An Interview with Colby May, Energy Auditor

Colby May, a recent graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and former SSA liaison, has a unique passion for ministry: He helps seminaries and churches become better stewards of their energy resources through the audits he performs. We took the opportunity this summer to ask him a bit about energy audits.

 How do you see responsible energy use as a broader extension of our call to care for creation?

Part of our call as God’s creation is to also be good stewards of that creation.  I believe Genesis 1:1 says it all: “God created the heavens and the Earth.” If we, and all that exists, are part of God’s creation, are we to be wasteful with that which God created? Throughout the Bible, we are called to be good stewards.  In Greek, stewardship, or oikonomia, is the same word used to define management and administration.  We are called to be managers or stewards of what has been given to us.  When it comes to energy we need to manage it wisely and creatively.  We will have enough energy for us today, but what about our children and our children’s children?  Let us be wise, responsible, and creative with the energy within our grasp today, so we can give future generations a better tomorrow.

I also see energy management as an enabler.  For the most part our second biggest budget item is our utility expense, but on average we waste 20% of our energy use.  If we can learn to manage that energy wisely and regain that 20%, then we free up funds otherwise sent to the utility company, to feed missions and/or community.

 Why are energy audits important for churches and seminaries?

In many parts of the US, energy is the second-biggest budget item (after salaries), and there are numerous opportunities (no cost and low cost) that can make a big difference if you know where to look.

The cost of energy is on the rise and this will only continue. Churches and seminaries are extremely busy with their everyday activities, and as a result many do not have the time to think and act as good stewards regarding energy.  For example, during a hot day a church might turn their cooling to 68 degrees to condition their office, but what they might not realize is this practice is extremely expensive and deprecates the life of the air conditioning unit. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) every degree changed can save up to 1.5% of the HVAC portion of your bill.  They recommend keeping cooling set at 76-78.  This simple act could save up to 15% on the HVAC portion of your bill.

Energy firms will provide energy audits as a way to uncover everyday energy use by analyzing HVAC, lighting, controls (thermostats), building envelop, occupant behavior, thermal imaging, utility bill analysis and more. These audits not only point out energy use, but also make recommendations that will remedy misuse.  A good energy audit could bring as much as 40% energy savings to a facility, but industry standard dictates that the average energy audit can impact a facility’s energy use by 15%.  The goal of the audit is not only to empower the seminary or church to save energy, but to empower the church or seminary to modify their behavior and the behavior of their congregations to be good stewards of their energy use at church and at home.

When retaining a firm to perform the audit try to find a third-party firm that will provide a neutral audit geared to empowering the seminary.  Some firms perform free audits, but the reports are written in such a way to gain a business advantage.  A neutral audit should provide a report laying out all options and should be very transparent and neutral regarding firms they recommend.

Which Seminary Stewardship Alliance schools have you audited?

In 2013, I performed an ASHRAE level II energy audit at Gordon-Conwell’s South Hamilton, Massachusetts campus.  As a result we found a number of opportunities that could bring up to 20% energy savings leveraging no-cost (behavior change only). The goal of this audit was not simply to uncover energy use, then close the door; the audit should be seen as a beginning, not an end.  We leveraged the energy audit at Gordon-Conwell to ignite a behavior-based conservation program involving students and staff.  In 2014/2015 Gordon-Conwell will unroll two separate student and staff campaigns that will encourage responsible energy use via two energy competitions (one in the fall, and another in the spring).

In March of 2014, we performed an audit of 20 buildings at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, and found a number of opportunities in utility costs, controls, HVAC and more that can make a big impact on their energy footprint.  One action item was to form a student-based sustainability committee in order to address the no-cost/low-cost opportunities recommended in the energy audit report.

In March of 2014 we also performed an energy audit of Gordon-Conwell’s Charlotte campus, and as a result of the audit we believe the campus could save up to 20% of their energy expense through modifications in their thermostats.  They found anomalies in their HVAC bills and are currently pursuing the findings with the electric company.  They are adding two new wings to the campus and have leveraged the utility bill measurements as a way to forecast future costs.  They have also begun to look into options that would provide the campus with better control of their HVAC.

Part of my updated process is to perform an ASHRAE Level ll energy audit which includes thermal imaging scan of building envelope, an energy star assessment (including energy star certification and portfolio manager benchmark), behavior-based energy campaign (aimed at equipping occupants), detailed control analysis, HVAC assessment, plug load, lighting and more.

The hope is that through these audits, a seminary or a church might engage all students and staff in order to address energy as a unified team.  We desire to empower the students now so they can take the energy skills with them to their respective church, business, home etc.

 What do you hope to do with your business and ministry in the years ahead?

I spent time in Goma, Congo during a civil war and studied the local church’s role in the development of a vulnerable country.  At the end of my program I became a major supporter of the church’s role (more specifically a unified church) in justice-related issues.  We created our firm, LIT (Learn Inspire Transform), in order to tackle a number of issues.  We envision LIT as a catalyst on two fronts (Creation Care and International Development).  Our immediate focus is to empower churches, seminaries, and other faith-based organizations by performing energy audits, building behavior-based energy conservation programs, developing curriculum, and more as a means to promote creation care.  We also want to use our experience in the energy management field as a means to empower work in the most vulnerable countries.  We work in partnership with World Relief in Goma, Congo and we hope to use energy as a tool to continue to promote the local church in holistic transformation.  We are also working with another organization called Influence International throughout India in order bring holistic change with the Dalits via community centers, church planting and Daya homes (Christian Children homes for Dalits).

We believe we can perform energy audits at a number of churches as a way to free up resources.  For example, we would love to go into a church and save them 20% of their utility expense with the hope that they will pour half of their verified savings into partnered organizations like World Relief. On another end, we will use energy management as a tool to provide jobs in China, India and more.  We are looking forward to bringing the Light of Jesus via energy management.


You can contact Colby May at Colby (at)