For Profit For Good: Environmental Studies Students Explore Biz World

Gate sun256Big business is often blamed for environmental degradation, but two students are turning to the for-profit world to fulfill their ambitions to help the environment. This summer Emi Gaal ’15 is working for an international energy corporation — one that is building renewable energy plants. And Bridgett McCoy ’15 is working for a large commercial bank, but one founded on the mission to use “finance to deliver sustainable development for unserved people, communities and the environment.”

Gaal’s employer, Enel Green Power North America, Inc., is a subsidiary of Enel, Italy’s largest power company and the second largest utility listed in Europe. Gaal is based out of a company office in Andover, Mass., that oversees more than 90 energy plants powered by hydropower, wind, geothermal energy and the sun. While she’s motivated by her environmental concern, Gaal points out that the renewable energy industry “isn’t driven by a sense of morality-driven stewardship to the earth… Rather, its backbone is purely economic. Renewable energies play on the same playing field as ‘dirty’ energy sources, like coal and gas, and they have to make it work.”

McCoy is living in Bangladesh, interning for BRAC Bank. While BRAC Bank is the country’s largest and most successful bank, it was formed by a development NGO to serve businesses too small and informal for traditional banking but too large for micro-loans. “Threatened by sea level rise and vulnerable to deforestation, any business in Bangladesh should incorporate sustainability into its operations,” McCoy said. “A financial institution like BRAC Bank, which can influence many other businesses, is in a unique position of power to be a force for good.”

Both Gaal and McCoy have grants from Career Planning’s funded internship program. Gaal received a Robert S. Goodfriend Summer Internship Fund, which encourages students to pursue internships in the business world. McCoy has the Anwarul Quadir Fellowship, awarded to a student to study Bangladesh’s economic and social progress. The College’s funded internships give students financial support to pursue internships and projects around the world.

Emi Gaal ’15, at Enel’s North American headquarters

Emi Gaal
Ever since meeting an Enel employee during her first year at Bowdoin, Gaal said she’s been determined to work for the company. “I’ve been bugging him about working for Enel, but as a freshman I had no experience,” she said. “So after two years of internships, I finally managed to show I was competent.” Last summer, she interned for the town of Bath’s planning and development department. The year before she was at Seventh Generation, a Vermont-based producer of eco-friendly household products.

Now Gaal is working for Enel’s energy management group, which is responsible for the day-to-day optimization of a portfolio of power plants and power-purchase contracts. “It’s really interesting, even though it sounds like I am just working with spreadsheets!” Gaal said. “[My supervisors] give me projects to work on that they’re working on. They’re not just funky projects that don’t matter if they get done or not.”

Gaal is also researching price correlations between electricity rates and finite energy sources, such as natural gas and coal, to keep her team abreast of price trends in the energy market. And she’s helping inform developers about newly passed Massachusetts legislation that provides financial incentives for solar projects.

Not yet halfway through her internship, Gaal is already sure she wants to work in the energy sector after she graduates. To acquire more knowledge about her future field, she plans to do an independent study next year on energy economics and modeling. “I need to know what different technologies are out there, how the pricing works, and about different market trends,” she said. 

Bridgett McCoy, right, with friends

Bridgett McCoy

Life in Bangladesh
Bridgett McCoy said that coping with begging street children has been by far the most challenging aspect of adapting to her new home. Many of the children are victims of kidnapping and violence, and McCoy has been advised not to give the children money as it’s most likely passed on to abusive adults. “I have to say no and ignore them, but becoming calloused to their misery is almost worse than the heartbreak,” she said. She’s looking for a way to volunteer with a children’s organization on the weekends.

Yet, McCoy has been impressed by many other parts of Bangladesh, particularly Bangladeshi hospitality. “My co-workers have invited me to weddings, on trips into the countryside, on tours of the city. It is truly overwhelming the kindness I receive from people I have known for only a few minutes,” she said. She attributes some of their friendliness to wanting to show her another side of their country apart from its crushing poverty. “[Westerners] don’t think of the rich literary traditions, the terraces of the tea gardens, the largest beach in the world and the largest mangrove in the word,” she said. “People don’t think of the laughter that fills the office, the high level of religious tolerance and female empowerment, and the deep but unpretentious spirituality of even the most secular seeming person.”

One of Bridgett McCoy’s current projects at BRAC Bank is figuring out why the bank’s customers — who are often very poor and illiterate — aren’t using time- and money-saving banking methods, such as ATMs or text message banking. By the end of the sumer, McCoy and another intern will write a report of their findings with recommendations. She is also working with the green banking portion of the bank — which is where her true interests lie.

The rising senior said that after graduating from Bowdoin, she’d like to work on climate change policy, perhaps for a government agency. Before then, however, she wants to gain more business experience. “Some of the most aggressive actions being taken against climate change are by businesses and institutions in the developing world,” she said. “I could see myself working for a company with a commitment to sustainable development and climate change mitigation, like Seimens or HSBC.”

Besides having to adapt to a new professional world for her, McCoy is also acclimating to a new culture, and a new climate. “It is hot, humid, rainy, and the pollution is pretty god awful,” she said. “I can’t wear shorts in the 100-plus degree weather because of cultural norms, and as someone who loves her jean cutoffs, that is actually a lot to ask!” Read the sidebar for more about McCoy’s impressions of Bangladesh, or go to her blog.


To see what other Bowdoin students are up to this summer, check out this interactive map by Nina Underman ’15.

thumb:New tank layout in the wet laboratory