Every successful project starts with a framework. A vision statement. A blueprint. The editors of Engineered Systems are proud to present The Blueprint — a monthly Q&A interview with HVACR engineering’s leading voices. These one-on-one discussions will examine the trade’s history, current industry trends, the factors shaping the sector’s future, and more.

ASHRAE, founded in 1894, is a global society advancing human well-being through sustainable technology for the built environment. The Society and its members focus on building systems, energy efficiency, indoor air quality, refrigeration and sustainability within the industry. Through research, standards writing, publishing and continuing education, ASHRAE shapes tomorrow’s built environment today.

Mick Schwedler, P.E., FASHRAE, LEED AP BD+C, 2021-2022 ASHARE President, discusses the success of the Epidemic Task Force; the need for diversity, equity, and inclusion within the society; the creation of a building decarbonization task force; and much more in the latest installment of the Blueprint.

Engineered Systems: Could you please take a moment and introduce yourself?

Schwedler: Sure, my name is Mick Schwedler, and it’s my honor and privilege to serve as ASHRAE president. I started my 41st year in the industry about a month ago. So, I've been around for a while with the same company. And, I find this industry to be fascinating. It's faster moving than a lot of people think, and we have a profound effect on the world.

Engineered Systems: So, you’ve been at it for a few months already, but what are you most excited about this year as you lead the world's largest and most reputable engineering association?

Schwedler: Serving the members. We refer to our chapters, we have 199 of them throughout the world, as our grassroots. If we have a large conference, 3,000 members are at that conference. So, that means we serve about 48,000 of our members through our chapters. It’s important for us to find out what our members need. Who are the chapter leaders? What does the chapter leadership need? What about our regional leadership?

And then the other side focuses on the technical roots of ASHRAE. The technical committees make up our standards, so we’re focused on how can we make their jobs easier? How can we help them as volunteers? How can we help them publish standards and get all the information that people want? How do we help them grow and move forward. So, my job is to serve the members.

And I want to give a shout out to last year's president Chuck Gulledge. In July of 2020, Chuck called me and said, “Mick, we're not going to be traveling this year.” And, he was right. I want to visit every chapter. So, I gasped and thought, “Wow, this is huge.” But Chuck, to his credit, he attended 157 events, and only three were in person. So, we used technology. Virtually, he reached out to 154 of our chapters. And the participation of our groups is just astounding. He never complained. He wanted to serve the members and did so through technology. So, shout out to Chuck for the fabulous job he did last year.

Engineered Systems: You mentioned you have 199 membership groups right now. You’ve just got to add one more so we can round that up to an even 200, right?

Schwedler: People have been wondering who's going to be number 200? And the answer is whichever section that's most prepared to move forward into a broader spectgrum of responsibilities.

Engineered Systems: The society's theme for this year is “Personal growth, global impact, feed the roots.” Can you tell us the meaning and the importance behind this phrase?

Schwedler: Sure. This was developed with the help of the president elect advisory committee. And, when you look at us, whether you're in the media, a technician, a doctor, or taking care of waste disposal — we all need to grow and to learn what we're doing. So, the first part of this is focused on personal growth. A lot of times, people think of engineering as strictly a technical profession, but coming out of universities or technical schools, people also need to learn leadership skills. They must know how to communicate, lead meetings, and prioritize elements. So all of that is enveloped in within the personal growth.

And then, we, together and collectively, have tremendous global impact. I think we're going to talk about a few of those. But if we look at what our world has been through in the last two years, our industry has never been more relevant or essential. People learned what they needed to learn from a technical standpoint. And, following that, they’re able to get it to the folks who needed it.

And, finally, “feed the roots,” particularly for our more vintage individuals. But, young people can do this too. We all need to grow, and somebody needs to help us. At some point, somebody took us under their wings, encouraged us, and mentored us. That's why we’re where we are today. So, that's really a challenge to each of us, to find those who already know and help feed their roots so they can grow personally. And we can have that tremendous global impact. So, it's a wonderful circle, and it's been well taken in by our members and even those outside of ASHRAE.

Engineered Systems: You mentioned that these last two-plus years have certainly been challenging. And, while many people have yearned to get things back to normal, you prefer to challenge the notion of what normal is, right?

