Green building maintenance plan wins at Climate CoLab conference

Proposal would develop community college, tech high school courses to maximize energy efficiency in new buildings

November 12, 2014

A panel on private-sector responses to climate change at the MIT Climate CoLab Conference

A panel on private-sector responses to climate change at the MIT Climate CoLab Conference

The grand prizewinner of this year’s MIT Climate CoLab contests wants to address the gap between green building technology and the skills of the people maintaining those buildings.

Danielle Dahan, an energy efficiency engineer and 2011 Brown University graduate, took home the $10,000 grand prize. Her contest proposal considered education for building maintenance professionals charged with making “green” buildings work efficiently after the architects and engineers leave.

The announcement was made at the MIT Climate CoLab Conference, held Nov. 6-7 at MIT.

“As buildings become more and more complex, with high performance sustainable buildings and [Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design] buildings, the complexity of the systems and energy savings opportunities are growing exponentially,” Dahan said. “But the training [of building maintenance staff] is stagnant. It’s like taking me or you and putting us in the cockpit of an airplane and telling us to ‘Just go.’”

Dahan proposed developing curriculum for building maintenance personnel at the community college and technical high school level, equipping them to better maintain buildings and maximize the energy saving technology within.

“I really enjoyed the CoLab competition,” she said. “Before, I was mostly on my own trying to research it, and this helped me get it on paper and get support and feedback.”

Climate CoLab is a project of the MIT Center for Collective Intelligence, and invites all comers to present actionable ideas addressing climate change through its website. Ideas are vetted through public commentary and judging, modified by participants, and submitted to compete in 18 distinct contests. The contest categories themselves are defined through an online community with more than 33,000 registered participants.

The contests range from “Communicating Coastal Resilience” and “Crowdsourcing for Disaster Risk Management” to ideas for implementing a price on carbon and improving land use in agriculture, livestock, and forestry. At the conference, winners in each category participated in breakout sessions to discuss moving ideas to reality.

Winners of each contest were all eligible for the grand prize. Professor Thomas Malone, the director of the MIT Center for Collective Intelligence, said judges considered three questions: How novel is the idea? How feasible is it? How much potential for impact does it have?

All proposals and category winners can be seen at: http://climatecolab.org/plans

Business, sustainability, and a growing world

The conference kicked off with a panel discussion titled “Transforming How Business Does Business,” moderated by Senior Lecturer Jason Jay, director of the MIT Sloan Sustainability Initiative.

Particularly during audience questions, much of the discussion centered on the tension between an acknowledged goal of reducing energy dependence and carbon output and the real need to bring power to those still without it.

“I think that systems thinking is the Holy Grail, because if you look at the adoption of renewable energy most people would say that’s a really good thing,” said Matt Swibel, director of sustainability strategy at Lockheed Martin Corp. “But it also has serious risks, and we’re talking mostly domestically. But what does it mean to have millions and millions more motor vehicles on the road as markets like China and India open up? What does it mean for political leaders in under-resourced countries to be able to say to their citizens ‘We’re going to get you power?’ Those are, for a lot of good reasons, trends that will occur.”