Beth Holaday – Verde
Fine-tuning an old building for energy efficiency can be much more difficult than installing the latest systems for cooling, heating and ventilation during ground-up construction.
Such was the case with the Oak Park Temple B’nai Abraham Zion outside Chicago. This handsome 1950s-era structure had long been racking up high utility bills; it was powered by a boiler well into its shelf life, and the Windy City is always subject to temperature extremes.
But with energy efficiency consultant Verde overseeing the details for much of last year, the cavernous temple now hums with VHE or very high-efficiency HVAC, making it a much more agreeable venue for preschool, Jewish services, sanctuary space and other community needs. The boiler’s gone, the entire building is electrified, and small refrigerant lines replaced the previous hot water lines prone to frequent leaks. Whatever the season, the temple stays comfortable with its upgraded system, pumping fresh air and moving warm air to cooler areas and vice versa.
It was quite the pilot project, says Beth Holaday, a member of the Verde team who, in January, celebrated a very eventful first anniversary as operations manager at this niche company that partners with the regional utility in promoting energy efficiency. Utilities have been monitoring the temple upgrade as a template for the state’s ambitious energy-efficiency and decarbonization plans.
All of this makes Holaday proud—she landed the temple as a client for lighting upgrades during her previous position as a Verde analyst. She is well-versed in science and technology and oversaw the project in her present role.
“I would be the one responsible for scheduling our electricians and anything else that came up throughout this entire project,” Holaday says. “My team is the bridge between the sales and the crew. I’m the first line of defense. Did we miscount something? Do we need to order more materials? I’m also the main phone answerer.”
That’s a lot of responsibilities for anybody to shoulder and much to keep one humble, but Holaday seems to thrive at being such a go-to.
A temple of efficiency
Oak Park Temple has been the largest VHE HVAC project that Verde has completed, but Holaday expects it to be the first of many, with sustainability increasingly recognized as both sound business practice and ethically appropriate. Given the many old and historic buildings in and around Chicago, she says the possibilities seem endless, and while there’s no one-size-fits-all solution, Verde is nothing if not versatile.
For the temple to be upgraded, a structural engineer had to ensure the roof could hold the new units. A concrete coring company inspected the roof for thickness, and a sonar expert was enlisted to steer drilling away from sensitive areas. However costly the project, Holaday says it’ll bring long-term environmental benefits.
“The future of VHE HVAC will be amazing,” she tells Blueprint from Chicago in December. “Safer environments, reduced greenhouse gases and lower costs. And the temple’s a nicer place than it was before.”
Verde’s also been working with the Salvation Army, which typically operates in large community centers. Schools, century-old churches, multifamily housing complexes, restaurants, businesses of every size and the public also comprise clientele. As one of the longest-tenured employees and gifted with a vivacious personality in addition to science and technological savvy, Holaday still visits the sites, interacts with customers and Verde’s small stable of vendors, creates educational and outreach materials, and, as she says, puts out the figurative fires.
It’s all part of being operations manager of this relatively small company—workforce: 27—with a most specialized and far-reaching mission.
Holaday, a 2011 DePaul University graduate with credentials in environmental science and restoration ecology, sees herself as an ideal partner in helping to carry out the mission envisioned by Verde founder and CEO Jamie Johnson.
A firefighter and paramedic with the Wilmette Fire Department from 2002 to 2012, Johnson’s proud to say he sometimes rubbed his former colleagues the wrong way—he having nagged them about how much energy they wasted by leaving lights on overnight. He crunched numbers and started Verde upon retiring young and cashing in his pension. Seven-plus years ago, he found a close collaborator in Holaday, who had just founded Environmental Chicago, a community organization to inspire collaboration among many sectors of environmentalism.
“Jamie is incredibly passionate and a risk taker,” Holaday says, noting her boss had a growing family upon departing the firehouse. “He’s very emotionally intelligent—he reminds me of one of those kids you knew in college who would never attend class but ace every test. His passion for energy conservation grew as he tried making changes at the firehouse—sometimes to the annoyance of fellow firefighters. He needed to find his own tribe,” Holaday says.
He did more than find his own tribe; he started one, and Holaday’s proud to be his chief standard-bearer. How, she says, Johnson’s passion has been vindicated since nobody now can seriously argue against energy efficiency.
Holaday argued for it and other earth-friendly ideas long before teaming with Johnson. Her career includes 20 years of environmental activism in the Chicago area, starting with her role as a restoration volunteer with the Cook County Forest Preserve and since logging time at Chicago Wilderness, Forest Preserve District of DuPage County, Lake County Forest Preserve District and leading a research team on local native bee populations.
The seeds for this activism were planted early when her parents took her camping every year, kickstarting her love of being outside. She explains how the Chicago region was major in establishing federal environmental protections, and the nearby Indiana Dunes inspired modern ecology.
And the movement continues, only with Holaday’s boots in the office as often as out in the field. But it’s in both places where environmental progress is made, even if some people only focus on reducing operating costs.
“Businesses and government public buildings often just don’t know what to do, and a small investment in energy efficiency often has a great payback and ROI, so it is a no-brainer to move forward. We help them find and implement these projects, saving them money and accomplishing our goal of reducing impact,” Holaday says.
View this feature in the Blueprint Vol. II 2024 Edition here.
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