Art Frazier. Photo: Stan Kaady
Director of Facilities Management & Services, Spelman College
You will not find “sustainability” anywhere in Art Frazier’s job title. Just in his job.
“A few years ago, the president and chief financial officer took a walk, and at the end of that walk they decided to add responsibility for all noncurricular sustainability initiatives to my job description,” Frazier says.
Frazier has been at Spelman, a historically black women’s college in Atlanta, since the fall of 2007. In addition to his other duties as facilities management director, Frazier manages green construction on campus, handles the school’s environmental reporting, and serves as co-chair of Sustainable Spelman, the college’s sustainability initiative aimed at engaging the community in authentic conversations to increase awareness, knowledge, and action on campus.
The evolution of Frazier’s role is reflective of a shift that has occurred on the campuses of universities and other institutions across the country over the past decade, with many of those organizations adding previously nonexistent sustainability-focused positions, or adding sustainability responsibilities to the portfolios of existing staff members.
“We try to incorporate sustainability into people’s jobs,” Frazier says. “For example, our custodians, they’re doing green cleaning, using nontoxic chemicals, and making sure we maximize recycling. We don’t just have this one person who [is responsible for sustainability.] It becomes everyone’s responsibility.”
Frazier, a licensed architect, oversaw construction of Spelman’s first new building in the 21st century, the Beverly Daniel Tatum Suites, a 303-bed residence hall that opened in 2008 and was certified LEED Silver in 2010. In that same year, the school adopted a policy that all new buildings and substantial renovations must be built to at least LEED Silver specifications. A number of colleges and universities across the country have implemented similar policies, increasing the need for staff that are either solely focused on, or at least significantly experienced with, sustainable development.
In 2012, the school completed renovations to Laura Spelman Rockefeller Memorial Hall, a residence hall originally built in 1918. In 2015, the college opened the new Reed Hall, home to a campus wellness center that includes a gym, activity room, and swimming pool. Both of those projects achieved LEED Gold.
Frazier has had a lengthy career in development, and he’s seen firsthand how the increased emphasis on sustainable building in recent decades has changed the real estate and construction job market. He began his career as a commercial architect, and then moved on to a job at a firm that worked primarily with institutional clients such as research laboratories and colleges. Later, he worked as an owner’s representative, before beginning his time in academia—first at Emory University, and then at Spelman, with a stint as a consultant in between.
During the first half of his career, Frazier says, he noticed a marked difference in the way that his commercial clients and his institutional clients approached development. “My commercial clients were interested in money,” he says. “A number of the projects I worked on were spec office buildings. Developers wanted the lobby and the bathrooms to look pretty so they could lease out the building and then sell it. They didn’t care whether it had quality systems. They were building 10- to 20-year buildings. When I started doing projects for institutional clients who were self-operating and self-maintaining these buildings, they were thinking about institutional-quality systems that conserved resources.”
He adds: “The [institutional] buildings that I was designing from 1990 to 1997—if there had been LEED back then, those buildings would have been certified.”
Institutional developers have continued to enhance their sustainable development initiatives as the market expands and costs for efficient systems and green technologies lower. But, like many observers, Frazier has also noticed a shift in the mindset of commercial developers, as those builders have moved on from short-term thinking to begin considering the total cost of ownership of the buildings they develop.
“They’ve been able to sell [sustainability],” Frazier says. “I see articles all the time, where they’re able to lease these spaces faster than other spaces. It’s become a part of what they are selling, along with the aesthetics. In the end, somebody has to pay that operating cost. Clients look at it and say, ‘Do I want to move into this gas guzzler, or do I want to move into this economy car?’”
Working at a college, Frazier has a front-row seat to the ways in which the new green economy has changed career prospects for young people. One of his former students, for example, is persuing a career in environmental law. But, he notes, women of color are still underrepresented in the sustainable development world, as they are in many technical and professional fields.
“It is very helpful for our students to see people like them in this field doing these things,” Frazier says. Last year, students invited three Spelman alumnae working in sustainability-focused careers to come to campus and speak over three nights. “To hear them and see that, to see someone like themselves,” Frazier says, “they felt a little closer to it.”