Green Design 

The Green Engineer: Chris Shaffner

welcome to green building matters thepodcast that matters for green buildingprofessionals learn inside in greenbuildings as we interview today'sexperts in lead and well we'll learnfrom their career paths war stories andall things green because green buildingmatters and now our host and yes he hasevery lead and well credential here'sCharlie cicchetti be sure to check outthe green building matter communitywhere you can have unlimited exam prepfor any of the professional credentialexams you're tackling next as well asputting your continued education onautopilot saving time with GPS reportingyour hours on your behalfcheck it out gbes comm slash join nowenjoy this episode of the green buildingmatters podcast i run welcome to thenext episode of the green buildingmatters podcast i'm your host charliecicchettiand i've got crystal schockner with mefrom boston area and he is behind thegreen engineer can't wait to hear moreabout his story so i was a really coolproject she's been working on him andhis to keep me safe thanks Chris thanksfor joining us today well I'm happy tobe here Charlie thanks look forward tothis our paths have crossed a coupletimes I know that you've been focused inthe Boston area and we'll learn moreabout your company and how far youstretch out but let's go back to thecount at the beginning you know we'rejust go to school and tell us a littleabout those early days your career yeahi Griffin Cincinnati Ohio and I schoolhere in Boston at MIT my degree inmechanical engineering from there andthey went I went off to school I thoughtI would be maybe working on the missionto Mars or maybe the engineer on aFormula One team I didn't really thinkabout buildings and you know thingsdon't always work out like you thinkthey're going to and you know honestly Ihad some struggles in school and alongthe way I did variety of odd jobs andone of those ended up working as adrafter in a mechanical engineers officedesigning I think we were designedkitchen for a holiday in of all thingsand boiler replacements things like thatand really actually got interested inthe buildings and what was interestingwas when I worked with other othersummer jobs they had an engineeringthere wasn't that sense ofaccomplishment that you get with thebuilding right so I worked on that thathotel in the summer and then I went backin Christmas break and there was and notonly was the building going up but theywere putting like the exhaust stack forthe kitchen right where I had drawn ithey that's my building that's my youknow that's my thing so you know maybesomewhere in there I was a frustratedarchitect and you know if I was gonna doit again I would have gone toarchitecture school instead ofengineering but the nice thing aboutbeing an engineer is you you've got alot of tools that you can apply to a lotof different problems in a lot more waysso that led to me after I graduatedworking in mechanical engineers officehere in Boston I worked for a companycalled Costantini associates and I wasjust a mechanical designer and doingduct work and killers and pipes and allthat sort of thing for primarilycommercial office buildings making along story short got married moved toCalifornia worked for a couple of firmscame back to Boston and by the time Ihad come back to Boston this was tenyears later I had spent five years inLos Angeles and been exposed to thingslike title 24 and started making aconnection between the stuff I was doingand the environmental impacts buildingsokay sustainability push energy mindedfirst it sounds like since Californiarubbed off on you out there and did youbring some of that back to some eardesign working in Boston yes you know Iwent back to a firm those 300 or sopeople in Boston and they saw me as thegreen guy because I had been inCalifornia but you know so somewherealong the way in California I started toconnect that the things I do reallycared about in my personal life like theenvironment and the actions I was havingin in my work we're connected there wasa point when you're early in a careerwhen you think well I want to do whatthe boss wants me to do and so if theboss was a you know old guy who didcare about energy efficiency you didwhat he wanted to do and at some point Imade that connection that look wellthat's just not rightand I started speaking up and sayinglook you know if you do it this way notonly will it work better but it'll bebetter energy and that actually was areally critical point because that youknow then I really felt like I was fullyengaged in the work I was doing and Iwould say that that was the inflectionpoint in my career that fan hadn'tfigured that out I'd still be some youknow engineer designing ductworksomewhere which is not a bad thing but Iwouldn't have moved into the greenbuilding world in the way that I saidclearly I've been passing it on thisgreen building journey you've been doinga long time and they called you thegreen guy and maybe that helps you namedyour company later the green engineer Ilove it you know in the late 90s therewas this mad rush for for web domainsand you know everybody was making an IPOand billions of dollars I thought wellyou know hey I'll have a web site thatjust specializes in talking aboutmechanical engineering systems forbuildings