In this edition of Paths To Mastery Interviews, BE14 Track Co-Chairs Rachel White and Kate Goldstein share why sustainability work is critical, and what BE14 sessions and workshops are must-sees, and what they think 2014 will bring for this industry.
NESEA: Who are you?
White: I work for Byggmeister. I’m their performance manager, so I wear a lot of hats, but generally I develop and track performance goals for homes in Byggmeister’s portfolio. This includes water, indoor air quality, energy usage. My path here was…idiosyncratic. I trained in religious studies, and left teaching after a belated quarter-life crisis. Around this time, I hired Byggmeister to renovate my house, and I ended up working for them in the end. I learned mostly on the job. Paul Eldrenkamp has been a fantastic mentor and guide, and I’m most grateful for his trust and the responsibility he’s given me.
Goldstein: I’m a bit of an oddball too. I come from an academic background, and I’m still in academia. I did my undergraduate work at Brown, did some work for what is now Real Goods Solar, and consulted with Ev Barber. I did my Masters at the University of Texas Austin, and then came to MIT for a PhD in building technology with a focus on heat transfer in buildings. My thesis is now centered around predicting residential energy efficiency potential. One of my current projects is collaborating with Rachel on the Byggmeister building portfolio. I’ve also been involved with NESEA for roughly 7 years, as a member, serving on the BuildingEnergy planning committee and the NESEA Board of Directors.
NESEA: Why sustainability?
White: When my children were little, I was thinking about the world they would inherit (cliched, I know, but there it is) and the environmental impacts of our daily choices. The issue became intensely personal. When we embarked on our renovation, it was like a lightbulb went off: this is one of the few big chances we’ll have to reduce our resource consumption. It felt really important to me to get it right. I’ve been lucky to be able to build a career on that experience.
Goldstein: I guess I didn’t even really think about it. I started off studying physics, and was passionate about that. I thought I was going to do astrophysics, and then discovered that I was pretty unhappy doing it full time. I sat in on about 17 different classes during Brown’s “shopping” period, and the environmental courses called to me, made me re-examine what I really care about. It was this, combined with my time out in nature (I’m a long distance runner) that convinced me to focus on sustainability and protecting the things I love.
NESEA: What brought you to NESEA?
White: I got involved with NESEA and this amazing community through the conference, and perhaps more accurately, through Paul Eldrenkamp. Paul’s been involved for decades, and sends his team to the conference every year he can. I got to go along after coming on board with Byggmeister, and everything I’ve learned has been invaluable. Every year I find myself getting sucked in a little further – kind of like quicksand!
Goldstein: Kurt Teichert (NESEA Member & Brown University Lecturer) made me go.
White: And she never looked back.
NESEA: Why did you choose to get involved with BuildingEnergy? Why did you bring this track together
White: Mostly because Paul asked us to.
Goldstein: I actually volunteered myself. I asked Paul if there was a way I could get involved. Many speakers are great friends of mine, so this is a great excuse to interact with them.
White: It really is such a gift. Organizing this is work, but Kate and I both really like to figure things out, and we really want to make a difference. It is a gift to be able ask myself and others, “What do people need to learn, and who should we hear from?” and then to act on that. Though our backgrounds are quite different, the work we do satisfies our need for rigor and our passions.
Goldstein: I’d also say that we’re lucky enough to be able to work on this track and other projects together.
White: Yes! Kate is helping to build our energy portfolio so we can quantify the work we do. Kate’s helped develop the method and the logic.
Goldstein: Rachel does all the heavy lifting – I just say “do this, I think that’s right”.
NESEA: Why should someone from your profession come to BuildingEnergy?
White: There are so many amazing things about BE. Byggmeister does residential remodeling, and there’s so much to learn if you come from that side. There are plenty of the nitty gritty details on everything from ductless minisplits to marketing home performance The sessions on ventilation are also critical. We all think we need to provide ventilation, but how much? At BuildingEnergy, you’ll get a lot of cutting edge stuff like this – stuff you can’t get anywhere else.
At BuildingEnergy, you’ll get a lot of cutting edge stuff like this – stuff you can’t get anywhere else.
Goldstein: The capacity to network with practitioners. I can’t stress this enough.If you come from academia, but want to do practical projects, or want research help, or want to find a job, it’s a phenomenal networking opportunity. I’m lucky to have an advisor like Michael Blasnik who makes himself available to answer questions for me more often than I ever could have hoped. This great connection simply would not have happened without a NESEA introduction.
NESEA: What role can people from your profession play in the larger cause of advancing sustainability in the built environment?
Goldstein: For me it is the capacity to ask questions of things that actually need solving, and then to do the research and work toward a solution.
White: It’s important to always be advancing your learning, to get the latest thinking, and learn from those who have done the on-the-ground work. As tempting as it may be, we can’t just keep doing things the way they were done 30, 20 10, or even 5 years ago. We all need to come in from the field and head into the classroom. I really feel that BE is one of the few places where we can learn how to build for the future..
We all need to come in from the field and head into the classroom. I really feel that BE is one of the few places where we can learn how to build for the future.
NESEA: Now let’s lay out the “Path to Mastery” for someone who is new to your profession. What specific workshops and sessions should a “newbie” absolutely attend to really succeed in the year ahead? Any demo stage presentations?
White: A new person couldn’t go wrong with the Fundamentals for Advanced Construction track. It is geared towards people who are newer, or who want to brush up on the basics.
Goldstein: Just hearing someone who is really compelling can get you really fired up. The stuff in our track might seem above a new person’s proficiency level, but the speakers are phenomenal, smart and accessible. I’m thinking specifically of people like Terry Brennan and Sukanya Pacoriek. Ed Connelly’ssession in the Multifamily track is going to be really, really good as well.
NESEA: What specific workshops and sessions should a seasoned professional attend to stay competitive? Any demo stage presentations?
White:I’m excited for Kate and Michael’s session. This is a must attend if you want to know what data can do for you. At Byggmeister, we’ve been working on quantifying our impact and it’s really exciting. I’m also really excited about the ventilation sessions – Terry and Ellen [Tohn]will cut through the misinformation on the matter and let people know what the best practices are.
I’m also really stoked for the Materials track – it’s a great new addition to the conference. Every session in that track looks interesting to me. As I said, we at Byggmeister are working on quantifying the impact of our work, but the embodied energy isn’t in there yet, so I’m excited to learn about life cycle analysis and accounting for that energy. Also, the LED session – LED tech is evolving so rapidly, I think it’s going to be important too.
NESEA: Any thoughts or predictions on how 2014 will shape up for this industry? Anything you’re excited for?
White: The move towards “big data” if you will, to help builders start to quantify the full impact of their work. It’s challenging – we’re still learning how to do it well – but it’s urgently needed.