Interview with Devon Hartman

The City of Claremont was named “Coolest California City” in the CoolCalifornia Challenge (2016), focusing on home energy use. Image courtesy of Harvey Mudd College.

Interview with Devon Hartman

By   |  Dec. 13, 2016

Devon Hartman is a Claremont-based architect with over 35 years of experience in architecture, construction, and strategic business development on the field of energy efficiency. Devon co-founded CHERP (Community Home Energy Retrofit Project) to form collaborative partnerships with community organizations, contractors and cities to promote sustainable building practices and the reduction of fossil fuel use in buildings throughout California. He sat down with Pando Populus to discuss his work and how it connects to Pando Hubs.

Devon, how did you encounter Pando Populus, and what inspired you to become involved?

Devon Hartman: I’ve known John Cobb for several years, and I’ve conducted workshops with him and the Chinese delegations that have come to Claremont interested in the building sector. In contributing to those workshops, I became more aware of what he’s doing.

When I went to the Seizing an Alternative conference last year, the goal was to “bring big ideas down to earth,” which I take to mean, “Let’s get going; We’re all tired of talking; We really want to connect the players around the world so that we can really make some progress.”

Pando Populus, the nonprofit, was the outgrowth of that conference, and it’s the method of bringing those big ideas to earth. The concept was to create communication hubs connecting all the players, starting with Los Angeles and branching out.

That’s exactly what we’ve been doing the last seven years with CHERP—developing initiatives that fully engage a community from top to bottom. I believe that the municipality is the most powerful community organizing entity. CHERP is focused on eliminating fossil fuel use in buildings—buildings contribute more to greenhouse gas emissions than any other sector on the planet. My goal is to achieve maximal leverage on reducing greenhouse gasses, and since my professional career has been spent in the building sector, I felt that this was a good focus for my knowledge—engaging that sector at the local level.

There are several great tie-ins between what Pando and CHERP are doing. I immediately felt excited to remain engaged with Pando and to continue to expand this conversation, so I joined the board.

Tell us more about your career and how you got to this place with CHERP.

I spent the last 35 years in architecture and construction running a design-build company here in Claremont called Hartman Baldwin Design/Build, focused on high end residential architecture, construction, and interior design. We embraced beautiful, durable, functional design and execution with a high level of craftsmanship—but as I was about to find out, energy use was not a serious part of the equation.

In 2003 I came across a Metropolis Magazine article by Ed Mazaria from Architecture 2030 that opened my eyes to the fact that the building sector is the largest consumer of fossil fuels—both in keeping the lights on and the air conditioners running, but also in the production and transportation of building materials. The article was called “Architects Pollute,” and it really brought me up short and confused me for a couple of years. All the architects and builders I knew were not aware that buildings could be designed to perform more like a thermos than a cardboard box—making the occupants vastly more comfortable and healthy, and dramatically reducing energy bills in the process.

There is so much opportunity around buildings—easily 50 percent of the energy used by buildings is wasted based on current technology. There’s a great opportunity to reduce energy use and cut the demand side of electricity and natural gas. I read that Ed Mazaria article and reeducated myself on energy in the building sector. I saw the largest problem as being a lack of community awareness around these issues. The technology exists, the methodologies exist, the rewards and benefits are numerous, but people don’t know about it. I created CHERP to bring together different protocols and methodologies for going into a community and educating that community from top to bottom—from a city council down to small community-based organizations—around the power and benefits of energy efficiency. We want building owners to connect the dots and choose from any number of benefits that would accrue to them around energy efficiency. We have opportunity to reduce greenhouse gasses, but if people don’t engage or know about it, then it’s not going to happen. This is why creating Pando Hhubs to raise awareness is so important.

You’ve been involved with sustainability in the Claremont area for a while now. Can you talk us about your work there and your recent focus on achieving net zero energy in Claremont?

As a part of the initiatives and outreach strategy in Claremont, CHERP is engaged in forming partnerships in the city, region, and state. To that end, we formed a partnership with UCLA, the Energy Coalition, and the County of Los Angeles. Under UCLA’s lead, we applied for a California Energy Commission grant, and we were successful in winning $1.8 million for a phase one planning grant. If all goes well during stage one, at the end of two years we will apply for phase two. The phase two grant is two to three times larger than the first one, and will be for execution purposes. We applied for this phase one grant under the goal of creating a plan to take all of South Claremont to net zero energy use. We are studying not only the social engagement factors but also the grid and building department constraints, as well as understanding, from a deep data perspective, what that the current energy use in town is by type of building. We want to know what types of retrofits, grid stability technologies, and investment strategies we could deploy to take that section of town to net zero. Phase two would be to deploy all of that planning and implement the pilot project.

Devon, tell us about how your approach and Pando Populus’ approach to engaging communities is unique and connected.

I fully support and am excited about engaging with Pando because how they are connecting Pando Hubs in meaningful ways is exactly what we (“we” being everyone focused on sustainability and global warming) all need to be doing. We need to stop working in isolation and in parallel, and we need to reach out in the most effective ways possible to connect with other communities, people, and organizations working on these issues. That’s how you uncover some of the surprising synergies that can be achieved through being connected.

As we develop CHERP Cities, I see us working with Pando Hubs so that we can mutually enrich each other’s work and mission.

Members of the Pando writing team include Rich Binell, Alexi Caracotsios, Amy Goldberg, Rebecca Schmitt, and Eugene Shirley.

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