As we work along our sustainability journey, we have the pleasure of meeting many individuals and firms that are leading great change. We have enjoyed our relationship with them and want to share their stories with you. This series will feature individuals leading the sustainability movement within the architecture and design community. This next generation of leaders found their passion for sustainability early in their careers and have based their profession on advocating and leading for a more sustainable future.
I had the pleasure of developing a conference panel session with Meredith Elbaum, Sasaki Associates in 2007 and one of our many conversations spurred Meredith and her college classmate, Nellie Reid of Gensler, to create the A+D Sustainable Design Leaders Summit, held annually since 2008. This group brings together over 40 sustainable design professionals from the largest architecture and design firms in the country to discuss major issues on sustainable design and exchange new ideas. Our series will feature three members of the Sustainable Design Leaders. Now, Nellie Reid, a LEED Fellow at Gensler, shares her sustainability journey with us:
Q: Tell us about your role and how you became a leader in sustainable design.
A: My role at Gensler has been constantly evolving since I began as an intern in 1997. The one constant is my focus on sustainability. In 1999 when I joined the firm full time, I discovered the firm’s emerging “Sustainable Design Task Force” which was a grassroots effort to educate our employees, consultants and clients about green building and spread general awareness about the importance of thinking green.
In 2001, I became the firm’s first LEED Accredited Professional (out of about 1,700 employees at the time). This began my specific focus on LEED consulting and education. After working on a few LEED projects and teaching several courses, I found myself answering the most unbelievable spectrum of sustainability questions from colleagues and clients. It became clear that there was a need for someone to take on a larger role, beyond just LEED.
With excellent support from our firm’s leadership, I was able to broaden my reach and become one of the firm’s three leaders of sustainable design. Over the years, I became a valuable resource to the firm in terms of greening our own operations and deepening our presence as one of the industry’s thought leaders on sustainable design. We even received the inaugural Leadership Award from the USGBC in 2005 for Organizational Excellence. I began speaking and writing on a regular basis, representing the firm as a thought leader on sustainable design. This external visibility led to several individual honors and awards as well.
Q: Tell us about a specific project where you felt you really made a difference and did something innovative in sustainability:
A: It may seem ironic to think of green buildings in Las Vegas, but I believe one of my greatest accomplishments has been my LEED oversight on MGM MIRAGE’s CityCenter, an 18 million-square-foot mixed-use project on the Las Vegas Strip that successfully achieved six LEED Gold certifications. If LEED Gold can be achieved in a complex, fast-paced project
with over 40 different design firms involved, any other project should be able to do the same. We proved what seemed nearly impossible.
Q: What is an example of a project that led to real change towards sustainability related efforts in your organization?
One of our current firm-wide initiatives is the AIA 2030 Commitment. In 2009, we began voluntarily tracking and reporting the anticipated energy use intensity (EUI) and lighting power reduction (LPD) of the buildings and interior spaces we design. This is quite an endeavor for a company with 4,000+ projects per year! Just gathering the data is mind-boggling, and the process is an awareness campaign in itself. Employees are beginning to understand the importance of knowing a project’s EUI and LPD and have begun to focus on ways they can reduce energy use in future projects. The real value of the AIA 2030 Reporting process is the change in behavior (and approach to design) that ultimately leads to improved performance.
Q: Nellie, you are under 40 and have already accomplished a lot in your career. What is next?
In 2011, I was honored to be selected for the inaugural class of LEED Fellows. That year, I also got married and relocated to Ireland where I still work for Gensler as a remote consultant. My role at Gensler has had to adjust due to the move. I am now primarily consulting on projects again and my firm-wide leadership role has been passed on to other fabulous sustainable design experts in the firm. As one of the former leaders, I still communicate with them on a regular basis regarding internal and external initiatives.
Over on this side of The Pond, I have found new and exciting endeavors on the Emerald Isle to keep me inspired. Outside of my Gensler consulting work, I have joined the Board of the newly-formed Living Building Institute of Ireland. We have already had the privilege of presenting the Living Building Challenge (LBC) to the Royal Institute of Architects in Ireland and are currently working on adapting the LBC for use in Ireland.
Q: What places/spaces inspire you and why?
I have always been inspired by the water. I grew up on the Jersey Shore, had my first swim lesson at age 4 and was on a State Championship swim team in high school. I spent 14 years living in Venice Beach and Santa Monica within a few blocks
of the Pacific Ocean. I now live overlooking the Shannon River in Ireland. It’s a bit too cold to swim, but I am inspired by the view every day!