With the celebration of 50-years of Earth Day this month, and International Women’s Day in March, we are more than thrilled to have the opportunity to speak with a leader in sustainability, Caitlin Rood, Mercy Housing’s National Environmental Sustainability Director. As a 2019 Environment + Energy Leader 100 honoree, Caitlin oversaw the energy improvement projects that won Mercy Housing properties NAA’s Return on Energy Retrofit Award in 2018, NAA’s Return of Energy Award in 2019, and Better Buildings Challenge’s Leader by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), exemplifying her leadership in energy efficiency.
Caitlin is responsible for developing and implementing the national environmental sustainability program for Mercy Housing, one of the largest affordable housing non-profits in the country with more than 330 owned properties, 25,000 units, and nearly 45,000 residents. Caitlin is a trailblazer across both the energy and real estate sectors, and she is an example for those who also want to make a positive difference for the built environment and our planet.
As Mercy Housing’s National Environmental Sustainability Director, why is sustainability and energy efficiency a priority for you both personally and professionally?
On a personal level, sustainability has always been a passion of mine for as long as I can remember. I recently read that if you felt compelled to do something, it is a calling. So, I guess you would say that environmental sustainability is my calling and what I have chosen for my profession. After studying environmental engineering in college and graduate school, I worked as a sustainability consultant for about 15 years. I decided I wanted to focus my energies on working for a company and implementing environmental programs. It was at that point that I moved to Mercy Housing, where all my professional experience has come to bear in the affordable housing community.
How do you explain the importance of sustainability and energy efficiency to colleagues?
I focus on a triple bottom line approach, always starting with the economics of the project. How will the project impact the utility bills of the property and the residents, the maintenance requirements, capital needs, and net operating income of the property? Beyond that, we explain what the environmental benefits of the project are and how they will positively affect the residents. When combined as a whole story, we can make a case for the importance of implementing efficiency.
As a woman and leader in both the energy and real estate spaces, how have you overcome challenges to find success?
Any project, program, or organization will have challenges. For me, the key has been to develop a deep understanding of the issues and barriers and develop solutions that work within those circumstances. This requires a great deal of communication and collaboration, at times persuasion, and a healthy amount of tenacity.
Is there a specific project or property that you are exceedingly proud of? Why?
I am most proud of a project we implemented with Affordable Community Energy (ACE), an energy services company (ESCO) that focusses specifically on affordable housing. With that multi-year program, we were able to implement a large-scale energy and water efficiency program across a large segment of our portfolio under a pay from savings model that is based on measured, post-implementation weather normalized consumption reduction. This project was the first of its kind in the country. It was a complex and difficult project to implement. We learned a lot along the way and were eventually able to implement light to deep energy and water retrofits across nearly 50 properties. Bright Power was critical in this project, being a partner from the very beginning, evaluating properties and incentive programs, serving as the general contractor for the project, taking on the role as the operations and maintenance (O&M) provider for the length of the contract, and providing the platform and invoicing services.
How has Mercy Housing’s partnership with Bright Power accelerated corporate sustainability goals and your own professional goals?
In many ways, Mercy Housing started its environmental sustainability program when it chose Bright Power’s EnergyScoreCards (ESC) platform to benchmark our entire portfolio’s energy and water consumption. We have about 325 properties located across the county and about 3,500 energy and water bills each month. With ESC, we can benchmark our portfolio, complete all mandatory benchmarking requirements around the country, measure pre vs. post-implementation performance, and complete utility analyses in minutes that previously would have taken weeks to complete. Mercy Housing has also worked with Bright Power on several efficiency implementation projects with ACE and otherwise. Finally, Mercy Housing partners with Bright Power as our third-party energy procurement consultant. As a result, Bright Power is a close partner to Mercy Housing in helping us to achieve our efficiency goals.
What are some trends in the industry that excite you?
I am seeing an increased awareness of and attention to the topic of environmental sustainability and I hope that indicates that as a world community we are starting to move in a different direction. In terms of specific opportunities, I am hopeful about potential for building and automotive electrification and battery storage and the transformational potential of those combined with other technologies.
What’s next for Mercy Housing and sustainability?
We will continue to look for and implement opportunities across our portfolio as opportunities and technologies allow for that. We have many efficiency projects currently in development. We are hoping we will be able to dive into battery storage in parts of our portfolio and use it for load shifting and resiliency, particularly in combination with solar panels.