“There’s a titanic shift in how cultures are expressing value. Take the Occupy movement. It’s all about that shift.” Jim Weiner

Jim Weiner

Founder, Collaborative Project Consulting
President of the Board, Architectural Foundation of Los Angeles

As far back as he can remember, Jim Weiner has had sustainability on the brain. “I’ve been sensitive to the environmental issues since I was a kid,” Weiner says. “In high school I was very interested in physics, water, the sun—anything to do with the Earth.”

Now, on the other side of a decades-long career that’s still going strong, Weiner has been recognized alongside 33 other trailblazers as a member of the Green Building Certification Institute’s inaugural class of LEED Fellows.

Announced in 2011 at the Greenbuild conference in Toronto, this new designation is the GCBI’s latest—and most prestigious—professional title. After a rigorous portfolio review by their peers, these 34 Fellows have not only been recognized but also given a higher-profile platform from which to continue their work.

The Inaugural LEED Fellows

in alphabetical order by first name

Alan Scott, Green Building Services
Alicia Ravetto, Alicia Ravetto Architect
Anthony Bernheim, AECOM Chris Schaffner, The Green Engineer, LLP
Christopher J. Webb, Chris Webb & Associates, Inc. Dagmar B. Epsten, The Epsten Group, Inc.
Dan Nall, WSP Flack + Kurtz Dan Young Dixon, Opus AE Group, Inc.
Gail Vittori, Center for Maximum Potential Building Systems
Helen J. Kessler, HJKessler Associates
Jerry Yudelson, Yudelson Associates
Jim Ogden, 3QC Inc.
Jim Weiner, Collaborative Project Consulting
John Boecker, 7group
Kath Williams, Kath Williams + Associates
Kathleen Smith, Davis Langdon
Ken Wilson, Envision
Kim Shinn, TLC Engineering for Architecture
Kris Callori, Environmental Dynamics, Inc.
Lidia Berger, HDR Architecture, Inc.
Lois Vitt Sale, Wight & Co.
Malcolm Lewis, CTG Energetics, Inc.
Marcus B. Sheffer, 7group
Mario Seneviratne, Green Technologies
Michaella Wittmann, HDR Architecture, Inc.
Michelle Halle Stern, Perkins+Will
Nellie Reid, Gensler
Paul Marmion, Stantec
Prasad Vaidya, The Weidt Group
Rick Carter, LHB, Inc.
Rob Bolin, Syska Hennessy Group
Sandra Leibowitz, Sustainable Design Consulting, LLC
Stephen Carpenter, Enermodal Engineering Tom Liebel, Marks, Thomas Architects

“I’m in way over my head with this crowd,” Weiner says with a laugh. “These are the usual suspects: the godfathers and godmothers of the movement.”

Don’t let Weiner’s modesty fool you. His own commitment to sustainability far predates the establishment of LEED criteria. In college, his academic pursuits were a collage of environmental studies, economic theory, and fine art. “I was interested in all of it,” he says. “So I tried to merge those and figure [out] how we navigate the interplay between values and actions.”

It was in 2005 that Weiner noticed a gap in Southern California’s pool of LEED experts. In response, he founded Collaborative Project Consulting, hoping to “facilitate meaningful designs, efficient project management, lower energy costs, and higher LEED certifications.” Offering this wealth of expertise to the Los Angeles construction market was a natural progression of Weiner’s own efforts to make ecologically sensible choices as an architect. “Throughout my career, I sort of charged [us] with building green,” he says. “Prior to the 1980s and ’90s, clients didn’t care about it. It wasn’t formalized into the marketplace. But it made our work more efficient.”Throughout the 30 years after college, Weiner racked up experience. He is the outgoing president of the board of the Architectural Foundation of Los Angeles. He is the founding co-chair for the Los Angeles chapter of the USGBC. And he’s a former vice-chair of the USGBC’s Professional Education Committee.It’s that unlikely combination of interests that informed Weiner’s big ideas. Success, he says, lies in seamless integration. “Everything is connected,” he explains. “That mentality is a strong foundation for everything that feeds into the idea of sustainable design.” Though we now have the LEED rating system, which Weiner says “overlays very nicely to the price system and the way we allocate our resources,” sustainability is not a case of checking boxes and jumping through hoops. Implemented correctly, the LEED system should represent a holistic approach, a pervasive commitment to environmentally responsible building practices.

