What’s in a Name, When the Mission’s All the Same?

On January 25, 2019, NEEP held its first Massachusetts Achieving Zero Energy (MAZE) stakeholders meeting. As an intern who’d just started that same week, I was excited and curious to hear the subject matter and how people from various professional backgrounds thought of the topic.

From the get-go, the question “When do you think MA will achieve zero energy?” was posed to everyone in the room. And the first person to answer responded with a question, “How are we defining ‘zero energy’?” As a newcomer to the energy efficiency and energy codes world, I wasn’t quite sure of that either. As we went around the room, people threw out answers ranging from five years ago to 2050, many challenging the definition of “zero energy” as they responded.

Different Names, Same Mission

But “what’s in a name”? What does zero energy really mean, or does it even matter? We can give anything a name, but the idea and concept of a word or phrase might still be seen differently by one person to the next.

I think we should focus less on a trying to figure out the definition of a term and more on what actions we can take to make the end goal possible. Whether it’s by five or 10 years from now, everyone in that room had their own vision of how to make MA a cleaner, more green state than it is now. Achieving “zero energy”, no matter what it means to someone, is what brought this group of people together.

Now MAZE’s job is to convey this concept to the public on a larger statewide scale to encourage everyone in MA to continue talking about finding solutions to how we can achieve a cleaner state. But how will MAZE do that while even professionals in the energy industry debate part of the project’s ‘name’?

Sitting in on this discussion, I’ve heard the term before. In terms of climate change and ways to mitigate its effects, achieving zero energy is a term tossed around as a solution to do so. But eight hours after the meeting ended, having heard discussions on building energy efficiency and then about schools becoming more efficient too, I went home for the weekend overwhelmed as I tried to absorb all the things discussed. I thought, how is MA really going to make strides forward to achieve this idea of “zero energy”, and more importantly how can we do so if so many people still debate what the term itself means?

If a room full of experts in the field – ranging from architects, advocates, contractors, and government employees – were on different pages of what it means, how are the rest of us ”regular people” supposed to understand the mission we are trying to set out for the state?

Taking Action

There’s a lot of nuance to the term and for people from different lines of work, it can truly mean different things. But from my understanding, the point of the MAZE discussion and why Massachusetts needs to focus on achieving zero energy is to benefit us all. From a sustainability, cost-effective, innovative, and environmental steward aspect, taking action to become less reliant on fossil fuels and use practices in building that are less detrimental to our environment is what I care about.

I’m sure my view of this issue can be different from others, and to have MA truly move forward in efforts to be more energy efficient, state legislation on the issue does need to be passed. So how do we do that? How do we get a group of knowledgeable people who’ve worked on energy efficiency in some form or another to convey the importance of taking action to make this state a leader and champion of zero energy? I think we all can get lost in technical terminology and language, but the underlying mission of everyone in that room was the same. We all want to do better and want to help our state do better.

The weekend following the meeting, I ranted to my friends and even my little sisters who are in middle school about the urgency to have MA step up to the plate in energy efficiency. My younger sisters have grown up hearing me talk about climate change and the future of our planet so they had a grasp of the topic from a young age. But when I talked about zero energy and how energy codes could truly make a positive impact, they looked at me in confusion. This also happened when I talked with my college-educated friends too. Everyone gets that solar PV installations, driving an electric vehicle, or changing out old lightbulbs for LED ones are things individuals can do to be more energy efficient. But the term “zero energy” and energy codes throws people off. How can the mission of MAZE be conveyed so that people understand how setting base guidelines for homes and schools is as important and impactful, if not more, for an energy efficient future? That’s something I still struggle to find a simple solution.

It’s awesome that NEEP brought together a group of professionals who all knew what they were talking about to hatch out the beginnings of a great project. Going forward, getting communities and people who aren’t in the field to listen and support this cause is an important task for MAZE to figure out. Like a solid foundation to a house, Massachusetts needs a good foundation for achieving zero energy. We shouldn’t dwell on the definition of what it means, rather come together to promote the underlying message it presents. A consensus to move towards a greener, sustainable, and stable future for this state and for this country. People have already been rallying behind more environmentally conscious causes, this is no different.

As someone who is yet to be an expert in the world energy codes or building efficiency but learning more every day, what I do know is that I want to make an effort and be part of what’s to come. I think, like many other residents in Massachusetts, we want to support efforts to be the best state and lead by example as we do in sports, education, and now more than ever, finding solutions to climate change. A zero energy future, no matter how people understand the term, is one exercising best practices to promote a healthy future for our earth and our bodies. And as long as the citizens of MA also believe in trying to better our future, ‘what’s in a name’?

Stay informed

Stay up to date with the latest NEEP and industry news, policies, and trends to your inbox every so often.