An interview with Rick Renner, Richard Renner Architects
Goal 2 of NESEA’s recently adopted Strategic Plan reads: “Continue to deepen NESEA’s programmatic focus to include Commercial and Institutional.” I interviewed Rick Renner, the board member who is championing this goal, to learn more.
JM: Why did the board prioritize this particular strategic goal?
RR: There was a growing and clear sense that NESEA had so much to offer beyond its expertise in single family residential. Focusing on the Commercial and Institutional arena represented an opportunity to grow the NESEA audience and therefore membership and participation.
As we were focusing on this goal, we very quickly realized that NESEA is already doing a lot of programming in C&I. The issue became not “how we could start,” but rather, “how we could build on what we were already doing?”
There were other reasons to prioritize our growth in C&I. Strategic Goal 5 in our plan calls for NESEA to better serve the entire Northeast. Focusing on C&I gives us a chance to reinforce that goal. We realized that educational institutions - colleges and universities - are a huge “industry” in the Northeast. They are all over the Northeast, not just in Boston or New York City, where NESEA already has a significant presence. Properly managed, the implementation of this strategic goal will also help us get better geographic distribution throughout the NESEA region.
JM: Say more about why you have identified colleges and universities as the starting point.
RR: There are a lot of practitioners already in the NESEA community that have done projects for schools and universities. And often, because of the multiple stakeholders they cater to (students, faculty, voters, taxpayers and more), these institutions have a strong incentive in pursuing environmentally responsible, high performing projects.
Focusing on educational institutions gives us access to a number of constituencies that could easily be brought into the NESEA tent, such as students, facilities managers, and faculty members who wish to use the design and construction process as teachable moments.
Also, institutions build for the long run. Often, they are interested in issues like energy efficiency, resiliency, and careful selection of materials because these buildings remain in their portfolios and on their campuses for the life of the institution - maybe even for centuries.
JM: What is NESEA currently doing on the C&I front? What steps will the board and staff take to build upon that work?
RR: Going back many years there have been sessions at BuildingEnergy Boston focused on multifamily and institutional projects. And BuildingEnergy NYC has been almost exclusively focused on C&I and multifamily projects since we launched it almost six years ago. This focus has been ratcheting up quite quickly, and in an organic way. This year, for the first time ever, more than half of the BuildingEnergy Pro Tours we are offering feature multifamily, commercial or institutional buildings. This new mix of projects predated our official focus on C&I in the strategic plan, but helped confirm that we’re on the right track. We simply want to increase and focus this momentum. We don’t have to create it out of whole cloth.
JM: Is there a tension between this strategic goal and NESEA’s roots in single-family residential construction? Will this goal entail doing less on the residential front?
RR: I don’t think it’s an either/or proposition. From my perspective, having done both single-family and institutional projects, the focus on measurable results, learning from mistakes, and sharing in an open way can work on any building scale. There will always be people in NESEA that are focused on single-family residential, but I think NESEA has the resources and the imperative to do both. BuildingEnergy NYC is a perfect example of that. Its focus on larger buildings has not compromised NESEA’s ability to be a source of information and inspiration to smaller projects.
JM: Anything else I should have asked?
RR: Yes. Stay tuned for the results of a few focus groups we plan to hold with educational institutions. These focus groups will help us understand what their needs are so that we can sharpen our goals and objectives as we grow our C&I efforts.
NESEA advances sustainability practices in the built environment by cultivating a cross-disciplinary community where practitioners are encouraged to share, collaborate and learn.