and called the green engineerwasn't taken so actually the web site90s didn't start the business until 2005oh that's a great storyyeah it turns out I was not gonna be thenext pet span so let's talk about thecareer maybe there's someone a couplepeople out there that of opens doors foryou just had some influence on you youknow Chris yet some mentors along theway all rightI'd say a couple of things so first ofall one of the things that I read backin the 90s was I got exposed to theRocky Mountain Institute and I rememberthere was a it was almost a pamphletthat they put out called greening thebuilding on the bottom lineand it was a set of case studies wherethey showed that energy improvements tobuildings had not only improved theirenergy performance but also they thehuman performance in the building so itlooked at things like lighting upgradesin a postal facility and underfloor airsystem for an insurance company inWisconsin and things like that and youknow so made that connection of theproductivity and the health andwell-being being part of this greenbuilding piece to admit I was veryinfluential you know as far as personalmentors I would say that the folks I'veworked with have all you know over theyears beengiving me opportunities to do things youknow one of the great things was gettinginvolved with the US Green BuildingCouncil in the late 90s and early 2000sand I was part of the original group oflead faculty and there's some peoplethere that I definitely see his mentorsand you know three specifically who areunfortunately no longer with us and Ialways remember a Greg Francis and GailLindsay and Musca Martin all greatpeople that really set a tone and anattitude about the way we do things inthe green building world that it wasabout people and it was about fun and itwas about all of the things togetherthat make it not just about ducts andenergy definitely there I mean yeah youwere one of the first LEED professionalsever you know I know you've taught a lotand you know that's a good segue intosome of your proudest accomplishmentsbut as I read it you've taught over10,000 professionals about lead over thelast 18 years so you speak a little bittoo you know some of your teaching Ialso know you do some work there atNortheastern on some advanced courseworkso you know maybe that passion has alsocome out maybe maybe you're like me Inever knew I'd want to be a teacher andI love to teach you'd speak to that yeswhen a mother found that I was doingthese lectures in front of 80professionals who wanted to get theirlead aap didn't really sound like me butI'm a fundamentally a shy person who'ssitting in the corner waiting forsomebody to give me permission to talkand when you're teaching you haveCommission and so suddenly I'll be muchmore talkative and out there so I getinvolved with the US GBC through thelead faculty program in the 2000s and atthe time the US GBC itself was runningall the workshops and we were doingworkshops to everybody in thearchitecture engineering world needed toget a LEED AP and so there was a bigdemand for those at the time and so fromsay 2003 to about 2008 or 2009 I wasdoing an awful lot of those and thatreally helped me build my business Ithink it got me out there in front ofpeople as somebody knew what he wastalking about in terms of green buildingand lean and so then people naturallystarted calling and bringing hisprojects which allowed me to ultimatelystart my own firm so it was a prettypivotal event these days I don't tend todo much inarea will still do a you know a sessionor two for our local chapter UST BCMassachusetts but I do teach aspart-time faculty at NortheasternUniversity and that's a little bit of adifferent experience it's a master'sprogram they have a program insustainable building systems and anotherone in energy systems and people takeclasses there so we run one class that'sbasically MEP systems but with a focuson sustainability and the theoverarching plot I guess of the coursesthat we're designing a net zero buildingand so what are the aspects of that thatpeople need to understand and then wejust started offering a second coursehopefully we'll get to offer again thisfall that's on building energysimulation and so in that we looked attools like eQuest and open studio andgive people a good introduction to tobuilding energy simulation and you knowthat's a lot of fun the students arereally engaged and the nice thing aboutthose kinds of courses is if you do likean adult education class 80 people thereonce you spend the day with them maybeyou see them again maybe you don't butwith the students in a academic settinglike northeastern you know they're therefor the whole term and then you maybethey take your next class and you wear arelationship with them and it feelsreally valuable to me I enjoy that a lotit's nice that they pay me for thatdon't pay me very much but you knowenough to make it worth my while butit's the fun of it and the connectionsthat I get things going that's great youknow the teaching anyway you can whatother achievement stand out over thisgreen building career I think one thingsI'm proudest of is just the company thatwe've built here the green engineer weretwenty people now and we're organizedaround as a social benefit organizationso we are a benefit corporation legallyin