A Pause to Remember Jeff Johnson

This year marks the 10-year anniversary of the passing of Jeff Johnson, New Buildings Institute’s (NBI) former executive director from 2000 to 2005. He died doing what he loved, mountain biking in the Columbia Gorge. Jeff was a person who lived his life on his terms. An avid outdoorsman and adventure seeker, he loved nature and worked to protect it through better energy efficiency in the built environment for the benefit of people and the planet.

Those who knew him would say he was charismatic and used his talents to persuade others to his point of view. He worked tirelessly and effectively to advance the practices and standards that define energy efficiency in commercial buildings. He often represented a thorn in the side of the status quo and wasn’t always welcomed in the proceedings and processes where incumbency prevailed. But he was always respected. Visionaries usually describe or imagine how things could be, but don’t make them happen themselves. Jeff was not content with just the vision, but insisted on making it real.

With the adoption of the 2012 International Energy Conservation Code (IECC), Jeff’s legacy was solidified. The new model energy code contained extensive language based on an NBI guideline for newly constructed buildings called Core Performance. Core Performance, written by a team led by NBI Technical Director Mark Frankel, was built on the foundation of Jeff’s idea to create a comprehensive, prescriptive guide to new construction in small- to mid-size commercial buildings. These buildings, which constitute 95% of existing building stock, are often overlooked for efficiency measures because of their tight budgets and small footprints.

After Core Performance’s release in 1997, it was codified by colleagues at Northeast Energy Efficiency Partnerships and became the first stretch code for the state of Massachusetts. The new code was later offered and adopted as a complete replacement for Section 7 of the IECC. The adoption represented the largest efficiency increase in IECC history—25% in just one code cycle. It would have been easy to let this year pass without remembering Jeff. As we get busy working, raising families, checking our phones, and figuring out what’s next, we tend to forget what came before— those people and their actions that paved the way for our successes. We are not done by any means—achieving ultra-efficiency in buildings by mid-century will take a tremendous amount of effort and collaboration. But we are much further along thanks to Jeff and others like him who dedicated themselves to the cause of sustainable, high performance buildings.

So I ask those who knew Jeff— or if you didn’t then think of someone who cleared the way for you to achieve your goals—to STOP for a moment to remember him, raise a glass or say a prayer. That is what he would have wanted. At the end of the day, I think for any of us that is the true legacy. To be remembered in the hearts and minds of those we’ve touched. To be missed and honored with gratitude. So, cheers to Jeff! We miss you. Thank you.

Stacey Hobart contributed to this blog.