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Remembering Malcom Lewis, USGBC Board Member and Green Building Visionary

Published on Written by Alex Wilson , Alex Wilson Posted in Community

The passing of former USGBC board member and visionary green building leader Malcolm Lewis is a painful reminder that while we pass through this earth in a blink of time, we can choose to leave a lasting legacy. Alex Wilson at BuildingGreen captures Malcolm with the warmth and insight we always look to Alex for and with his permission, we share his thoughts with you. - Rick Fedrizzi, President, CEO & Founding Chair, USGBC

Our friend and mentor, Malcolm Lewis, has passed away. Malcolm Lewis will be sorely missed.

Malcolm Lewis, Ph.D., the founder of Constructive Technologies Group, a member of the EBN Advisory Board, and long a quiet leader in the green building movement, died on October 13th of bladder cancer.

I first got to know Malcolm when I served on the U.S. Green Building Council board of directors and observed his ability to craft consensus and find agreement on often-heated issues. He was the soft-spoken trouble-shooter on whom the board came to rely to get us out of trouble.

Along with serving on the USGBC’s board, Malcolm chaired the Council’s Technical and Scientific Advisory Committee (TSAC), which was charged with defusing tense issues, such as whether LEED should include a credit for avoiding PVC and how to factor in both ozone-depletion potential and global warming potential of refrigerants.

He took on these tasks with a skill and sensitivity that I don’t think I’ve ever seen before. And I saw that work up close, since he tapped my colleague Nadav Malin for the PVC Task Force. Malcolm shepherding that process through contentious meetings—always with tact and respect for the views of others. (How much our politicians would have been able to learn from him!)

Malcolm grew Constructive Technologies Group into a firm of 30 engineers and other technical staff in two divisions, CTG Energetics and CTG Forensics. CTG Energetics handled LEED certifications for over 150 buildings—including many of the earliest. Under his leadership, CTG Energetics helped USGBC develop a scientific framework for distributing points among credits in LEED, created a LEED Volume certification program for the U.S. General Services Administration, developed a carbon accounting tool for California communities, and wrote the Reference Guide for ASHRAE Standard 189.1, among many other accomplishments. In December, 2011 he sold the company to The Cadmus Group, not long before being diagnosed with cancer.

My one chance to work directly with Malcolm on a project was in 2002 when we were part of a team that helped Stonyfield Yogurt come up with a strategy to reduce its carbon emissions. A handful of us spent an engaging two days crawling through the Stonyfield plant in New Hampshire identifying opportunities for savings—and there were many. It was a privilege to see Malcolm’s brilliant engineering skills tackle this challenge after seeing him in action on the more abstract issues of toxicity, ozone depletion, and group dynamics.

Malcolm will be sorely missed by all who knew and worked with him, and also by those who didn’t know him but nonetheless benefited from his often-anonymous efforts. Fortunately, we still have the fruits of his labors as the foundation on which we can continue to build a greener world.

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Alex Wilson

Integral Contracting INc.
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Chief Product Officer, U.S. Green Building Council

In a crowded lobby at Greenbuild 2002, a very tall man with a big smile pushed his way through the crowd and asked me to work on a major volunteer project with him that would change my life. That is how I met Malcolm Lewis. Through that project, his work as Chair of the Technical Scientific Advisory Committee, Chair of the LEED Technical Committee, and on the LEED Steering Committee, I got to know Malcolm Lewis as a kind person, a real person, someone who cared about details and accuracy and, most importantly, showed his deep care for people and the world in the way he lived his life. I consider myself not only fortunate but also blessed to have had the opportunity to work closely withMalcolm on LEED for many years.

Several of Malcolm’s qualities have always impressed me. I share them because I believe that the attributes Malcolm consistently exhibited in his daily life have made the world a better place.

Malcolm was consistent. This is not surprising in a serious engineer, but the way he was consistent was more than that. Malcolm was both an entrepreneur and deeply committed environmentalist. He never wavered. Malcolm did not play politics. We all know the saying: politics are the greatest when the stakes are the lowest. Malcolm always played for high stakes. I don't think I ever heard him disparage another colleague or try to get somewhere for personal gain. He wanted his company to grow, but the consistency of his good qualities always made it clear that his primary concern was for the best outcome for the whole.

Malcolm was kind. There was never a time -- even under difficult circumstances including significant pressure to deal with PVC or refrigerants a certain way -- that Malcolm was anything but kind. He had an uncanny ability to speak truth in a straightforward way that made you recognize that truth rather than challenge it. I will never forget the moment of realization he had about a method to balance ozone depletion and global warming potential in a LEED credit and thereby help two competing but beneficial approaches continue to work toward positive change.

Malcolm was humble. Rather than pursue a board seat again or try to establish himself in ways other than improving LEED, Malcolm was content to focus on the challenging work of LEED committees. It was clear that Malcolm did not have issues regarding his importance, even though they would have been deserved. Malcolm was always there to help. He listened and really cared.

Malcolm was serious. He always gave gravitas to a room in the best way. This doesn't mean that he was not fun, because he was. He laughed and enjoyed life greatly. He loved telling stories about his children and his family and his company. But he added profundity to the work we all have done on LEED by making sure that the details of the work were serious. He cared about LEED because he saw that it created change in an industry that he knew well. He liked this change because he wanted to improve the world. And he did.

Malcolm was real. There was nothing about Malcolm that seemed phony or fake. He wasn't hiding anything. He was not about activity and excitement. Malcolm was always out there with you, working on hard issues that create change.

A digital tribute means nothing. It is yet another pile of electrons that will sit in storage of some cloud, using electricity to power some data center. But I want to share what Malcolm has meant to me because Malcolm Lewis has made a profound difference in my life. The best tribute would be to live the characteristics that he shared with us, and to bring about that which he believed in: genuine change.


Green Building Consultant, HealthWise Green Building Consulting

Malcolm was a dignified and kind person, one who never sought the limelight, in spite of his talent and skills, his incredible contributions. His passing is a terrible loss, as a professional and as the good person he was.

Chief of Engineering, U.S. Green Building Council

as it turns out, one of the downsides to being part of the early days of a movement like this (and these are still early days friends) is that every once in a while, we endure the gut wrenching personal hurt of losing one of our idols/mentors. one of our greats. one of our giants.

at greenbuild in austin (in 2002 - greenbuild before greenbuild was greenbuild) i remember standing next to steven winter and sharing a moment of retrospection that even as fancy as we were that year (more than 3,000 people!) it was all built on the work of the true pioneers. we were able to stand there because we had our giants shoulders to stand on.

Malcolm Lewis is one of those giants. his passing leaves a void 1,000 times bigger (maybe more) than his presence in life (which wasn't anything to sneeze at).

he was our teacher, our mentor, our friend. most of all, he was one of the all time great people (at least in my life) to laugh with. he'd just bust up at times and it was infectious - wiping his eyes and truly loving the moment. he was good at loving the moment. it’s an element of him i seek to emulate.

i'm going to mourn the way he took a personal interest in people’s happiness. when wendy and i got married there was gentle but profound advice. when harper and then eamon came - i could feel and see the genuine pleasure he took when he asked me to share information about how they were doing.

we've lost a giant friends. but, just as we stood on his shoulders when he was here, we get to – albeit in a different way - now that he's left us as well. i suppose it's not ever supposed to be easy (losing Gail and Greg sure wasn't) but that says something too.

i'm sad. deeply sad. my sense is, however, that Malcolm would find this sentiment nice enough but wonder why we weren't getting on with the work he dedicated such a big part of his life to. so i'm doing that too - in his honor for a bit.

i wish his family peace in this time. he is and will be missed.

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