In celebration of Women’s History Month, we’re highlighting women who are leading the way in positively transforming our communities through high-performance buildings.
Meet Julie Hughes, IMT Managing Director of Programs, who shares how improving buildings is all about improving lives.
Why do energy-efficient buildings matter to you?
We need a carbon-free world. I am so excited by the momentum and progress we are making in that direction, largely led by the initiative and innovation of American cities. Buildings are responsible for up to 75 percent of many large cities’ greenhouse gas emissions, so highly energy-efficient buildings are critical to achieving a carbon-free world in a cost-effective and timely manner. Cities know they need to massively decrease their building energy consumption as a foundational part of any all-of-the-above energy strategy—and they’re not waiting to take action.
However, the value of energy-efficient buildings goes far beyond climate. I’m passionate about buildings because that’s where people live and work. We spend 90 percent of our lives in buildings—we need to make them as healthy, comfortable, and livable as possible, while also making them more efficient. Perhaps most importantly, as we reflect on the fact that climate change will have a disproportionately negative effect on the most disadvantaged populations, we need climate solutions that create economic opportunities. For example, if we increase the number of retrofits we’re performing in buildings, we create jobs that cannot be outsourced to other countries. And, if we coordinate local government efficiency efforts with workforce and economic development programs, we can create high-quality jobs that lead to lasting, prosperous careers.
What are you most proud of in your energy efficiency career?
More than my own accomplishments, I’m thankful for the opportunity to have surrounded myself with some of the smartest, most creative, most passionate people I’ve ever known. I’m proud to call myself a member of the collective energy efficiency “team,” working with a bright, passionate community committed to making buildings more efficient while transitioning our country’s cultural and business climate to embrace and value energy efficiency.
Within that community, I’m especially thankful for the opportunity to work with the superstars of local government. From my own experience working as a staffer in the Baltimore and New York City governments, to now working alongside dozens of local governments through the City Energy Project, American Cities Climate Challenge, and the Urban Sustainability Directors Network, I have a deep appreciation for the passion, tenacity, and dedication of local government staff. They’re often the unsung heroes of progress, and they lay a tremendous amount of personal, professional, and political capital on the line in the interest of improving the lives of their residents. Most people will never see them in action, but we all enjoy the vibrant spaces and communities that city staff make possible. Their work is invaluable, and I am proud of IMT’s focus on helping them successfully achieve their energy goals.
The theme of this year’s International Women’s Day is “Think Equal, Build Smart, Innovate for Change.” What is the change or market transformation you would most like to see in the energy industry?
There has traditionally been an under-representation of women and people of color in the energy efficiency industry. This seems to be changing—and is absolutely necessary to achieve our climate goals. The world needs solutions that are innovative, inclusive, and new—they need to be different from what has been developed to date, because that’s not cutting it. I believe that by intentionally seeking out broader and more inclusive perspectives, we can create new solutions that creatively and equitably solve our urgent climate and energy challenges.