How We Can Fight Climate Change One Building at a Time | Jim Newman

There is irrefutable evidence that our planet is undergoing rapid climate change transcending all social, economic, political, and geographical boundaries. The repercussions could be catastrophic if society does not take decisive action. Jim Newman, Managing Partner of Newman Consulting Group, has dedicated his life to helping businesses become more sustainable and resilient to the effects of global warming.

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Jim Newman Newman Consulting Group

(Jim Newman in his backyard)

The effects of climate change have touched every part of the United States. From raging wildfires and interminable droughts to record-breaking hurricane seasons, Mother Nature has shown she is a force to be reckoned with. According to scientists, humanity’s clock to halt global warming and reach net-zero carbon emissions will run out in thirty years.

The roughly 2 degrees Fahrenheit (1 degree Celsius) increase in surface temperature since the preindustrial era signals an alarming rise in accumulated heat. This tiny change is causing extreme temperatures, reducing snow cover, melting ice sheets, intensifying storms, and disrupting the habitats of plants and animals — expanding some while shrinking others.

Most of the atmospheric carbon dioxide scorching the Earth comes from just a few countries. China, for example, generates around 29% of all global carbon dioxide emissions, while the United States is responsible for 14%, followed by India (7%), Russia (5%) and Japan (3%).

These five countries, all with robust economies, must substantially contribute to slowing, stopping, and eventually reversing global warming by moving quickly toward energy efficiency and cleaner resources.

Jim Newman, Managing Partner of Newman Consulting Group, has been working for years to help businesses adopt greener practices and operate more sustainably.

Jim’s fascination with nature has its roots in his early years. In the fall, he would rake the leaves scattered around his backyard and bring them to the edge of the woods near his family’s property. There, the leaves would rest and slowly decay. Come spring, Jim would rake them away once more and spread them around the woods as additional mulch to cover bare spots.

“I found that the leaves at the bottom of these piles had been warm all winter long, and the Earth beneath the leaves was just really beautiful. There also were these large, fat nightcrawler worms that I used to take and go fishing with. I also started growing some vegetables. And then, I became responsible for planting the bushes and taking care of the flowers and trees around our home.”

Jim began working at the young age of 12 and, over the next several years, did a wide variety of jobs in the neighborhood. Aware that he was expected to go to college but his parents would not be able to afford to send him, he did everything from babysitting, mowing lawns and shoveling snow to washing windows and painting walls to build a college fund. He also secured employment with a landscaping firm, where he learned the ins and outs of sprucing up the outdoor space immediately surrounding his home. Nurturing and beautifying the Earth brought Jim joy.

As a saxophone and clarinet player, he also formed a dance band in high school. The various opportunities to perform greatly helped him in his quest toward being able to afford to go to college.

Eventually, while living at home to reduce college expenses, he enrolled at Tufts University and earned a degree in mechanical engineering. There, he took over leadership roles in several organizations. He cherished mingling with people and taking advantage of what the city had to offer.

Post-graduation, Jim got a sales position with Westinghouse — an electric and manufacturing company. There, Jim discovered that his love for socializing translated well to a career in sales.

His next job was as a product manager with a local manufacturing company that wanted to begin a new division to get into the air conditioning business. When he left four years later, that division accounted for $34 million in today’s dollars, more than one-third of the company’s income.

The entrepreneurial spirit he had harnessed led him to launch his own business, Thermal-Netics, in 1972, which became one of the largest Manufacturer’s Representatives in Michigan for Indoor Environmental Control Systems and Energy Conservation systems. Jim and his partner built it from the ground up to the tune of $139 million in today’s dollars. This period of his life took place right before the 1973 Arab Oil Embargo and the subsequent oil crisis.

“There were long lines to go to gas stations, and when you got to a gas station, all you could get was 5 gallons of gas. There wasn’t enough gas to go around. And that’s when I started being more interested in sustainability and resilience, like a lot of people in the United States. We can’t be beholden to other countries for a lot of things like fuel, for instance, that we really need to keep our country going. It’s actually worse today because we’ve totally exported practically everything over the last 20 years.”

After thirty years, Jim sold Thermal-Netics and founded another business — Newman Consulting Group. This company was the perfect marriage between sales and sustainability, helping new and existing businesses to save money and conserve resources.

