Creating a more sustainable world by improving the energy efficiency of buildings
Kevin Smith is an associate energy analyst with Glumac, A Tetra Tech Company, which provides full-service building design and commissioning. His role includes project management, energy analysis, and energy code compliance modeling. Kevin has a Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering and a double minor in Biology and Green Engineering from Virginia Tech.
What inspired you to get into your field of study?
I had an environmental awakening of sorts in college. Three events triggered this: watching Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth, seeing the nature documentary Planet Earth, and learning the statistic that commercial and residential buildings represent 40 percent of total energy consumption in the United States. Fortunately, I was able to land a job in the architecture, engineering, and construction industry, and today my career is dedicated to improving sustainability in the built environment.
What are some of the most inspirational projects you’ve worked on at Tetra Tech?
We have the opportunity to work on some very interesting building projects on the new construction side. But perhaps the most important and inspirational work we do involves existing building renovations. The vast majority of the building stock is existing buildings, representing a substantial opportunity to reduce the global carbon footprint.
One such project aims to improve the efficiency of the physical plants at several Southern California facilities for Kaiser Permanente, a U.S. healthcare provider. We conduct annual feasibility assessments that combine energy analysis; mechanical, electrical, and plumbing (MEP) design; and commissioning efforts to determine cost-effective solutions for refurbishment or replacement of existing MEP equipment. Our recommendations lead to increased energy efficiency and lower operating costs for Kaiser Permanente, as well as improved health and safety for the building occupants.
On another recurring project, we provide energy audits for Torrance Unified School District, funded by California state ballot initiative Proposition 39 to help overcome financial barriers for energy efficiency upgrades to elementary, middle, and high schools. The upgrades include lighting, HVAC, domestic water heating, windows, and exterior insulation. Besides decreasing the district’s carbon footprint, the projects lower operating costs, allowing more funds to be directed toward education and student activities. Additionally, since many of the schools did not previously have air conditioning, the upgrades provide a more comfortable learning environment in the classroom.
What do you do outside of your work that you think makes a difference for today’s environment?
I volunteer for a California-based nonprofit called Seed Consulting Group that provides pro-bono consulting services to influential environmental and social action nonprofit organizations to pioneer a healthier and more sustainable California. We provide business strategy, marketing, and operational efficiency to help nonprofits increase market exposure, lower operating costs, and operate more effectively.
Are we making progress in creating a better world for ourselves?
I think we are headed toward a more equitable and sustainable world. While barriers still exist, many entities are making a difference: national and local governments via legislation; nongovernmental organizations providing environmental and human rights leadership and education; individuals changing their personal behaviors to reduce consumption and invest more responsibly; and industry players like Tetra Tech promoting sustainable products and systems. It won’t be a quick and painless journey to a truly sustainable world, but I do believe we will improve one generation at a time.