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.




A good day for worms

nathanIt’s a very soggy day in the ‘burg. Very, very soggy. Think monsoon. A good day for worms and dirt and plants and compost…….

And all that reminds me of Nathan Lyon (’94), celebrity chef, 2012 Emmy nominee, 2013 Emmy nominee for Outstanding Culinary Host for his work with Good Food America with Nathan Lyon — and one of our Be the Change Dukes.

So why do worms and dirt remind me of Nathan?

Nathan has stepped up as spokesman for the U.S. Composting Council Million Tomato Compost Campaign. According to the council’s website, the campaign, which began in March, aims to “spread the word that compost is a key component to building the healthy soil needed to grow sustainable, local food that helps build healthy communities.”

It’s something Nathan believes in and has promoted throughout his career: healthy eating, healthy living. His philosophy is simple “great food starts fresh.” Foods that travel halfway around the world, he says, use fossil fuels and have less flavor and fewer nutrients. Foods grown and consumed locally are fresher, better tasting — and  better for the planet.

Urban agriculture and local gardening are essential for the production of local foods, but sometimes connecting compost producers with potential community gardeners is tough. Solving this by bringing them together is a fundamental goal of the Million Tomato Compost Campaign.

Here’s how it will work: (from their website)

  • USCC’s STA certified compost producer members will donate STA-certified compost to participating community gardens who sign on to the Million Tomato Compost Campaign.
  • Community gardens will use their compost to grow one million tomatoes, either for their own use or for donation to local food banks.
  • Chefs will work with the community gardeners, schools and nonprofits to teach people about using sustainably grown local food in recipes that even kids will love!
  • Chef Nathan Lyon is the spokesperson for the Million Tomato Compost Campaign, offering tips for cooking with garden-fresh tomatoes grown with compost.

The council has signed up a growing number of compost providers who will provide compost to community gardens at no cost. Both compost providers and community gardeners can sign up and get together via the campaign’s website. When gardens are producing, numbers of tomatoes will be tracked. In addition to growing one million tomatoes, the hope is that some of the produce will make its way into local food banks.

The website also has information about using compost the right way, how to estimate your compost needs, why compost is important and lots of other handy-to-know gardening tips.

It sounds fun, interesting — and with Nathan’s expert culinary help — delicious!

You can follow Nathan on his website and on Facebook. And if you’re watching the Emmy’s on June 16, root for Nathan!


Breakfast with monkeys

(l-r) Dave Stevens, Ben Schulze, Esteban Saenz, Jessie Taylor

When JMU senior ISAT majors Dave Stevens (’12), Ben Schulze (’12) and Jessie Taylor (’12) flew to Costa Rica last August and again in December as part of their senior project, they learned  there is a big difference between creating and researching a project on paper and actually getting out in the field and doing it.

The three students, along with their professor, Dr. Karim Altaii, traveled to Costa Rica to perform an energy analysis on a resort called Hotel Punta Leona. Located in the southwestern province of Puntarenas, the hotel is a popular vacation destination in a very  biodiverse country that values its ecology. “For the resort,” Dave says, “sustainability efforts are just as important as potential economic savings.”

The students’ objective is to remotely monitor real-time energy consumption data from the U.S. via Internet-connection devices, which they installed. The devices allow them to monitor energy use by month, day, hour, minute and second for individual guest units at the resort. They also are able to monitor individual circuits to pinpoint consumption trends that might otherwise go unnoticed. From the data the students collect, they can recommend ways the resort can reduce energy use.

“As we planned for this project in the states,” Dave says, “everything was going to work out smoothly with no hitches. After we arrived, we soon learned that when working with a relatively busy resort, there are inherent obstacles.”

While installing energy monitoring devices, they had to coordinate their efforts with maintenance people, owners and guests checking in and out of rooms every few days. “One day we would install a device and we wouldn’t be able to access it for a few days until the room was unoccupied again.”

Because the resort was originally built as a temporary movie set, the wiring was very disorganized, which made identifying circuits to monitor a challenge. Adding to the challenge, they had to deal with frequent power outages, “brown outs” and the language barrier .

