Carney Drives Green Building Changes at WSP

Jenny Carney has made it one of her life’s goal to create practical green building opportunities.

“I’m motivated by two key things: Protecting the natural world from the worst climate change scenarios, and making sure that green building and sustainability is not just an amenity for the affluent,” Carney said.


Jenny Carney

Carney, vice president for built ecology in the Chicago office, arrived at WSP USA in June when the firm acquired YR&G, a consulting firm that specializes in sustainable consulting, education and analysis. She sees WSP as being well positioned to make a difference in the creation of environmentally responsible, economically viable solutions.

The YR&G team integrated into WSP’s built ecology service, which provides high performance design and sustainability consulting to clients.

“The importance of the built environment in solving climate change issues cannot be overstated, and we need to make a lot of progress in a small number of years,” Carney said. “WSP, with its global reach, is driving rapid change in this arena, and I’m looking forward to having a bigger platform to accelerate a transition to sustainable communities and economies.”

She said transitioning from a small company to a large one posed a few challenges, but the opportunities with WSP far outweigh the growing pains.

“This is a chance to tackle some of the barriers to high-performance building outcomes that dog a lot of green building practitioners, which often comes down to gaps between design intent and operational reality,” Carney said. “I’m looking forward to having access to engineering design teams, and bringing my experience in working with building operating engineers, property managers, and commercial real estate financial decision makers into the mix.”

Trusting Relationships

Carney, who joined YR&G in 2007 and became principal of its Chicago office, said the decision to join WSP came only after a determination that both firms shared the same vision regarding sustainability.

“It was important to us, as we considered joining WSP, that there was a genuine commitment to sustainability in the built environment, and that we’d be able to work with our clients and local communities in the same personable, nimble way we have previously,” she said. “In the end, it was the people within WSP who corroborated that commitment to sustainability – like Brett Kelley, who I work with in Chicago – and made WSP feel like the right fit.”

Carney continues to work with her YR&G clients and projects, but now also contributes to some new initiatives within WSP to bring built ecology services into as many buildings projects as possible.

One such initiative is an internal Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) support hotline service, providing internal training regarding the U.S. Green Building Council’s (USGBC) certification process and best practices. She also plans to develop a standard post-occupancy evaluation protocol and building performance database to create strong, evidence-based feedback loops for building designers.

“I am hoping to have opportunities to draw more from my training as an ecological field scientist, by applying statistical analysis and data science techniques to large, longitudinal sets of building performance data,” Carney added.

She said YR&G was known for having “a long track record and a trusting relationship with clients, unlocking opportunities to co-explore initiatives outside the status quo.” Some of the firm’s work with the Denver Housing Authority and a coalition of affordable housing operators in Chicago stood out because it required skillsets on both the building and human systems side of things. Bringing behavioral economics and performance data analysis together “felt like an important new frontier in sustainable buildings,” she said.


Early in her career, Jenny Carney conducted research with the forest ecosystem ecology lab at the University of Wisconsin.

“YR&G has been a visible force within the green building industry,” Carney said. “Our work in existing buildings, our experience as educators, and the fact that we have a lot of ease in serving clients at multiple scales and building lifecycles will hopefully bring some connective tissue to the WSP teams who have similar capabilities.”

No Regrets

Carney was raised in Darboy, Wisconsin, a small community south of Green Bay. She graduated with a bachelor’s degree in biology from Lawrence University in nearby Appleton, and received her master’s degree in forest ecosystem ecology from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

While she was always interested in conservation and preservation of the environment, Carney said the idea of pursuing that as a career path never crossed her mind when she was growing up.

“Coming from a small, rural, working-class place, the idea of a professional career wasn’t really front-of-mind for me as a younger person,” Carney said. “My sister, who is a toxicologist, probably had the most influence on me by charging ahead toward science and advanced degrees, as our family of farmers, millworkers, and tradespeople looked on, sometimes bewilderedly.”

After graduating, she conducted research with the forest ecosystem ecology lab at the University of Wisconsin. “My lab was funded by NASA to do ground-truthing evaluation of the net primary production estimates coming out of eddy flux tower networks and satellite imagery, to better understand terrestrial carbon cycling.”

She also worked for an environmental non-profit that was administering the LEED pilot program for existing buildings on behalf of USGBC.

Carney’s volunteer and community involvement also reflects her interest in environmental issues. She serves as the president of the Chicago-based BIT Building program, which provides structure, peer support, expert guidance, and public recognition to reduce the operational impacts of buildings on the environment.

“My work with the BIT Building program helps bring operations and maintenance best practices to all kinds of buildings, including the Chicago Housing Authority, so people can benefit from better indoor air quality and building efficiency,” Carney said.

She is also a member of the national USGBC social equity working group, and previously served as the chair for the USGBC sustainable sites technical advisory group, and as a member of its technical committee. She was recognized as a LEED Fellow in 2013 based on her contributions to the green industry. She has served as chair of the USGBC-Illinois board of directors, and is a founding chair for the group’s carbon drawdown advisory board.

“I’m glad to be advancing my personal objectives through my work with USGBC-Illinois and establishing a new strategic plan that promotes no-regrets carbon drawdown solutions throughout all Chicago neighborhoods,” Carney said. “I’m looking forward to using these experiences to elevate WSP’s capabilities in the realm of built ecology within the U.S. and coalesce into a nationally recognized sustainability practice.”


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