Saving 25

Save a little, save a lot. It could be Daniel Hill’s motto. This intrepid JMU alumnus is changing the way small businesses think about and use energy. Here’s his story written by JMU Public Affairs student assistant Josh Kelly.

Twenty minutes can save small businesses 25 percent on energy costs

By Josh Kelly (’15), JMU Public Affairs

A quick Google search of “How to save energy” yields plenty of short lists, tips and tricks, but finding information tailored specifically for small businesses is a different story. That’s why JMU alumnus Daniel Hill started the Green Impact Campaign.

The business model for the nonprofit company is simple: Empower college students looking for resume-building experience to do energy audits for small businesses that, in many cases, have no idea how much money they could be saving with some simple changes or how to get started.

Daniel Hill ('09) speaks to an energy group

Daniel Hill (’09) speaks to an energy group

“Our program streamlined the traditional energy audit, which is still primarily a pen and paper service. We consolidated it into a simple cloud-based tool that will actually train the volunteer as they walk through a business’s building,” Hill said. “It cuts out all of the wasteful man-hours spent on report writing, all of the calculations, and streamlines it to deliver the report as soon as the student walks out the door.” On average, the audit takes a student 20 minutes to complete and has identified 25 percent in energy savings for business owners.

Hill came to JMU for the integrated science and technology program because of his interest in renewable energy. He became interested in bio-fuels and ended up doing his thesis on switchgrass derived cellulosic ethanol. “I was really interested in figuring out the next alternative fuel, but I soon realized the industry wasn’t mature to the point for me to get a job in it right out of college,” he said.

Screen Shot 2015-04-14 at 11.54.18 AMWhen he graduated in 2009, Hill took an internship with an energy solutions company and was assigned to work on energy audits, something he knew nothing about. “That was when I realized this is what I want to do, work on energy efficiency in buildings. It was such an immediate method to mitigate climate change and I became fascinated by it.” After working in energy consulting for a while, Hill decided to get his graduate degree. He enrolled in the JMU MBA program, where he met his co-founder, Dave Hussey.

“Dave kept seeing this neglect of small businesses getting any type of help for their business, and I kept seeing a total neglect of small businesses in the energy efficiency space and climate change discussion,” said Hill.

They spent their time during class breaks further discussing the issue and began forming an idea on how they could help small businesses take the first step in becoming more sustainable businesses. Eventually, they created the Green Energy Management System (GEMS), a cloud-based energy auditing tool that prompts the user with a series of simple yes or no questions about energy use in the business.

JMU students volunteered to conduct the initial surveys with Harrisonburg businesses. Students were given access to GEMS and walked through the businesses answering each of the questions. After the survey was complete, a report of recommendations and cost and savings estimates was sent to the business owners. The Green Impact Campaign was born.

“Starting up my own nonprofit was never a thought I had. It all happened rather sudden and unexpected to be honest,” said Hill. “We went from JMU and then George Washington University in D.C. A couple months later, we had students from 35 universities wanting to join.”

Students conducting energy audits using GEMS

Students conducting energy audits using GEMS

Since its start, 150 students have volunteered to do audits from more than 90 universities. Those students have conducted energy audits for 300 small businesses, which have identified nearly $300,000 in cumulative savings every year.

The benefits of the campaign go beyond energy savings for businesses. “Helping small businesses save on energy is just one side of our mission. The bigger picture is really the concept of empowering this upcoming generation of future climate leaders. It’s been amazing to see the students that have run with it and tell us that after the second or third one, ‘I can walk into any business now and look around and find five things without looking at the tool.’ It’s really that simple, but it’s raising an awareness on the education side of things,” said Hill.

This spring, Hill is running a citywide competition in D.C. called Power to Save. “We are having students from five major universities in D.C. compete against each other to see who can conduct the most energy audits in a month period,” said Hill. Students who complete the most energy audits can win prizes, including paid summer internships at sustainability firms, cash prizes, and other professional development opportunities. The competition is already on track to help a hundred DC businesses identify a million kWh in energy savings.

In summer 2014, Hill became the first JMU graduate to receive an Echoing Green Fellowship. Echoing Green is a non-profit organization that provides seed-stage funding and strategic support to social entrepreneurs. Echoing Green Fellows include the founders of Teach for America, City Year, College Summit, Citizen Schools and One Acre Fund.

“For me, the Echoing Green Fellowship was a huge accomplishment for us to get that type of support and to be part of that type of network, but also totally humbling,” said Hill.

To learn more about the Green Impact Campaign, go to

Green Energy Management System

To learn more about Power to Save, visit

And for more information on JMU’s innovative integrated science and technology major, check out their website here

Josh Kelly is a public affairs assistant at James Madison University. He graduates in a few weeks with a degree in communications and plans to travel west. When not writing, he enjoys exploring the worlds of audio post-production and cooking.




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