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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

Executive Summary: Workshop Report; 360 perspective on Deep Energy Retrofits

Deep energy retrofits, which can save upwards of 50 percent or more of a building’s energy consumption, hold the key to enabling significant building energy use reductions and operational cost savings. They could also bring federal agencies into compliance with federal energy efficiency mandates. While this opportunity has long been…


Taking the bull by the horns

Achieving deep energy retrofits is an essential part of achieving our nation’s energy-use-reduction targets. But we’re not going to get there using the same, tired process that we have been using for the past 20 years. That’s where, surprisingly enough, a federal agency is stepping in and taking the bull by the horns.


Deep Energy Retrofits in GSA Buildings

GSA, DOE, FEMP, and Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI) convened a charrette at GSA offices in Washington, D.C. on March 4, 2013 to explore opportunities for deep energy retrofit ESPCs. The goals of the charrette were to: 1) Solicit input from energy service companies (ESCOs) on achieving deep retrofits and provide…


Healthcare Giants Leading the Way to Sustainability

Is it possible that a revolution in healthier buildings may be starting with the healthcare sector? Yes! It may seem intuitive, but it is quite refreshing for companies to put their money where their mouth is, which is why it is great news to hear that several healthcare/pharmaceutical companies have committed to achieve significant greenhouse gas reductions.


GSA Net Zero Renovation Challenge Charrette

The General Services Administration (GSA), Office of Federal High Performance Green Buildings (OFHPGB) and the Federal Energy Management Program (FEMP) have launched an effort to enhance and increase the usage of Energy Savings Performance Contracts (ESPCs) on GSA buildings. Rocky Mountain Institute and GSA convened a workshop in 2011 in…


Barriers and Breakthroughs for Multitenant Developments

In owner-occupied facilities, it is easy to justify the incorporation of high-performance building features because commonly recognized hard and soft benefits (cost savings, productivity gains, improved occupant health, etc.) are directly recovered by the investment entity. Developers or owners of multitenant office buildings and retail developments, on the other hand,…