Robert M. La Follette School of Public Affairs
Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Nowak advances energy efficiency locally, nationally

Seth Nowak

Seth Nowak wants tenants and landlords to reduce their energy use, improve their relationships in the process and transform the rental housing industry.

The 2009 alum has started the Green Apartment Network, an association of property owners committed to the environment and to working in partnership with renters, institutions, real estate agents, contractors and housing advocates in Madison. "Our intention is to support financially and ecologically sustainable residential rental properties," Nowak says.

The group has three interrelated initiatives. "One is to use the goal of making rental property energy efficient as a means of improving the relationship between tenants and their landlords," Nowak says. "The energy wasted because of adversarial relationship is enormous. I believe that by creating incentives for renters to save energy and for landlords to facilitate those savings, both groups will serve each other and transform how they work together."

Second, Nowak wants to create awareness about how much the design and use of rental housing affects the economy, environment, energy use and public health. He would like the network to explore opportunities to make improvements. "With all the two-, three- and four-unit properties in Madison, if 10,000 of them had rain gardens and rain barrels, think of all the storm-water runoff that would be diverted from the lakes," Nowak says. "It would add up and make a difference in our quality of life."

Third, Nowak wants to identify specific measures and services — from energy efficient appliances, vegetable garden space, covered bike racks, to water filters and window treatments — that demonstrate that property owners are thinking about and care about how tenants live. The Green Apartment Network could recognize landlords who take such steps with their properties, perhaps through an annual "greenest landlord" award, Nowak says.

Professionally, Nowak serves as a senior policy analyst with the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy's Utilities Program. He works from his home office in Madison for the Washington, D.C., organization.

Nowak's highest-profile project for ACEEE is the annual State Energy Efficiency Scorecard, a comprehensive ranking of the states based on an array of metrics that capture best practices and recognize leadership in energy efficiency policy and program implementation.

"I focus on utilities as part of a team of people who gather and analyze data and create a comprehensive set of metrics," Nowak says. "The final report influences public policy in a big way, which is exciting. Investments in electric and natural gas utility energy efficiency in the U.S. have increased to over $5 billion a year. The state of Connecticut has started an initiative to become more energy efficient using the Scorecard metrics as a result of the competition among the top states."

"The research makes a difference," he adds. "I'm proud and privileged to work for an organization like this with colleagues and research of such high caliber."

Nowak learned about ACEEE when still a La Follette student. An employee contacted him after reading his LinkedIn profile. "She saw my combination of analysis and advocacy work and my business and educational background," says Nowak, who completed a master of business administration at the Wisconsin School of Business in 1993. "She asked if I would be interested in talking with ACEEE's utilities program director about a job. Within six months I had a full-time position, exactly the kind of job I had envisioned when I went to La Follette."

The training in policy analysis, research and teamwork made Nowak a good candidate. During his second year at La Follette he held a project assistantship at KEMA, an international energy consulting firm with an office in Madison. "That was among the most impactful educational opportunities I had, learning data analysis and program evaluation," Nowak says.

In addition to earning a Master of Public Affairs at La Follette, Nowak completed a certificate in energy analysis and policy at the Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies. The capstone projects required for both programs also were powerful learning experiences, he says. In presenting the MPA report on pay-as-you-throw solid waste collection, Nowak and his team met the mayor of Milwaukee and top staff members. For the energy certificate, his group presented to the Wisconsin Public Utilities Institute.

Prior to enrolling at La Follette in 2007, Nowak worked with consumer cooperatives in Madison for more than 20 years, serving as a director boards of three natural foods grocery cooperatives, coordinating member services for 11 housing co-ops and handling financial services training for consumer lending at Summit Credit Union for one year.

In his cohort at La Follette, Nowak was the second oldest student. "Being around people in their late 20s and early 30s was super-energizing," he says. "I also came to value and appreciate my work experience from before my return to grad school. I really saw how having a 20-year career prepared me to interpret the academics at La Follette through the eyes of someone who had been in the field, the 'real world.'"

"I really value the close-knit team, the almost family-like atmosphere created by working in groups in the La Follette School's small environment," Nowak adds. "That atmosphere gave me the support and confidence to make the most of the resources of the wider university campus. Having that small top-notch team experience prepared me well for my new career as a public policy analyst."