Racheal Notto’s Capstone Gets Actionable Results

Racheal Notto’s capstone report, Bridging the Gaps, provides her client, NYC 2030 District, with insightful and actionable solutions. The NYC 2030 District is a Private/Public partnership of property owners and community stakeholders working to establish a high-performance sustainability district in Downtown Brooklyn and Downtown Manhattan. NYC 2030 District has 11 Million square feet of properties pledged to the partnership including the Brooklyn Navy Yard, The New School, and Clinton Hill Coops. Racheal recently presented her capstone research to NYC 2030 Working Group members. David Bergman, NYC 2030 District executive board member and Tishman Environment and Design Center affiliated faculty member, opened the working session by introducing Racheal’s presentation on pathways and barriers to energy efficiency projects common to NYC co-ops and condos.

When did you first become interested in the potential of sustainable energy?
Sustainable energy first piqued my interest as a kid actually. I grew up in Western New York where the hills are dotted with large wind turbines powering the country side with renewable energy. That’s where the seed was planted. However, my first turn in sustainable energy professionally was during my internship with the Mayor’s Office of Sustainability. At the time, I was working on data compilation of local laws 84 and 87, writing policy reviews of energy and water use in New York City and helping to identify how City buildings could do more to achieve the 80×50 goal. That role made me feel connected to tangible solutions for offsetting climate change impacts, like what I did actually mattered. Working at a local level and on buildings helped me to understand the direct impact my contributions had on changing the way humans interact with the environment to create a more healthy, safe planet for all.

How did you first connect with NYC 2030 District?
I first connected with NYC 2030 District in July 2018 as part of my capstone. I knew I wanted to do the Professional Decision Report client-based project for my capstone because I wanted to make sure my work was actionable and not just another great paper. I was speaking with Molly Johnson ‘15, Assistant Director of the Tishman Environment and Design Center at the time and Environmental Policy and Sustainability Management alum, about the type of client I wanted, someone smaller, in the energy space and willing to work with me rather than submit a problem statement in the beginning and come back for an answer a few months later. Molly suggested NYC 2030 District because they fit that description perfectly, The New School was already a member of the District and she knew Haym Gross the founder of the District. From there Haym and I only had a few discussions on fit, my background and project ideas. We determined it was a good match and got to work quite immediately.

How did Bridging the Gaps come about?
NYC 2030 District presented me with three different project options: 1) Assemble a resource hub full of relevant existing retrofit educational materials and funding mechanisms for the District’s members, 2) Craft a policy proposal to better connect financial lenders and community members on retrofit lending, and 3) Study the feasibility of project aggregation in smaller residential buildings and how the District can best support that. I was interested in all three topics so before selecting one I spent a few weeks researching the landscape around these topics to help us determine the best course of action. Through my initial work and speaking with the District, I came to understand that the real root of their problem was their members wanting to do retrofits but not knowing what their options were, how to get started or how the District could best help them. It was also clear that a plethora of retrofit resources already existed, and the District didn’t need to reinvent the wheel. Rather it needed to figure out how to connect silos within the energy efficiency industry. From there I set out with a hybrid project comprised of elements of all three initial project proposals. The goal was to better understand the District’s members knowledge of retrofits and existing resources, barriers they felt were most critical to completing successful retrofits and how they felt the District should support them. In laymen’s terms, how could I bridge the gaps between buildings that want to do retrofits and existing retrofit resources.

Why did you decide to focus on residential energy efficiency, and specifically co-ops and condos?
The District and I wanted to focus on buildings because of a few local laws that regulate allowable greenhouse gas emissions from buildings and reporting of those emissions. That’s local laws 84, 87, 33 and newly created prop. 1253-C. We initially didn’t segregate buildings. However, during my research I discovered part of the District’s problem with helping its members was that it focused on buildings too broadly. It needed to take a more niche approach and provide specific solutions to specific buildings rather than a grab bag of general solutions. Due to time constraints we focused on residential co-ops and condos simply because I had gotten the most confirmed interviews from that group. It also happens to be that smaller residential buildings have the most difficulty accessing sufficient funding assistance by virtue of them doing smaller, less expensive retrofits that didn’t interest financiers as much because of low return on investment.

Racheal Notto presenting to the NYC 2030 Working Group

How do NYC 2030 Working Group members plan to build on your report?
The working group plans to have monthly meetings that will continue to be based off my research. The main goal is understanding how these siloed organizations in the energy efficiency industry can better connect their resources to streamline retrofit project development. This includes standardizing language around retrofits, figuring out how to better market resources to appropriate audiences and what type of partnerships can be developed to help individual buildings obtain the necessary retrofit resources among other things. A big takeaway from my research is that buildings want to do retrofits, they just don’t know how. This will be a guiding force for the group. My research also includes a systems analysis of the District which will help guide them in their growth and hopefully avoid any major pitfalls.

What comes next for you? Will your work with NYC 2030 District continue?
I will continue to be a member of the working group, but my research role stops here. I passed off all my data and insights to the District and believe their new interns will take over. For the next part of my career, I’m looking to move further into the world of environmental sustainability specifically around working with organizations to prove the business case for sustainability. 

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