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HPAC 'On The Air': Buildings WELLNESS Check, with Rick Fedrizzi

July 8, 2021
*PODCAST*: We reconnect with the Carrier alum and USGBC co-founder whose International WELL Building Institute now aims to lead a post-pandemic revolution in healthy buildings.

For our latest podcast, HPAC Engineering's Rob McManamy talks with UTC Carrier Corp. alum Rick Fedrizzi, co-founder of the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) and now executive chairman at the International WELL Building Institute (IWBI), which he helped to launch in 2016. Not surprisingly, there was much to discuss...

We last spoke with Rick for a Q&A in January of 2018, but suffice to say, our world has turned upside down since then. So today, in the summer of 2021, as the globe tries to emerge from a paradigm-shifting pandemic, the role of buildings in promoting the health and safety of their occupants has never been more vital or consequential, even to the future success of downtowns, themselves...

"And engineers will be at the center of the storm," says Fedrizzi, who worked 25 years at Carrier before joining USGBC full-time.

For much, much more, please listen in to our latest episode...



What follows is a partial transcript of our June conversation...

HPAC: Rick, welcome to ‘HPAC on the Air’. Thanks for joining us. Let’s just open by giving our listeners a bit of a history lesson about how your time at Carrier led to the creation of the USGBC.

RICK FEDRIZZI: Thanks for having me. It's good to be back. Well, in 1988, I had been at Carrier Corporation about 12 years in when I woke up one day and they said, “You are going to be our new head of environmental marketing.” And I said, “Okay, could you tell me what that is?” They said, “Well, we’re not really sure.”

Carrier’s CEO at the time had been at GE Lighting, where they had put an incandescent light bulb in a recycled content wrapper and called it the Eco-Bulb. It sold really well. So, now our CEO wanted to do the same thing at Carrier with air conditioners. But when I went to research it then, I didn’t have many resources. There were no chief sustainability officers. So, I went to the bookstore, but could only find books strictly on the environment like Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, and Aldo Leopold’s Sand County Almanac.

Then, as if it was a gift from God, I stumbled on this new shelf of books, including one by Paul Hawken (future author of The Ecology of Commerce in 1993). His new book then (Growing a Business, 1987) was beautiful in that it stated very clearly that it was absolutely appropriate to be both a capitalist and an environmentalist. That business was the single largest cause of some of the worst environmental degradation, so business had to be the solution, too. You just had to incentivize business to become better partners.

So this book really gave me my marching orders. I went back to Carrier and I said I’ve got a plan. I remember the CEO then said, “Well, I don’t care what you do, just as long as we’re the green leader by January.” That’s when the next ASHRAE show was being held in Chicago. 

HPAC: So this was July 1988? That meant you had just five months to make something happen.

FEDRIZZI: Yes, that’s right. Now at the time, the idea of climate change wasn’t an issue. It was ozone depletion then, which was a refrigerant issue. Looking 

Looking ahead to the show, I started doing research internally and and asked our product managers how our products performed for things like energy efficiency? Does it have better acoustics? Does it add certain value to air quality and thermal comfort or ventilation? Is there any recycled materials involved? In the end, probably about 75% of them slammed the door in my face. They were too busy to be bothered by all my questions. Then in Chicago I got an idea. I am a marketer by training, so it occurred to me, let me take those areas that I am looking at -- energy efficiency, acoustics, refrigerants, recyclable content, etc.-- and I will create these really cool stickers or decals that I will take with me to McCormick Place. They were beautiful, green and white stickers, and I brought them to the show floor to the booths of products that I had done my own research on. I walked from product to product and awarded my own swag to those products that I thought were performing the best.

The minute I did that, product managers were chasing me down all over McCormick Place. What are those stickers?” they’d ask. The real exciting moment was when they’d see a competitor with more, and say, “Why did their product get three stickers, and ours only got one?”

It was like a light went on. I realized if there was a way of certifying or creating a credential around this, that someone would see real value in it.

HPAC: So how did this evolve into the U.S. Green Building Council?

FEDRIZZI: Well, while still at Carrier, I met a guy named David Gottfried. He had this great idea of creating an industry group that brought everyone to the table: architects, engineers, developers, building owners, product manufacturers, state, local and federal government officials, universities, retail establishments. All to help them understand this great environmental opportunity in real estate.

Real estate is the largest single asset class we have. So if we could make a meaningful environmental impact there, we could do something huge. And that was how USGBC was born, co-founded with David.

HPAC: Fast-forward to today and your work now at IWBI. How do you see the issue of building wellness playing out now as we hopefully near the end of the pandemic?

FEDRIZZI: If we had had this conversation a year ago March, we would have been talking about WELL certification very differently. But it now has quickly gone from a ‘nice-to-do’ opportunity to an absolute ‘must-do’ opportunity. The demands on us have grown and we have seen real growth in the number of certifications, and number of people becoming WELL-accredited professionals. 

A tool that we introduced to the market about a year ago is the Health/Safety Rating. It’s not the full-blown WELL system, but it’s a way of looking at this in a post-COVID world and seeing how we get people back into buildings safely. For instance, Yankee Stadium is one of our first certified organizations. 

And that tells the public the recipient has done everything it can, with the information available that it has collected from 600 medical and scientific bodies, to provide a place that is safe to return to. It rates their plan for cleaning and sanitization and air quality, etc., and puts it through the funnel of that lens. But it is only good for one year, because the science is changing and everything we are learning about this virus is changing on a daily basis. 

HPAC: USGBC focuses on the buildings. IWBI focuses on the health and wellness of the occupants. But the green movement ultimately is about the planet. What do you say to people who lament that it is already too late to make a real difference?

FEDRIZZI: I say that they need to go get religion somewhere. I don’t care how bleak things may look, come the day that we give up, we should all be ashamed of ourselves. 

There truly is opportunity everywhere. And the more people become involved and educate themselves, the more they will see that. Or they can just study their children or grandchildren, and ask themselves, “What will their world look like in 20 years?”

Look at the record temperatures we are seeing across the U.S. this summer. What is that going to be like in 25 or 30 years if we don’t start doing something now? Can we fix everything by then? Absolutely not, but we could have three strategies by then that may yield one really great strategy for the future. We just have to keep trying.

Years ago, I remember being at the Greening of the White House ceremony and Amory Lovins from the Rocky Mountain Institute was there. I asked him, “What are we going to do with all the refrigerants being phased out in the U.S.? And the chillers? And all the toxicity associated with them?”

He just looked at me and smiled.

“Don’t worry about it,” Amory said. “The engineers will figure it out.”

So, I say, “God bless the engineers.”


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About the Author

Rob McManamy | Editor in Chief

An industry reporter and editor since 1987, McManamy joined HPAC Engineering in September 2017, after three years with, a Chicago-based media startup focused on tech innovation in the built environment. He has been covering design and construction issues for more than 30 years, having started at Engineering News-Record (ENR) in New York, before becoming its Midwest Bureau Chief in 1990. In 1998, McManamy was named Editor-in-Chief of Design-Build magazine, where he served for four years. He subsequently worked as an editor and freelance writer for Building Design + Construction and Public Works magazines.

A native of Bronx, NY, he is a graduate of both the University of Virginia, and The John Marshall Law School in Chicago.

Contact him at [email protected].