Energy Efficient Buildings, Jobs, Safe Communities: One Man’s Plan

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Over the past decade, Donnel Baird’s firm, BlocPower, has modernized more than 1,000 buildings in New York City and has begun to branch out to make heating and cooling improvements in other cities, from Philadelphia to Los Angeles.

“For me, morally and ethically and as a father,” says Mr. Baird, “we now need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the United States, and there is no better way to fight it. climate change than by greening buildings. “

Why we wrote this

Instead of feeling powerless in the face of climate change, Donnel Baird is taking action, with initiatives that reverberate from energy efficient buildings to safer communities.

He says his secret sauce is to build trust in low-income communities by partnering with places of worship. “A local pastor, rabbi or imam can help generate goodwill for our business,” he explains. “And from there, we work with individual owners. ”

But Mr Baird’s ambitions go beyond modernizing buildings to modernizing downtown communities. On September 15, he and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced a $ 37 million climate technology workforce program to create 1,500 jobs in gun violence communities .

This initiative is also a solution to another problem that annoys Mr. Baird: the creation of jobs and wealth in communities of color.

“We need to train our young people – even those who may have been in prison – to become plumbers, welders and electricians,” he says. “We need skilled workers in America.”

new York

This week, world leaders gather at the United Nations General Assembly to NYC Climate Week 2021, in search of unifying strategies to solve a series of daunting challenges related to climate change and the pandemic. The official Overview “The choices we make will ensure human, economic and environmental health for generations to come, or strengthen old models that destroy nature and drive societal divide. ”

The urgent need for deep emission reductions follows a International Energy Agency report predicting that global energy-related carbon emissions will increase in 2021, as consumption of coal, oil and natural gas returns after unprecedented declines last year at the height of the pandemic.

But at the same time, about seven miles north of the UN, Environmental Protection Agency administrator Michael Regan, the Biden administration’s chief environmental regulator, took a tour of green remedies recently. installed at the Immaculate Conception Catholic Church of the Blessed Virgin Mary in the Bronx. From the church’s new, more energy-efficient boiler to the rooftop Wi-Fi super node, Mr. Regan has seen first-hand the impact of Donnel Baird’s innovative approach to dramatically reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Greenhouse.

Why we wrote this

Instead of feeling powerless in the face of climate change, Donnel Baird is taking action, with initiatives that reverberate from energy efficient buildings to safer communities.

“We’re having a tough time,” says Baird. “Businesses, Silicon Valley, Wall Street and governments are trying to figure out what we can do to tackle climate change. For me, morally and ethically and as a father, we must now reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the United States, and there is no better way to combat climate change than by greening the earth. buildings.

Over the past decade, Mr. Baird’s company, BlocPower, has modernized more than 1,000 buildings in New York City and started expanding to Oakland, California; Los Angeles; Chicago; Milwaukee; Minneapolis; Philadelphia Cream; and Washington.

I first heard about Donnel Baird from Lynn Schenk, director of the Business and Environment Initiative at Harvard Business School. She puts Mr. Baird at the top of her list of “climate change heroes”.

Clay Nesler, global building manager at the Ross Center for Sustainable Cities at the World Resources Institute, says Mr. Baird’s company offers “a really thoughtful solution.” He was unable to name any other American company or individual that had a similar impact on improving the efficiency of older buildings.

“Buildings are the biggest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions, more than transport,” says Nesler. “The technological solutions are there. They pay for themselves by reducing the costs of utility bills. The challenge is to find financial models to pay the initial costs of modernization. ”


The Immaculate Conception of the Roman Catholic Church of the Blessed Virgin Mary in the Bronx is presented on September 20, 2021. BlocPower, a startup that renovates buildings, installed LED lights, a Wi-Fi super-node and a boiler energy efficient at the church and connected school.

Before renovating, build confidence

So what’s Mr. Baird’s secret sauce? Why does he appear as a unicorn in the retrofit business?