Jim came to believe that collective action within communities has a profound power to change the quality of life of its people.

“Scientists are realizing that natural selection isn’t individual but rather mutual. Species survive only if they learn to be in community. This does not translate to ‘less harmful’ but rather ‘more conducive’ to life — both ours and our planet’s.”

City planners and municipal leaders are starting to see the value of building smarter cities that use technology and data to efficiently manage resources and deliver citizens a better standard of living. In these urban models, digital, social, and physical infrastructure is used to provide more efficient, equitable, secure, sustainable, and interconnected services.

With 68% of the population expected to move into dense urban areas by 2050, the need for smarter cities could not be more pressing.

According to a study carried out by McKinsey consulting group, “cities can use smart technologies to improve some key quality-of-life indicators by 10 to 30 percent — numbers that translate into lives saved, fewer crime incidents, shorter commutes, a reduced health burden, and carbon emissions averted.”

One factor of smarter cities is more innovative infrastructure. In the spirit of collective action, Newman Consulting Group helps the owners of commercial, institutional, and industrial properties create more sustainable buildings by decreasing their energy consumption.

Evaluators inspect buildings for common energy drains, discern the equipment utilized, and study how the energy network is operated. This process is called an energy audit.

Some common easy-to-fix energy wasters include lights and computers left on at night, personal heaters or fans, leaky ducts or windows, and dripping faucets. However, to significantly reduce energy bills (reductions ranging from 10% to 50% on bills), an ASHRAE audit is required, which is much more rigorous.

ASHRAE (formerly known as the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-conditioning Engineers) was formed in 1890 and now consists of more than 50,000 people worldwide. It sets the standards that are listed in national and international building codes.

Jim was given the honor of Fellow in 2020. First inducted in 2019, he was a primary member of an international Technical Group that wrote a new chapter on Climate Change that appeared in the 2021 ASHRAE Handbook of Fundamentals.

“We look at all of those things in Newman Consulting Group that help buildings of all types be more energy efficient, have a better indoor air quality and also be ‘greener,’ more sustainable and more resilient. Those are the primary concerns today.”

Indoor air quality (IAQ) is a factor that owners do not typically think of as being linked to efficiency. When employees are exposed to harmful interior environments, productivity often suffers. Elevating IAQ also has the added benefit of lowering the number of sick days taken by workers as well as decreasing management’s legal risks.

“You work better if you’re in a better IAQ environment with no extra noise from inside or outside, no vibration from out-of-balance or loud HVAC or other machinery, some view to the outside, etc. IAQ is a large part of indoor environmental quality (IEQ). Design and consulting engineers, such as NCG, can’t do much about IEQ, but we can improve the quality of indoor air. And today, because of the COVID pandemic we are learning just how important that is.”

The way structures are constructed must now also consider the growing effects of climate change. Buildings need to have a high tolerance for structural stress and be resilient to external events.

“When helping an architect or engineer design a building, we must first get the owner on board. We tell them one of the main things for sustainability and resiliency is to not put the mechanical and electrical rooms in the subbasement or basement, or even on the first floor.”

Jim Newman Newman Consulting Group

“Imagine if you have a big flood, whether you’re near a river or you’re near an ocean, 100-year floods are happening today on about a 10-year basis or less. Sometimes they even come almost every year in certain areas of the world. Hurricanes, wildfires, tornadoes, droughts, polar and heat vortexes, etc. are all happening with greater frequency. They must be considered — not only to conserve energy or for IAQ, but also to save people’s lives.”

Jim Newman Newman Consulting Group

Businesses are often hesitant to implement changes because they usually are high cost. Jim says the costs of not having these safeguards are even direr. For instance, a company may be inoperable for two to four months if a building is inundated by water during a flood. “We actually had that happen while we were doing an energy audit (EA) for a large international industrial firm,” Jim said.

“We can often find some retrofit changes that pay back in less than a year with almost no cost or very little cost. However, many of the suggested changes from an EA can be expensive and have a long payback, e.g., boiler or chiller changes, new windows, additional insulation in the building envelope, replacing an old pneumatic control system with an electronic one to name only a few. But the amount of money saved can be considerably more. And if several energy-conserving measures (ECMs) together, the cost for those recommended measures discovered in an energy audit is normally considerably lower than the cost of doing each of those ECMs separately.”

