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Tackling the climate crisis in 2023/24

Edited by Eamonn Ryan

The following Q&A transcript with ASHRAE President, Ginger Scoggins is on the theme: ‘Tackling the climate crisis in 2023/24’ is hosted on the ASHRAE Journal platform.

ASHRAE President, Ginger Scoggins
ASHRAE President, Ginger Scoggins. Supplied by ASHRAE

Host (Kelly Barraza): Welcome to the ASHRAE Journal podcast. I’m Kelly Barraza, managing editor. Ginger, your presidential theme for 2023/24 is ‘Challenge accepted, tackling the climate crisis’. Can you share why you chose this theme?

Scoggins: You know, Kelly, it just felt like the right time to address the issues we’re facing with greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from the built environment. We decided it was time to tackle this head-on. We discussed various options and concluded that this theme was the best way to let our members know that we are committed to preparing them for the coming changes in our industry.

Host: I understand you also initiated a decarbonisation challenge for young engineers. Could you share more about the goals of this challenge?

Scoggins: The goal is to encourage our chapters to think about decarbonising buildings at the local level, impacting their communities. It’s not just about society-level efforts; we want chapters and regions to collaborate with industry and non-profits to make a difference in their areas.

Host: ASHRAE has been collaborating with various associations. I recall the 2023 decarbonisation conference. Can you share your experiences spreading the message globally?

Scoggins: My presidential speech outlines what ASHRAE is doing to prepare our members for the climate crisis. It educates them on how buildings contribute to GHG emissions and what steps they can take. I’ve noticed varied reactions based on location and age groups. Young engineers seem engaged, but older individuals may have more scepticism, especially in areas tied to oil and gas.

Host: Has your experience differed based on the locations you’ve visited?

Scoggins: It varies by region, especially in areas tied to oil and gas, where there might be more pushback. It’s fascinating to see the diverse reactions and perspectives, and my role is to spread the message and encourage people to accept the challenge.

Host: You mentioned in your speech the challenge of navigating regulations and government directives pushing for environmental responsibility. How do you address this in your consulting work at engineer design, particularly when budgets and interests may clash?

Scoggins: Regulations and government directives are indeed significant concerns, especially as the push for environmental responsibility intensifies. In my consulting work, we always grapple with budget constraints and differing owner priorities. Each project is unique, and we work to understand the owner’s focus, whether it’s on building emissions, ESG (Environment, Social and Governance), or other aspects. Meeting people where they are is crucial. If an owner isn’t engaged in the climate change discussion, we find common ground in energy efficiency. Saving energy resonates with everyone because it directly ties to budget discussions.

Host: In your speech, you highlighted being a child of the ’70s and the energy crisis during that time. Can you share more about your memories of that period and ASHRAE’s role in addressing the energy crisis?

Scoggins: Growing up in Tennessee during the ’70s, I remember not being allowed to turn on our air conditioning, emphasising a concern about spending too much time in air-conditioned environments. Interestingly, we’ve come full circle, given our reliance on air conditioning today.

Host: You mentioned the significant change in how people interact with buildings, especially during the Covid-19 pandemic. How did this shift impact the energy use in commercial buildings?

Scoggins: While I haven’t crunched the numbers, it’s likely that there was a reduction in energy use in commercial buildings during the pandemic due to reduced occupancy. However, it’s crucial to note that in certain regions, such as the southern US states, systems couldn’t be entirely turned off due to concerns like mould. What we observed more prominently was a shift in the type of projects. Many new commercial building projects were cancelled, leading to a greater emphasis on renovating and retrofitting existing buildings. Owners focused on improving indoor air quality to reassure occupants, whether they were office workers or students, about the safety of returning to these spaces.

Host: You previously discussed the ASHRAE headquarters project during the start of the pandemic. How did the pandemic impact this project, and what measures were taken to ensure safety?

Scoggins: The ASHRAE headquarters project faced its share of challenges with the onset of Covid-19. Despite starting construction in late 2019 and facing the pandemic in March 2020, we managed to complete the project. The construction team diligently adhered to safety protocols, including testing stations, handwashing stations and mask mandates. Fortunately, the building’s ventilation system, utilising dedicated outdoor air units, minimised recirculated air, addressing concerns related to the spread of airborne particles.

Host: ASHRAE released Standard 241 on pathogen mitigation last year. How does this standard contribute to indoor air quality, and how quickly was it developed?

Scoggins: Standard 241 is a valuable tool for assessing indoor air quality conditions in buildings, particularly in the context of pathogen mitigation. ASHRAE responded swiftly to the need for such a standard. This standard serves as a critical resource for evaluating and maintaining indoor air quality, especially in the face of ongoing concerns about airborne viruses.

Host: Reflecting on your extensive experience in the industry, starting in the ’80s, how have you witnessed the evolution of technology, particularly in the realm of design and engineering?

Scoggins: The pace of technological change has been remarkable. When I began my career, we used drawing boards for designs, and then CAD quickly took over, followed by more recent advancements like Revit. Everything has become faster, with less time for design but increased efficiency through available software. However, on a different note, as a female in the industry, the demographics haven’t shifted significantly in my region. Urban areas tend to have more women in the field compared to rural or suburban areas. In discussions at recent events, some young women shared varying percentages of female representation in their graduating classes, highlighting the need for continued efforts to encourage diversity in the field.

Host: It’s interesting to hear your perspective on the evolving landscape of architectural engineering, particularly in attracting more women. Can you elaborate on how the introduction of architectural engineering curricula has influenced gender diversity in the field?

Scoggins: The architectural engineering curriculum has played a pivotal role in attracting more women to the industry. Unlike traditional mechanical engineering degrees, which may be perceived as primarily focused on designing cars, architectural engineering offers a broader range of opportunities. This shift in perception has been instrumental in increasing the interest of women in our field. The curriculum showcases the diverse applications of mechanical engineering, and I believe it has significantly contributed to drawing more women into our industry.

Host: Working closely with architects, do you notice a distinct approach or mindset that sets them apart from engineers during collaborative processes?

Scoggins: Indeed, architects and engineers often bring different mindsets to the table. While some architects possess an engineering mindset, many lean towards creative and out-of-the-box thinking. Engineers, on the other hand, tend to thrive within defined parameters and solutions. It can be a challenge for engineers to break free from traditional boxes when collaborating with particularly creative architects. The key is finding a balance that aligns with the project’s objectives and satisfies both creative and practical considerations.

Host: Considering your extensive involvement with ASHRAE, from serving as the past chair of the headquarters committee to being an admitted delegate for COP 26, have you had to actively work on your diplomacy skills?

Scoggins: Diplomacy is an essential skill honed over the years in ASHRAE. Whether at the chapter level or society committees, achieving consensus is fundamental. As you progress in ASHRAE, you learn to navigate differing opinions and guide discussions towards a shared understanding. By the time you reach the role of ASHRAE president, your diplomacy skills should be well-developed from years of collaborative efforts.

Host: What advice would you offer to incoming ASHRAE presidents?

Scoggins: Incoming presidents need to start early in their preparation, ideally even before their official term begins. Focused goals and a clear plan are crucial for a successful year. The ability to drive consensus and address industry challenges requires diligence and preparation. I have confidence in the incoming presidents’ capabilities and expect them to bring their unique focuses to the forefront.

Host: As we wrap up, do you have any parting words or reflections on your ASHRAE journey?

Scoggins: ASHRAE provides a platform for impactful discussions and collaborations. My hope is that the focus on decarbonisation and addressing climate change remains prominent even beyond my term. These challenges are persistent and will shape our industry for years to come.

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