“You never really correlate environmentalism with low income, but those communities are the most adversely impacted.”
Focus on low-income housing. The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) is working to promote green buildings nationwide with the NRDC Resilient Communities Team and many other initiatives focused on energy efficiency. “I’m very excited about the fact that now the NRDC is also focusing on low-income communities. I grew up in kind of a tough neighborhood. You never really correlate environmentalism with low income, but those communities are the most adversely impacted—when the energy bills are expensive, you have to do without heat.”
Humanize building certifications. “When you talk about certification names like LEED Platinum or the Living Building Challenge (LBC), it becomes less about the people. Any time you’re talking about the standard you pursued, you need to humanize it. It’s really about building the most sustainable project you can. It’s about a workplace that is healthy and toxic-free. It’s about architectural design that brings joy, and that spurs comfort and creativity.” When you start talking about how sustainable building helps increase productivity, stakeholders also become more invested in the process, and in turn, more patient and flexible with your team as you make design decisions, Guerrero says.
Listen to new voices at the table. “I’ve noticed I have a lot of star players who don’t always speak up or aren’t always at the table. So I’ve been inviting them to the table and giving spaces for them to voice their opinions, which has improved how we work as a team.”
Guerrero met with a few architects, an engineer, and a general contractor to discuss possible building certifications to pursue for their interior build-out in Chicago. The conversation wasn’t moving too far from LEED because it is well-known, but Guerrero had invited a young professional to the meeting and she brought up the LBC and the Petal Certification. None of the experienced building professionals in the room thought it was possible to pursue the LBC for an interior build-out, but Guerrero wanted to consider it. “If I wouldn’t have listened to her just because she wasn’t the seasoned professional there, we would have just went ‘status quo’ with LEED. But in fact, giving her the space to speak and allowing her to give explanations of why the LBC was possible was a huge benefit for us. It changed our whole approach to construction and it’s still something we talk about today.”
Walk the walk. “If we’re going to ask people to advocate for what we do, in the least, we have to walk the walk. I always appreciate when our operations work is aligned with our programs.” When the NRDC partnered with Energy Efficiency for All, Guerrero and his team contributed to important discussions based on what he’s discovered in real-world applications. They brought up the importance of healthy building materials in projects with tight building envelopes using what they had learned from the LBC about materials that off-gas toxins and VOCs.
Don’t lose your attention to detail. Business moves at a breakneck speed and if you let it pass you by, you can lose your attention to detail. “You can lose your ability to think more creatively and more holistically because you just need to get to that deadline.” Guerrero is now focusing on being more mindful and intentional in his work. “While it may feel like I’m slowing down by saying I’m going to focus on this first, I feel like I actually work faster because I’m more deliberate in what I’m actually doing and I make less errors. It’s kind of like that carpenter’s saying, ‘Measure twice, cut once.’ It’s important to be able to control your stress and focus on the priorities.”
The bottom line matters, too. Guerrero spearheaded the NRDC’s internal operations sustainability policy and helps achieve the “triple bottom line” in their offices across the globe. “Here at the NRDC we pride ourselves on making sure we still have the business case, too. We want the things we do to be scalable. We often do case studies of the work that we’ve done, what we’ve protected, and what actually materialized.”
Guerrero and his team use a portfolio-wide dashboard that tells them their energy and water consumption levels in real time, as well as their waste goals. By measuring their energy with this tool, they were able to accurately audit their consumption. “We actually learned that one of our buildings was being overcharged for electricity. We were able to track about a year’s worth of data to prove that we were overpaying by double. Getting reimbursed for that overage was a huge example of when technology and sustainability align with business and the bottom line.”
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