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SEDAC: Landscape Architecture’s Public Engagement Powerhouse

Cassie Carrol | Brian Deal | Todd Rusk | Sengavi Thirupathy

How does the Department of Landscape Architecture at Illinois reach out to communities and help them become more sustainable? The Smart Energy Design Assistance Center (SEDAC) is the department’s public engagement powerhouse. Founded in 2004 by Professor Brian Deal, SEDAC is a public-private partnership between the Department of Landscape Architecture and 360 Energy Group, a private consulting firm in Chicago. SEDAC’s mission is to decrease the energy footprint of the State of Illinois through outreach, education, and research.

Helpful Advice. Powerful Savings.

SEDAC provides design assistance to help people understand the energy side of the built environment. “We send people to analyze buildings, come back, do analysis and try to come up with the best strategies to get people to reduce their energy footprint,” explains Brian Deal, SEDAC’s Executive Director. SEDAC considers the energy side of other aspects of the built environment as well, such as shade trees and solar installations, and helps communities with long-range energy planning. Since 2004, SEDAC has provided technical assistance for over 2,700 facilities, saving Illinois businesses and communities well over $300 million, and bringing in energy savings equivalent to CO2 emissions from all of the households in Boston for one year.

Community Education. Student Training.

SEDAC also educates communities, helping them take the next step towards energy efficiency. As Cassie Carroll, SEDAC’s Marketing Director explains, more people know about energy efficiency these days, but “navigating the different programs and services that are available is still tricky.” SEDAC has presented at over 500 workshops and events, raising awareness about energy efficient strategies and programs.

Student interns and recent grads are involved in all aspects of SEDAC’s work. “Students come here to learn. We train them, show them how to do it, and get them some experience. Then they go off and get jobs in other places. I’m really proud of that,” says Brian. Former students are employed in the clean energy industry worldwide.

Learn more about SEDAC at

I’m Brian Deal and I’m the executive director of the Smart Energy Design Assistance Center on the University of Illinois campus in Champaign-Urbana.

I started the center in 2004 with a small grant from the state of Illinois to look at how they help make small businesses in Illinois competitive. My idea for helping maintain competitiveness was to reduce our operational costs, which generally means energy.

Our mission is to reduce the state of Illinois’ energy footprint. We do that by sending people to analyze buildings and do analysis to figure out the best strategies for helping them reduce their energy footprint.

Cassie Carrol, SEDAC Marketing Director: “The conversation has changed a lot since I started working in the sustainability field. It first started out as energy efficiency and people would say, ‘I’m not sure what that means or what that looks like,’ but now even people say, ‘aren’t those curly cue light bulbs?’ or ‘can’t I do things with my heating and cooling to save energy?’ So, people are starting to really understand, but I think navigating all of the different programs and services available is still tricky to a lot of folks.”

Todd Rusk, SEDAC Operations Director: “One of the things that we’re really interested in is communities: how they can realize their other sustainability goals and their climate action goals. What a lot of communities seem to want are what we can do right now and then what we should be thinking about over the next five to ten years.”

The connection to landscape architecture is where the activity of decision-making takes place and takes shape in the built environment. SEDAC brings that evaluative quality to understanding the energy side of that design component.

Cassie Carrol, SEDAC Marketing Director: “So I think that thinking about energy efficiency design is something that is continually evolving in a lot of organizations. There’s a balance between designing for a purpose and designing for the functionality of the building, designing for efficiency and for working in public sector facilities.”

We train a lot of people, we get a lot of students, we get a lot of recent grads who are looking to get into the energy arena, and they come here to learn. We train them, show them how to do it, get them some experience, and then they go off and find jobs in other places. I’m really proud of that.

Sengavi Thirupathy, SEDAC Student Intern: “SEDAC has been helping pave my career path. It’s been a huge learning process because what I learned in class I could see it actually happening. In the future, I’d like to probably start my own firm here or in India because we don’t have exposure to such things in India. We’re not thinking about having energy efficient buildings right now, we are just thinking about building efficient buildings.”   

Cassie Carrol, SEDAC Marketing Director: To have that immersive experience not only in a workplace setting but also hands-on with a client or customer and helping them through that decision-making process of moving forward on energy efficiency is so valuable for students. That’s really one of the things I’m most proud of about SEDAC – the experience that we provide that equips students for a better future once they leave the university.