Those of us who advocate for sustainability and work to find solutions to address the challenges of climate change come from backgrounds as diverse as humanity itself. Some are driven by a belief in the power of technology. Others by more personal reasons — a desire to ensure a healthy future for their children perhaps or right past wrongs. David Gatcha, REV’s director of sales for Orange & Riverside Counties, may fall into the latter.
Below, he shares his personal story, from the coal mines of Pennsylvania to helping establish an electric car infrastructure and guiding businesses toward a more sustainable future.
What’s your relationship with the coal industry?
I grew up halfway between Philadelphia and New York City, in anthracite coal country in northeast Pennsylvania. Anthracite was prized because it is harder and burns “cleaner” and longer than bituminous coal (which is mined in Ohio, Kentucky, and West Virginia). I have seen firsthand the effects of strip and underground coal mining on the local families, environment, economic opportunities, and quality of life.
We had piles of shale and rock the size of mountains strewn across the Wyoming Valley in PA. They were called culm banks. It was all the stuff that wouldn’t burn. My dad remembers picking through these piles to find pieces of shinier coal to use for heating and cooking. The Susquehanna River is still poisoned with mercury, acid mine runoff, benzene and other mining contaminants.
The 1959 Knox Mine Disaster, where 12 men died and local municipalities used railway boxcars and cement to plug the breach in the river floor, effectively killed most of the coal mining operations in the area. Nothing has ever replaced the industry, leaving generations of families employed and in economic despair.
Between 1850-1950 an average of 3 miners died every week in Pennsylvania. Both of my grandfathers worked in the mines. A cave in and skull fracture claimed the life of my paternal grandfather in 1942. My dad was still an infant. The coal company put my grandfather’s body in a pine box, rang my grandmother’s doorbell, and dropped the body on the porch. Then they walked away.
My maternal grandfather started working in the mines at age 12 as a miner’s apprentice. In later years, he suffered from black lung so badly that he was unable to climb a flight of stairs without gasping for air. My interest in sustainability, fossil fuel alternatives, energy efficiency, and green technologies has therefore been a lifelong passion and pursuit. It is my dream to get people to walk away from coal like coal walked away from my grandmother.
How did you become involved in sustainability?
I joined REV after working as an Account Executive with Healthy Buildings. I specialized in LEED project management, building commissioning, and commercial water/energy audits. Prior to that, I placed over 450 electric vehicle charging stations around southern California. Done in conjunction with the US Department of Energy, the EV Project was the largest rollout of electric vehicle charging infrastructure to date.
I have facilitated projects ranging from ASHRAE energy audits to Title-24/fundamental/retro commissioning, Energy Star, LEED Certification, indoor air quality monitoring, corporate sustainability, and energy modeling. I graduated with BAs in History and Organizational Behavior & Management from Brown University where I was named an All-Ivy League Defensive End. Later I earned an MBA locally in Organizational Leadership from Ashford University in Rancho Bernardo.
What is it about working with REV that motivates you?
I love both the sustainability and the educational components of the Sustainability Circle program. While I have my own reasons for being sustainable, I like to see the ways in which different organizations utilize the information we provide, and the ideas they come up with. In one recent San Diego Circle, I saw an aeronautical company give great sustainable recommendations to a restaurant. Looking at a problem with a fresh set of eyes can be very surprising and beneficial.
Why do you think it’s particularly important for businesses and communities to focus on sustainability?
It’s more than just saving the world. A large number of Americans don’t believe in climate change or anything with the words “green” or “environmental” in them. That is fine. There are many more reasons why this is imperative for organizations. Attracting millennials, retaining tenants or employees, lower stress, increased productivity and employee engagement, and reduced absenteeism, energy, and waste are some of those reasons. And there are of course many more.
Have you run into any surprises?
I was surprised that so many organizations can save so much money doing this. Sustainability is not always some developmental or emerging technology. I always say that 80% of what I do is the same thing my parents told me when I was young. Close the door to the refrigerator. Shut the lights off when you leave the room. Shut the front door when the heat or air conditioning is on. These concepts still resonate with organizations. No one wants to overspend or waste resources. Businesses exist to make money, not throw it out the window.
Again, I have my own reasons why I believe in sustainability. Fossil fuel production had extremely adverse effects on the lives of my parents, grandparents, and neighbors. A majority of the most stressful jobs involve fossil fuel production and extraction. However, I don’t care why organizations become sustainable. As long as they do. It is a win-win situation regardless.
What kind of future do you see?
The future is very promising. Changing from dirty and dangerous sources of energy to clean and renewable energy is not an easy task. I use a whale oil analogy. Whale oil lamps worked well to provide light. However, they also destroyed an entire ecosystem, resulted in poor health due to indoor air quality, and caused numerous fires. It took 40 years for 40% of America to get electricity. But that doesn’t mean that it shouldn’t have been done because it was too difficult.
Last year a bill requiring California’s state pension funds (Calpers and CalSTRS) to sell their investments in coal companies passed the state legislature. Also there are currently more workers in the solar industry than those mining coal, so the jobs argument doesn’t hold water anymore.
Americans are tough, hardworking, and resourceful. They can adapt to change like they did with electric light over whale oil. Renewable energy production has built a better mousetrap, and the job numbers prove it. It is time to leave the coal where it belongs and work in safer, cleaner industries that honor the triple bottom line.
To learn more about David’s work with REV, email him or give him a call at 760-642-9829.