Q&A with Mark Ginsberg
Illustration by Melissa McGill
Mark Ginsberg founded Ginsberg Green Strategies in January 2012 to consult on Eco-Cities, energy efficiency, and renewable energy. In Fall 2012, the U.S. Green Building Council designated Ginsberg as the first USGBC senior fellow, where he serves as a senior policy advisor and Ambassador. Prior to that, he served as a senior executive at the U.S. Department of Energy for 20 years and the Arizona Energy Office for 10 years.
Q.What is most remarkable about LEED’s trajectory?
It still stuns me to see how far and wide LEED has grown in so little time. When Rob Watson first came to me with the idea for a green building rating system–and the hopeful promise of a full turnkey effort for just $100,000!– I could never have envisioned it being used in 150 countries with over 13 billion square feet of space rated. From a few early federal buildings and industry leaders, it amazes me to see iconic buildings like the Empire State Building, Shanghai Tower, TAIPEI 101 and Carpe Diem in Paris all LEED rated. The 2002 Olympic Oval Building in Utah, the 2008 Beijing Olympic Village, the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, 2012 London Olympics, and the Olympics and World Cup in Brazil–all LEED. Buildings and neighborhoods around the world are healthier, greener, and more efficient. They offer the occupants clean, productive places to live, work, and play. Now that is a trajectory to be proud of!
Q.What is the coolest project you’ve worked on recently?
One of my favorite projects was the Sarah E. Goode STEM Academy. This is one of four prototype Chicago public high schools. The other three achieved LEED Gold; Goode achieved LEED Platinum at lower first cost than all of the other buildings! The big difference—it used a different heating and cooling system—ground source heat pumps —which allowed duct sizes to shrink dramatically, allowing the building height to also shrink. By eliminating the giant ducts, the overall mechanical system, including the geo-exchange wells, actually cost less than the baseline.
Q.The Mark Ginsberg Sustainability Fellowship was named in your honor. What can you tell us about this program and this year’s recipient?
What an honor when Rick Fedrizzi announced at the 2004 Greenbuild in Pittsburgh the Ginsberg Sustainability Fellowship “to pursue Mark’s vision, spirit, and integrity in perpetuity.” Talk about humbling. Rick’s kind gesture has led to the naming of several exceptional professionals to serve as Ginsberg Fellows. It has translated into some very practical and cutting-edge work. I thank Chris Pyke and the selection team for finding “the best and brightest” who have contributed analysis and policy on topics like sustainability, social equity and resilience, research funding and the prospective research agenda, the green connection to health, and how we can connect green building with the real estate and capital markets. The 2016 Fellow, Hossein Shahrokni, will work from the KTH University in Stockholm with GRESB to improve scoring and benchmarking, strengthening our ability to help the real estate industry assess sustainability performance. The work of all the Fellows has expanded the reach of USGBC and I am so impressed and grateful for all they have accomplished.
Q.Your mother was a flapper in the 1920s. What are some lessons she taught about life and how has this impacted your career?
Yes, my sisters and I were lucky to have terrific parents. Our mother was quite an amazing person. She grew up in the period of our history when suffragettes were marching for the right of women to vote – and succeeded in allowing women to vote for the first time in the 1920 Presidential election. It was a time of early women’s rights – before the term was coined. She was independent – and part of the generation of women who smoked and danced the Charleston, and believed they should have equal rights. She took her citizenship seriously. The right to vote was cherished. And we talked about current events and world issues at dinner. She introduced my sisters and me to international food – curry, quiche, tacos. So, from my earliest days, I felt we were citizens of the world – and we had responsibilities as Americans. The most fundamental value was education – it was assumed we would go to college. And we were instilled with a belief that we “should leave the world a better place.” That has been a part of my DNA and led me to my life in public service. We were supposed to give back and I have been honored to have the chance to do that in my career. My mother was an early environmentalist – before that term was coined too. We read Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring. Growing up in the Depression, she was always frugal – but it was more. She was a conscientious consumer, she understood “reduce, reuse, recycle” before anyone – and instilled it in us. We lived it. We turned lights out, we put clear plastic over windows in winter, we cared about the environment. Despite the loss of my mother over a decade ago, her life lessons, cheerful spirit, social conscience and practicality stay with me. A lucky guy.
Q.Your travels have taken you to India and China on numerous occasions. What are the biggest barriers and opportunities in these countries facing “green buildings for all within this generation?
Thanks for the honor of sharing my thoughts with you. Yes, I’ve been very lucky for many years to work with leaders in China and India. Both have an enormous opportunity – it’s much easier to “build it right the first time” than to retrofit it later. With the unprecedented urban growth in those countries, they face the daunting challenge of building a city the size of New York (or 15 cities of a million people) – every year – as an estimated 15 million people move from rural China to cities. India faces similar urban growth. The barriers they face are not unlike ours. There is always the tension between “least first cost” vs life cycle cost investments. Some builders in China and India still want to build it cheap and fast. There are other challenges however. There is less availability of green professionals and a trained workforce. We have an estimated 2,000 LEED APs in China, for example, but that is not enough for the size of the market. In both countries, there is also a challenge of having widespread availability of certified green products. I am optimistic that government and industry leaders want to build green, and they are working to overcome these challenges, but I hope our member companies will be able to step up and provide the trained workforce and quality materials so that China and India can share our vision of “a green building for all within this generation.
Q.You have worked with LEED while at the U.S. Department of Energy and now at USGBC and have seen it evolve and grow over the years. What is most remarkable about LEED’s trajectory?
It still stuns me to see how far and wide LEED has grown in so little time. When Rob Watson first came to me with the idea for a green building rating system – and the hopeful promise of a full turnkey effort for just $100,000! – I could never have envisioned it being used in 150 countries with over 11 billion square feet of space rated. From a few early federal buildings and industry leaders, it amazes me to see iconic buildings like the Empire State Building, Shanghai Tower, Taipei 101 and Carpe Diem in Paris all LEED rated. The 2002 Olympic Oval Building in Utah, the 2008 Beijing Olympic Village, the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, 2012 London Olympics, and the Olympics and World Cup in Brazil – all LEED. Schools, hospitals, homes, hotels, retail, office buildings and neighborhoods around the world are healthier, greener and more efficient. They save water, energy and resources. And they offer the occupants clean, productive places to live, work and play. Now that is a trajectory to be proud of!