“I certainly wish I knew more Spanish,” Dave says. “We constantly relied on our “Tico” (word for Costa Rica natives). They were awesome and always put up with us asking ‘now what did that person say?'”

Joining the JMU students, three students from the University of Costa Rica, Tattiana Hernandez, Francisco Gamboa and Estaban Saenz were part of the team.

The students also encountered the unexpected. “The internet was down in our room, so we had to walk to the reception area to use their Internet. It was late and the the reception area is open to the outside since the weather is pretty moderate all year. Before I knew it, there was a family of raccoons snooping around us. They would come up to our feet and try to nudge or bite us.  I remember sitting there and laughing at the situation thinking, wow, wouldn’t have expected racoons to be an obstacle during this project.”

Along with the raccoons, they had breakfast with monkeys who would sneak out of the trees, sidle over to the open-air breakfast and help themselves to the students’ fare.

The ISAT team didn’t spend all their time in Costa Rica working. “The first weekend we were there we traveled to Limon, on the Caribbean side of the country. We stayed in a small coast resort called the Black Pearl. The beaches looked like set for the Pirates of the Caribbean movies,” Dave says.

Now back on campus, the team is monitoring and analyzing data. They are also designing a solar power system for the resort.

About his experience, Dave says, “I feel like my career goals have certainly been sharpened. It has been very interesting getting to work in a real professional setting and applying skill sets I’ve acquired through ISAT. I feel a lot more confident in tackling such projects in the future.”

And they can all say they’ve had breakfast with monkeys.

To learn more about JMU’s ISAT program, visit

Brewing engineers

I’m on my seventh or eighth coffee maker. I drink a lot of coffee but buying a new coffee maker every 14 months seems a little ridiculous. And don’t get me started on hairdryers, refrigerators, carpet cleaners and power washers. It seems that small — and large — appliances are no longer built to last. Instead — it seems rather obvious — they are built to ensure a steady stream of new appliances into my life. It’s great for the companies whose products I have to buy over and over. But it’s not great for the landfills where my broken coffee makers end up, nor is it good for my pocket book — or my disposition.

Machines were once built to last. Cars, clothes washers and ovens lasted for a generation, not months. Recently, I came across a video in the New York Times archives of a 103-year-old woman who was still driving her 1938 Packard. My dad had a lawnmower he used for over 40 years, and my mother recently retired a freezer that was almost 60 years old. (It was still running, by the way.) Granted, machines were simpler. No computer chips. No complicated electronics. But they were dependable and they lasted.

The cynical part of me thinks these new machines are the evil incarnation of planned obsolescence. The sensible part of me thinks there has to be a better way to make a coffee pot. A group of soon-to-be JMU engineering graduates would probably agree with me.

Next spring more than 40 student engineers will graduate from JMU’s new School of Engineering armed with a forward-thinking approach to their field. JMU’s  engineering program is based on four pillars of sustainability — technical, environmental, economic and social. A coffee maker, for instance, should be built with sound technology (that works and lasts), with materials that harmonize with growing environmental concerns, with functionality that spurs marketability and economic growth, and with a purpose that meets social needs (in this case, my need for morning coffee.)

A far more profound and important example is the work of one of JMU’s engineering capstone projects. Team Africa is designing a health care clinic for Sub-Saharan Africa that will merge the environmental and social needs of the native people with technology to work appropriately with their society and economy.

Such an approach to engineering is critical to our collective future. Most of the environmental degradation that has occurred across the world has happened during the past 125 years. During that same time period many social and political concerns have become more glaring in a diverse global society. Add these to the possibilities that emerging technologies and a new global mindset offer, and you have a formula for a better future IF we plan and manage it well.

The key is sustainable engineering.

On a large scale, JMU’s  approach has benefits that are exponential. Imagine, if you will, an office complex being built that considered the economic and social and technological and environmental impacts from all angles. Sounds like the way it should be done.

Historically, though, it has not always been done this way, but things are changing throughout the industry. A 2007 annual report by the Association of Mechanical Engineers quotes Bernard Amadei, founder of Engineers Without Borders-USA, who said, “Engineers must become the facilitators of sustainable development.”

