Q & A with Al Skodowski, Chair of USGBC's Board of Directors
With nearly 30 years of commercial real estate facility management experience, Al Skodowski, Senior Vice President of Sustainability at Transwestern, became chair of USGBC's Board of Directors this year. Read on to get his take on the green building movement, and his plans and goals for his position as board chair.
What inspired you to begin a career in sustainability?
Sustainability takes me back to when I first started working as a line engineer with Hyatt Hotels in the early 80s. Working for Hyatt, I was able to learn under a solid engineering management team that focused its efforts on energy, water, waste, indoor air quality (IAQ) and intensive preventative maintenance. It's funny to think now that all I learned back then would come full circle and once again become best practices. When LEED for Existing Buildings (LEED EB) was first launched, I took a course (after asking my boss, who said it was a fad and I was wasting my time and his money). Sustainability has helped elevate me and many other operation folks and is now a critical part of many organizations. Bottom line, it is what I learned many years ago, and is now an important part of the environmental movement.
What has been the greatest accomplishment of your career thus far?
While being elected as chair of the USGBC Board of Directors is certainly a career highlight, I think having my daughter (who is 29) understand what her father does, that he is making a difference on a number of levels, whether the environmental, Board Mentorship Program, Project Haiti, or simply helping make USGBC a stronger organization. It feels great to know she now understands why Dad worked so much, and how much I enjoy what I do. I work with a great team and a great company and feel like the best is yet ahead.
How do you picture the green building movement ten years from now?
Interesting question, and a bit tough to call for sure at this point. I believe green building will continue to grow as an environmental movement, beyond the marketing effort and into a true mechanism to drive climate change. I am not a climate scientist - I am an operations guy who happens to believe that wasting resources, throwing things into a landfill or polluting our air is wrong. Our grandparents never wasted, and somehow, I think we need to look back at the good things they did. We can conserve and reduce waste and be good environmental stewards. I believe the green movement will grow significantly internationally and the U.S. will lead the effort. I also think we will make significant strides in getting the household consumers to better engage in the movement and I am optimistic we will indeed have every child in a green school within a generation. It's certainly a huge lift, but this is our generation's moonshot.
What sectors and technologies will experience the most growth?
The commercial office sector has been a primary driver of green buildings to date. I personally believe that the multi-family building stock, single family homes and schools will overtake what we have seen in the commercial office sectors. Green building has already started to impact the manufacturing sector and will continue to grow. My general sense is that benchmarking and rating technologies and advances in lighting and lighting control will have the largest impact on green buildings. I am hopeful that the various building organizations will also work to develop a higher education training program. I would love to see a Ph.D for operations program. Buildings are complex, and it takes a long time to learn how to run them. Proper training is a must, much like the training I received when I started years ago with Hyatt.
What made you want to become the chair of the USGBC Board?
Plain and simple, my wife. I was hesitant to take it on. I thought others were better suited. She was the one that said, "Really, after all your hard work, this is the right thing for you. You can and should do this." I wanted to be sure I could rise to the challenge, and that above all I would be able to get something done, make a difference. As I prayed, and listened to my wife, she was right. It was the right time, right place. Everything happens for a reason. The experience has been a blessing and I have faith I will have made a difference when my term is up.
What's the single most important thing you'd like to accomplish in your role on USGBC's Board?
As I said above, I want to make a difference. I want to see Project Haiti become a reality and start helping the kids, community and set an example for the country and the world. I also want to work with our community to engage in a discussion to ensure USGBC is the absolute leader in green building within the U.S. and that we bring the romance and excitement I felt when I first connected with LEED. I also want to see a successful LEED v4 launch. We have a great board and an incredible staff and I believe all things are possible when we work toward a common good, we are not perfect but we all believe we are doing the right thing.