Amberli Young, IMT Senior Associate, shared how she helps communities work together to strengthen their economies and their environments.
How did you first recognize the value of building efficiency?
I first became interested in building energy efficiency during college at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where I got involved with several sustainability groups. My college campus had almost 30,000 students, so the campus buildings were one of the biggest sources of carbon emissions. To combat this, our student groups focused on increasing renewable energy on campus and reducing energy consumption in the labs and dorms. While I was there, one of the dorms actually won the first U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Battle of the Buildings award, which was a cool demonstration of the UNC community coming together to achieve significant results for the environment as well as cost-savings that return to the university and, ultimately, students.
Now, at IMT, I’m involved with cities and communities across the country that are acting on building energy efficiency. My experience in campus sustainability is a helpful perspective because just as a university is a system with a number of departments and stakeholders including staff, faculty, students, and the surrounding community that each have a role to play to improve the campus, a city works in a similar fashion. Different municipal departments, local businesses and nonprofits, and residents have to work together to solve complex, interconnected problems.
What most excites you about working with cities and local communities?
Each community that IMT works with has unique opportunities and strengths as well as its own challenges to solve. I work closely with the 20 communities in the City Energy Project, and we have designed unique plans to meet each city’s goals and incorporate critical local partners. Cities prioritize listening to their local stakeholders and, together, they determine if they want to pass a policy, institute leadership programs, or take additional bold steps to reduce their energy consumption. In Los Angeles, for example, the city worked with building owners, local government officials, and service providers to determine the parameters of the city’s recent benchmarking policy and are also working together to provide support for implementation. The city overall has instituted many ambitious goals in its Sustainability Plan, and the building performance policy is a key effort to meet those goals.
Because I’m passionate about this work, I’ve just started a graduate program in public administration this summer and am excited to explore all of the levers that local governments have to improve their local economies and building stock.
What is the biggest challenge you face in your work?
The biggest challenge to increasing energy efficiency in buildings is overcoming the common lack of interest in energy efficiency—the real estate sector is busy, and the energy consumption of buildings is not always top of mind. At IMT, we make the case that energy efficiency touches many aspects of a business beyond just operating expenses—it also increases tenant satisfaction and improves occupant health—so it should always have a critical role.
In order to educate and excite building owners about energy efficiency, many cities have created voluntary energy challenge programs to get them started. The Better Buildings Challenge in Atlanta is a fantastic example—the program has engaged almost 600 buildings that have saved over $25 million on their collective energy bills.
What are you hoping to learn in 2018?
I’m hoping to continue to explore new strategies to reach smaller buildings and accelerate the efficiency of their spaces. These buildings oftentimes stand to gain even greater benefits from resulting reduced operating expenses, but they also can be harder for cities and nonprofits to reach through standard programs because they often do not have the dedicated resources to focus on energy. At IMT, we want to make efficiency easy—in fact, we want to make it standard—for every building, no matter its size or resources, to be as attractive, healthy, and cost-effective as possible.