Rick Fedrizzi boarded the green bandwagon when it was more murmur than movement, when builders quietly experimented with energy-efficient technology while businesses saw green initiatives mostly as an obstacle to producing profit.
In 1992, Fedrizzi shifted the bandwagon into overdrive when Carrier’s new CEO named him director of environmental marketing, tasking him with re-branding the company’s products as green. He accepted under the condition the company actually make its products more sustainable instead of just saying they were (a strategy known as 'greenwashing'). From 1992 to 1995, Carrier increased its market share and saw revenues grow $700 million. That’s when Fedrizzi learned he could be a successful businessman while still caring about the environment.
With his success at Carrier, Fedrizzi worked with David Gottfried and Michael Italiano to found the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) in 1993. Fedrizzi wanted other businesses to see that being green and being profitable were not mutually exclusive.
“You can act responsibly, use less resources, and use them more intelligently, and your return on investment and your reward from your shareholders, your board, your employees, and your community is tenfold,” he says.
It was that realization that set Fedrizzi out to change the world. What he’s accomplished with that unrelenting mission since then is why he is this year’s recipient of The Hanley Foundation’s Hanley Award for Vision and Leadership in Sustainability.
Building a Community
Throughout the ’90s, Fedrizzi continued to work at Carrier, and the company allowed him to spend roughly 25% of his time advancing green building initiatives outside of the organization. Fedrizzi became so well known in this sphere that then-President Bill Clinton invited him to join 60 professionals to make the White House more energy efficient and sustainable.
What Fedrizzi became most known for in the green community at the time was hosting green building events on behalf of Carrier. The Carrier Global Engineering conferences were centered around bringing together leaders of sustainability in every corner of the built environment to learn from each other.
Bob Fox, a partner at New York–based CookFox Architects, remembers attending these events. Fox met Fedrizzi through their work on 4 Times Square, which, when it was completed in 1999, was heralded as one of the first green skyscrapers of the modern era. Fox remembers watching Fedrizzi and being enamored by his ability to facilitate collaboration among the industry’s brightest innovators.
“It was Rick’s remarkable ability to find these [innovative] people, bring them together, and to give them an opportunity to learn through each other,” Fox says.
A Living Standard
Fedrizzi brought that same community-building approach to the USGBC when the board named him CEO in 2004.
LEED launched in 2000 as one of the first issuer of green building certifications. When Fedrizzi took the helm, he vowed to grow the platform. Today, 70,000 commercial projects across the globe have been LEED certified, along with more than 200,000 residential units.
LEED has been credited with ushering in the green movement by getting businesses, developers, and architects to invest time, money, and energy into better practices. As a design tool, LEED allowed project managers to see a list of sustainable features they could add to a project, which they may not have done without LEED’s guidance.
Recently, LEED has come under criticism for being what it is meant to be: a design tool. Other standards and certification have transitioned the national focus from design to performance. Fedrizzi and his team at the USGBC then developed the LEED Dynamic Plaque, which follows how LEED buildings are performing after completion.
“This will be a great indicator if people see their performance going off after time. It could mean their filters are dirty, their employees are not providing the same amount of care with turning their computers off or using plug loads properly, and so forth,” says Fedrizzi.
Brendan Owens, USGBC chief of engineering, has spent the past 12 years working with Fedrizzi. In that time, Owens says his boss has been the guiding light for the organization. “There’s an enthusiasm. There’s a commitment that’s obvious. There’s a level of desire that he has that is infectious,” says Owens. “Nobody wants to let him down because he’s so authentic and optimistic and hopeful.”
One of Fedrizzi’s biggest passions has been the advent of the Center for Green Schools in 2010. Schools were largely left out of USGBC’s initial efforts, which Fedrizzi found unacceptable. If he were helping to build a better, more sustainable world, leaving out the buildings where children learn about that world wasn’t an option. He says he wants children to “be inspired by the beauty and comfort of the building around them.”
Since its establishment, the Center for Green Schools has helped form the Congressional Green Schools Caucus, the 50 bipartisan state Green Schools caucuses, and the Mayors Alliance for Green Schools. It also hosts Green Schools Fellows programs that embed sustainability experts in school districts, and launched the Global Coalition for Green Schools, which is now operating in 40 countries.
Through the center, the USGBC is working to develop the William Jefferson Clinton Children’s Center, the world’s first LEED-certified orphanage in Haiti. Fedrizzi will donate the $50,000 grant from the Hanley Award to this effort.
Still More to Do
Fedrizzi reflects on the past 40 years with a settled pride of a man who’s about to retire. Last year, he announced he would leave the USGBC. “I wanted to just join some boards and take a more relaxed approach to the next, hopefully, 25 years of my life,” he says. “That didn’t quite happen.”
After three weeks on the couch post-surgery earlier this year, Fedrizzi knew he was too young to accept the lifestyle of a man who was done because he’s not done. In November, he will join the International Well Building Institute as chairman and CEO, with hopes that he can transfer his success with LEED to the institute’s WELL Building Standard.
In making the transition from green building to healthy building, Fedrizzi has been thinking about his father, an offset printer, who died at 54 from a brain tumor.
“The smell of the inks and dyes and whatever is used in the printing products was the most intense toxic smell you can imagine,” he recalls of visiting his dad at work. “No one checked the air quality, no one checked the ventilation, no one checked anything. My dad and his colleagues spent almost 20 years of their lives, six days a week, breathing that stuff in.”
As he walks through schools and offices today, that’s what Fedrizzi thinks about—the chemical smells from cleaners, the lack of ventilation, the inoperable windows. However, it’s largely because of him and the USGBC that those buildings have access to products that make them more efficient, healthy environments, says Center for Green Schools director Rachel Gutter.
Fedrizzi recognizes progress is slow and that it may be 20 to 50 years before some of these problems are resolved, but his efforts so far in solving yesterday’s problems have made it possible for us to instead focus on solving the problems of tomorrow.