Finding Your Future Career Path in Green Building
Summarized from a presentation to UConn Civil and Environmental Engineering Seniors at the University of Connecticut
By James Moriarty, Sustainable Comfort, Inc.
You are all young, emerging professionals who will be graduating shortly, and have to answer to all your family and friends “What are you going to do?” Many of you will reply, “Find a stable job and work at it for the next 30 years.” But will 30 years from now look the same as it does today? The answer is no, of course not. So what’s the best thing you can do today to ensure you are making a difference tomorrow, or in 30 years. Find your passion, do something you enjoy doing that matters to you. With that, you can never go wrong.
Start with why
Finding your first job out of school is important, but it is far more important to find out the ‘why’ that drives you to do your best work every day. Find the topics you are passionate about and will you to change the world. For me, our interactions with the environment matters. The impacts of climate change can be devastating. The answers needed to combat climate change do not yet exist. We will need to start engineering solutions in our lifetime. Through what I learned in my civil engineering courses at UCONN, my path to address the environment and climate change has led me to try to understand this impact on buildings.
Why did I choose buildings? Because we spend 90% of our time indoors, cities are seeing a large population increase, and the buildings we currently use account for 41% of our energy use and 38% of greenhouse gas emissions. Since the buildings we build today will be around for the next 100 years or so, the decisions we make in building today will have a profound impact on the energy use and environmental impact of future generations.
If you’re still searching for your why, your early 20’s are the best time for you to explore and push your boundaries. Learn from as many people as you can, and don’t be afraid to take big risks. One of the best takeaways from my time at UCONN was a speech I attended by Tim Case, the founder of priceline.com. His advice was to take risks in your 20’s. Use this time to explore your capabilities, find what you want to do, especially when you have the freedom to explore.
For me I knew I wanted to work in the green building field right out of college, and I was lucky enough to find a job as a green building consultant. While there, I took a risk and pushed myself to relocate to another part of the country to immerse myself in the job. Living in a new setting with new people opened my mind. After 4 years, I knew I wanted more. I ended up quitting my job in 2013 and traveling the world for 7 months. I wanted to see how the rest of the world lived; their culture, food, people, and especially buildings. Without gaining a wider perspective on the world, I don’t feel like I would understand the actual impacts of the work I do.
Everyone looks at someone about to travel the world as a person trying to find themselves and assert their independence. When in reality it is a humbling experience in finding out how connected and dependent on each other we all are. Everything I did was because of the great people I met. I learned big things are created by more than one person, and ideas are super important to working toward the same goal.
I learned new skills for communicating with all types of people, something I could bring back and use to communicate with developers, architects, builders, and each person differently. As the role I typically play in the building process is an educational one, this gave me the skills to empower others to implement new ideas. It put me in the mindset of an entrepreneur.
As luck would have it, upon returning from my travels, I was approached by former colleagues about opening a small business of our own. My experiences abroad left me very open to starting a small business, and I was much less afraid of the risks than I would have been before my trip.
Rethink how things are made
Experiences give new perspectives you wouldn’t normally have, and can change the course of your life. Remember, you are taught out of a textbook that was written in the past. The future may not look the same if we are solving for new issues. As an engineer, reconsider some of the basic decisions we make in constructing the transportation, structural, and built infrastructure to solve for some of the new problems of our time.
There is potential for new solutions. One such example in green building is rethinking material choices. When traveling I visited the tallest wood building in the world. Steel and concrete are huge contributors to green house gases. This building’s concept used an all wood structure to rethink how large buildings are made. If we are able to drastically reduce the energy use in buildings, suddenly the embodied energy of concrete/steel becomes the largest contributor to greenhouse gases.
One step at a time
The world is a mirror, you can use the world as a reflection, and you can only change yourself. These are the hard changes that take small steps every day. For me personally this has taken to investing heavily in Permaculture and local agricultural systems. I believe that items like food security and engineering problems at their core, need to to be solved by innovations. Local, scalable models rather than large, industrial systems can be more resilient to social and environmental change. Being the change requires great reflection and the ability to challenge your current thoughts.
Find people and relationships that will last and drive you to be better. Join groups that align with your ideals, for me that was the Northeast Sustainable Energy Association (NESEA). As a student I went to the Building Energy Conference in Boston as my first experience into the practice of high performance building. At this first experience, I was exposed to passionate individuals who are constantly striving and learning everyday, the kind of people I want to be able to learn from. Learn from the practitioners of your passion, however keep in mind how fresh and unique your ideas can be and how they can change the game. You cannot balance work and life, unless you are centered in yourself and both work and life are extensions of what you believe in.
With that, I will leave you with my company’s Mission & Vision statements. It is something I can get out of bed every morning and feel motivated to pursue. I hope you find the same.
“We are a small group who hold the conviction that through better construction practice and management, we can help developers, architects, contractors and residents achieve healthier, resilient, and sustainable multi-family buildings. We provide clear, concise and value-focused consulting on sustainable, energy efficient, healthy housing.
As the population shifts and grows, more people are calling a multifamily building home. Our vision is to move the multifamily market to conscious development and management that result in sustainable buildings that support the people who build them, call them home and the communities that surround them.”
Learn more about us at www.greenrater.com
NESEA advances sustainability practices in the built environment by cultivating a cross-disciplinary community where practitioners are encouraged to share, collaborate and learn.