By: Brandon Gertz, MEM ‘21
Nicholas School Communications Student Assistant

DURHAM, N.C. – As the maker of one of the world’s top-selling organic energy bars, San-Francisco-based CLIF Bar & Company has a commitment to sustainability. Reducing carbon emissions throughout its operations and supply chain is a big part of that commitment.

Second-year Master of Environmental Management (MEM) student Ben McCormack spent the summer of 2019 interning at Clif Bar. His job: To help the company create its first Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP) report, a critical step toward achieving its emissions-reductions goal.

Duke Environment recently sat down with McCormack, who is pursuing his MEM in Business and Environment, to learn more about his experience.
Q: Why does Clif Bar, or any company, care about lowering its emissions?
A: “Actually, many companies care a great deal about being more environmentally friendly these days. A big part of that is a reflection of consumer behavior: customers, especially young people, care about where their products come from and ensuring that the businesses they buy from are being responsible.

“As an outdoors-focused company, Clif Bar especially has environmentalism engrained in its values. They know that it’s not an option for companies to stick their heads in the sand as climate change gets worse, and they have always been committed to doing their part. This internship represents part of their real, concrete effort.”

Q: How were you able to get your foot in the door at the company?
A: “I can’t recall exactly how I found out about the summer internship position; it was probably either through the Nicholas School’s Career and Professional Development Center or through an online group where Nicholas School students share career and internship opportunities.

“After my first interview with Clif Bar, I was able to connect to a Nicholas School student already working at the company. That was amazingly helpful. I reached out for an informational phone interview and received a lot of great information about Clif Bar and their sustainability initiatives. After two more interviews with the company, I was offered the position and ended up working in San Francisco!”

Q: What skills or experiences from the Nicholas School were most helpful?
A: “What helped the most in securing the internship were the school-based projects I was already working on for business clients at the time. In my sustainability strategy class with Professor Deborah Gallagher, for example, I was working on a carbon emissions reporting project with a Durham-based electronics company called Cree. That was real, practical experience that Clif Bar wanted to see.”

McCormack at laptop displaying project.
McCormack displays the Carbon Disclosure Project document he produced for CLIF Bar.

Q: What did you accomplish at Clif Bar?
A: “I created and presented the company’s first Carbon Disclosure Project, or CDP, report. It was a 45-page document outlining all of Clif Bar’s carbon emissions and the actions they’re taking to be more sustainable. It establishes a big picture of where the company currently stands on sustainability and where it wants to go. CDP reports are important because they can help companies establish science-based targets for lowering emissions even further. I was able to provide a preliminary benchmark of these targets for Clif Bar as well.”

Q: What are you working on now?
A: “Right now I’m in the middle of my Master’s Project, working with Cree again to calculate CO2 emissions from certain parts of their business. Once that’s done, my team will be able to help them set emissions reduction targets to improve the sustainability of their company.”

Q: What would you like to do with the experience gained from your internship?
A: “I’d really like to continue working on corporate sustainability. I had a great experience with Clif Bar and felt like I made a real difference with concrete results.

“The private sector has a huge role to play in fighting climate change. I want to work with another company that has values aligned with my own and that is doing good work on making business more environmentally friendly.”