boosting energy efficiency is the low-hanging fruit in the campaign against climate change. Investments in energy efficiency create jobs, save money, protect human health and reduce carbon emissions all in one fell swoop and in every energy sector of the economy.

Climate adaptation and resiliency is another issue that we believe has much bipartisan appeal. Whether you are a climate hawk or a skeptic, a succession of disasters in the United States (Hurricane Katrina, Hurricane Sandy, prolonged droughts in the Midwest and West…) has shown that our communities are unprepared for massive climate disruptions. It is critical for local communities to plan for these impacts, in order to lessen their severity. The federal government, with its resources and global perspective, can play an important role in helping communities address these challenges. EESI has been connecting with local and federal authorities to help accelerate adaptation efforts, and to identify solutions that can be replicated. 

How does EESI disseminate its work?

All our work is freely distributed, either in the form of Congressional briefings that are open to the public, or in the form of electronic publications and newsletters that are sent, free of charge, to our subscribers around the world (you can sign up at www.eesi.org/subscribe). Most of our briefings are recorded, and can be viewed on our youtube channel, www.youtube.com/eesionline.

What makes your organization effective? 

We have at least three key leverage points: 

First, our special relationship with Congress. We were founded by a bipartisan group of members of Congress and our work is seen as reputable and nonpartisan. 

Second, our extensive relationships. One of EESI’s strengths is its broad network. We work with states and local officials to bring their concerns and voices to Capitol Hill, businesses big and small, with tribal nations, with nonprofits, and academics. By looking at the big picture, we can best identify win-win solutions that will reduce pollution while creating economic growth.

Third, our convening power. We draw on that network to pull together diverse panels of speakers that help policymakers understand the latest research, what states and cities need from the federal government, and how businesses are profiting by moving toward clean energy. 

Obviously we're not the only group trying to get policymakers’ attention, not by a long shot… So we use our strengths – our reputation and our network – to maximize our convening power. When people come to EESI’s forums, they know they’ll hear from experts with compelling case studies, the latest research, and more.

How does your organization measure success?

In the messy process that is policymaking, it can be difficult to assess the impact of one organization. But the proof is in the pudding: ultimately, our measure of success will be our country’s transition to a clean, sustainable economy. More renewables are being installed every year, and efficiency (for cars, appliances, and more) is increasing too. 

We measure effectiveness in different ways. We ask attendees to our forums to sign-in, so we can see whom we're reaching. We track our website and email statistics. But, it's not all about numbers: a helpful source of feedback is the numerous unsolicited comments and thanks we receive. These comments tell us a lot and show we're reaching the right people.

What is the biggest misconception about EESI? 

Many people think EESI is a quasi-governmental organization funded by Congress, perhaps because we were indeed founded by members of Congress. But we receive no Congressional funding. Instead, it’s people like you who help EESI advance clean energy!

What are some of your organization’s major accomplishments? 

It’s so hard to pick out just a couple from our long history. Our project helping electric co-op customers pay for energy efficiency upgrades comes to mind. People use the money they save from reduced energy bills to pay for the upgrades—without having to come up with the money upfront. They’re more comfortable, too. That’s an all-around win. 

Another thing is the key role we played in getting bioenergy into farming legislation. Did you know it's possible to turn manure into energy? Or that some types of native grasses, like switchgrass, can be used to make fuel for vehicles, while keeping our lands healthy and productive? This can help drive down our dependence on foreign oil. All that is part of our agricultural policy now, and arose from EESI’s policy development efforts to bring energy into the Farm Bill, which first began in 2000.

What are the main challenges EESI faces? 

Our greatest challenge is inertia. Our country has so much invested in the current, unsustainable way of producing energy that it's hard for some policymakers to envision something different, even if it's clearly better. There are very powerful interests that have a lot at stake in preserving the status quo. But technology is advancing at a rapid pace. American innovation can lead the way! 

Our second greatest challenge is obtaining the resources to seize all the opportunities that come our way. Many commentators talk of gridlock and extreme partisanship. But in truth there's a lot going on and policymakers are moving ahead, one way or another. Our available resources don’t allow us to be involved in all the aspects of clean energy we would like to be involved in.

What keeps EESI awake at night?

We are very concerned by how climate change has become a partisan issue in the United States, when it used to be a bipartisan one. In fact, President George H. W. Bush signed the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change at the 1992 Rio Summit; it was subsequently ratified by the U.S. Senate by voice vote.

In general, protecting our environment used to be a key goal for both parties. Republican presidents have signed into law some of our key environmental legislation: President Nixon created the Environmental Protection Agency and pushed for the Clean Water and Clean Air Acts; President Reagan negotiated a strong Montreal Protocol; and the 1990 Clean Air Act amendments were signed into law by President Bush. All of these pieces of legislation involved very strong bipartisan Congressional leadership as well. It is critical that action on Climate Change, and on sustainability in general, become bipartisan goals once more.

What would EESI do with additional resources? 

A better question would be: what wouldn't we do?  More resources would allow us to hire more staff, do more behind-the-scenes work and have more forums in more places on how to transition to a healthy, low-carbon economy.

We'd love to work more with states and local governments. Good federal policy is critical, but a lot can happen (and is happening!) at the state and local levels, too. We'd love to take our forums and success stories on the road, so that policymakers can learn from each other directly.

More resources would also allow us to tackle issues that are critically important but that we just can't address in as much depth as we’d like. One issue is the critical nexus of energy and water. We use enormous amounts of water to produce electricity and we use enormous amounts of energy to move water.

Does EESI offer any educational or training opportunities? 

EESI doesn't offer any educational or training opportunities per se, but we do recruit several interns throughout the year, who gain a lot of first-hand policy experience and mentoring. Many of our interns have gone on to pursue successful careers in energy and environmental fields!