Thinking Green: One person CAN make a difference in the thinking of an organization

I have been talking to a lot of people in our industry about moving forward to green design and to LEED certification of projects; a lot of the response I have been getting is that I WANT to incorporate that or advise that BUT my company doesn’t do that or my client doesn’t ask for that or it is too expensive to do that.

I would like to say to all those people that one person CAN make a difference in the thinking of an organization, if you are truly passionate about your cause. If you are ready to lead, take on the responsibility and the workload in the beginning, you CAN make a difference.

Start with one project, one client and one green suggestion to see how it will cause a domino effect. All you need to do is take the first step. An example of this is North Shore Long Island Jewish Health systems Facilities Department. Here one man, Neil Rosen, started the first domino piece to fall and changed the thinking of that organization for the betterment of the environment and the health of the employees and patients of that hospital system.

Neil has worked in the industry for over 25 years, he is the father of 3, and he is passionate about sustainable design and is working towards protecting the planet for his children’s future. In mid 2008 he was able to sell the idea to the leadership of one of his projects that the project should be LEED certified. He was not a LEED AP at the time and still pushed in that direction (He has become a LEED AP since then). He took on the lead role, but found that people around him were willing to help and take on responsibility too. There are people out there that have the same passion as us but are not willing to take that first step.

He has proven to NSLIJ that LEED Certifying a project is an insignificant cost to the overall project and only is beneficial to the environment and the health of the employees' and patients' of the hospital system. Also, he has proven that by following the LEED guidelines it has made it easier to manage a project & that it has become the way to do business.

In less than one year, he has had great achievements, by already getting 9 projects to be registered for LEED Certification, while being the lead administrator for 4 of them. The other projects at the moment have LEED consultants. But he has also proven to the leaders of the facilities department the importance of LEED knowledge to going green and now all employees, from Designers, Architects to Project Managers are required to be LEED Accredited Professionals.

All it takes is one person's passion to start the process. You can make a difference, we all can, all you need is the will and you will find a way.

Below is the interview with Neil Rosen, AIA, LEED AP and Project Director at NSLIJ Health Systems. He is also the Chairman of the Healthcare Committee of USGBC LI chapter.

Q: Can I have a brief history on your background and what made you first want to become a LEED AP?
• For more than 25 years I have spent my career building Hospitals. While I started out wanting to build buildings, I quickly became enamored with the building of healing environments. Building sustainably is a natural offshoot from that. Patients while in a Hospital are at their most vulnerable. I take great pride in providing the best environment possible to those people. Extending that concern beyond my primary work to the greater community was an easy jump. It’s actually part of the Hippocratic Oath to do no harm to the community. I plan on taking that to the next level, helping to repair some of the harm that has already been done. I feel that as an Architect and a Builder I can multiply my impact by making the structures that I build and renovate as environmentally responsible as I can. Hopefully, I’m doing a little something to help the greater good.

Q: How did you find the time to study for it with your busy schedule, working full time and being a dad?
• For me it was twofold. Having pushed so hard for the Greening of the Health System, I had to pass just to save face. More important was that I was studying for something that I was, am and will always be doing for the greater good of our environment. How as a dad could I not do everything in my power to give my children everything I can, including a better environment for them to live in, raise their children in etc.?

Q: Did you find it was easier to take the test as you worked on a LEED project before taking it, and do you recommend that?
• I find it a mixed bag. Learning the intent and process is much easier while you are working on a project, however, you tend to dismiss portion of the guide that are not applicable to your project. It’s hard to learn the pieces that don’t fit into the puzzle you are working on.

Q: How did you convince your organization to first register a project, as you were not a LEED AP as of yet? What obstacles did you face in the process, what obstacles are you still facing and how did you sell it to them as more projects are registered to date?
• I took it upon myself to just do it. It’s something I feel is important and I wasn’t going to take no for an answer. I attribute some of my success to choosing the right project to start with. The first project I registered was The Katz Women’s Hospital at North Shore. Knowing that the demographic for the clientele for this program were interested in Green, it made it easier for me to sell the idea to leadership. The merits of the effort more than overcame the fact that I was not yet accredited. I also believe that the knowledge of the accreditation process by the leadership was limited at that time. The most difficult selling point is the thought that LEED is expensive. More and more I hear that it might make sense to build sustainably but not to go for the certification. My response to this has been that the cost of LEED is almost entirely filling fees, in reality an insignificant cost to the overall project. It is like studying really hard for a test, but not bothering to take the test.

Q: Are all projects registered managed by you or are others on board as well, if so how did that happen?
• For projects that I am personally responsible for I am the Project Team Administrator. Currently that accounts for 4 of the registered projects. The remaining projects are utilizing outsourced LEED consultants. As a system, we are striving to bring all of this work in house. To that end, it has become mandatory that all of the Design staff become accredited. To make it happen, I started with the one’s that were mine and showed that it was achievable. There seems to be an underlying perception that this is too difficult to accomplish. By disproving the perception, I was able to achieve buy in from senior leadership.

Q: What are the projects that are registered, what LEED rating are you trying to achieve, how big are they?
• Currently, there are 9 Registered Projects, ranging from $5 Million to $300 Million. Anticipated rating ranges from Certified to Platinum.

Q: Do you find it more difficult to be working on a LEED certified project then a normal project? What are the differences in your experience?
• All in all it’s about record keeping. In healthcare design and construction we are used to code restrictions and guidelines. If you look at sustainable construction as one of the regulations that you need to follow it simply becomes the way you do business. For me, it would be harder to do a project without following the LEED guidelines than with.

Q: Can you give some advice to others who would want to have their firm start implementing this change?
• The easiest thing is to pick one project, register the project and go for the certification. Take the ball and run with it. At the onset, you will be putting a lot on your own shoulders but you will find that as others see what you’re doing, they will jump in to help. Different folks will help you for different reasons, but accept the help from all comers. You will soon find that once you start to get some momentum there will be no turning back.

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