Q&A with USGBC’s Mahesh Ramanujan
His biography sketch describes new US Green Building Council President and CEO Mahesh Ramanujan as having a clear vision for the continuing evolution of the green building and sustainability movement: True global market transformation for the built environment can be achieved through building healthier, more sustainable communities where buildings perform at a higher level and human health and wellness is prioritized and enhanced.
Mahesh graduated from India’s Annamalai University with a degree in Computer Engineering. Before becoming President and CEO, Mahesh served as USGBC’s chief operating officer, and prior to that, served as USGBC’s chief information officer. Prior to joining GBCI in 2009, Mahesh was COO of Emergys Corp., a business technology-consulting firm that leverages emerging technologies to deliver business transformation to its clients. Mahesh took time out from his busy schedule to respond to this query.
Lance A. Williams
LAW: Tell us about your background, Mahesh. What were some of the experiences that influenced you as a young person? How do they continue to shape your professional career?
MR: I think my passion for sustainability is a reflection of the culture in which I was raised. Growing up in India, we had to do more with less and I saw firsthand that communities can be transformed through meaningful investments and true sustainability. USGBC was established to make a difference – it is not just a job for me, it is a commitment to make the world a better place and influence others to do better. I will continue to foster that mindset as we enter a new era by drawing from my background and implementing technologies and strategies that will continue to revolutionize the built environment by providing everyone with a healthy, green and high performing place – whether it’s at home, in the workplace, at school, or in their everyday activities.
LAW: What elements of your professional work initially drew you to USGBC? What proficiencies within your experience create a good fit for the organization and for you?
MR: My background – which includes a strong focus on organizational leadership; consensus building and negotiation; global business and market development and optimization; leveraging emerging technologies and creating technological innovation to deliver business transformation; and willingness to be disruptive in the market – has helped me become a successful part of USGBC. But I joined USGBC for the same reason most employees work here – to make a difference.
While I am driven by innovative business strategies and authentic thought-leadership that results from the challenging and ever-changing sustainability-focused marketplace, I am inspired by an organization filled with individuals who work tirelessly each day on behalf of a movement with a mission that is truly transforming the world and making an enormous impact on our future and the planet.
The work that Rick Fedrizzi, the former founder and CEO of USGBC, has done to take LEED from an idea to one of the most widely used green building system in the world, shows that market transformation is not only possible but also achievable. And when we look for the right fit for USGBC, we search for people that are genuinely committed to making the world a better place and influencing others to do better – then we make sure their experience fits within the competencies for the job in which they are applying.
LAW: What is your appraisal of USGBC’s numerous achievements?
MR: What started out more than 20 years ago as an idea to promote sustainability-focused practices in the building and construction industry, has become an international standard for environmentally sound buildings with hundreds of thousands of square feet certifying every day. Two decades later, USGBC continues to serve a diverse global marketplace that includes building owners and end-users, real estate developers, facility managers, architects, designers, engineers, general contractors, subcontractors, product and building system manufacturers, government agencies and nonprofits. We have more than 12,000 member organizations, a global network of more than 200,200 LEED professional credential holders and network of local leaders across the United States and throughout the world are the heart of USGBC’s grassroots efforts and help to advance our mission of a green building for all within a generation.
Currently, there are more than 82,000 commercial projects participating in the LEED, comprising more than 15.7 billion square feet of construction space in 50 states and 162 countries and territories. Sustainability and the desire to revolutionize the built environment by providing everyone with a healthy, green and high performing place to live, work and play is here to stay.
LAW: In your initial organizational assessment, what is the condition of USGBC right now? Twenty years in with LEED and other significant benchmarks – how do you as the organization’s leader plan to implement strategy that capitalizes on important lessons learned?
MR: In order to build on the success of our LEED rating system, continue to raise the bar in our pursuit of market transformation and enter the next phase of thought leadership, we must prioritize data and transparency. The advancement of digital technology and data science will continue to accelerate at a rapid pace and those who fail to adopt these advances will be left behind.
We recently announced the Arc platform as a way for us to track beyond the building itself. This new platform will help us create smart cities on a global scale through an integrative approach to sustainable development and city planning. Arc integrates all of our current and upcoming USGBC and GBCI offerings into one place. LEED buildings will make up one subset and there will be an opportunity to evaluate a city’s integrated ability to implement energy efficiency, water preservation, waste management, citizen health and wellness and sustainable land development all at once.
Arc will be the wave of the future for smart cities and will radically change how we interact with the spaces where we live, learn, work and play and, ultimately, human behavior. This will allow key decision-makers to identify challenges and guide the planning, implementation, management and operations of sustainable, high-performing buildings, communities and cities.
LAW: USGBC has been engaged in succession planning for a significant period of time. How will you ensure that this transition will be effective?
MR: I think USGBC and GBCI are at very crucial stage of their evolution. It is essential that we institutionalize the founders’ vision so that both internally and externally we will develop leaders who will accelerate the trajectory that Rick has set in motion. It is my goal to elevate those leaders in the industry by giving them the tools to follow their passion and make resources available to set them up for success while continuing to modernize and enhance USGBC and GBCI’s capabilities.
LAW: Please provide us with a brief glimpse of your leadership style.
MR: My leadership style will foster a mindset that continues to propel the green building movement forward and create change as we enter the next era. I will do this by taking a future to present approach and by drawing from my background and implementing technologies and strategies that will continue to transform the built environment. You have to be the rebel in the room or else you’ll become obsolete.
I will focus on five areas of growth:
- Own the vision for USGBC and work hard to inspire others to share in its ownership.
- Provide resources to our community that will help everyone to grow and lead.
- Help shape the culture of the green building movement to be as inclusive, diverse and innovative as possible.
- Strive to make decisions that will serve our interests in both the short and long term.
- Deliver on USGBC’s performance by never losing sight of our market transformation vision.
LAW: Will USGBC expand its international footprint under your leadership? If so, with what projects and in what regions? With which organizations do you anticipate collaborating?
MR: Global green building is expected to double every three years, according to a Dodge Data & Analytics World Green Building Trends 2016 SmartMarket Report, to which USGBC was a contributing partner. The report was conducted in 70 countries and found that emerging economies like China, India and Brazil will be engines of green growth, with development varying from twofold to sixfold over current green building levels. Increased consumer demand has also pushed the world’s green building market to a trillion-dollar industry, a surge that has led to a corresponding increase in the scope and size of the green building materials market, which is expected to reach $234 billion by 2019.
The growth of LEED reflects its global adaptability. We plan to continue to work collaboratively with green building councils, policymakers, leaders and project teams around the globe to transform the built environment and make green buildings the industry standard.
LAW: USGBC has always been attuned to forging supportive relationships in the political spectrum: nationally, regionally, and locally. Do you as yet envision how the changing leadership both in Washington and in key regions will affect USGBC’s future business operations?
MR: Every administration has its changes and various areas of focus – but green is common sense. The market has quickly transformed itself and it is clear that people care about their future and desire sustainability. I believe that common sense will prevail and sustainability will be the oxygen to ignite new enterprise.