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Originally published in Interiors & Sources

07/01/2004

Changing the World

USGBC President and CEO Rick Fedrizzi: One Person’s Journey with Sustainable Buildings

 

PHOTO BY SAM HOLDEN

Rick Fedrizzi, President, CEO, and Founding Chairman at the U.S. Green Building Council

There are grumblings in the commercial buildings industry that green design is simply another fad – a passing fancy hyped by academics and the media. Despite such claims, the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), Washington, D.C., has prospered, spreading its message of the importance of creating profitable, healthy, and environmentally responsible facilities. In fact, the USGBC has been able to successfully show that green building is good business.

Looking at the statistics today, what emerges is the picture of a green building poised to move into mainstream building practice. Certainly there are lingering concerns about first costs and return on investment (ROI), but the USGBC’s accelerating growth is due, in large part, to more and more companies realizing that the environment and the economy can co-exist very profitably and – literally – under one roof. Encouraged by this growth, this non-profit coalition has taken the next step by selecting S. Richard “Rick” Fedrizzi as its new president, CEO, and founding chairman.

“It is a very exciting opportunity to lead the U.S. Green Building Council during this period of exponential growth,” says Fedrizzi. Leaving behind a profitable career, Fedrizzi has made a life commitment to shepherding the council to an ever-higher level and to changing how the buildings community evaluates its facilities.

For more than 25 years, Fedrizzi worked at United Technologies’ Carrier Corp. in Syracuse, NY. During his last decade with the corporation, Fedrizzi helped the company develop a platform for better understanding green design, as well as in the further development of environmentally responsible products. “All of these things were finally taken into account,” recalls Fedrizzi: “How products perform for customers, for their shareholders, and for the environment.”

During this critical period, he learned a great deal from many green design innovators, such as William McDonough, Paul Hawken, John Picard, Bill Browning, and USGBC Founder David Gottfried. Adds Fedrizzi, “They were very gracious in embracing a large manufacturer [that] wanted to learn more and wanted to do the right thing.” Carrier started to look at how its products affected buildings in totality, not just from a heating and cooling perspective.

The Birth of the U.S. Green Building Council

Concerned about the fragmentation of the buildings industry, Fedrizzi joined co-founders David Gottfried and Mike Italiano to create an educational organization that would bring building professionals together to promote sustainable design. In 1993, they formed the U.S. Green Building Council, which today counts 4,700 companies, government agencies, and non-profits among its members.

To advance its mission to transform the built environment, the organization initially focused on outreach and education. However, its comprehensive Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Green Building Rating System™ – a voluntary, consensus-based national standard for rating the environmental performance of new and existing commercial buildings, from office facilities to retail to multi-family housing – has become “the tool” for developing a strong environmental foundation within the facilities industry and the cornerstone of the USGBC.

The LEED rating system was created for the buildings industry by building industry professionals through USGBC’s open, consensus-driven committee process. Each of the committees involved in the development of LEED are drawn from various disciplines and represent expertise in diverse aspects of building design, construction, and operation. The committees consist of passionate, determined volunteers from among USGBC’s membership who devote years to developing, expanding, and updating the rating system.

The LEED rating system is targeted toward the top 25 percent of the marketplace. “We will always push it to that level, and we think there will be a major market adoption,” says Fedrizzi. Currently, the majority of building owners focus on meeting or slightly exceeding building code (75 percent of the current building stock). The council is encouraged that the education process will continue and more building owners will raise the bar.

To further promote green design, the USGBC sponsors the annual GreenBuild International Conference & Expo. This popular event was launched in 2002 to present educational seminars and an exhibit hall of environmentally responsible products and services. Attracting more than 5,200 attendees last year, it has become the definitive center of the green building universe. Featuring workshops, education sessions, master speakers, and more than 400 exhibitors, this year’s convention is scheduled for Portland, OR, November 10-12 (more info at [www.greenbuildexpo.org]).

The Creation of Green Standards

The green industry has grown rapidly and there are now several organizations to support building owners and provide green ratings. Fedrizzi applauds the efforts of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) Energy Star program, a government-backed program for businesses and individuals to support energy efficiency. Additionally, Fedrizzi sees the industry expecting – and shifting – toward a more quantifiable approach to the environment.

One emerging method of quantifying environmental impact for building products is Life Cycle Assessment (LCA). LCA methods take into consideration all key aspects of a product, including recyclability, amount of recycled content, toxicity, energy usage, etc. Manufacturers monitor the origin and transportation of raw materials, manufacturing processes, delivery to customers, and the product’s end of life. This “cradle-to-cradle” approach is a tremendous responsibility for manufacturers, but it is also a tremendous opportunity.

