For five months now, Rachel Futrell has been on the job as the first campus energy manager at Columbia University Medical Center.
She says she’s spending lots of time familiarizing herself with the operations and systems of the more than 3.6 million square feet of space at CUMC. Tackling this initial learning curve, however, is all in preparation for what Futrell and CUMC see as her ultimate goal.
Futrell says that goal comprises “guiding and shaping decisions in three major areas: how we purchase utilities, including electricity, natural gas, oil, and water; how we use and consume these resources; and the biggest thing, which is execution of an energy master plan being drawn up by CUMC Facilities for greater energy efficiency and reduction of carbon emissions.”
The master plan’s expected completion date is summer 2010, she says, and is in the hands of a “strong and skilled team,” with members from Facilities and Capital Projects Management, as well as two outside energy firms.
At this point, understanding energy use and consumption at CUMC is most important, Futrell says, “because you can’t manage what you don’t measure.
“When the plan is completed, we’ll have a targeted agenda for achieving our efficiency and carbon reduction goals that we can track and move forward with at CUMC. I’ll implement it by prioritizing and managing the projects based upon cost-effectiveness along with energy and carbon reduction impact.”
Nilda Mesa, Assistant Vice President, Environmental Stewardship, says, “The energy master plan that CUMC is working on is a significant advance in the University’s sustainability efforts. In addition to the greenhouse gas emissions that we can save, I would expect that CUMC will ultimately cut costs as we become more energy- and water- efficient.”
Futrell came to CUMC after a little over two years in the New York City office of the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority’s (NYSERDA) Energy Efficiency Services Division. There, she led the statewide Focus on Healthcare, whose aim was to help hospitals and healthcare facilities reduce their energy consumption. One of her key efforts was energy-efficiency training for healthcare organizations in the New York Metro area.
Also at NYSERDA, Futrell managed the Technical Assistance Program, in which she helped commercial, industrial and educational institutions in the five boroughs and Westchester County carry out energy efficiency studies and create master plans to address the results. Futrell numbers the Empire State Building among the NYSERDA clients with whom she worked.
A native of Norfolk, Va., Futrell has a Bachelor of Science degree in Chemical Engineering from the University of Virginia. She has done postgraduate studies in colloids, polymers and surfaces at Carnegie Mellon University. Futrell is a LEED-accredited professional and holds an Energy Manager Certification from the Association of Energy Engineers.
Futrell’s training in chemical engineering and subsequent work as a research engineer for ALCOA in developing a recycling stream piqued her professional interest in energy. “I started to notice I was drawn to this aspect of the research I was performing because I could see the immense impact energy efficiency could have on production and processes,” she says.
The production of aluminum and aluminum products is extremely energy intensive, and it became increasingly clear to her that it provided lots of opportunity for decreasing wastefulness, she says.
Futrell’s work with NYSERDA and her new challenge at CUMC are a refinement of her energy focus. “I became passionate about helping healthcare and medical facilities through the Focus on Healthcare because they heal our friends and families through their mission and research 24/7, and it’s important they have the same healing mission toward the environment,” she says.
Among her personal goals at CUMC, Futrell wants to help spur this broadened notion of the healing environment, and help CUMC become renowned not only in medical and research sectors, but also in energy efficiency and carbon reduction.
In the meantime, she says, there are lots of day-to-day things to do and many that are being done. “As we develop our master plan and start moving forward with larger projects, students, faculty and staff can help, too, by making the efforts to curtail their energy usage, such as turning off lights or computers when they’re not needed.
Our buildings operate 24/7 and small changes can make an impact.” she says.
Meantime, she points out that CUMC has begun to address the low-hanging fruit with efforts such as installation of occupancy sensors that regulate room lighting and other controls to improve efficiency and operations
Whatever its scale, Futrell embraces every attempt to save energy and reduce CUMC’s carbon footprint.