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Sustainability Connect Successes

June 2, 2017

Martin Smith, a 2016 Masters of Sustainability Solutions (MSUS) alum, just saw the realization of his capstone project in the form of a new U.S. Green Business Council (USGBC) certified Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design (LEED) Pilot Credit for “Residential Energy Submetering and Real-time Usage Data.” Though Smith completed the project in July 2016 for his culminating experience, he continued to work on the project until May 2017, when the USGBC accepted and published the LEED Pilot Credit.

Smith worked with multiple stakeholders over the course of the project:

  • Verdical Group, the green building consulting firm and certified small business he works for, which was also the USGBC member organization under which he submitted the Pilot Credit.
  • USGBC, the acting organization that created and controls the LEED rating system.
  • The Energy Coalition project manager, Julie Castro, who serves as this Pilot Credit's guest expert.

Motivated by United Nations climate reports, Smith said, “The overall goal of this project is to put energy disaggregation tools into the hands of building occupants. A report titled ‘Buildings and Climate Change,’ completed by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), revealed that ‘over 80 percent of greenhouse gas emissions take place during the operational phase of buildings, when energy is used for heating, cooling, ventilation, lighting, appliances, and other applications’ (UNEP, 2009, p.6). Because buildings overall are one of the largest contributors to climate change, it would be wise to utilize and promote the tools we currently have to drastically cut their energy consumption.”

Smith worked on the project from April - August 2016 while interning with Verdical Group at the same time. This was beneficial not only in being part of a USGBC member organization but also because he found support within the Verdical Group team in furthering the proposal along. These practitioner mentors proved to be crucial to the success of Smith’s overall project.

On the variety and breadth of practitioner expertise, he said, “Batya Metalitz, USGBC's LEED Technical Director, connected me with multiple LEED committees, who reviewed the Pilot Credit, provided feedback, and helped with the development of multiple iterations. Emma Hughes, LEED Project Manager at USGBC, was responsible for relaying committee feedback to me and providing thoughtful suggestions for how to proceed forward. She and USGBC staff members assisted in editing the Pilot Credit proposal and creating new versions. I initially approached Julie Castro of The Energy Coalition when she was working at the energy disaggregation device company called Chai Energy. They make a device -- ‘Chai Energy Pro’ -- that is highlighted in the Pilot Credit's ‘Resource’ document; this is available on the Pilot Credit's web page and includes multiple design examples for project teams to use as a reference.”

Smith was pleasantly surprised to find that “people in the green building industry are truly altruistic -- they will go out of their way to help you succeed, even if it doesn't benefit them,” he said.

In addition to these practitioners, Smith found guidance from faculty mentor Tyler DesRoches and MSUS program manager Paul Prosser. Both helped to offer feedback throughout the project process and provided scheduled check-ins to get updates on the project status. This helped to keep the project on track as Smith had several final deliverables to both complete the MSUS degree requirements and prepare for the future work that would ultimately lead to the new credit.

Smith noted that there were some challenging aspects to the work. Abbreviating the work into a summer session while working 8-hour days required a lot of weekend work and quality time management. Additionally, he wanted to make sure he had solid research to back up the proposal for USGBC.

“I spent countless hours scouring the internet for scholarly papers that covered residential energy disaggregation research,” he said.

His hard work paid off in the end.

“The Pilot Credit was actually published by USGBC!" he said. It was posted online on May 1st, 2017, and is now available for all LEED project teams to use that are working on the following rating systems: LEED for Homes, LEED for Homes Mid-Rise, LEED for Building Design & Construction (BD+C) and LEED for Operations & Maintenance (O+M).”

Smith found the process useful and hopes to apply the credit to future works if he continues working on LEED buildings.

He said, “Being able to witness first-hand how LEED credits come to fruition and actually being at the forefront of the process the entire way---from concept creation through applied research, all the way through official publication of the credit---is an experience I will be able to retell many times throughout my career and one that will certainly give me an advantage when looking for new opportunities.”

Smith recommends students working on projects like this should make sure they maximize their efforts to work to their best advantage and “see it through to the end. Even if you lose interest in it half way through, which I sort of did with this project, do not give up on your initial goal. Push yourself to finish the project completely -- as in, after you've turned it in for school credit, continue building upon all the hard work and research you've done like submitting a paper to be published in a journal, finding non-profits that can utilize your work and expand your efforts, etc.”

The nature of the Pilot Credit also makes it a perfect project to expand upon in the future. The LEED Steering Committee at USGBC has actually suggested that a second pilot credit could be created to work alongside this one to focus on occupant engagement and energy saving behaviors. Students interested in expanding upon this are encouraged to reach out to Martin Smith directly, and he can help connect you with the right people at USGBC.