Decarbonizing the Modern Building

CMTA Inc.
Written by William Young

Since 1968, CMTA Inc. has been doing its part to bring energy-efficient engineering to American construction, now growing to a nationwide leader in decarbonized, healthy buildings. After our previous conversation in 2022, the company has taken a large step toward furthering its mission. Also in 2022, CMTA became part of a larger company called Legence, a Blackstone portfolio company as well as an energy-efficient construction business and sustainability solutions provider.

Over the ensuing two years, CMTA has integrated itself into Legence more deeply and has adopted the identity of an energy transition accelerator™, meaning that the company is now an end-to-end solution for providing and facilitating changeover to sustainable energy. CMTA is now one of many companies under the Legence umbrella, and all parties within the group work to create the ultimate turnkey solution. Now, the business specializes in consulting, engineering, planning, and building with a huge cross-country network at its disposal.

CMTA has been working in decarbonization and electrification for two decades now and has long been ahead of the curve in electrifying building systems and offsetting with renewable energy. CMTA Vice President Jess Farber says that decarbonization is a newer term and has to do with reducing and eliminating fossil fuels like natural gas or propane on site as well as during the construction process.

Vice President Tony Hans says that, for most users, decarbonization typically focuses on what you buy (i.e. electricity and gasoline) and what you burn (i.e. natural gas), classified as scope 1 and scope 2 emissions by the Environmental Protection Agency.

Every project is unique, Farber says, and because most clients want to incorporate decarbonization either immediately or within the next couple of decades, CMTA works with its clients to meet these goals in a way that makes financial sense for all involved.

To bring decarbonization goals to life, CMTA designs buildings, getting them to perform the operations for which they are created, and optimizing them for performance. Farber says that a building must use drastically less energy than a typical one, so the company’s workforce studies every part of a building and invests in its infrastructure as well as studying the local electrical grid to reduce power usage by at least 80 percent when compared to the typical building.

Many factors need to be considered when entering these kinds of projects. Decarbonization planning should use energy modeling, specifically parametric energy modeling, to adjust one factor at a time and interpret how it affects building decarbonization. System approaches to similar projects should also be considered. The electrical grid and grid optimization need to be examined to apply resilient design specific to the region in which the building will be constructed to ensure a sustainable long-term product.

Today’s clients are also much more aware of sustainability and will request information on energy performance and decarbonization results on specific projects. “Owners select us because of our track record and proven results,” Hans says, and CMTA boasts a robust portfolio that can match any desired result from customers.

When it comes to incorporating greener practices into construction, he says that decarbonization is not a planning goal but a performance goal. Some of the most successful clients that have worked with CMTA have been those who have declared carbon neutrality, looked at their existing buildings to determine outliers, renovated buildings by replacing HVAC systems, and are drilling geothermal thermal wells all within a compressed timeframe. Speed to market is a strong goal for decarbonization.

While many of the company’s clients have been exceptionally happy with the movement toward achieving their decarbonization goals, others are still struggling with their plan, which is where holistic design comes into play. “We try to connect in our projects on the ‘why’ of a building and making it a better place for occupants,” Hans says.

CMTA sees a lot of movement in the industry today toward decarbonization, but many people are not yet ready, willing, or able to make the jump immediately. Many cities and states across the country have their own regulatory planning, such as Boston’s disclosure ordinance where all buildings over 25,000 square feet must comply or pay fines toward a green fund to bolster the renewable energy industry and support decarbonization projects. Columbus, Ohio employs a digital map of energy consumption. These types of actions vary by region but are beginning to drive more people to act against climate change, especially in locations that are more affected by events like coastal flooding.

The Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) of 2022 has provided nearly half a billion dollars for businesses that want to invest in clean energy technologies, a sign that the federal government has recognized the need to jumpstart these types of green initiatives. Both the White House and the U.S. Department of Energy have been helping municipalities and states develop programs to make energy consumption transparent, which helps the public understand how much energy consumption goes into modern-day buildings.

Thanks to the grants and incentives being offered by the federal government, funding decarbonization goals is more lucrative and efficient than ever, which further emphasizes the need to undergo changes in construction for the sake of health and wellness. According to Farber, CMTA is in a great position to lay the foundation to shift the market down the road; however, the IRA takes time to implement, and there is always a need for qualified people who can accomplish it.

This means that workforce development is a key area on which CMTA wants to focus so that more people can understand the great jobs that exist in the sector, whether in design, engineering, or construction. CMTA is proudly participating in this workforce initiative as a Legence company through initiatives like the Solar Decathlon with the U.S. Department of Energy, a student competition that challenges the next generation to build more sustainable buildings and infrastructure. Events like this help young people understand what companies like CMTA want to do and give them the tools to jump into the workforce and solve these problems.

Although the process of making buildings more energy-efficient can be time-consuming, it is never short of victories. Hans says that one of CMTA’s clients recently had a building, John Lewis Elementary in DC, that hit zero energy, meaning complete decarbonization and as much renewable energy being created as being used on site yet also certified LEED Platinum and WELL Platinum. This project is the first building in the world to hit this milestone. Hans says that it is amazing what can be accomplished when the company’s clients move in tandem with the firm to further green energy goals.

As CMTA sees it, decarbonization is about reducing emissions, which has an impact on exterior and interior air quality. As humans spend around 90 percent of their time indoors, CMTA wants the best environment possible for that, but the exterior environment is also very important.

“Anything we can do to move the needle has had a marked effect on populations,” says Farber, and that effect will continue to be felt as decarbonization becomes more accepted in construction and CMTA itself continually asserts itself as one of the premier providers of sustainable solutions.

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