At this stage, there are several competing approaches to LCA measurement, which can make it difficult to compare products. In the next three to five years, as the science and technology that support LCAs advances, the interest in LCA ratings of products will likely increase. Fedrizzi sees a more pronounced focus on a whole life-cycle perspective leading to broader changes: “I believe [that] in the future, businesses will be judged on not only return on investment, but return on resources,” he says.

Productivity, Performance, and Prosperity

“We have many more case studies, much more positive scientific proof that our environments can either help us tremendously or can hurt us in a big way,” says Fedrizzi. According to the Rocky Mountain Institute, Snowmass, CO, several case studies of green design facilities have shown, on average, phenomenal productivity increases from end-users.

“We often talk about productivity and workers and making more money for businesses, but productivity extends to other arenas as well,” says Fedrizzi. The USGBC is concerned with the performance of children in educational facilities with inferior indoor air quality, errant temperature fluctuations, and limited access to natural light. Adds Fedrizzi, “With many schools, we are sending our kids off to a prison every morning, and expecting them to come home with A’s and B’s.”

In addition to end-users’ performance, green building design also positively impacts individuals’ health and sense of well-being. “People in healthcare facilities are showing marked improvement during recovery due to access to natural light and views of nature,” explains Fedrizzi. From interior plants to daylighting, building owners and facilities managers are learning how sustainable design can enhance patients’ and staff members’ experiences within the built environment.

Over the past decade, more building owners have acquired a growing awareness of environmental issues and the LEED certification process. The USGBC website (www.usgbc.org) is an excellent source for overall green building design information and directs building professionals to local sources of information, including the organization’s growing list of 66 national chapters. USGBC’s chapters represent the council at the local level collaborating with developers, building owners, architects, engineers, and other professionals involved in our built environment.

LEED on the Local Level

Vital centers of activity, these USGBC chapters have been able to significantly grow the number of green building projects. Chapters in New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, Arkansas, Phoenix, San Francisco, Dallas, Boston, Pittsburgh, and the Pacific Northwest – to name just a few – have worked tirelessly to promote commercial green building practices, education, and advocacy in their regions.

Local chapters serve as an educational delivery system to the knowledge-hungry marketplace. Organizations can join the USGBC at the national level and then individuals within these organizations can join the chapters at the local level. As well as offering education, the chapters are vibrant centers of information-sharing.

Ever believe that LEED opportunities (i.e., points) are bound by geographical regions? As of June 2004, there were more than 1,400 LEED-certified and -registered projects in 50 states, with Pennsylvania and California boasting the largest number of certified projects. The buildings and their locations are as diverse as USGBC’s membership – ranging from rural wineries in Oregon to high-rise apartment buildings in New York City. “The beauty of the LEED program is its flexibility,” Fedrizzi adds.

Thriving and Growing

Once a building receives a LEED certification as a New Construction or Commercial Interiors project, it retains that rating although the rating system may subsequently evolve as new innovations are incorporated into its structure. Only LEED for Existing Buildings (LEED-EB), which is focused on ongoing building operations and maintenance, includes a recertification process every five years.

Initially, achieving a LEED certification for a facility was a costly endeavor. Over the past three years, the cost of LEED certification has decreased significantly because so many more consultants understand how to achieve LEED credits more efficiently.

Concerns over costs plagued the green movement, yet this concern is being replaced with a focus on building performance. “Clearly, the best green building projects we’ve seen are the ones that are owner-occupied,” notes Fedrizzi. Building owners, such as The Durst Organization, New York City, are investing in the long-term performance of their buildings, especially regarding energy conservation and marketability. The Durst Organization created the celebrated green building Four Times Square and is planning for an exemplary new building, One Bryant Park.

“REITs (Real Estate Investment Trusts), which traditionally have been some of the most conservative real estate institutions, are starting to look at green building as a big part of where they want to go with their portfolios because this shows stability and long-term value,” says Fedrizzi.

More than a rating system, LEED is a training program that allows building owners and design professionals to understand and to contribute to the changing future of design. “Organizations that have embraced LEED consistently share that the experience improves their ability to design and construct all their building projects,” says Fedrizzi. “It demonstrates the strategic role that facility planning and operations has for the company as a whole, and it gives them a broader insight into their impact on the community, and on the world.”

