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Marine veteran sees the light with successful energy-audit company

From Military Families Magazine – militaryfamilies.com

Chris Rawlings was a contractor working for Northrop Grumman when he, in his words, “got into energy.”

“Aircraft maintenance work had slowed down,” recalls the 37-year-old Marine combat veteran. “My bosses came to me and asked if I could find some things to save money and reduce costs. So, I started taking a look around the building, at the lighting fixtures, HVAC, leaking air hoses, and I thought, well, there’s a lot of money out the door right there.”

Today, with a team that includes his wife, Jessica, and father Don, Rawlings serves as the president and CEO of the Richmond, Virginia-based Bowerbird Energy. With a five-person staff and various subcontractors, Bowerbird does large-scale energy audits, designing, building and managing energy projects that create healthier buildings, generate savings and reduce carbon emissions.

Formerly known as VeteranLED, Bowerbird has consulted on a wide range of building projects —nursing homes, museums, schools, manufacturing centers — and worked with large national clients ranging from The Gap clothing chain to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, even NATO.

Rawlings says Bowerbird’s approach cuts across political and corporate divides.

“If you are speaking the language of saving money,” he said, “you are speaking bi-partisan language.”

Rawlings, twice deployed to Iraq in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom, is a pied piper for LED lighting, and much of Bowerbird’s business comes from retrofitting buildings with cheaper, more environmentally friendly LED technology.

“A lot of what we still do is education,” he said. “We talk about how changing from compact fluorescent or incandescent bulbs to LED can really add up to savings, for example.”

In seven years, Bowerbird has grown to become an ESCO-certified Energy Services Company, branching out into alt-power storage, electric vehicle maintenance and air quality control.

“Chris has really put in the hard work to build the business,” said Jessica, who is Bowerbird’s principal consultant. The couple met just as Bowerbird was getting launched, when Rawlings was working as a bartender at night and, as he says, “selling light bulbs door to door.”

“My wife has been very successful in her corporate role, working in HR, but on her off time, she guides and directs me and the company on certain things, like hiring and retaining folks,” Rawlings said.

In other words, Jessica does Bowerbird’s own energy audits. “Yes,” he laughed. “A different kind of energy.”

With a 2-year-old daughter, Scarlett, and another on the way, the Rawlings house is a busy one — “we like it that way,” said Jessica. She works full time for Cognizant, a major IT consulting firm that helps Fortune 500 companies like Capital One, Anthem and Merrill Lynch.

“It’s so rewarding to see him really flourish and grow the business,” she said. “He gives me credit for pushing him to do this full time, but I think he would’ve done it anyway.”

Jessica says serving in the military helped her husband.

“It’s the work ethic,” she said. “Chris will tell you himself, he was not a good student growing up. He didn’t do well in school. He didn’t focus, and I think the military taught him how to do that. Now he pushes himself and excels in problem-solving.”

Since 2019, Rawlings has taken on another role — talk show host. He now oversees the Energy Sense podcast, which spotlights different aspects of the alternative energy trade. One interesting episode of the show, which is available on iTunes, Spotify and other podcast networks, takes a deep dive into why so many former military officers, like Rawlings, go into the energy field when they leave the service.

Rawlings thinks that since energy plays such a big role in our national defense, it’s another way for vets to serve.

“With oil and fuel and transportation, energy is very closely related to politics and the wars we’ve been in,” he said, speaking to the potential benefits of alternative energy. “Being a Marine in Iraq, we’ve all heard the horror stories of IEDs, the largest killer of air soldiers and Marines. A lot of times we are transporting fuel sources to and from areas when we encounter those. But if we can potentially reduce the amount of convoys on the ground in combat zones by building microgrids and energy solutions, we can save lives.”