Catalyzing Market Transformation: Mike Towler

November 29, 2018

IMT is laser-focused on unleashing the potential of energy-efficient buildings to improve bottom lines and property value, drive economic growth, and reduce harmful pollution to create healthier, resilient cities. Collaborating with building owners, tenants, governments, and other city and corporate stakeholders, as well as NGOs and strategic partners, IMT’s expert staff strive to catalyze collective and permanent market change. So, who is IMT? Get to know our subject matter experts in this blog series.

Mike Towler, Senior Associate for Strategic Services, shares how ambitious commitments are just the first step toward market transformation, leading the way for consumer buy-in, collaboration, accountability, and—ultimately—a change in the status quo.  

 

Why do you work on energy efficiency and high-performance buildings?

Energy efficiency is about a textbook market failure—there is significant value to be had both economically and socially by consuming less, but our current systems throughout the built environment are set up where most people are comfortable continuing the status quo.

I initially became interested in energy efficiency because of the opportunity for climate change mitigation—it’s clear that if the United States is going to maintain its commitment to the Paris Agreement and address a dire threat to human existence, a critical step is to reduce building energy use drastically.

In addition to addressing climate change, energy efficiency is a smart investment for local governments looking to grow their economies as well as businesses looking to improve real estate values, affordability, and building occupant health. Because energy efficiency is such a wide-reaching solution, there is a lot of work to be done to change the status quo to recognize energy efficiency as valuable and essential. No one person or organization is going to own that process, but I’m proud that IMT is working to connect the dots. 

What perspective do you bring to IMT?

I started my career in a Big Four accounting firm, where I gained a financial perspective and an appreciation for systems that are effective and accountable. After a few years, I wanted to do something that could provide a tangible contribution to society. I found that in an organization called the Fair Food Standards Council, which monitors agreements among workers, growers, and large buyers of tomatoes to ensure that Florida’s farm workers have fair wages and working conditions. As Director of Finance, I helped make the systemic improvements outlined in those agreements become reality. FFSC’s work includes auditing grower payrolls to ensure fair wages and interviewing workers to evaluate workplace conditions.

The Fair Food Program gave me an understanding of how powerful “a penny more per pound” could be for workers’ well-being. It also showed me that consumers can shape markets by demanding progress—the tomato industry never would have changed its standard operations if consumers had not demanded fair treatment for the workers who pick the food we all eat. And, once those commitments were secured, on-the-ground implementation and extensive partnership with stakeholders were necessary to create real change in working conditions. Once those commitments to fair pay and humane treatment were enforced and accountability measures were put in place, companies cared more about prevention and compliance than ever before.

At IMT, I can see a similar dynamic playing out across the country with cities’ climate commitments. Cities are listening to their constituents who are concerned about climate change and, in response, are making strong commitments to act on climate and energy. IMT recognizes that while those commitments and goals are a critical step forward, they are only the first step—it’s exciting to help cities make good on those goals and identify paths forward for real accountability and action on energy and climate change.

What does market transformation mean to you?

Transforming the building energy efficiency market means that all market actors are incentivized to independently recognize the large value of energy-efficient buildings.

For example, here in Washington, DC, IMT’s work with the District of Columbia Sustainable Energy Utility (DCSEU) continues to support new energy efficiency efforts such as working across DC buildings to boost current energy code compliance (Check out an IMT case study of the DCSEU’s data-driven efforts to reduce building energy consumption here.). We are also optimistic about the precedent-setting work toward achieving the goals of the Clean Energy DC plan and the District’s continued exploration of how to improve whole-building energy performance across a large group of existing buildings. It’s a new path to achieve significant increases in energy efficiency that has never been done before, and it’s exciting to see how innovative cities can be.

Another way IMT guides market transformation is by facilitating collaboration; by supporting the Urban Sustainability Directors Network (USDN) and its over 180 city members, we are helping individual cities pursue big climate and energy goals while also convening them around the ambitious solutions they care about. Increasingly, the cities are able to work peer-to-peer and share ideas and solutions from across the country. This level of scale is extremely powerful, and it’s exciting to forecast future project and budget needs to help this program grow and enable increasing collaboration among cities.

What are you hoping to learn in 2019?

I’ll be interested to see how cities continue to implement the U.S. Department of Energy’s data tools such as the Building Energy Asset Score. Asset Score allows building owners and cities to evaluate their buildings for cost-effective opportunities to improve infrastructure and energy equipment, simplifying investment decisions and reducing risk.

IMT continues to collaborate with cities to explore and refine these tools, and there are some promising use cases happening right now that I’ll be interested to see in action in 2019.

What is something your coworkers may not know about you?

As a teenager, I spent one summer working in the office of a fruit packaging plant. My older brother worked there before me and chewed a lot of Big Red gum. His nickname was Rojo Grande and so, of course, my nickname became Rojito.

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