No, Our Work Isn’t Sexy. Here’s Why.

October 2, 2012 | Cliff Majersik

At IMT, we’re passionate about the work we do, but we can step back from it enough to realize that, in the eyes of most people, it’s really esoteric. And boring.

Our work is not sexy. We don’t focus on hot technologies like wind turbines, building-integrated photovoltaics, or smog-eating nanocoatings. (Although don’t get us wrong—we agree, they’re exciting.)

We can’t point to urban farms or green schools and say, to quote Mitt Romney, “We built that.” Of course, we’re glad that others do: these are extremely worthwhile initiatives and can spark the imagination.

Energy efficiency policies and standards, on the other hand? Not so much.

In fact, at IMT, we tend to layer boring topic upon boring topic. Take energy efficiency and add real-estate appraisal standards, and you’ve got yourself a great cure for insomnia.

The Joy of Unsexy

So why have we staked out the uncool as our niche? Simply put, the areas we specialize in are critically important for reducing energy use in buildings, which accounts for 40 percent of our country’s total energy use. So they’re critical for reducing energy use and emissions overall.

Consider building energy codes, and more specifically, the enforcement of building energy codes. (Still awake?) Nothing else has such a big influence on the energy efficiency of new construction.

Isolated, high-profile buildings that push the envelope of green are inspiring to read about, and set a terrific example for the market; but as a tool to improve the efficiency of our whole building stock, codes have them beat.

It’s the same story with real-estate appraisal standards. You can propose cool, ultragreen features for a new building or a retrofit project: radiant floor heating, solar panels, sedum on the roof. But an owner or investor isn’t likely to pay for them unless he or she is confident that the market will ascribe value to those features—in the form of a higher appraisal.

Another thing about this kind of work: it’s hard, and not just in the sense that it tends to be overlooked on account of being boring. You can’t just jump into a niche like real-estate appraisal or building codes. You need expertise.

IMT specializes in filling these vacuums, and we do so across many disciplines. Progress in one field will help move the dial forward on energy efficiency, but true market transformation requires a multidisciplinary shift. That's why we try to be “translators” among professionals including public officials, engineers, architects, appraisers, lenders, and real-estate agents.

Luckily, we have strong partnerships with leading experts and broad, deep knowledge within our small (but growing) staff. Without people like Bob Sahadi—who has worked in finance for decades and created the first energy-efficient mortgage—we couldn’t do what we do.

We’re also grateful to have funders, including the Kresge, Energy, and Climate Works foundations, who understand the complexity of our programs and are willing to dive into the weeds with us.

"That's Where the Money Is"

When asked why he robbed banks, Willie Sutton famously (though apocryphally) answered, “Because that’s where the money is.” IMT focuses on unsexy topics because that’s where the potential—and yes, the money—is for energy efficiency.

Spotty compliance with energy codes, appraisal standards that don’t capture added value, leases that don’t incentivize office tenants to turn the lights off when they leave: taken together, these market barriers represent billions of dollars in lost energy savings, and thousands of tons of emissions that could be averted.

For IMT, this massive potential is exhilarating, and sexy. Even if the steps that get us there aren’t.

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