Thursday, July 29, 2010

Interview with Sara Graham, HOK's Firmwide Sustainability Manager

Sara Graham has a particularly challenging job managing HOK's ever-expanding knowledge base on the subject of sustainability. How she stays sane I have no idea. But to say that she is an informed subject for an interview on sustainability trends is an understatement. Here's what she has to say about

Q: What is your current role at your organization?
A: Firmwide Sustainability Manager – focusing on knowledge management, practice leadership and sustainable reporting.

Q: What would you say are current “trends” when it comes to organizations adopting green strategies or principles?
A: Starting 10 years ago, leaders in the field were jumping on the LEED bandwagon – it’s been hard work, but finally LEED has now become relatively commonplace (as well as other rating systems worldwide). What is becoming increasingly important today is performance – of a building, of employees, of a company. Standard metrics are being defined for a whole host of topics to help the general public, employees, potential clients and investors truly understand how a company is performing in any given area.

Q: How have recent legislation or corporate/federal mandates changed the way your organization addresses environmental issues?
A: Legislated mandates are definitely helping to rapidly establish many sustainable goals. Whereas sustainability has gotten fairly far over the last 10 years on interest alone, the rest of the market is now paying attention because they have to.

Q: What green / sustainability-related project are you working on now that you are most proud of?
A: I spend much of my time collecting and reporting energy and carbon performance data for HOK’s projects and our own offices – as modeled in design and as performing in real time. Energy efficiency certainly isn’t the only important element to sustainable design, however, it does present an extremely useful benchmark in understanding how a variety of systems work (or don’t work!) together.

I am also presently working on a campaign to recognize leaders in sustainability across HOK – see our series on HOK Life!

Q: What has inhibited you or your organization from making more progress on the sustainability front?
A: Until recently, it really has been a cost and effort issue for many of our clients. Now that sustainability is being mandated for more and more markets, we are obviously seeing an uptick in demand.

Q: What advice would you give others in your position trying to make a difference for the environment?
A: A colleague of mine uses this phrase often and it definitely rings true for me just about every day – “You can’t change what you don’t measure.” Clients are increasingly wanting more assurance that buildings are performing as designed.

Q: What is your favorite source for sustainability/environmental trends or information?
A: For design issues, is tops. For general sustainability issues, I try to get my information from a variety of sources – stories of every kind and from every angle are out there. Mostly NPR, email-delivered newsletters and RSS feeds and even Facebook!


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