the state of Massachusetts and we'rea B corporation were certified through Blab we could we recognize the best forthe world for the past few yearsI would tell the story that we wererated higher than pennant cherries butwe're not up to Patagonia yet that'sworking on that and then along the waywe've switched from a company that wasstarted and owned by me to now we havefully distributed ownership 14 of the 20andhere are owners and you know so that isthat sort of whole challenge of creatingan organization that works and theprojects that we do I'm very proud ofthatI think that for me more than any oneparticular project that really standsdown man I really commend you for goingB Corp and then also employee-owned andjust sounds like a great vibe greatculture that you've created there andthanks for sharing thatoh let's abuse yeah I hope that is Imean I think for me it's about I've gotgood people working with me and I wantto make sure that they feel that theyhave a future here it's not just anywork for a couple years for Chris andthen we go figure out what to do nextright smart that's good business andthat's excellent leadership let's talkabout some projects that we've done ormaybe something you're working on todaywhat's keeping you busy todayChris you could share well we do a lotin the Greater Boston area andMassachusetts Massachusetts as you mayor may not know is the number one rankedstate for energy efficiency policyaccording to the AC Triple E peoplethink California but Massachusetts isactually ahead of the game there and sothere's a lot of requirements aroundgreen building and a lot of our projectsare coming to is frankly just to meetthe requirements but you know we youhave a few projects where people aretrying to go above and beyond and one ofour great clients over the last fewyears has been in Disaronno they're apharmaceutical company based wellthey're actually a subsidiary of Merckso they're based in Germany and theyhave offices here in Greater Bostonwe're on our now fourth project withthem we just completed a project withhim that was an expansion and it gotLEED Gold and also was certified as wellgold and that was an expansion of abuilding that had previously beencertified LEED Platinum so they actuallydid well for the whole complex and thenthe addition just was mostly gold andnow they're starting a new buildingthere and it's got offices and researchso it's a pretty intense building interms of energy efficiency but they'resetting an ambitious goal of not onlyLEED Platinum and well platinum for uson that zero energy and using a groundsource heat pump system to make thebuilding all electricand then combining that with someon-site and off-site solar to get themto the Net Zero so we're just in designdevelopment on that we just kind of gotthe formal approval that as a team wehad presented an option for Net Zeroversus the more conventional option andthey bought into the Net Zero approachand so great to have clients like thatthey they're really walk in the welcometo walk and and when we went to theleadership they didn't want to hearabout how much energy or how much moneythey're gonna say they wanted to hearabout what their people would thinkabout it and how it gave them aleadership position in the industrynobody else had done it and so thatthat's an exciting client to have yeahthat's nice it's the feather in the capproject that's the right way to do it sothat's that's a cool project to do acase study one that was further alongcertainly well let's look into thecrystal ball where do you thinksustainability green buildings wellnessreal estate with where are we shiftingwhat should we be reading up on rightnow you know this is in question I wishI knew who exactly the answer but we hada lot of you know soul-searching I guessafter the last presidential election andyou know we didn't see we're lucky forthe previous eight years and working inthe state Massachusetts where theregulatory climate was very favorablefor green buildings we need to go backand remind ourselves that when you lookat the early days of things like lead inthe US GBC that was you know was iteight years of Bush in office and stillmanaged to grow the green buildingindustry and whether you know whetherthings like lead are gonna last us fortime which I hope they will the issuesthat caused us to do things like leadoriginally the impact of buildings onclimate and on human health those issuesstill exist and we're gonna needsolutions for them and if anything thesituation was climate change is becomingmore and more urgent so really seeing amuch quicker focus on decarbonizing ourbuildings trying to figure out how toget to ned zero or zero carbon buildingsrenewables of course and then combinedwith that or a reminder that we canbuild really efficient buildings butthey're gonna look like refrigeratorsand feel like that too we don't want tolive in those kinds of spacesso we've got to come back to the peopleyou know the purpose of the building iswhat the people do inside it so if itdoesn't serve that function it's notgoing to get there so so the continuedefficiency combined with the humanhealth aspects I think are what we'resaving the next three years at leastyeah the well the interest in well youknow there's there a lot of projectsthat are interested as well not