An efficient—and effective—negotiator

Tom Werkema ’69


Fall 2012

The new house on Fort Loudoun Lake—part of the Tennessee River system—is the most energy-efficient in the area. It should be. After all, the builder and owner is Tom Werkema ’69, a chemical engineering major who has spent a significant part of his professional life in international negotiations involving energy efficiency.

“You have to practice what you preach,” said Werkema, who devised two geothermal liquid-loop systems so that groundwater keeps his house cool in the summer—and he runs the system backward in the winter to produce heat.

“Much more efficient than traditional air conditioning and heating,” he reported.

The Werkemas recently moved from Philadelphia where he “retired” from Arkema, a France-based international chemical company. While he began in more traditional engineering settings at businesses in Niagara Falls, N.Y., and Muskegon, Mich., Werkema moved to the East Coast for Arkema in 1987 and was asked by the company to do an entirely different kind of work: government advocacy—to become a lobbyist for the fluorocarbon industry (air conditioning, refrigeration, insulation and the like). International conferences on energy and climate change were part of the deal.

“This new calling was God’s will working in my life,” he said. “My boss told me to ‘try this other thing,’ and it turned out to be a door to international negotiations and much broader societal influence than I could have imagined at Calvin.”

In 1987, the Unites States and other countries signed the Montreal Protocol, which committed nations to reduce ozone-depleting chemicals. There are now 197 signatories and the process has been successful in phasing out the use of many harmful substances.

A key to the success of the Montreal Protocol was the funding secured to pay countries to do phaseouts of the chemicals; Werkema was “uniquely placed,” he said, to negotiate the availability of this funding.

“Montreal set the stage for positive change, but we needed to get better, to make sure we were not depleting the ozone at all,” said Werkema. “New technologies have helped, but currently the best options are greenhouse gases.” Today’s challenge is to keep improving equipment to lessen greenhouse consequences.

He began a new phase of his work at international negotiations in 1993 by being part of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change. The Kyoto Protocol was signed in 1997, with 191 countries officially signing on—but the treaty was never ratified in the United States, and Canada renounced the protocol in 2011. Werkema and international colleagues continued to work toward international cooperation, and the IPCC, along with former Vice President Al Gore, shared the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize for building awareness of the dangers of manmade climate change.

“It is fun to tell people that although technically I did share in the winning of the Nobel Prize, all I physically received was a really cool poster. Al got $832,000,” he said.

He continues to travel the world to help negotiate international agreements and estimates that he’s been to 55 countries and covered over 1 million miles during his career as an energy diplomat.

Another leadership role has come to him through the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE). Werkema was named a director-at-large in 2009 and is now a vice president of the board.

“We have 53,000 corporate members in ASHRAE, with over 9,000 of them outside North America,” said Werkema. “The Middle East is getting very interested in what we’re doing, and Kuwait now has member corporations. Saudi Arabia may be next.”

ASHRAE is currently involved in revising commercial building standards in the States and has  global influence in this area as well.

“This has been my mission in life,” said Werkema. “God has called me to something special, and negotiating internationally on the greenhouse effect and dealing with energy efficiency is far beyond anything I could dream of doing.”

As to the endless debates about whether there is such a thing as climate change, Werkema said he circumvents the conversation by asking the question, “If we keep working on more energy-efficient strategies, we’re going to eventually save money, so why not do so?”

“I do not consider myself an environmentalist,” he said. “I do believe I can significantly reduce my footprint on this earth. God gave each of us a responsibility as stewards, and paying attention to God’s creation means saving energy.”