In the spring of 2012, JMU will begin graduating engineers to solve problems from this broad and comprehensive perspective. This new breed of engineer will change the way we build machines, construct buildings, create systems and engineer our lives. They will change engineering and thus the world.

As the inaugural class of JMU’s School of Engineering completes its senior year, we’ve been keeping tabs on its work, especially three capstone projects. Watch for news and feature stories — beginning with the work of Team Africa — throughout the year on this pioneering group of students.

Personally, I have high hopes that one of these new engineers will someday design a coffee maker that will work well for years and years …..

….I can almost smell the aroma.

To learn more about JMU’s new School of Engineering and the work of Team Africa, visit the school’s website

You can also find them on Facebook.

And if you are a JMU alumnus or friend of JMU who didn’t know that JMU had engineering, help us spread the word by pasting this blog to your Facebook page, other social media or emailing this post.

The innocents of AIDS

I remember the raw fear.

(from the website for Every Orphan's Hope)

When the AIDS epidemic first stung the world’s consciousness 30 years ago, I had young children. All I could wonder was what kind of world would they grow up to face? How would they find a husband or wife? Would the entire country be overrun by the disease? It was a frightening time — the very future seemed to be in jeopardy.

But as the years progressed and we became more enlightened about the disease, AIDS became less scary, and compassion gradually began to overwhelm the fear. With access to medicine, active treatments and education programs, we kept HIV and AIDS corralled for the most part. What we initially feared — an out-of-control AIDS epidemic wiping out the country — did not materialize here.

But elsewhere it did. Take Zambia.

…. AIDS children have been much affected by the AIDS epidemic in Zambia where 120,000 children are estimated to be infected with HIV. However, being HIV infected is not the only way that children are affected by HIV and AIDS. In 2009 there were 690,000 AIDS orphans in the country and AIDS orphans made up half of all orphans in the country. Children may be abandoned due to stigma or a simple lack of resources, while others run away because they have been mistreated and abused by foster families.*

Today’s estimate of the number of Zambian AIDS orphans is approaching one million, according to recent United Nations data. These children are the innocents of AIDS. Without parents or family left, without the maturity to care for themselves, Zambia’s orphans are desperate. Numerous organizations worldwide are trying to help them. One of these is Every Orphan’s Hope.

Last summer, after studying abroad in Florence and “wwoofing”† on an organic farm in Roccabruna, Italy, a town in the Alps close to France, JMU media arts and design major Peter Jackson (’12) traveled to Zambia. He had learned about Every Orphan’s Hope and through networking had been invited to film a documentary about their work. It was a chance to use his SMAD skills and to explore a new part of the world. “A shot of luck,” he calls it.

“Social and cultural documentary [filmmaking] is something that’s been rolling around in my mind,” Peter says.  What he didn’t know when he signed on was the impact it would have on him. 

“My first time seeing the living conditions outside of a western society was an eye-opener. It was shocking,” he said.

Every Orphan’s Hope builds homes and sustainable communities for widows and orphans impacted by AIDS. Native Zambians do the construction under the supervision of other Zambians, creating not only homes but an investment in community.

“My job was to document what the organization was doing,” Peter says.

One AIDS widow lives in a home with eight to 10 orphans. Some of the children have been abandoned because of the stigma of AIDS and some are “double” orphans, having lost both mother and father to the disease. “The house mama becomes their mother. The other orphans become their brothers and sisters,” Peter says.

In addition to providing shelter and homes for the children, Every Orphan’s Hope works to help Zambians create sustainable economies.  One family Peter came to know — “Mama Jane and Lucky” — raise chickens, part of a co-op handing 35,000 chickens every cycle.

Because of the crisis, “within the community, there’s an inability to hope much for the future,” Peter says. Every Orphan’s Hope tries to change that. “If we can give them opportunity and give them an environment where they can feel loved and hope for the future, they are the ones who will empower the nation.”

For Peter, who captured hours of video, hundreds of still shots and is working on his documentary, the challenge is even more than bringing the story to the rest of the world. “You come back and think what can I get rid of? What can I do? It changed my life.”

To read more about the problem facing AIDS orphans, visit

To learn more about Every Orphan’s Hope, visit

*  (specific statistics’ sources are available on the website)
†For more information on “wwoofing,” go to
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