Ross Spiegel is a LEED Accredited Professional and one of about 30 dual fellows in the American Institute of Architects and the Construction Specifications Institute, who says he got into the "green area" almost by accident, "and then it took hold of me and became more important than anything else I do."
Spiegel has been a member of CSI for more than 30 years and is a Former President of the Institute. That experience coupled with being a licensed architect in three states, a former U.S. Green Building Council LEED Steering Committee member and former board member of the USGBC, Spiegel brings a unique, cross-disciplinary and holistic "green" perspective to his projects.
Spiegel lectures throughout the country, speaking to a variety of audiences, including architects, engineers, interior designers, specification writers, building product manufacturer's representatives, building owners and contractors sharing his knowledge on sustainable design and green building materials. Today, Spiegel is an Associate and Senior Specification Writer with the Connecticut based architectural/engineering firm Fletcher-Thompson, Inc., where he leads the firm's Green Team.
The following are excerpts from a conversation with Ross Spiegel:
Your firm has a dedicated Green Team, what does this mean and how does it work?
We're unique because we're an architecture and engineering firm, but we're reaching a point where every project that we do bears some facet of sustainability. Today, there are people involved from each of our offices and each of our professions. We view it as an ongoing education effort to keep our employees, partners, clients and building owners constantly informed. Our leaders are accredited and we focus on the projects that have to get LEED certified.
If it's a LEED project, I'm directly involved as the project administrator. And since we have engineering staff in house, when we are working on a LEED project, I have all of my other team members down the hall and just a few from outside the firm. It makes consistency and working together a lot easier.
How has the U.S. Green Building Council changed over the last 15 years?
I've been the liaison since 1994 on behalf of the CSI. Back then there were 200 members and today there are more than 15000.
I think what USGBC has done with LEED is a strong effort, but because it's not a government regulation, some haven't embraced it. However, it worked the other way – instead of making a regulation, you have a publically drafted requirement that has been adopted by the government. The government has embraced what USGBC has done. The GSA has made LEED a requirement of design. It has worked the way it should and on a daily basis, you're finding government bodies adopting some form of green certification, whether it's LEED or something else.
I think that speaks to power and importance of USGBC's effort.
Where do you see the role of the USGBC headed over the next decade?
In 2008, there we more than 12,000 LEED registered projects, but less than 2000 were certified. There's a lot of work to be done to change the ratio. It's been successful, it's gotten a lot of publicity and good feedback, but we have a way to go.
To increase the ratio, we need to get the building owners on board more often. I'm seeing from my client contacts that they get it. They understand from a marketing standpoint and from a financial standpoint. Tenants are asking how healthy the building is and how they are controlling their energy costs. From a marketing perspective, building owners want to offer a more inhabitable and sustainable and friendly space – something that differentiates them. It's still largely a dollar issue, but that's changing because the price of everything has gone up and we've reached a tipping point.
I expect to see more and more building owners coming forward and saying we get it – it's for money as well as principle.
What's the next evolution of LEED?
I see civil engineers, landscape architects and kitchen consultants having an important role to play. They are starting to get "it" [sustainability] now, and are rising to the occasion. Then finding a construction team that is equally knowledgeable is key.
Finally, having a greater respect for not only what products we use in buildings, but the tools that are available improve how those products work together. Looking at BIM, we have more information regarding how we make decisions and how those decisions impacts sustainability.
Autodesk showed us a vision that allows entire teams to go into a conference room, have a site on the wall and play with the building design, orientation, height, existing features, and see how those tweaks impact LEED certifications.
It's improving those tools and eventually benefiting the construction team will be what's coming up next. And once we get the entire team on board is when we get truly sustainable design.