LEED Fellow: Rachelle Schoessler Lynn

LEED Fellow: Rachelle Schoessler Lynn

Interior designer Rachelle Schoessler Lynn credits early influences on her sustainability-centric career.

Spring 2020 | Written by Kiley Jacques

Rachelle Schoessler Lynn recalls being at the leading edge of resilient design back in the early 1990s while working at LHB in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Each employee in the eight-person architecture, interior design and engineering firm was tasked with researching a specific aspect of sustainability and figuring out how to weave it into their business practices. As the director of workplace, Schoessler Lynn made human health her focus; it was the basis for her foray into product ingredients and how they affect people.

While with LHB, Schoessler Lynn contributed to the design of a number of “health houses” on behalf of the American Lung Association, which was researching asthma in children at the time. The demonstration houses were used to educate the public about air quality and mechanical systems. At the same time, the team was working with a woman who had multiple chemical sensitivities.

“We wrote a contract, which nobody else would have considered doing back then, that acknowledged we didn’t know whether or not she would get better,” Schoessler Lynn explains. “In the end, she lived in the house we designed for 13 years, and she did get better. From those projects, we learned that by paying attention to chemicals, we can make a difference.”

In a similar vein, the firm designed the first commercial building in Minneapolis to have a geothermal heating system; it was located in a neighborhood with high levels of industrial pollution. “It was an attempt to put a building there that would be better for the environment and the residents,” Schoessler Lynn notes. “We did a lot of cutting-edge projects like that. The momentum was really good at that point to be experimental.”

After 15 years at LHB, the designer co-founded Studio 2030, which she operated for the next five years until taking on the role of workplace leader at MSR Design, where she stayed for another seven years before landing her current position in July 2019 as director of workplace with Gensler Minneapolis. Her purview includes leading the Minneapolis workplace team, designing commercial interiors, identifying resilient opportunities on projects and working with the firm’s materials librarians to highlight materials that contribute to human and planet health. She also leads her region in support of the firm’s new climate commitment, the “Gensler Cities Climate Change Challenge” (GC3). “Our plan is to eliminate all carbon emissions associated with our work by 2030,” she explains.

Rachelle Schoessler Lynn is the director of workplace with Gensler Minneapolis.

Toward that end, she is working to make Gensler Minneapolis’s library of materials as clean as possible—from embodied carbon to forest stewardship to toxins and transparency. “I feel confident that designers can walk into our library and pull any product off the shelf—and they will have made a good choice.”

Among Schoessler Lynn’s endeavors is her involvement with the AIA Materials Knowledge Working Group, which is currently writing a “2050 Materials Pledge” to support human health, climate health, social health, ecological health and the circular economy. The goal is for all of Gensler’s materials to meet the criteria outlined in the pledge by 2050. “We are trying to figure out ways of bringing a lot of different components of sustainability into one place,” says Schoessler Lynn, adding that she hopes that by making it easy to make good choices, they will reach designers who have not yet embraced “sustainability all day, every day.”

She also wants climate action initiatives in the commercial building sector to reach beyond structural materials, which, she believes, is often the focus. “I want people to think more about the interior buildouts of all the floors in a given building,” she says. “Those interiors are relatively short-lived, and often the materials are thrown away during renovations.”

Her ultimate objective is to be able to account for the embodied carbon in all specified interior materials. She advocates for using fewer materials and maximizing the opportunities of those being used. “We want to account for the life span of a building, rather than just when it is first built,” she explains. “We are just starting to collect data on embodied carbon on the products we specify, because interiors manufacturers are just starting to provide that data.”

Top: Schoessler is working on making Gensler Minneapolis’s library as “clean” as possible—from embodied carbon to forest stewardship to eliminating toxins. Left: A sustainable materials palette from Gensler’s North Central materials library. Right: (from left) Chris Gade, chair, Division of External Affairs, Mayo Clinic; Lorenz Esguerra, executive vice president, Weber Shandwick; Brianna Gallett, senior vice president, Weber Shandwick; Leah Guimond, director of corporate communications, Sleep Number; and Rachelle Schoessler Lynn.

Asked about the changes to Building Design and Construction (BD+C) and Interior Design and Construction (ID+C) that have come with the launching of LEED v4.1, Schoessler Lynn replies, “We have made a lot of progress. Back in the 1990s, we were looking at MSDSs [materials safety data sheets] and trying to be chemists.”

The question reminds her of Kirsten Childs, whom BuildingGreen founder Alex Wilson describes as “a pioneer in the development of indoor air quality as a core sustainability metric.” Well known for her work on the National Audubon Society headquarters—one of the first high-profile green buildings—Childs partnered with a chemist to determine if materials they were selecting for that project were toxic. “She was the interior designer we all aspired to be,” says Schoessler Lynn. “To have gone from learning inside Childs’s inner circle to today, when we have [transparent] manufacturers and nonprofit organizations like the Health Product Declaration Collaborative and Cradle to Cradle—we have so many more resources at our fingertips. It should be easy for us to make better choices.”

She does, however, wonder if the information has become too complex and overwhelming, and whether or not that contributes to fewer designers paying attention to the chemical makeup of products. She’s hopeful about the next generation of designers, though. “I think because climate change and climate action have been all over [the media] . . . we have some great people coming up in the industry who will help us continue to make good choices, and who will take the initiative to learn more about the things we are working on.”

As she reflects on what stands out to her about her work, Schoessler Lynn circles back to the way she and the others at LHB each took responsibility for some aspect of their shared work around sustainability—a model that has stayed with her and continues to influence her own holistic approach to resilient design. “Not everybody needs to be the expert on everything,” she says, “but if you can build a team around people who are experts in different fields, then I think we can make really great progress.”

Roles and Recognition

• Adjunct faculty at University of Minnesota

• USGBC Minnesota chapter co-founder

• Minnesota B3 Guidelines, “Buildings, Benchmarks and Beyond,” co-author

• CIDA Board of Directors

• 2016 ASID National Designer of Distinction

• 2014−2015 National Chair of the ASID Board of Directors

• 2013 LEED Fellow

• 2009 ASID Fellow

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