In her final year at Prescott College in Arizona, Thiel Butner had one core requirement for her senior project: to demonstrate competence in her chosen field. As an environmental studies major with a focus in ecological design, she took an internship at Habitat for Humanity of the Chesapeake in Baltimore, coming on just as the affiliate was constructing its first Energy Star–certified homes.

“I really didn’t know anything about it, but as an intern I was interested,” says Butner, now principal of Pando Alliance, a third-party green rater and sustainability consultancy. “I had a lot of opportunities to read about it and see them implementing it in the field, and explored some of the other green building programs while I was there. That was really when I dove into it.”

In 2010, Butner rejoined Habitat for Humanity of the Chesapeake after graduation as a member of AmeriCorps in Construction Development, where she worked to develop the organization’s energy-efficient construction processes. This meant reviewing and selecting the third-party certification programs that would meet the needs of Habitat’s projects, and then educating the affiliate’s staff, clients, and volunteers on the importance of its new standards.

“Thiel is an exceptional find in the building profession,” says Michelle Foster, vice president of innovation services at Home Innovation Research Labs. “There is a great deal of expertise and depth in her building science knowledge. She can hold her own with the most seasoned VP of construction or with the contractor on the jobsite. As comfortable as she is discussing building science issues, she is equally comfortable speaking about less technical issues, like from the perspective of a CEO or CFO, such as the value of third-party green certification or independent inspections.”

Butner moved into third-party certification as a HERS Rater and NGBS Green Verifier with Energy Services Group in Pasadena, Md., in 2011. She joined Pando Alliance in Ellicott City, Md., in 2014 as a senior building analyst, and became a co-principal in 2016—just six years after graduating from college.

Pando Alliance specializes in affordable multifamily projects, with Pennrose Properties and AvalonBay Communities among its clients. It works with developers and designers from the planning phase, providing project reviews and recommending green certification programs that fit the client’s budget and jurisdictional requirements. “We offer feedback about air sealing strategies or shortcomings, suggest critical areas that would benefit from additional details, and review the plans against the project’s green building program requirements to ensure that all of the requirements are met on paper,” says Butner, who also maintains credentials as a LEED for Homes Green Rater, BPI Building Analyst & Envelope Professional, and PHIUS+ Rater. “Sometimes we suggest “better practices,” like insulating all ductwork inside of the building, and sometimes those suggestions are integrated at this early stage or held as options and integrated during construction if the project is coming in under budget.”

The firm also offers technical consulting and diagnostics throughout the construction process, including blower door and duct leakage testing, and performs the building’s final ratings when construction is complete. “It’s true that some teams have an easier time than others,” Butner says. “Sometimes we have to inspect and reinspect every apartment multiple times, until we can verify that they meet the program requirements. Other times we find program-compliant, passing conditions when we first show up.”

In some cases, Butner’s clients are able to achieve higher ratings than their initial targets. A recent Pando project, East of Market by The Duffie Cos. in Frederick, Md., was able to achieve LEED Gold though it had targeted LEED Silver, and reported energy consumption levels far below Butner’s original predictions.

Despite the many benefits of sustainable construction, Butner notes that changing traditional processes can be a challenge for builders and developers—one she hopes she can find a way to overcome. “Most of our clients are affordable housing developers—typically mission-driven organizations—who are required to achieve various green building certifications by their funders,” Butner says. “We start every project with a trades meeting to explain the program requirements and answer any questions at the beginning of construction. Sometimes we can be mythbusters and explain the situation, e.g., buildings don’t need to breathe, but people need good quality ventilation air. We approach every project with an attitude of training and an expectation of continual improvement.”

In the wake of this year’s tumultuous hurricane season and several recent catastrophic floods in Ellicott City, Butner believes these “new and different” processes must take climate change and severe weather resiliency into account, especially on a long-term scale. “I don’t think there’s a whole lot of people thinking about it right now,” she says. She advocates for simple steps that make a big diference such as elevating buildings in flood-prone areas. “I don’t think it has to be that hard, again, but it’s a matter of incorporating it into a design early on.”

Beyond her work with Pando Alliance, Butner also sits on RESNET’s Technical Standards Development Committee, as well as a number of sub-committees and task forces. Given RESNET’s roots in single-family housing, Butner aims to shape new standards with an eye toward meeting the needs of multifamily structures.

With eight years of building science experience and an MBA in progress at Hood College, Butner’s next focus is on her development as a leader and, by extension, on green building as a profession.

“We’re a really young industry, and I think we have a huge amount of room for growth,” she says. “I want to push everyone, I want to be better myself, and I want to help make things better. I try to ask the tough questions and follow through.”