When I was managing business energy efficiency programs at Efficiency Vermont (EVT), I diagrammed the web of market forces that affect decisions around energy efficiency in buildings. I’ve recently been encountering those market forces and new vectors that I hadn’t even considered back in the nascent days of EVT. As a result of these encounters, I’ve realized how fundamental people are to a successful transformation of our building stock into efficient and sustainable structures. People tend to fall between the following camps:
- Inspired people - energetically seek new, more sustainable ways of doing a job that they’ve done differently in the past
- Inert people - may speak of sustainability, but are constrained by money, time, and a lack of vision.
I recently encountered a couple of Inspirational Leaders – people who help the cadre of change agents develop focus and find the tools to sustain us as we try to move the market. I came across Amory Lovins of the Rocky Mountain Institute giving his lecture, "Reinventing Fire" from the 2011 Bioneers Conference.
Even my husband watched as Lovins painted the picture of how we can “Reinvent Fire” - generating the energy to power our economy without burning fossil fuels. Lovins’ approach will allow us to grow our economy and improve people’s welfare without taxes or regulations. It sounds fantastic and to hear Lovins speak about it, it makes so much sense.
Another inspirational leader I recently had the pleasure of seeing is Jack Uldrich. His keynote speech at a U.S. Green Building Council Northeast Regional Summit was enlightening as he challenged us to answer questions about the present – which we invariably got wrong – and then pushed us to realize that our entrenched ways of thinking hamper our ability to adopt change and be change agents.
On the flip side, in one of my current projects the team met and discussed a variety of opportunities to improve the sustainability of the project through cost effective energy efficiency. The changes for which I was advocating ranged from redesigning the heating system, to increasing the amount of time the condensing boilers actually condense, to purchasing more efficient heat pumps. These issues have been on the table for a while. But for a variety of reasons they have come to the fore just as equipment is being ordered. The general contractor pushed back with the time excuse. The HVAC contractor, responsible for the design, assures the owner that the system they are providing is efficient, and the cost effective upgrades, which would be supported by energy efficiency programs at Vermont Gas and Efficiency Vermont are set aside in the interest of schedule and first cost. Inertia constrains this building to have systems that are sub-optimal, savings are left on the table, in some cases, for the life of the building.
How do we push our inspirational selves to overcome the inertia that comes from constantly encountering barriers to energy efficiency and sustainability? Make sure to connect with the true innovative and inspirational leaders of our time whether it is Bill McKibben of 350.org, Amory Lovins, or a person who you know personally who consistently and effectively pushes the envelope, sweeping away barriers and generating a “can do” attitude all around them. Using people like this as a touchstone, we, the cadre of committed individuals slogging in the trenches, might just get out of the muck into the sun.