© Moshe Zusman Photograph Stud LLC

In September, the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) announced that its chief operating officer (COO), Mahesh Ramanujam, will replace Rick Fedrizzi, Hon. AIA, as CEO when Fedrizzi steps down from the position at the end of 2016. Ramanujam joined the USGBC in 2009 as senior vice president of technology and became COO in 2011. The following year, he was also named president of the Green Building Certification Institute (now Green Business Certification Inc.). ARCHITECT caught up with Ramanujam to learn more about the USGBC’s long-term goals as well as its plans for the upcoming Greenbuild International Conference and Expo, to be held Nov. 18-20 in Washington, D.C.

ARCHITECT: Tell me about your professional background.
MR: My background is in re-positioning businesses to be more profitable and agile. I've done an enormous amount of work with both IBM and Lenovo, two major companies in the high-tech field. I'm an entrepreneur and for the last 17 years I’ve provided strategic consulting to create a larger [company] value and help clients use a variety of enterprise-level systems. 

How will your tech experience benefit you as the CEO of the USGBC?

As a technologist, I quickly moved into business transformation. I joined the USGBC to help adopt and improve technologies as a starting point. My first two and half years at the USGBC gave me a very unique perspective on how and what it would look like if I had to be in charge of this operation. I was constantly looking at what I would improve and the innovation opportunities I would push. The wild imagination prevailed.

USGBC announced that you will replace current CEO Rick Fedrizzi almost a year and a half prior to when the transition will occur. Why this timeframe?
Rick Fedrizzi has been with this organization for almost 23 years, since its inception in 1993, so it is very near and dear to him. From a founder's perspective—not a CEO's perspective—he wanted to make sure that the next leader had sufficient time to be able to understand the complexities and potential of the organization, and most importantly, create a vision that actually scales on the existing framework that he has defined. You don't want somebody to just step in and look at this in dollars and cents, or take a myopic view rather than understanding the cultural aspect and the mission. Rick and I have been doing a transition over a period of three years, so it'll be a five-year transition plan because I've been his understudy since I took over as the COO in 2011. 

What are some of the USGBC’s top priorities for the next year, and beyond?

Our goal is market transformation. While we are extremely pleased with what LEED has accomplished, our work has just gotten started. We still have not made the strongest case that human health should be the de facto consideration when you walk into a building. We’re also looking at the global supply chain. With the introduction of LEED v4, our next job is to look at how to build the life cycle of the product to be green.
On one side, you’re talking about the wonderful achievements of building net zero, but there’s so much sheer equity and social justice consideration to bring into the framework. Today the world’s population is daunting: 2.5 billion people live on less than $2 a day and about a billion live on less than $1 a day. The USGBC is not just about buildings, but about driving sustainability and being the next game-changer for a green mission, community transformation, and sustainability for all. What we have done so far is only the ground floor.

Greenbuild is coming up soon. What are you most looking forward to at the annual conference?
The most interesting part about Greenbuild is that we are going to have a true international conference, given its connectivity to national and global players. You’re going to see different cultures, passion, and business practices articulated in the thought-leadership platform. A variety of world leaders are going to come together to share ideas, challenges, and opportunities. I call it our annual wedding, having all of our family and community members get together and get inspired. When they leave, they are re-energized for the next year to come. At the heart of it, Greenbuild is happening in Washington D.C., it’s on the homefront, the global headquarters of the USGBC.

How will having Greenbuild in D.C. advance those goals?

Greenbuild has never been in D.C., which has more LEED-certified projects per capita than any state. So it’s exciting that this is happening in our hometown.

A study published in September by Booz Allen Hamilton reports that LEED-certified buildings account for 40 percent of green construction’s contribution to GDP in 2015. Green construction will account for more than 2.3 million U.S. jobs this year and 3.3 million jobs by 2018. These numbers are powerful by themselves, but being able to connect that to the Greenbuild floor—where local leadership, vendors, and global partners are projecting a variety of products and the supply chain created because of LEED—will be a clear demonstration of job creation, innovation, and the ability for community engagement to drive sustainability at the most basic level in the marketplace.

As we’re doing this in the nation’s capital, our local community leaders are able to pull in policymakers. When green building legislation is under the consideration of these policymakers, we hope that those connections will influence them to vote for it and demand that more green jobs and products be generated from the local commerce. We are trying to boil it all down to economics and social aspects. Educating the policymaker is going to be one of the most important outcomes to come from the pragmatic approach we will take to Greenbuild.

Note: This interview was edited for clarity and length.