Alumni Q&A: William (Bill) Amann ENG‘79

“When you love what you’re doing, you never work a day in your life.” –Bill Amann

With more than 35 years of experience in energy systems, M&E Engineers president Bill Amann (BS/BA ISE and Economics ’79) is a national leader in green building design and energy efficiency. His personal and professional dedication to energy conservation and environmentally sound construction practices has earned him the prestigious designation of LEED fellow. Passionate about developing and implementing practical sustainable energy solutions, he has been involved in more than 20 LEED projects and over 100 Energy Star Buildings. A member of the board of the New Jersey chapter of the U.S. Green Building Council and chair of the Somerset County Energy Council, he is a man with a mission and strives to educate the industry and general public about green initiatives.

Why did you choose the School of Engineering?

I took a tour and sat down and chatted with Dr. Burbridge, who picked up a phone, called someone and said, “You’re in.” I’d looked at Fordham and Newark College of Engineering and liked being out in the country more than in the Bronx or in Newark.

What attracted you to industrial engineering?

I was into music and thought I’d design stereos for Marantz, so I first went into electrical engineering. I was living in Davidson Hall and talked to seniors across the hall who were in electrical engineering and told me to improve the stereo system in my car they would need me to write the calculus equation. I quickly changed my major to a five-year industrial engineering degree for business because it seemed to cover a lot without being industry specific.  I’d also read that Fortune 500 CEOs who were engineers were mostly industrial engineers.

How did you end up in energy?

In the spring of my senior year, two things happened. The China Syndrome, with its story about a nuclear plant emergency, opened. Twelve days later, the Three Mile Island nuclear reactor accident occurred. This set me on a different direction, as I realized I could spend my whole career trying to make a difference in how we expend energy.

Did your Rutgers education prepare you for this career shift?

Those seniors across the hall terrified me with stories about thermodynamics. But it was the best class I ever took—and an indication that I might be good at that. As the “Berkeley of the east,” Rutgers offered a cool elective class in solar energy. So—at that point, I knew how to heat a house with solar energy.

I took a summer job with a contracting firm that installed heating and air-conditioning systems. I learned a lot from the university of hard knocks.

Has Rutgers kept pace with the times?

When I graduated, nobody really cared about energy—cheap energy was all that mattered. 

Things have changed. Through the US Green Building Council—the organization that created LEED building certification—there’s a new LEED program for cities. Newark was the first to register. I’ve put industrial and systems engineering chair Mohsen Jafari in touch with the Dr. Vatsal Bhatt who runs this program. There is a real potential for Rutgers to take a lead, if they do the modeling of measurements for this project. I’m happy to have made that connection for them and happy to see my alma mater really make a difference.

I’m also super impressed with things Rutgers is doing. The vision and renovations for College Avenue are amazing. 

What does it mean to you to be a designated LEED Fellow?

You can get all sorts of letters after your name that don’t mean much. But this means a lot, as very selective criteria were applied in how we make a difference when we build buildings. There are only three of us in New Jersey—I’m proud of us.

What projects are you most proud of?

I’m proud of the projects we’ve done for Wyndham Worldwide, including helping to design its LEED Silver certified Parsippany headquarters, and helping the company to earn an Energy Star score of 99.

I’m also proud of work done for the Willow School in Gladstone, New Jersey, which has achieved net zero water, net zero energy and net zero waste—and which is one of only 14 buildings worldwide to achieve Living Buildings certification.

What can individuals do to make a difference?

Switching to LED light bulbs makes a huge difference. If everyone made the switch, a lot of our coal plants could be shut down.

How much time do you spend on your education and training activities?

Around one day a week, or 20 percent of my time.

Why is this so important to you?

Business and the general public need to hear about the benefits of energy efficiency from experienced practitioners. Engineers tend to be good technically, but not so great at communicating. I like to explain things in plain English—in simple terms—so people can understand the benefits.

What advice do you have for students who want to follow your footsteps?

I’d tell them that buildings are responsible for about 40 percent of carbon emissions, and make a huge impact on climate change. It is really, really important to continue to develop new solutions. It’s a motivating, challenging, and extremely important field. But it’s one that if you like what you’re doing, you’ll never work a day. 

It’s an incredibly exciting time. It’s exciting to use the Internet of Things to connect people to buildings through their phones. New energy storage technologies are making a difference. But so much more needs to be done.

What did you do for fun at Rutgers?

I’d talked my high school girlfriend into going to Rutgers, too. We’d spend time together hiking, skiing, and stuff like that. We’re still living happily ever after. 

What do you do for fun these days?

I have many hobbies. I’ve been growing my own hops and brewing my own beer for 25 years. I fly fish for trout and go upland hunting for pheasant, where you watch your dog find the birds. I could do this all day. I have a 13-month pointer puppy that will be going out for the first time this November.

What are you reading these days?

Drawdown: The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Reverse Global Warming by Paul Hawken. He assembled experts from every field to compile the book and offer solutions. Some of the results are surprising.

Where would you go if you could go on a vacation tomorrow?

We’re planning a trip to the high arctic next summer. We’ve also been hitting some of our national parks and would like to see more of them.