In Fond Memory of Our Friend, David Hewitt

Last week, experts from across the country gathered in California at the U.S. Department of Energy’s 2024 National Energy Codes Conference. At this conference, they discussed strategies to drive the advancement and adoption of building codes that support a healthy, equitable, and decarbonized built environment. Unfortunately, one industry leader was not in attendance.

I am saddened to report that David Hewitt, New Building Institute’s former Executive Director, passed away on February 24, 2024. After years in remission, his cancer returned, and he did not survive the treatment. We are honored to have been graced with his leadership, tact, and inspiration.

From early in his career, Dave’s work made a lasting impact. He was the founding Executive Director of the Wisconsin Energy Conservation Corporation, which has evolved into the much-acclaimed non-profit known today as SlipStream. Starting in the Midwest and now nationwide, this thriving organization continues to lead discoveries and initiatives aiming to scale climate solutions in buildings and communities with a focus on equity. In Oregon, Dave founded the Portland Energy Office, where he developed the nation’s first Sustainable City Plan. This office eventually merged into the City of Portland’s Bureau of Planning and Sustainability, which continues to develop solutions that make Portland a more equitable, healthy, prosperous, and resilient community.

As a remarkable pillar of strength and resilience, Dave led NBI between 2005 and 2013, at a pivotal time when codes were just being recognized as a tool to drive the rapid adoption of advanced building technologies and practices. Dave led the charge to get NBI’s Core Performance Guide—our innovative, whole-building prescriptive program for energy efficiency— adopted as the basis for the first-ever above-code appendix to the “base” building energy code, called the “Stretch Code” code in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. The basic requirements in the Core Performance Guide included packages of efficiency measures such as window performance, lighting controls, mechanical equipment efficiency, and demand-control ventilation for commercial buildings. Upon passing, municipalities in the Commonwealth were able to choose whether to adopt this as a more energy-efficient alternative to the base energy code.

In 2009, Dave knew that the time had come to improve the national model code, called the International Energy Conservation Code. By that time, NBI’s Core Performance Guide had been adopted as the stretch code in Massachusetts, as a utility incentive program across the Northeast United States, and as a path to achieve energy and atmosphere (EA) points in the increasingly popular Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) program from the United States Green Building Council (USGBC). This all proved that the measures were achievable. Plus, NBI’s modeling showed that the measures being proposed were cost-effective, and demonstrating this financial practicability was especially important among the building code officials and home builders who influenced and voted (in-person at that time) on what was included in the final code.

Dave had an admirable capacity to come up with good ideas and support others in efforts to make market transformation happen. With Dave’s leadership and support from organizations like the USGBC, the American Institute of Architects (AIA), the Northeast Energy Efficiency Partnership (NEEP), and others, NBI’s Core Performance Guide largely formed the basis of the 2012 International Energy Conservation Code (IECC) update. The result was the single greatest incremental improvement in energy savings in the history of the code. It reduced energy use by 30 percent and cut carbon emissions by 40 percent over the most common energy code of the day.

Dave was an unsung hero in the building energy efficiency community. He was a visionary who could clearly see the long view and carve a path to achieve audacious goals. In 2011, he partnered with the National Association of State Energy Officials to conduct the first study examining zero-energy buildings’ characteristics, costs, and design features. He also facilitated processes with local, state, and federal government stakeholders to set a vision for net-zero policies and programs. Dave encouraged the development of zero net energy action plans that leveraged proven mechanisms and approaches, such as building energy codes, financial incentives, design programs, benchmarking and disclosure rules, appliance standards, and other tools. Ultimately, implementing these plans promoted cost-effective, deep energy efficiency, and renewable energy measures for newly constructed and renovated buildings.

The conversations that Dave started with the U.S. Department of Energy about federal buildings aiming for net zero took a long time to mature. Still, during Earth Week in 2024, President Biden passed a final rule to propel federal buildings toward zero emissions. Dave’s efforts are colossal because they have now helped put over 300,000 federal buildings on a path to zero. Over time, the result will be more energy-efficient and climate-resilient buildings that reduce harmful carbon emissions by two million metric tons.

Dave may not be widely recognized for these accomplishments and successes, but he deserves credit for starting the conversation, planting the seed, and ensuring a fruitful harvest. At NBI, we feel fortunate to have witnessed the big ideas and influence that Dave Hewitt had on market transformation throughout his career.

Dave was fond of saying that while NBI was a small non-profit organization, we cast a big shadow. In so many ways, this was true of Dave as well. He will be greatly missed by his family, friends, and colleagues, and especially by me. I encourage any of you who have thoughts, blessings, or good stories to please share them.

A celebration of his life is being planned for Sunday, June 23, 2024. It will be an informal gathering of friends and family by the Columbia River. Please feel free to contact Amy Cortese at [email protected] if you’d like to attend.


By Amy Cortese, Director of Programs at New Buildings Institute