thatmany yet that are actually going on thefull certification pads but almost everyclient we talk to absolutely theprinciples of well are things that theysay yeah that's that's important to usnow I'm seeing that too is lots oftraining on that lots of curiosity maybesome gap studies feasibility studies andjust you know it made me start to breakloose a little bit more on some new outof the ground spec off its the certainregions or some tenant bill balance butas far as you know it being justmainstream you know it's early and Iknow you were there you can you knowjust kind of see hey it feels similarbut I totally read people and you knowwe have to navigate politics on bothsides I think a lot of people listeningneed to realize that so much I thinkwhat Krista sayin is state and citysustainability pushes energybenchmarking ordinances so so much isstill going to be your local you knowmandates your local politics not alwaysnational and I think that's one thingthat keeps sustainability on the righttrack yeah well I would say that there'scorporate efforts to I we see theydefine yes you know so when we're doingthings like public schools certainly theregulatory climate in Massachusettsaffects that but we're talking to youknow whether it's a Boston University orany in Disaronno they are seeing acompetition aspect of being seen assustainable and that still is there andit's it's they're stronger than ever youknow and so for EMD when they look atthat they think about their their placein the market who their competitors areand they're thinking especially aboutemployee retention you know they've gotrock star researchers who get paid a lotof money and they really you knowthey're the people who are making theirbusiness run and so they're doinganything they can to keep those folkshappy and engaged and working with themand directness back to that human healthpiece of it that ultimately we just wantto feel loved and if if the buildingexpresses that and love then people feelbetter about ityeah the corporate part thank you foradding that you were absolutely rightjust the you know companies of all sizesbut definitely big companies the flipsustainability is gonna rub off on onreal estate and space they build thespace they occupy and here and it helpsthem attract talent competitive jobmarket competitive industries right nowbut it also just helps them stay a muchmore productive and happy at the end ofthe day you want someone to stay heythis is a really great place to work soChris what's your specialty here's ahumbling question for you what do youthink your gift is yeah my best talentin the world is one that's not veryuseful is standardized test taking I amif the entire world reduced SAT tests Iwould be I would be the man that that'swhat I'm good at and you know so so leadexams well exams detroit's exams I am Iam a wizard those I always feel like Ican even if it's something I don't knowanything about just by reading the waythat questions are written I can I cando pretty well yeah I guess helps youwith lead-in well and I'm probably inother parts of life you know it's justthere's a lot of people out there aren'tgood test takers yeah you're right thewhole psychometric hey they're trying totrick you here and what's the bestanswer like too so that's cool yes veryinteresting thing and then my wife saysI think in spreadsheets that that couldbe part of that too thanks for sharingso a few more here rapid-fire what aresome routines rituals you have that helpyou stay with us to help you success soI read a book years ago called gettingthings done by David Allen I don't knowif you've seen that a lot of GTD yearsout there and I would recommend that ifyou haven't looked at that and one ofthe things that gets you is this idea ofgetting to the bottom of your inbox andnot everything sitting your inbox oh I'mI'm a big fan of end of the day there'snothing sitting in my inbox that Ihaven't looked at and dealt with in someway it doesn't mean I was responded yetand they butI've made an intention to respond orI've archived or whatever just versusthe you know I look at people's inboxesand I can't imagine how they functionalmistrust me out so that's that's onereally important routine I think worksvery well for me thank you now gettingthings done is has some great tools inthere and inbox zero I won't tell youhow many are in my inbox but otherwise Ilike the two-minute rule and things likethat you know what takes up heads facethat's something you just gonna protectyes I think the downside that sometimesis that you you're so busy sorting thesethings out that you don't actually dowork and somebody read once that theidea is you know your if you're ashort-order cook it's it's not aboutit's about making sandwiches it's notabout taking orders ultimately you'vegot to do the work you got to producewhat people are looking for yeah you geta stack of orders there but you got toget through them it's just not enough toorganize them nicely that's good yeah Ithink the main thing is just you knowget a system be consistent or works foryou you know Chris I'm a fan of a bucketlist I'm just curious what are one ortwo things maybe you have on your bucketlist maybe some adventures travel maybestill a business milestone just curiousyeah I know I don't know that I've gotsomething