Case Studies

M&E Engineers Inc.

The ‘dream job’: combining sustainability with engineering

While pursuing industrial engineering at Rutgers University, William Amann worked for a mechanical contractor and couldn’t believe how little attention was paid to energy. In one instance, he found a huge two-inch gap between the walls and roof that went completely around a large commercial building.

But it wasn’t until March 28, 1979, when the Three Mile Island Unit 2 nuclear reactor in Middletown, Pennsylvania, went critical that the true cost of energy hit him.

M&E Engineers Inc.

Rutgers University was less than a three hour drive from the site, “so I wasn’t directly downwind,” Amann says, “but a lot of people I knew and loved were. How can we put people at risk to create this energy if we’re just going to piss it away?”

Amann, however, was asking this question to a country still in the early stages of environmentalism, and to a society that wouldn’t recognize climate change for another 20 years.

Over the next three decades, Amann used his background in engineering to educate businesses and the general public on the benefits of energy efficiency and high-performance buildings.

Today, as the president and owner of M&E Engineers Inc., a mechanical and electrical consulting firm based in Somerville, New Jersey, he is helping corporations and institutional facilities make sustainability a priority. The company’s services include designing efficient and integrated HVAC, plumbing, fire protection and lighting systems, as well as providing energy modeling services, energy audits and commissioning services.

Amann is also on the board of directors of the New Jersey chapter of the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), the non-profit organization responsible for creating the Leadership in Energy and Environment Design (LEED) building certification, and is the chairman of the Somerset County Energy Council.

“Thinking back, I was just hopeful that these kinds of programs would become accepted and gain some traction, and I mean obviously it has, but it wasn’t obvious back then,” he says.

Green Persuasion

Amann began promoting energy efficiency in his first job after graduating from Rutgers in 1979.

As a project engineer, Amann performed the first energy audits for a large pharmaceutical research, development and manufacturing facility in New York, and identified energy conservation measures that would make the 1-million-square-foot complex run more efficiently.

“It takes some convincing because there is no way to measure the energy a building doesn’t use by being efficient, it’s actually been termed a ‘negawatt,’” he says.

Amann would often resort to pointing out the economic benefits and payback period.

For instance, by spending an extra $10,000 upgrading the office’s heating system, the company would save $5,000 a year on otherwise wasted energy, recouping its investment in two years.

“But anything beyond five years and people get very skeptical, which to me is just mind boggling because somehow they don’t realize that the cost of doing nothing guarantees that they are going to keep spending that money unnecessarily year after year,” he says.

M&E Engineers takes a similar, educational approach with commercial and industrial clients across the Northeast and the mid-Atlantic.

Amann joined M&E Engineers in 1987, and became the owner when the company’s founder, Donald Campbell, retired in 1990.

Under Amann’s leadership, M&E Engineers has designed energy- and water-efficient systems for numerous LEED certified buildings, performed energy assessments for Fortune 100 companies, prepared an Energy Master Plan for the city of Trenton and much more.

New Dawn of Energy

By the mid-2000s, sustainability started entering the mainstream, partly because of the USGBC and its LEED building rating system.

“I had had this notion of building better for almost 30 years and now there was someone who not only addressed my concerns about energy, but had also figured out that the water and indoor air quality connected to all these other issues, and put it together in a program,” he says.

Amann joined the USGBC New Jersey Chapter as chairman of the Education Committee in 2000, and eventually became the chairman of the board of directors in 2009. Over the next few years, Amann lectured about the importance of sustainability at business conferences, spoke to state legislators and even taught classes on the subject at the New Jersey Institute of Technology.

Suddenly, Amann didn’t have as hard a time convincing his clients about the benefits of building sustainably.

In 2008, M&E was hired by Wyndham Worldwide, the holding company for Wyndham Hotels and Resorts and other hotels brands, to help design its headquarters in Parsippany, New Jersey, with a goal of achieving LEED certification.

The resulting design for the 250,000-square-foot building saved Wyndham Worldwide $400,000 per year in energy costs, and eventually earned LEED Silver in both the Commercial Interiors and Existing Buildings: Operations and Maintenance categories.

Even after it was completed in 2009, M&E continued to advise the company on ways to save energy, and the building currently has an Energy Star Score of 99, meaning it is in the top 1 percent for energy performance when compared nationwide.

Last year, M&E Engineers teamed up with a company called Deerns, an international engineering firm based in the Netherlands, to provide energy modeling, commissioning and solar energy construction for Unilever, when the multi-national consumer goods company decided to expand and renovate its Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey headquarters.

These models helped Unilever, and its developer, OVG-Normandy, understand how much energy the building would save after renovations if they followed M&E’s advice, such as replacing the building’s eight-foot-high single-pane windows, upgrading lighting systems, decentralizing the boiler plant and covering the rooftops with solar photovoltaic panels.

The project, which will be completed at the end of 2017, is targeting LEED Gold, may even achieve Platinum, and is also going for WELL Certification.

This project also represents the first building in the United States to use bGrid, a smart building network that uses sensors to recognize Bluetooth devices, specifically smartphones, and adapts the lighting, temperature and humidity of every room depending on whether it is in use or not. The internet of things technology not only saves energy, but can also be used as a road map for visitors and help employees track down one another in the enormous six-building complex.

For his work promoting green building, Amann was awarded the designation of LEED Fellow in 2015, an honor reserved for professionals who have significantly contributed to the green building community through their advocacy, leadership and expertise.

Even now, Amann is still amazed by the opportunities that now exist in his field. He looks specifically to his son, Keith, who is currently a director for YR&G, a sustainability consulting firm that is working with a city in South Korea to design every one of its buildings to be LEED certified.

It’s a feat Amann could only have dreamed of, when, as a student, he saw the crisis of Three Mile Island all those years ago.

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