Saving Energy In Our Schools, Part 1

May 6, 2017

Saving Energy In Our Schools, Part 1

Virginia Energy Sense interviewed Loudoun County Public School’s Energy and Environment Program Administrators John Lord and Mike Barancewicz.  The LCPS Energy and Environment team has won multiple awards for their energy saving efforts.

This is part one of a two part interview. 

Loudoun County Energy & Environment Team Motto

“Every dollar that pays an unnecessarily high energy bill could be spent for a much better purpose – teaching children.”

 

1. We love your program’s motto. Can you tell us a bit about how that came to be? 

Thank you, we also are very fond of the motto.  We had a number of influences that led us to adopt it.  One of the most important was Dr. Edgar Hatrick, the Superintendent of LCPS when we started working here.  He took the time to explain to the entire Administrative Leadership Team that if the school district had a chance to promote itself and to highlight the best things that were going on, the focus would be on student achievement and on instruction.  After all, what is a school district supposed to do?  The answer is simple, we teach children.  Therefore, it seems only right that the management of energy should be put in terms of what the school district is designed and intended to accomplish.

Another factor involved in our decision was the book: “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People” by Steven Covey.  The third habit is to put first things first.  When considering energy management practices, we filter decisions based on how they may affect health and safety, productivity or the instructional process.  We will not implement any decision that may cause an adverse effect.  By keeping a focus on students, we know that the program will never stray far from a pathway that will lead to good outcomes for the young people.  Ultimately, if energy management does not lead to better student outcomes in a school district, then there has been a serious breakdown.

Finally, the motto can (and does) serve very well as the opening to the “elevator speech” for our team.  The motto is a clear and concise message about why the LCPS Energy & Environment Team exists and why we have an important and worthwhile job.  It communicates not only who we are but also how our program helps the school district and all facility users to be good stewards of taxpayer funds.  It is short, people understand it, and it truthfully and accurately summarizes the purpose of the program in a very effective way.  Perhaps the best part about it is that it is just one sentence, but it packs such a punch.  Thanks so much for noticing it; it is a great conversation starter.

 

2. Can you tell us more about your respective backgrounds, in particular your previous professional experiences, both during and prior to your time at Loudoun County Public Schools (LCPS)?

Another great question.  The two of us have very different backgrounds.  In 1986, Mike earned his bachelor’s degree in Mechanical Engineering Technology from Old Dominion University.  He then worked for Dominion Virginia Power in different roles, such as Service Representative, Lighting Sales, Key Account Manager and Contracts Administrator for 16 years.  In 2001, Mike moved from the private sector to the public sector when he became the Energy Manager for Loudoun County.  Mike took the position of Energy Education Specialist with Loudoun County Public Schools in 2004.  Throughout the years, Mike acquired a number of professional certifications with the Association of Energy Engineers, including Certified Business Energy Professional, Certified Demand Side Management Professional, Certified Energy Auditor, Certified Energy Manager, Certified Energy Procurement Professional and Certified Sustainable Development Professional.  In 2016, Mike graduated with a Master’s Degree in Natural Resources from Virginia Tech.  In many respects, Mike would be considered a traditional Energy Engineer with formal post-secondary training, industry experience, professional certifications and with a career path that has logically and organically developed over many years.  Mike serves on several Boards dealing with energy and is the person you would want to run an energy management/sustainability program.

On the other hand, John has a very unexpected background when you consider his role as Energy Education Specialist.  In 1993, John earned his bachelor’s degree in Spanish and Latin American Studies from Colorado State University.  After college, John worked for 10 years as a Spanish Teacher in Amelia County Virginia.  Amelia is a rural county with only three schools.  People who teach in small towns often wear many hats.  Over the years, John was the Foreign Language Chair for the county, coached soccer, announced at football games, was a computer hardware and network maintenance technician, was the advisor for the yearbook and was the part-time energy manager for the district.  In 2004 (the same year – in fact, the same day that Mike did) John joined LCPS.  Since then, John has earned several professional certifications, including Certified Energy Auditor, Certified Demand Side Management Professional, Certified Energy Manager, Certified Measurement and Verification Professional and Certified Sustainable Development Professional.  In fact, John is now the President of the National Capital Chapter of the Association of Energy Engineers.  However, John still maintains his Virginia Professional License as a K-12 Spanish Teacher.  John knows school districts and although he has played many roles, his entire professional career has been with public schools in Virginia.

 

3. The Energy and Environment Team has won many awards and been recognized by some notable organizations. Can you share some of these with our readers? 

It has been a great honor to serve the public and focus our efforts on being good stewards of taxpayer funds.  Because of the people who contribute to the effectiveness of the LCPS program and all the things they do to conserve energy and be efficient with their use of energy, the program has been recognized with several awards.  It is important to note, right here at the beginning that any success that the LCPS program may have had is a direct result of thousands of actions by as many different people.  The LCPS Energy & Environment Team includes all students, staff, parents and other community members who make up the totality of individuals who utilize LCPS sites.  Frankly, the work that is done wouldn’t be effective if everyone didn’t make a contribution – no matter how small it may seem, it adds up to a program that has been amazingly successful.

LCPS won the Virginia School Boards Association’s Green Schools Challenge.  This friendly competition among Virginia Public School Districts highlights the implementation of environmental policies and practical actions throughout the district.