specific on there and maybe alittle more day-to-day I am trying tolearn relearn German right now I went toGreenbuild Europe last year in Berlinand that was neat and I had taken someGerman in high school I didn't reallyknow any of it and so I should work onsome trying to do that I am the world'sslowest serious runner I have run fivemarathons so I think I'm retired frommarathoning that was maybe my bucketlist thing already as I did run theBoston Marathon in 2016 and I run theNew York Marathon twice and my time toreally slow band you can look them upI'm an official finisher and so not sureI got anything else on that list rightnow that's fantasticI know Congrats on those marathonsthat's amazing you mean so many avidrunners just killed ability Boston NewYork well yeah so the trick is I didn'tqualify for him I was a charity runnerwhich made it a different deal but youknow turns out a marathon is pretty easyif you just go too slowI love it yeah I'll have to get sometips from the offline I I've done acouple sprint Olympic triathlon but I'mtrying to ramp up it's also gets yeahopen water swimming scares me I don'tthink I could do those that's thetoughest part and that's good stuffstuff books you mentioned getting thingsdone on the productivity side is thereanother book you'd recommend thoselisteningwow that's a good question I should haveprepared for this answer better I seethe last the last book I read was Prideand Prejudice believe it or not which itis finished we were going to see a playthat was a to be a sequel of Pride andPrejudice so I thought I'd better brushup on that and of course I didn't getthrough the book before we saw the playand I ended up you know there are a lotof a lot of good productivity andbusiness books out there I'm a big fanalso of a guy named Seth Godin if youknow him and he's got a lot ofinteresting things in a blog that Ifollow there's always a new productivitybook out there but I think I said goback to GTD for a lot of that okay youknow another book that we've beenlooking at a lot lately is this ballhawk in the drawdown which is reallyinteresting and you know the thing thatI like there is that not only have theylisted I think it's a hundred or sostrategies for dealing with climatechange they've tried to rank them andand the number one piece on there whichis our surprising to people is actuallystill refrigerants virgins ooh you knowso people we kind of take that forgranted that that problem is solved thenit really isn't solved at all yeah and Ithink I mean that's a good for thosethat I haven't seen drawing on yeah it'swe'll put a link not just to the book inthe show notes of the podcast but we'llput a link to kind of a nice summary ontheir website but you know greenbuildings and that zero buildings Ithink there's kind of an n/a right Chrisit's just kind of hard and so yeahsize is different complexity so don'tthink the green buildings aren't goingto help but what can they have factsbehind that really has to get fixed andhas to get fixed on short orderyou know refrigerants at the top but iteven gets into you know women andchildren education and that's right howlarge is your family that's just amazingsort of guidelines thing once you diveinto any of these issues you realizethey're all connectedyeah so let's let's wrap it up hereyou've been in this industry a long timea very successful green building careerany advice you wish you'd have hadearlier in your career or maybe justwords of encouragement with someonegetting going yeah I mean I think thebiggest thing for me is that I came to apoint where I recognized that what I wasbeing asked to do at work and what Ifelt personally was in conflict and whenI decided to eliminate that conflict bydoing what I thought was right that's inhealth and that made all the differencein the worldbecause because it was then you know youfelt good about what you're doing you'repassionate about it and so I wouldencourage people to not try to guesswhat others expected them but to figureout what you expect of yourself and tofollow that that's fantastic yeah Chrisjust want to say keep up the great workwe'll look for you in the Boston area atGreen builds and and you've built anamazing team there at the green engineerso thank you for being on the podcasttoday yeah thanks for having me it was alot of fun I just want to say thank youto our loyal listeners we actually arecelebrating over one year here on thegreen building matter podcast me and theentire team were stoked and just so gladyou continued to listen every Wednesdaymorning to a new interview with a greenbuilding professional here in thisindustry or just some pro tips that wewant to make sure that you are gettingstraight from us straight to you[Music]thank you for listening to this episodewith the green building matters projectsat GBS comm our mission is to advancethe green building movement throughbest-in-classeducation and encouragement remember youcan go to gbes comm slash podcast forany notes and links that we mentioned intoday's episode and you can actually seethe other episodes that have alreadybeen recorded with our amazing yesplease tell your friends about thispodcast tell your colleagues and if youreally enjoyed it leave a positivereview on iTunes thank you so much andwe'll see you on next week's episode