Schwedler: What I really meant was to challenge the everyday line of thinking. Sometimes, when we say we want to get back to normal, we realize that what we've had is extraordinary. And, let's not let that go away. But, rather than just settling for normal or mediocre, let's get back to that extraordinary and then move on to the next extraordinary, using the lessons we've learned from the last two years. Let’s expand upon with Chuck did with technology. Could any of us even spell all the platforms we're using today to reach out throughout the world to do our day jobs? How do we use the lessons we've learned the last two-plus years to move on to extraordinary? How do we put them into our day-to-day work, and what do we do in order to make things much better than they were before? Sometimes, existence is painful enough. So, out of that pain, let's find some great things to move forward with.

Engineered Systems: Through its Epidemic Task Force, ASHRAE has truly been a leading authority on the COVID-19 pandemic. Can you provide a status update on the present and the future of this body?

Schwedler: We’re amazingly proud of what our more than 150 global task force volunteers have done since April of 2020. President Darrell Boyce put that task force into place, as he realized that the world needed, pledged to share what we know, and showed a commitment to learning all that we could learn. The ASHRAE leadership looked at the group and said, “We need to give these people free reign — or almost free reign — to move forward as quickly as they can from a standpoint of getting information out. We were also committed to making sure this information was correct, because poor information harms everybody. So, the task force developed that information and made it available. They did it in terms that normal people can understand in English, Hungarian, or whatever the language is, rather than presenting it in engineering-ese. School administrators could use this information as well as building owners and operators. Our local folks are our grassroots, and the chapters took that information and got it out to the people who needed it. All of our information is posted on our website.

Moving forward, what we've challenged the Epidemic Task Force to do is obsolete themselves — not from a technology standpoint or an informational standpoint. But, where do they fit in the normal ASHRAE structure moving forward? So, this doesn't just stop. It's not just a one-time thing, because there are going to be future health issues. How do we make sure that we can respond efficiently and accurately?

Engineered Systems: You already mentioned past president Chuck Gulledge, but let’s give him a little more shine here. Last spring, you and Chuck formed the ASHRAE Task Force for Building Decarbonization, or the TFBD. What are the goals and intentions of this group?

Schwedler: The world has decided to move on and be better stewards of our environment. One way we can do that is by reducing our environmental emissions. And the focus right now is in reducing carbon dioxide emissions. So, this task force was really put into place to look at what the world has available? Where are the gaps and how can they be best closed? And then, particularly, how can ASHRAE really serve humanity? By making information available to our members, like the Epidemic Task Force, will help them determine if they have the tools and knowledge to reach out to those who need it. This will help them reach their clients who want to decarbonize and the people who are just learning about the subject.

This group is in the process of gathering the necessary technical knowledge and sharing it in a language people can understand. While we’re proceeding quickly, we'd all like it to go faster. But, it's very important to make sure we are serving humanity because that's how our mission starts — to serve humanity.

Engineered Systems: Great. I know one of the goals and perhaps challenges of this task force is to integrate decarbonisation into ASHRAE’s national standards. Can you provide an update on the process and share if and when the industry may expect a decarbonization standard?

Schwedler: I was chair of the ASHRAE 90.1 committee for the 2010 version, and one thing I learned was never to predict a date. I was awful at it. I will say, we want to move forward quickly. And we want this not just to be national standards, but we want to work globally.

We are a global world, especially in respect to our climate and environment as well as from a health and work standpoint. We're collaborating with other groups in order to do this; ASHRAE isn't the only group involved here. And, the more we can collaborate with others throughout the world, the quicker we can get this information out to the people who need it.

When I was 90.1 chair, I said, a number of times, I would rather save 1 Btu in real life than 100,000 Btus on paper. I say that because standards don't get the job done. They define what needs to be done. How do we actually improve our building operations? How do we improve the effectiveness of delivering the energy? How do we work with the electric grid to move forward as it becomes cleaner and uses less carbon? So, it's all of those elements integrated, and the task groups are moving as fast as possible.

Engineered Systems: Fantastic, thanks for the update. Let's shift gears a little bit and talk about ASHRAE’s recently retrofitted Georgia headquarters. In October, the facility was upgraded to net-zero energy performance. Tell us what technologies the society used to achieve this status and why net zero is so important to the society.