Not only are sustainable buildings more cost-efficient in the long run, but they are also a small piece of the climate crisis solution. With the technology, innovation and resources at our disposal, we must do everything we can to uplift future generations. One of the first steps to preparing generations to come is acknowledging the brewing climate catastrophe.

“Young people around the world are ‘getting it’ relative to what’s going on with the climate. They are rightfully concerned about a future they thought they had, but that is disappearing with each day that adults fail to act on the reality that we are in an emergency.”

According to a Pew Research Center survey, millennials and gen-z adults are more engaged with climate change activism than any other generation. They are talking about the need for more legislation, are seeking climate change content online, are volunteering at environmentally conscious organizations, attending protest rallies and demanding more action be undertaken to reverse climate change.

“But as many people insist that we have an emergency, we must constantly guard against this becoming a state of acceptance. I have believed in capitalism and democracy my entire life — and still do. But over the past several years we have learned there are many powerful interests that exploit public fear and panic to roll back hard-won rights and steamroll profitable false solutions. We must constantly be on our guard.”

Many of America’s corporations, such as Apple, Amazon, Microsoft and Disney, publicly promise to combat the climate crisis but fund lobbyists and business groups that fight landmark climate legislation in Washington.

“Hopefully the United Nations Climate Change Conference, COP 27, that just happened in Egypt in November, 2022, might make some significant changes to what is being done all over our planet so that all people might live better and more healthfully in the future.”

Jim is still optimistic that people can make a real difference by working together.

“A lot of the ideas — and products — that scientists and engineers are coming up with to lower greenhouse gas emissions and to have better indoor air quality in buildings give me hope. There are buildings in Chicago, New York City, and elsewhere in the world that actually make the air around them better than the air that they’re bringing in because they filter it so well, and it has to be exhausted from the buildings back to the outdoors.”

“Buildings after the ’73 oil embargo became much tighter. The air is not 100% recirculated. Why not? Because if you bring in 20% or 30% outside air without exhausting a tight building, the building eventually will blow apart like a balloon. You have to exhaust a large percentage of it.”

However, Jim recognizes there is still inequity in the attention paid to these green and sustainable solutions, which impact the health of entire communities in many parts of the world. Many communities are excluded from the benefits of living in a greener neighborhood or attending a workplace that values an optimal working environment.

“You don’t see this in poorer areas of major cities in most parts of the world.”

While many neighborhoods are left behind, Jim says in a broader sense, “architects and other designers are turning to biomimicry to conserve energy and make buildings more comfortable for people.” Conceptually, biomimicry is the emulation of the models, systems, and elements of nature to solve complex human problems. Janine Benyus, a writer and student of biomimicry, once said, “nature always creates conditions conducive to life.”

As an example, a skyscraper in London designed by Norman Foster mimics the shape and lattice structure of the Venus Flower Basket Sponge. Found in the deep waters of the Pacific Ocean, the sponge’s shape provides strength and stability on the ocean floor, while the hollow basket filters flowing water for nutrients. In the building’s design, the imitative structure allows for “an open floor plan, vertical support without interior columns, resistance to winds,” and the basket pattern provides “ventilation throughout all floors.”

“We’re finally getting back to what the Indigenous people have known all this time with their folklore and stories that are passed down from generation to generation. Some of us, but not enough of us, are finally coming back to what nature does and what Indigenous people do from all over the world, not just in North America. They knew a lot of the things we are just starting to realize. It’s real…”

In his seminars and webinars, Jim often quotes an American Indian saying, “we do not inherit the world from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children.”

Jim believes many of the answers we are looking for can be found around us in nature. While human beings work to coexist more successfully with the natural world, there are actionable things we can do until we reach a more stable state.

“Octavia Butler said, ‘All that you touch you change, all that you change, changes you.’ I have been what I consider to be a ‘realistic environmentalist’ for my entire life. This is why I continue to write articles and speak internationally about what we have to do to save both our planet and our way of life.”

His wife gave him a birthday card recently that said, “it’s not how old you are, but the number of years you’ve made the world a better place.” This is what keeps him going.

When people ask him why he is still working so hard at his “not-so-young” age, his response is, “I am reFired, not reTired.”

Jim Newman Newman Consulting Group