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Green Building Matters Podcast

Chris Shaffner, Founder and Principal with The Green Engineer, Inc., a sustainable design consulting firm providing LEED Project Management, Building Performance Analysis, and Sustainable Design Consulting.  Chris grew up in Cincinnati, Ohio but went to MIT in Boston where he earned his mechanical engineering degree.

“If I was going to do it again, I would’ve gone to architecture school instead of engineering.  But the nice thing about being an engineer is you’ve got a lot of tools that you can apply to a lot of different problems and a lot of different ways.”- Chris Shaffner


Energy and Sustainability Minded Chris worked in the Boston area as a mechanical engineer then got married and moved to California.  He worked for a couple different firms in California and that is where he started to make the connection between the stuff he was doing and the environmental impact of buildings. Chris was energy minded and then became sustainability minded.  He moved back to Boston 10 years later and started working in a firm where they saw him as the green guy because he had been in California.

“At some point I made the connection that, well, that’s just not right.  I started speaking up and saying, look, you know, if you do it this way, not only will it work better, but it’ll be better energy.  And actually it was a really critical point because then I really felt like I was fully engaged in the work I was doing. And I would say that was an inflection point in my career that if I hadn’t figured that out,  I wouldn’t have moved into the green building world in the way that I did.”- Chris Shaffner


Mentors “One of the great things was getting involved with the US Green Building Council in the late nineties and early two thousands and I was part of the original group of lead faculty. And there’s some people there that I definitely see as mentors and three specifically who are unfortunately no longer with us.  And I always remember Greg Franta and Gail Lindsey and Muska Martin, all great people that really set a tone and an attitude about the way we do things in the green building world, that it was about people and it was about fun and it was about all of the things together that they’d make it not just about ducts and energy.  ”- Chris Shaffner


Proudest Achievement Chris’s proudest achievement is the company they have built, The Green Engineer.  They have 20 people with the company and they are organized as a social benefit organization and they are a benefit organization legally in the state of Massachusetts. They are a B Corporation certified through B Lab and have been recognized as best in the world for the past few years.

“Then along the way we’ve switched from a company that was started and owned by me too.  Now we have a fully distributed ownership, 14 of the 20 employees here are owners. And, you know, so that sort of whole challenge of creating an organization that works and the projects that we do I’m very proud of.”- Chris Shaffner


Book Recommendations Getting Things Done by David Allen

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

Draw Down by Paul Hawken

Seth Godin’s Blog

Tune into this podcast to listen to the rest of Chris Shaffner’s amazing journey in this podcast hosted by Charlie.


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