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Cara Carmichael

  • Carbon-Free Buildings

Cara Carmichael is a Principal with Rocky Mountain Institute’s buildings practice where she focuses on net zero energy and deep energy retrofits in the federal and commercial building sectors. In addition, she is leading efforts on the profitable integration of buildings with the grid. Cara Carmichael co-leads the Pathways to Zero initiative at RMI which is catalyzing early movers in the buildings industry on a path to—or beyond—zero net carbon buildings, by working with individual buildings, districts, cities and portfolios.

Highlights of her work include leading negotiation for one of the first net zero energy commercial leases in the U.S., leading the design and construction for both of RMI’s net zero energy offices, the Innovation Center and Boulder Commons, and guiding the GSA to double their historic energy savings using performance contracting.


Since 2010, Cara has been working with various Federal agencies including the General Services Administrations (the landlord to the federal government), the Department of Energy and the Navy to advance the performance contracting delivery model and achieve deeper energy savings and more resilient outcomes.

Cara led RMI’s efforts to design, build and operate the Innovation Center, a next generation net zero energy office in Basalt Colorado. This project achieved NZE with 11% incremental costs and a 4 year payback. Cara led the Integrated Project Delivery model, (IPD is an emerging contracting structure rooted in a risk/reward pool), and redefined how thermal comfort can be analyzed and delivered in buildings. The project achieved LEED Platinum, Living Building Challenge Petal Certification, Passivehouse certification, ILFI Zero Energy Certification, 2016 PassiveHouse Project of the year and CoreNet Global’s Sustainable Leadership Award, among other recognition.

Cara worked with Ford Motor Company on their Green Dealership program, an effort to expand energy efficiency and cost savings at dealerships across the U.S. franchise. She led the content development and launch of the RetroFit Depot, the premier online industry resource about deep retrofits – benefits, processes, tools and case studies to prove the financial viability of deep commercial building retrofits.

Key clients include the General Services Administration, Department of Energy, U.S. Navy, Boulder Valley School District, REI, Nevada Governor’s Office of Energy, GlaxoSmithKline, Ford, University of Colorado, Irving Oil, Chicago Botanic Gardens, Canyons Development, Cherokee Investment Partners, National Park Service, University of Hawaii and others.

Prior to joining RMI in 2005, Cara worked at ENSAR Group, a sustainable design consulting firm, providing energy and daylight modeling and analysis, charrette development and LEED consulting. She managed LEED certification efforts for over 15 certified projects including the Spruce Street Offices (first LEED Platinum CI project in Colorado), LSR Preserve (LEED NC v2.1 Platinum) and the Hawaii Gateway Energy Center (LEED NC v2.1 Platinum).


Masters of Civil Engineering, Building Systems Engineering, University of Colorado, 2009
Bachelors of Environmental Design, University of Colorado, 2003


Boulder, CO

Authored Works

Show Me the Money: The Business Opportunity of Grid-Interactive Buildings

Utilities, grid operators, homeowners, and private- and public-sector building owners and operators are all buzzing about buildings that dynamically interact with the electric grid. They present an exciting opportunity to go beyond net-zero energy and provide valuable benefits to the electric grid and provide a significant financial return for building…


A Resilience Strategy Based on Energy Efficiency Delivers Five Core Values

Resilience is perhaps the hottest energy-related topic discussed today among private-sector and government leaders worldwide. Extreme weather events, physical and cybersecurity threats, and utility grid failures are among the myriad reasons leaders are looking for more resilient and reliable energy solutions. However, most resilience efforts today are missing the mark.


Reducing Energy Costs in Federal Buildings

U.S. federal buildings make up the largest portfolio of buildings in the world. Ranging from offices to military bases to national labs, they not only provide space for hundreds of thousands of federal employees to provide critical services to our country, but also represent a significant opportunity to save energy…


Innovating at RMI’s New Innovation Center

We are less than one month away from moving into our new building. December 14th will be our official first day of work in the RMI Innovation Center. Happy Holidays RMI! We are extremely busy putting the final touches on the interior finishes, the rooftop PV system, and the control…