Meet our Energy Trailblazer: Kirk Johnson
President, Eco-Efficiency Consulting
President of Eco-Efficiency Consulting, Kirk Johnson has seen and done it all when it comes to energy efficiency-focused building upgrades. His career path has included deep retrofits in schools, apartments, and big office towers, as well as managing programs and projects in the public and private sector.
Growing up, Kirk wanted to be an engineer because of his dad. “My dad was an engineer and traveled a lot. One time when I was around 14, he returned from the States and he said, ‘Kirk, I know that you’re one of those proud nerds, so I brought you this.’ It was a Commodore VIC-20. From a young age I was knee-deep in computers, writing programs and creating things,” he says.
In 1989, Kirk was uncertain at graduation where his career would lead. He was choosing between a position with Johnson Controls or Motorola. “Motorola had the RAZR mobile phone at the time which was the iPhone of its time. Their pitch was, ‘Come work for Motorola, and you’ll be the coolest kid on the block.’ Whereas Johnson Controls’ was ‘We do energy management systems for buildings and lighting retrofits.’ For some reason, I chose door number two, even though my parents and friends at the time thought I was nuts. They were right for about the first 10 years, too,” says Kirk with a chuckle. “Motorola would have been awesome for the first decade.” Now, however, he’s very happy he went down the efficiency path.
Through Eco-Efficiency Consulting, Kirk works with the private and public sector, Canadian home-owners, and occupants to help them reduce greenhouse gas emissions by saving money and energy. He does so designing capacity building programs such as:
- The Environment Canada & Climate Change-funded St. James Town RSI Climate Action Ambassador program for Apartment Deep Retrofits Provincial and municipal incentive programs like IESO’s HPNC and Toronto’s BBP programs;
- Bringing EPA ENERGY STAR® Portfolio Manager & ENERGY STAR Multifamily High-Rise program to Canada;
- Developing Standards like Toronto Green Standard (Energy Section);
- Managing Community Energy Plans for Tower Renewal 1.0, creating the Toronto Home Efficiency Animator Training Program (HEAT) Delivering NRCan Energy Advisor Workforce Development training to veterans, and under-represented groups.
This work – always with industry partners – is funded by big agencies such as the City of Toronto, Natural Resources Canada, the Canada Green Building Council, industry associations, and academic institutions.
“Creating programs was cool to me, I always wanted to create one. I have done energy performance contracts, business intelligence/data visualization and created some big provincial/municipal incentive programs. Now, I mostly do building standards, capacity-building programs and rapid upskilling programs. But for me it’s all kind of the same.”
His day-to-day work consists of six (6) key elements which he has affectionately acronymed as ‘SNaC DRoP’.
- On an average day, there is a lot of stakeholder relations that happens, as a result of multiple players being invested with different drivers. There’s usually a chunk of time spent sitting in on strategy sessions, and listening to either business, technical or policy experts share their insights.
- Next, Kirk focuses on networking, which ranges from reaching out to contacts on LinkedIn or moderating, speaking and attending industry events. “I actually love those casual events with lots of wide-open break type spaces, where you actually get people in a breakout room just shooting the breeze before we have to go back. That’s some of the best information out there”. Non-structured professional development adds a ton of value. “I spend a lot of time connecting with people by having coffee, over the phone, or going for a little post-mortem after that online meeting just to catch up.”
- His third focus area is content development. “I like creating things, not just talking about things that should happen. Whether it’s training content, program content or policy content, I enjoy actually generating the outputs that people can use,” shares Kirk.
- Fourth, Kirk focuses on the actual design. “If there’s not a structure, framework and a roadmap, then we’re all just throwing stuff against the wall. Wherever I’m doing work that’s in concert with other people, or for a specific outcome, I spend a lot of time – probably more so than most – saying ‘What is the design of this? Where’s the sweet spot?”
- And finally, the fifth element is reading and research. Kirk stays current and aware of what’s being done in other cities, especially when it comes to applied research.
- The last element is program delivery, where Kirk delivers training and manages implementation.
Kirk attributes his success with this to his ability to help people find a middle ground. He explains that there was a moment in time where the Ontario energy services and the electricity pricing markets basically imploded. Almost everybody was laid off or packaged out.
During this time, Kirk lived out his dream of producing a movie. He partnered with a new director and some actors (e.g. Colin Mochrie) and they ended up making a feature film called Expecting. The film won audience awards at film festivals and got distribution. During its making, he learned a valuable rule from one of the Directors of Photography, ‘Find the sweet spot where the producer is always right, and the director is never wrong’. Kirk believes this is his secret sauce – he is able to identify that safe happy space where people find agreement and their needs are met. From there, it’s easier to scale towards something better, bigger much much faster.
Kirk is most proud of his work when people from outside the energy efficiency sector show interest in making it a career. “When we get people that are like ‘I used to be a chemist or an accountant, and now I’m thinking about getting into this green sector work. We can pull them in, especially when they’re from under-represented communities or areas, and see them progress within the industry and successfully deliver projects and get awards, that’s the real joy.”
Whether someone takes an interest because they care about our carbon; or they wanna make sure that Nana can walk barefoot comfortably on the net-zero heated floors, or so their niece’s asthma doesn’t act up in the rental apt on the heatwave day, or even they just want to future-proof their home – all of that is energy efficiency.
He encourages people both within and outside the sector to ask a ton of questions, especially, “Can we do this better?”
For young people considering entering the sector, he hopes the possibilities inspire some excitement because it’s really, really easy to be cynical right now. “This is a really rough time, especially if you’re young,” says Kirk. “If you see something in here that inspires hope, try and find where. Energy efficiency is not just renewables, solar, or heat pumps. It is basically everything associated with buildings and clean technology. You can either be inspired to add energy efficiency to your daily life or even pursue a career in the energy efficiency sector, which I’m hoping more people do, because it’s a massive, big industry and it’s the coolest thing.”
Kirk’s Career Journey
Kirk obtained a degree from McMaster University.
Kirk took courses in Agile Project Management, Program Design, DEI, and Financing Efficiency Projects.
Kirk continues to do reading and research to stay up-to-date on changes in the energy efficiency sector.
Advice on entering the energy efficiency sector
As a female and a Black female, there are always going to be obstacles. That doesn’t mean, however, that I didn’t face them head-on. I like a challenge. I welcome it, actually. It motivates me. So for any women out there who are BIPOC or women in general, we are dominating a very male-induced industry.
Where things are trending in workforce development is, upskilling the soft skills that you don’t have. We’ve recognized that it’s not just learning the technical stuff, you have to give them the management skills and the business skills and the stakeholder engagement skills.
The great thing is that with this sector, there is such a need for workers that they are offering courses to everyone. That’s really opening up for people. You don’t need to go back to school necessarily. Go do a degree or diploma. You can take like little courses at a time to upskill yourself and make yourself relevant.