“I guess I’m stupid and stubborn,” he laughs. “I know of other CEOs who have tried to build what we’re building, but they’ve moved on. ”

Mr. Baird believes his success begins with building trust in low-income communities, using a community organizing technique he learned before and during the “Obama for President” campaign. More specifically, he associates with religious organizations.

“Community organizing teaches you how to build trust where people have lost trust with many institutions,” he explains. “We partner with places of worship because it helps us build that trust. A local pastor, rabbi or imam can help generate goodwill for our business. And from there we work with individual owners.

A Duke and Columbia Business School alumnus, Mr. Baird uses software to identify heating and cooling improvement opportunities and, after realizing them, redirects the energy savings to homeowners and their investors. “We have been careful in our estimates for customers, but we are proud to generate 10 to 70% savings in costs and energy consumption,” he says.

Armed with millions of dollars in Wall Street funding (secured after 200 initial rejections), he has the initial funds needed to launch BlocPower’s business. But he admits that after a few years of profitability, he invested his own income in growing the business.

US attention on climate change intensifies

About 15 years ago, former Vice President Al Gore sounded the alarm on climate change with his Oscar-winning documentary, “An Inconvenient Truth.” On September 14, Gore marked the anniversary when he addressed a virtual audience for the Ocean Conservancy. Mr. Gore believes that now, finally, the United States is approaching a political tipping point on climate change. “The impacts are hard to ignore,” he told listeners. “One in three Americans has suffered a weather disaster in the past 90 days!

Mr. Gore and Ocean Conservancy CEO Janis Searles Jones highlighted progress in a number of areas. Industries are becoming increasingly sustainable and efficient, she said, specifically citing shipping. And she praised the movement in the investment community, days after Harvard University, for example, announced it would no longer invest in the fossil fuel industry.

The former vice president praised rising youth as well as climate and environmental justice movements. He cited the Black Lives Matter movement and numerous campaigns against environmental racism in states like Tennessee and North Carolina, and in the so-called Cancer aisle.


BlocPower founder Donnel Baird poses in Brooklyn, New York, next to the equipment his company uses to create and power clean energy, March 18, 2021.

Beyond buildings to communities

This brings us back to Donnel Baird. Its ambitions go beyond modernizing buildings to renovate downtown communities as well as individual lives. On September 15, he and New York Mayor Bill de Blasio announced a $ 37 million investment climate technology workforce program create 1,500 jobs in communities struggling against gun violence.

The mayor said: “These are not just jobs, these are high paying jobs, these are green jobs, these are jobs of the future.

Mr Baird said: “We currently have a team in Queens helping to dig up a landlord where her house was flooded. In the Bronx, we are installing a community-owned Internet system so that up to 200,000 low-income families have free Internet access. … We have workers in this program who are in Brooklyn to visit buildings… where we’re going to move these buildings from burning oil or gas to 100% clean electricity.

Mr. Baird’s workforce initiative is a solution to another problem that concerns him: creating jobs and wealth in communities of color. As he explains, “We are short of skilled construction workers in the United States. There can be a three month wait for a plumber! We need to train our young people – even those who may have been in prison – to become plumbers, welders and electricians. A welder can earn $ 100,000 per year. We need skilled workers in America.

But Mr. Baird’s ambition and influence extend beyond the United States. He is expected to speak at a climate change conference in Portugal next month, before traveling to Glasgow for the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26) in November. Clay Nesler of the IRG tells me that the global convocation will focus on buildings on November 11, the first full day devoted to the subject since the signing of the Paris Accords in 2015.

“The United States has made commitments that we will pay and help other countries reduce their emissions, ”says Baird. “And we didn’t. I want to see how seriously I take it all.

Though he juggles greenhouse gas reduction innovations, interconnected routes to progress through inner city neighborhoods, and strives to save the planet at the macro and micro levels, Mr Baird seems fearless.


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