COLUMBUS, Ohio – John Seryak’s office looks out over North High Street, just outside of downtown Columbus. His window covers the northern wall of the converted living room in a tudor-style house that has become the hub of his company, Go Sustainable Energy. When Seryak, the founder and CEO, searched for an office space, he aimed to avoid big office buildings and the monotony of cubicles. “We love our work, but we’re still sitting at a desk a lot of the time,” Seryak said.
Seryak may be confined at times to a desk, but his focus often shifts outside, peering from his desktop screen to the self-installed operable windows in his office. Beyond his computer screen, nature lines the street: flowers, trees and shrubs decorate the lawns of homes across the street from the Go Sustainable Energy Office. It was this appreciation for fresh air and nature that sparked Seryak’s interest in sustainability and drove him to embark on a career path that paired his passion for the environment with his engineering degree.
Ohio: A Hub for Innovation with a High Carbon Footprint
An Ohio native, Seryak received his Bachelor and Masters degrees in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Dayton before moving to the east coast to work for an energy consulting firm. In New England, Seryak found many young professionals, like him, working on issues of efficiency. At the age of 27, he noticed a lack of interest in energy efficiency in Ohio and began considering a return to his midwestern roots. “For the most impact per hour of my time, I shouldn’t be in Boston where I’m a dime-a-dozen. I should be in Ohio,” Seryak said. As it turns out, his hometown knowledge gave him an edge in a market deeply in need of change.
In the early 2000s, conversations about saving money on electricity by implementing sustainable and efficient energy solutions weren’t occurring on a large scale in Ohio. Seryak felt he could make an impact. Unlike many east-coast sustainability experts, he knew how to sell to midwestern manufacturers by understanding that their environments, experiences, and priorities are different than those in Boston.
In 2006 he moved back to his home state to start the energy efficiency consulting firm Go Sustainable Energy. “The midwest is a huge hub for innovation but also has a high carbon footprint,” Seryak said. While the scope has grown, Go Sustainable Energy’s goals have largely stayed the same: capitalize on a deep understanding of how energy efficiency can be attained and advise clients on what steps they could take to lower their costs. In 2006, there were only about a dozen energy efficiency experts working in the state who had established credibility within the energy community.
Despite this, Seryak worked out of his apartment for the first few years, slowly but steadily gaining clients through word of mouth. “I went to the people I thought my target customers would go to for advice on energy savings,” Seryak said. As business grew, Seryak moved into a tudor-style building, converting residential apartments into Go Sustainable Energy’s headquarters.
Today, Go Sustainable Energy seeks to help clients with facilities the size of an average middle school or larger, and who spend more than a quarter-million dollars per year on electricity and natural gas. Their clients include churches and nonprofits, office buildings, utilities, municipal facilities, commercial buildings, and more.As the startup has grown, Seryak’s clients have seen firsthand how Go Sustainable Energy does what no other company could: utilizing Seryak and his team’s technical perspectives to meet their unique efficiency goals and save them money by lowering costs.
Capitalizing on Unique Skill Sets
Seryak has cultivated a team of consultants like himself at Go Sustainable Energy that bring technical expertise to every project. Steadily growing, Go Sustainable Energy currently has 15 employees, 14 of whom have master’s degrees in mechanical engineering and specialized expertise in energy-related studies ranging from industrial and commercial energy use, renewable energy technologies, energy modeling and analysis, and software development.
They use this expertise to implement effective solutions to efficiency problems. “We know why things don’t work,” Seryak said. “Some people know what products will save energy, but we understand why.” Many energy consultants promote specific products in order to provide savings for their clients, while earning a design fee or even sales commissions in some cases. They may have a deep understanding of products they routinely specify, but not be as familiar with the range of systems out there.
By contrast, Go Sustainable Energy isn’t involved in selling or installing systems, or even offering mechanical design services. What they do is to provide accurate and unbiased information on the system options that would provide the greatest energy savings for their clients. Often, energy savings are hidden in technically complicated processes. This is where Go Sustainable Energy consultants rely on their technical backgrounds to help clients save money in ways, they, or other energy consultants, may not have known was possible. By recognizing opportunities for systematic change in energy processes, Go Sustainable Energy allows clients to understand the savings possibilities rather than simply offering them new products.
“We received specific training on mechanical systems and thermodynamics and so when we go look at a boiler or a chiller,” Seryak said. “We know what they are, how they work, and what they need to do for their function. Then we understand how they’re designed and set up in ways that make them waste energy.” This allows them to propose creative solutions to reduce energy use. Go Sustainable Energy projects go beyond just analyzing systems from an engineering perspective. The also advise clients on the implementation and management of these systems. “Our engineering skill sets are lending us well to solving the bigger issues of acting on technical information,” Seryak said.
Unlike many energy companies, Go Sustainable Energy doesn’t sell a product or a design service. Instead, they advise clients on ways they can save money on their energy bills. “Our business model is founded on giving advice based on expertise that helps [clients] trust what we’re saying,” Seryak said. “To make sure they can trust what we’re saying, we’re not going to have any financial benefit from the outcome. We don’t pressure clients either way. We give information and answer questions.”
Every project begins with a consultation to determine which needs and constraints the client faces. A Go Sustainable Energy consultant then determines which service will be most productive for obtaining data and assembling findings and recommendations based on the company’s analysis. From there, the clients will decide whether to follow the recommendations or keep the recommendations for possible use at a later time. Ultimately, the core of Go Sustainable Energy’s business model is cost reduction.
“Really, people just want to save money,” Seryak said. “We’re very good at helping them identify opportunities in their buildings to reduce costs.” In 2017, Go Sustainable Energy worked with Land Grant Brewing Company’s sustainability program, Sun-Grant, to conduct an energy audit on the brewing process. With the results from the audit, Land Grant recognized the potential for a 25 percent utility bill reduction by implementing energy-saving adjustments to their current process.
Changing Energy Strategies For a Changing World
Manufacturers, utilities, organizations, and other large-scale building owners are catching on to the savings possibilities that Go Sustainable Energy has recognized. Corporations and cities are increasingly prioritizing efficiency and sustainability. More and more companies are incorporating these priorities into their business models, and starting to see energy efficiency as an internal revenue generator. “We’re shifting away from the champion era to actually managing energy as a cost,” Seryak said.
This shift is driven by businesses rather than the government. Seryak doesn’t see a unified drive towards a more sustainable use of energy in Ohio. But the government has allowed the private sector to act freely and decide for itself that sustainability is a priority. This is where Go Sustainability is having an impact on the future of energy across the state. “We’re designed to create markets for products and services and those can grow really fast,” Seryak said. “We’re as busy as we’ve ever been and there’s no sign of let up.”
by: Hallie Jankura