Maria T. Vargas is a Senior Program Advisor and the Director of DOE’s Better Buildings Initiative. Through Better Buildings, DOE works with leaders in the public and private sectors to make U.S. buildings at least 20 percent more efficient in the next decade. Hundreds of chief executive officers, university presidents, and state and local leaders are partnering with DOE, upgrading buildings across their portfolios, and sharing innovative solutions and strategies as models for others to follow. Prior to her work at DOE, Ms. Vargas was the Brand Manager for the ENERGY STAR program for almost 20 years while at the US Environmental Protection Agency. She has been involved in policy work on the issues of ozone depletion, global climate change, and related environmental and energy issues since 1985. Ms. Vargas received a Bachelor’s degree from Swarthmore College (Swarthmore, PA) in Political Science and Economics and a Master’s degree from the University of Oregon (Eugene, Oregon) and was inducted in the Energy Efficiency Hall of Fame in 2014. As of 2019, she is a DOE Lead Ambassador for the U.S. C3E.
What inspired you to work in STEM?
I am passionate about protecting our environment. Energy efficiency is the cheapest, cleanest and fastest way to meet our Nation’s energy needs while creating jobs, saving money and protecting our environment. On average, buildings in America can save 20-30% on their energy bills—cost effectively. That is a huge opportunity for our country. And one that everyone can agree on.
What excites you about your work at the Energy Department?
I am excited about the opportunity we have to make a difference and indeed, what we have been able to achieve by working together. Given the tremendous potential to save energy, money and our environment thru energy efficiency, I am most proud of the partnerships we have formed to work together. Through both ENERGY STAR and Better Buildings, the US government has worked successfully with the private sector and with municipal and State governments to drive action and results that have saved hundreds of millions of dollars and prevented needless air pollution.
How can our country engage more women, girls, and other underrepresented groups in STEM?
There are so many opportunities for those pursing a STEM education to have a real impact. Profiling the work and leadership that women are demonstrating in this field is vital to encourage others to join. I am proud of the work DOE is doing through the C3E program to raise the visibility for women in clean energy and look forward to doing even in the coming years. Seeing what is possible is an important first step.
Do you have tips you'd recommend for someone looking to enter your field of work?
My advice is to know the facts, understand the potential, pay attention to the customer and never underestimate the influence one person – or a small team of people—can have in making a difference.