Schwedler: So, this is the new global headquarters of our members — we don't look at it as ASHARE’s. Anybody who wants to come down and visit, member or not, let us know, we'd love to give you a tour.

Sometimes ASHRAE doesn't take the easy way out. Our world headquarters was in an area where a local health facility was buying all the land around us. We were becoming an island in a 25- to 30-year construction project for a medical campus. That's not a good place for our employees or staff. So, we had to consider: Do we build a new building or lease a building and have less control? Or, do we take the hard path and retrofit a 1970s building that's not very energy efficient and walk the talk. It was our turn to do what we’ve always told other people to do. So, we took that 70’s vintage building and converted it into a very low-energy facility. And now have achieved net-zero energy; we took the hard path.

So, here are a couple of things that we did. First off, when we bought it, the building envelope was leaky. The glass wasn't right and it didn’t have any shading. So, the first thing we had to do was make sure the loads were low. In order to do this, we had to have an integrated design team. So the architect, engineer, lighting designers — everybody had to be on board, and the people using the building had to be part of that integrated process in order to help us achieve our low energy usage goals.

Then, how do we satisfy the loads? We use radiant cooling and heating in the building. We bring in the ventilation air through dedicated outdoor air systems (DOASs). Finally, when we got to a low enough energy point, we started applying renewable energy.

When we got through the project, there were some funds available, and the board allocated those funds to purchase a photovoltaic array, which has since been installed and is now operating.

This is not just a demonstration project; this is real life. People can take existing buildings, reduce their energy use, significantly reduce the emissions, and, therefore, become better stewards of the environment. All of the information is available on our website. We have videos, and we'll be putting together a platform of all the data to showcase how the facility is actually operating very soon.

Engineered Systems: ASHRAE is walking the walk and talking the talk. This facility is certainly is an asset to the engineering community. Great job on that achievement. Mick, I was lucky enough to attend your press breakfast at the 2022 ASHARE Winter Conference. At that event, you highlighted the need for diversity, equity, and inclusion. The society is continuing to walk the walk here, too, by forming a diversity, equity, and inclusion subcommittee. Tell me about this group and what you hope to accomplish through it.

Schwedler: ASHRAE has come a long way since I started with the group 40 years ago. Then, everyone kind of looked like I look today. We're now a global organization. We have many, many cultures; we have more women; and, despite that, I would say we're still lacking in diversity from various ethnic groups. We have included members from numerous countries. But rather than put together just a statement of “we want to be diverse, we want to be equitable, we want to be inclusive,” the board said, “We need to lead on this and change our culture, improve our culture, and use the lessons we've learned from our global members and through our grassroots in order to make ourselves grow and to better serve humanity. That’s the goal, not to put into place quota systems, not to force people to learn but to make sure that everybody can come and contribute. In order to do that, people must want to attend meetings for a reason. They attend because they want to be part of it, have an impact, and provide value. So, how do we make sure that that happens, no matter where they come from or what their background is?

When we incorporate that big, multicultural group, our ideas are better. We have different perspectives that challenge what has been done in the past. This is another move designed to help us move on to the extraordinary rather than just accepting what's always been considered normal.

Engineered Systems: This is certainly an effort that must be celebrated. Mick, I’ve got one final question here, and it’s a big one. So, the engineering industry has had to battle through lingering pandemics, supply chain shortages, workforce development challenges, and so much more. Do you have any advice out there out there for those who are trying to overcome the challenges they face on a daily basis?

Schwedler: Well, let's add in the invasion of Ukraine. What I will say to the engineers is: You’ve never been more essential or relevant. You bring what the world needs today and what the world needs to move forward to tomorrow. Keep learning. Reach out when you need help.

One of the parts about ASHRAE that is often misunderstood is the networking capabilities that allow you to serve your customers. There's an engineer down in Austin, Texas, who said some people don't send their young folks to ASHRAE meetings because somebody might poach them. Well, he takes the other tack. He sends all of the company’s young folks so that they can learn and get to where he is. Through ASHRAE, he's within a maximum of two phone calls away from the global expert on anything within our industry.

Let's use what we've learned the last two years, the networking capabilities we have, and let's make sure we serve humanity using the arts and sciences of HVAC and that we fulfill our vision of a healthy and sustainable built environment for all. We are truly essential, and we haven't tremendous global impact.