To Weiner, the idea of integrated design always made sense, but it took a particular project to make the building community take note of his expertise: the Lake View Terrace branch of the Los Angeles Public Library.

“It was a sensitive site,” he says, and not just ecologically, but socially: it was extremely close to the location of the notorious beating of Rodney King. “So there was an immense cultural impact that required a careful approach. We also wanted to use it as an opportunity to promote environmental responsibility.”

What resulted was a 10,700-square-foot structure that took an unprecedented approach to handling natural light and the surrounding watershed. Weiner spearheaded the careful consideration of a plethora of issues, including energy usage and ventilation—factors that ultimately helped the building beat the city’s efficiency requirements by more than 40 percent.

It’s this kind of holistic approach that’s made others pay attention to Weiner. But to hear him tell it, there’s still much that needs to be done, and the creation of a class of LEED Fellows is a step along the way.

“Some countries have traditions and cultures that put them way ahead of us,” he says with a smile. “But one thing leads to another. LEED is simply a set of benchmarks that guides the conversation. And the creation of this Fellowship enables our projects to be beacons on the hill.”

“My parents never would have thought of themselves (as environmentalists), but in my family we saved even our wrapping paper around the holidays.” Sandra Leibowitz

Sandra Leibowitz

Founder, Sustainable Design Consulting
Member, EarthCraft Virginia Board of Directors

She never could have known it at the time, but Sandra Leibowitz was calling all the right plays. A self-proclaimed environmentalist even before it was in the mainstream consciousness, she set out as a young student to bring a more responsible approach to the way governments and communities treat the Earth.

Now, after more than 18 years of toil, Leibowitz has joined Jim Weiner and 32 other sustainability advocates as part of the GCBI’s inaugural class of LEED Fellows.

“When I was starting out, there was no mention of architecture and the environment in the same breath,” Leibowitz says. “I had always thought of myself as an environmentalist. My parents never would have thought of themselves that way, but in my family we saved even our wrapping paper around the holidays.”

This wasn’t out of necessity, but because of her immigrant parents’ life experience. “They grew up during the Depression, and in those days the ethic was that of course you didn’t waste,” she says.

Many of Leibowitz’s peers were growing up with a more American ethic of consumerism. “I certainly didn’t pioneer it, but I was among the lucky first few to make sustainability a legitimate, well-rounded career choice,” she says.

Though she may not have had a destination in mind, Leibowitz was on the right path, one that would ultimately qualify her as one of the world’s foremost experts on sustainability. Take, for example, her work with Takoma Village Cohousing in Washington, DC. The “collaborative housing” development, completed in 2001, emphasizes communal living and empowers residents to take control of design choices. Not only did Leibowitz live in the complex, she also spent a year and a half working with the architect to drive the use of green materials such as sustainably harvested lumber, tubular skylights to bring in natural light, low-VOC adhesives and sealants, natural linoleum and cork flooring, and recycled cellulose insulation.

Leibowitz’s journey eventually led her to create an environmentally focused firm she named Sustainable Design Consulting, in Richmond, Virginia. The company’s staff members each are LEED APs with various specializations, and with a wealth of expertise from their careers as architects, these consultants advise organizations in both the public and private sectors on how to gain community standing and exceed government-mandated requirements—all while saving money.

Since the firm’s founding in 2002, it has completed more than 400 commercial-scale projects and given counsel in numerous situations to further the creation of a more environmentally responsible world. More than 100 of its completed building-related projects are LEED certified. Many would agree that, as a newly designated LEED Fellow, Leibowitz is getting much-deserved credit.

She agrees that it’s certainly an honor. “It’s an affirmation of our efforts—the blood, sweat, and tears,” she says. Yet like a true leader, she’s quick to shift the spotlight to others. “It’s a movement that has gotten here on the backs of a lot of volunteer labor.”

Read a discussion between Jim Weiner, Sandra Leibowitz, and Seth Putnam here.