Reader Profile: David Cone

March 10, 2015

Sometimes taking measures to save energy is like going on a fad diet. There may be temporary success, but without a long-term commitment to change, the initial results are unsustainable over time. For entities committed to long-term changes, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) bestows them with Sustained Excellence Awards. Such is the case for Evergreen Public Schools (EPS), the fourth-largest district in Washington, which EPA has honored each year since 2009. Under the leadership of David Cone, the district’s research conservation manager, the district has seen a 51% reduction in energy use, saving more than $7.5 million since 2008. It is the largest school district in the EPA system to have achieved that distinction. The school district serves 27,000 students in 35 schools, and 31 buildings are now certified. Among its efforts, EPS has improved HVAC and lighting, replaced boilers, and upgraded thermostats. Linear fluorescents have replaced HID lighting in gymnasiums. Energy efficiency updates are featured in district newsletters circulated to a staff and community of more than 66,000 households.

The district touts Energy Star success stories at meetings and events, and challenges local businesses to “treat their business like a school district” when seeking energy-saving opportunities. Schools have recently received $24,000 in incentives for participating in energy-saving activities. Annual incentives are based on participation, performance, and effort. The incentive is based on schools following prescriptive actions and performing better than in the previous year. Incentives include up to $1,000 for elementary schools, $2,000 for middle schools, and $3,000 for high schools.

The district’s policy limits cooling to no lower than 74°F, and heating no higher than 69°F. “If there’s a complaint, we have to say very graciously that we’re maintaining our building as per district policy and might encourage them to dress differently,” says Cone. He keeps his eye on the weather: “When you get 30 kids in high school, who all go into a classroom at once, you want to make sure the equipment that serves that space is able to handle that loading in an appropriate manner,” he says.

What He Does Day to Day
Cone spends a lot of time examining bills. He has access to equipment controls in his office that enable him to ascertain operational efficiency. “My responsibilities are to make sure we don’t use any more of a resource than we need to in order to do the job that we’re here to do, which is to educate,” he says. “I make sure we don’t use any more gas, electricity, or water than we need to, and I keep an eye on all of those resources to make sure our use is reasonable for the weather conditions.”

Why He Chose This Line of Work
Before Cone was at EPS, he was an assistant facilities director for the Gresham-Barlow school district in Oregon, when the newly hired superintendent, after having listened to a pitch by an outside firm about instituting energy-saving measures, inquired of him if such measures could be done in-house without incurring the expense of paying someone else. So he looked into it. “It became clear to me it was something we absolutely could do ourselves, and that’s what got me started down that path,” he says. That district started winning honors from the EPA Energy Star program and has done so ever since.

What He Likes Most About His Work
“It’s rewarding to go back to the board or administrators and say we’ve diverted $7.5 million away from utilities so that they can use it for teaching,” says Cone. “I like getting involved in construction projects. I actually get into the classrooms, too, and that’s a lot of fun.”

His Biggest Challenge Making sure the district can maintain the savings is Cone’s biggest challenge. It rarely happens that an organization can maintain savings without having someone keep an eye on the ongoing efforts, he says. “To go back and make sure you’re saving all you can on a daily basis is actually a little bit more of a challenge than taking the early-on, low-hanging fruit,” he says. “It takes a lot more time to maintain the savings than it did to get there.”
About the Author

Carol Brzozowski

Carol Brzozowski specializes in topics related to resource management and technology.

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Photos courtesy Chino Basin Water Reclamation District.
From left: Matt Hacker, Metropolitan Water District of Southern California; Marco Tule, Inland Empire Utilities Agency Board President; Gil Aldaco, Chino Basin Water Conservation District Board Treasurer; Curt Hagman, San Bernardino County Supervisor; Elizabeth Skrzat, CBWCD General Manager; Mark Ligtenberg, CBWCD Board President; Kati Parker, CBWCD Board Vice President; Teri Layton, CBWCD Board member; Amanda Coker, CBWCD Board member.