LCPS was the recipient of two Virginia Governor’s Environmental Excellence Awards; one from Republican Governor Bob McDonnell and the other from Democrat Governor Terry McAuliffe.  The fact that the two distinctly different administrations recognized LCPS for its demonstrated commitment to the stewardship of Virginia’s natural resources through its sustainability initiatives is quite significant.

LCPS was awarded the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments’ First Climate and Energy Leadership Award.  MWCOG is an independent, nonprofit association where 22 Member Jurisdictions address regional issues affecting the District of Columbia, suburban Maryland and Northern Virginia.  The award was for outstanding efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and increase energy efficiency.

LCPS attained a Golden Achievement Award from the National School Public Relations Association.  The LCPS entry highlighted the public relations campaign surrounding LCPS Energy & Environment Team efforts.  Having the opportunity to work with the LCPS Public Information Office and being continuously supported by district leadership has absolutely been a key to program success.

LCPS has been named an ENERGY STAR Partner of the Year and a Sustained Excellence Partner of the Year for eight consecutive years.  The ENERGY STAR is our national symbol for energy efficiency and is recognized around the world. The ENERGY STAR Partner of the Year award recognizes organizations that have made outstanding contributions to protecting the environment through energy efficiency and conservation.  Being recognized at a national level is somewhat remarkable and continues to inspire everyone.

LCPS has also been recognized internationally.  LCPS won the Association of Energy Engineers International Award for Institutional Energy management.  The Association of Energy Engineers (AEE), founded in 1977, is a nonprofit professional society of over 18,000 professionals in more than 100 countries.  This award is for outstanding accomplishments in developing, organizing, managing and implementing a comprehensive energy management program.  The awards committee identified the fact that LCPS has created a culture where everyone who uses an LCPS facility understands how they can contribute to energy efficiency and conservation and is actively taking part in the program as one of the key factors in the decision to select LCPS.

It is a very humbling to know that the program we administer is so well respected, locally, regionally, nationally and around the world.  It wouldn’t be possible if we didn’t have such great people involved in every step along the way.  The awards are a testament to what people can accomplish when they work together.

 

4. Tell us more about the results from the Energy & Environment Team’s work. Any notable highlights?

The program has two main measurable effects.  There are many things that stem from the work that is done, but it is best to put the results into either economic terms, dollars saved or environmental terms, carbon dioxide emission reductions.  Since the inception of the program in 1993, the LCPS Energy & Environment Team has done the following:

  1. Created a total program cost savings of over $76 million that can be used for instructional purposes instead of operations costs.
  2. Eliminated over 300,000 equivalent metric tons of CO2 emissions which is the same as
    1. Over 79,000 passenger cars not driven for one year (or)
    2. Over 9.7 million tree seedlings grown for 10 years.

The cumulative savings of the LCPS program is significant to the taxpayer in Loudoun County. The LCPS Energy and Environment Team motto may explain it best: “Every dollar that pays an unnecessarily high energy bill could be spent for a much better purpose – teaching children.” In addition to dollar savings, emission reductions are significant on a global scale. LCPS is proud to have made, and to continue making, a difference.

 

5. How has Virginia changed in terms of its stance on energy policy since you began working for LCPS?

It may seem like we are taking a roundabout path to answer this question, but bear with us here.  Energy policy is another thing that we will talk about within the framework of “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.”  There are two important concepts that are relevant to this topic:  Circle of Influence and Circle of Concern.

The circle of influence is comprised of those things for which an individual can exert some level of direct influence or control.  While working within one’s circle of influence, one can be very effective because everything that one does will actually make a tangible difference.  Over time, if one focuses on working within their own circle of influence, it will expand.  People will come to recognize an individual as a valuable and trusted resource and thus the influence becomes greater.

The circle of concern is comprised of those things about which we are concerned, but over which we have very little or no direct influence or control.  Having a large circle of concern means that one pays attention to the world and what is going on around them.  Being concerned about something is a logical starting point for any action.  One cannot react to something that one does not even know about.  However, if one wants to be truly effective, one must work in the circle of influence.

All of that being said, when the word policy is mentioned, it is important for us to explain that policy is within the circle of influence of the School Board, not school district staff like us.  For us to be effective, we have to recognize that policy is only in our circle of concern.  We mention this because one of the things that has allowed our program to be effective is the ability to work under the authority of district leadership and to recognize what is (and what is not) in our circle of influence.  Knowing one’s role is vital to success.  However, being concerned, we are aware of policies and have seen some changes, but perhaps the thing that we have noticed the most are those things that have remained the same.

First, energy is vital to individuals as well as to the Commonwealth as a whole and plays an enormously influential role in both the economy and the environment.  Because of its importance, energy has, and continues to be a contentious issue.  Second, energy efficiency and energy conservation (in general) are universally appealing.  If one uses less energy one will spend less money on energy.  In addition, one will reduce the environmental impact created by the generation of energy.  Everyone believes in energy efficiency and conservation, members of society just don’t always agree on the details of implementation.  Finally, we have noticed that despite what policies may come and go, the individual people who make up this Democracy can take action collectively.  Impacts that may seem small when performed by one person will add up tremendously when thousands take part.  Disciplined actions taken by disciplined people to be conservative and efficient with the use of energy can happen with or without policy.  Good behavior and intelligent decisions do not always require legislation.

Saving Energy In Our Schools, Part 1