The LEED program has expanded, and the USGBC is anticipating the public release of two systems currently in pilot: LEED for Commercial Interiors (LEED-CI) and LEED for Existing Buildings (LEED-EB).

The newly created LEED-CI rating system is directed toward tenant improvement and interior renovation projects. This rating system addresses:

  • Selection of sustainable tenant space.
  • Efficiency of water usage.
  • Energy performance optimization, including lamps and lighting controls.
  • Resource utilization for interior building systems and furnishings.
  • Indoor environmental quality, including comprehensive emissions criteria.

LEED-CI will complement the USGBC’s LEED for Core & Shell (LEED-CS) Rating System, currently under development by the organization’s member committees for use by commercial real estate and speculative developers. Created to serve the needs of owners who lease space to tenants, it provides incentives for LEED-CI-certified tenant fit-outs. Together, LEED-CI and LEED-CS will establish green building criteria in commercial office real estate for use by developers, tenants, and design professionals.

The much-heralded LEED-EB rating system helps building owners reduce operating costs and ensure consistent high performance through green process improvements and upgrades. This system, which is scheduled to be publicly released in fourth quarter of this year, addresses:

  • Whole-building cleaning and maintenance issues, including chemical use.
  • Ongoing indoor air quality.
  • Energy efficiency.
  • Water efficiency.
  • Recycling programs and facilities.
  • Exterior maintenance programs.
  • Systems upgrades to meet green building energy, water, indoor air quality, and lighting performance standards.

Each of the new LEED systems has its own development committee, and these committees can take years to develop a new rating system. Concurrently, the LEED rating systems are always being revisited and updated. “LEED will always be a moving target, because the minute that new technologies or ideas enter the marketplace, LEED has to be upgraded,” says Fedrizzi. “We’ll be continually thriving and growing in the process.”

Forming New Alliances

Although the USGBC is a non-profit organization, the coalition’s growth is akin to a thriving start-up company. Currently, the USGBC has 4,700 members with 60 to 150 new members joining each month. Fedrizzi served as the council’s first (and founding) chairman and developed a lifelong passion for green design.

In response to the growing interest in high-performance green buildings, the USGBC’s staff is expanding as well. Due to the USGBC’s daunting workload, the coalition’s national staff has nearly doubled in the past 12 months.

The council will continue its collaboration with other environmentally concerned organizations and form new alliances. “Our future is to really understand the agendas of our building partners,” says Fedrizzi. Drawing on his extensive business experience, Fedrizzi is planning to create much closer links with other building industry organizations and understand their goals.

Passion describes the commitment the staff and board members of the USGBC bring to the green building movement. “This is about people who are passionately committed to changing the world and doing something positive. The more you know about it, the more you realize it is just common sense,” says Fedrizzi. For thousands of years, buildings have been constructed to adapt to their environments and to take the best advantage of nature. “You would think as we progressed as a society, our buildings would only get better,” he notes. “Unfortunately, the 1970s happened and we focused on bigger, cheaper, quicker.” Fedrizzi urges building owners and the A&D community to define quality based on overall building performance.

“Because of my corporate training, I always have an eye on the economics and the bottom-line performance of green building opportunities,” says Fedrizzi. In the coming years, Fedrizzi plans to draw from his 25 years of corporate experience and detail for building owners the economic feasibility of green buildings. Each new project reveals new proof of the return on investment of sustainable design.

Changing the World One Building at a Time

Across the country and around the globe, green design conferences have sprung up and new environmentally responsible buildings are being constructed each day. In China, there has been a tremendous push to develop sustainable building standards. And in India, some of the most advanced green buildings are being constructed. Headquartered in North Sydney, Australia, the World Green Building Council was formed in 1998 to promote to the world building industry the advancement of sustainability.

Not a passing fad, sustainable design is an enduring change in how we build, a new way of measuring buildings and creating value. Fedrizzi is proud to have been a part of this remarkable change and is excited about the opportunities ahead in creating new alliances and further promoting the concepts of green design and building performance.

Time-consuming? Yes. Challenging? Yes. But a true market transformation doesn’t come along in every lifetime. Fulfilling? Yes.

Most importantly, the wisdom and perspective to recognize it can come from surprising places – particularly from Fedrizzi’s home in Syracuse. When discussing how both the opportunities and commitments would affect his family, recalls Fedrizzi, “My teenage son said, ‘But, Dad, how many people can say they are really changing the world?’ ”

Who of us could argue with that?

Regina Raiford Babcock (regina.raifordbabcock@buildingsmedia.com) is senior editor at Buildings magazine.

 

 
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