MS Student Finds His Cause in Sustainability for Architecture Industry
MS in Sustainability Management student, Craig Holland, recently discussed his experience in the program. Prior to his enrollment as a full-time graduate student, Craig founded, owned, and operated The Archive, a media center and café in East Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Currently, Craig is a Partner and the Director of Business Operations at Hoberman Associates, an integrated design and engineering consultancy that works with the Architecture, Product Design, and Entertainment sectors. Craig entered the program in fall 2011.
1. What is your current job and what are the responsibilities associated with your position?
I am the Director of Business Operations for Hoberman Associates and our affiliated organization, Adaptive Building Initiative (ABI), which is a co-venture with Buro Happold Consulting Engineers. Hoberman is a design firm working across diverse sectors including Architecture, Product Design, and Entertainment. ABI designs, develops, and delivers sustainable architectural technologies based on Hoberman’s proprietary inventions. Within the two organizations, I oversee all aspects of finance, marketing, sales, public relations, and human resources. In addition, I am quite involved with client communication from the onset of a project, in terms of contract negotiations and establishing project goals as well as throughout project execution. As our work must survive for decades, oftentimes in harsh environmental conditions, it is critical to make sure that projects are executed correctly and that client expectations are met.
2. What drew you to the Master of Science Sustainability Management (MSSM) program?
The architecture industry is, by nature and necessity, highly collaborative. As I do not have a technical background, I have had to acquire a variety of skills to ensure I am not left out of important conversations—particularly those that drive decision-making on project objectives and milestones. Thus, when I was contemplating graduate school, I knew I wanted a program that touched upon the technical issues that my colleagues face. In addition, I wanted to grow my knowledge base in strategic planning processes, internal and material resource management, and marketing strategy. The MSSM program appealed to me because it combined courses in science, engineering, and policy, with the coursework found in a traditional MBA program.
3. What inspired you to work in sustainability?
Sustainability is the defining issue of our time; addressing this issue requires deep multidisciplinary collaboration, where policy, science, management, and design converge. Consistent exposure to new ideas and new ways of addressing issues is, for me, a prime motivator to work in this field—it’s extremely dynamic. And as this field evolves, it will no longer be called sustainability, it will be called business as usual. This market transformation is something I am excited to be a part of, and to guide, where I’m able.
4. What has been your biggest sustainability challenge in your current position?
Typically, building systems suppliers are brought on later in an architecture project to achieve some preset performance goal. This makes perfect sense for an air conditioning or curtain wall manufacturer, for example, as they have a series of standard products. For us to do our job effectively, however, we need to ask deeper questions: How will the space be utilized, now and in the future? How will the building adapt over time to changing environmental conditions? Knowing how these questions are posed and then answered is critical to the way we approach, and ultimately deliver, our designs. This process is also critical to making a building that lasts through multiple life-cycles—which should be the goal of all good building design. The challenge, of course, is convincing the client to pay now for a service that will save them money later.
5. What has been your biggest accomplishment associated with sustainability in your current position?
My company has spent the last four years developing an adaptive shading system we call Tessellate. Unlike most architectural technology companies, we did not go after venture capital funding or other traditional means of financing. Instead we developed and nurtured strategic partnerships to expand our capabilities and our client network: We leveraged the wide array of energy experts at Buro Happold to verify Tessellate’s energy performance; We used the manufacturing expertise and facilities of our fabrication partners, the A. Zahner Company, to build and test mock-ups; and most importantly, we used our sculptural commissions to explore new technologies, configurations and approaches at building-scale. Art as a lab for commercial research and exploration is a concept that is gaining traction as design is elevated beyond the aesthetic. (Thank you, Steve Jobs!). Taking this conceptual approach and then applying it successfully to a commercial enterprise has been extremely gratifying; we recently began our largest architectural commission to date: installing 40,000 square feet of Tessellate on a building in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia (the project is slated for completion in early 2013).
6. What is an example of how you have applied something specific that you have learned in the program thus far to your job?
The mid-term assignment for my Dynamics of Energy Efficiency class was to profile the energy usage of a building and to make suggestions for reducing its consumption. Through connections at work, I was fortunate to be able to profile the Flatiron Building. My project began with a top-to-bottom private tour with the building’s superintendent. Not only was this incredibly fun, but it was incredibly instructive on how building systems are set up, how they are used, and how they can be improved with little expense. Because my job is almost exclusively focused on new construction, it’s easy to lose sight of how people will actually use our designs. Studying how a building has evolved its use since inception (in this case, 1902) gave me a unique perspective on the design of building systems and how they adapt over time as usage, technology, and occupants change.
7. What is your favorite class in the MSSM program so far and why?
I have just begun the program, but so far, one of my favorite classes has been Dynamics of Energy Efficiency. Because Professor Luke Falk is a practitioner, not a theorist, he is extremely engaging and well-informed on all issues regarding building energy efficiency. Practitioner experience is particularly important in this industry, as data without the benefit of being in the field, can be misleading. His class forces you get out of the classroom and make observations that verify (or in some cases, contradict) the hard data you are analyzing—which has been my richest learning experience thus far.
8. How do you intend to utilize your degree from the MSSM program in furthering your career?
I intend to stay connected to the building industry throughout my career, whether in the form of sustainability management for a real-estate developer, or sustainability consulting for organizations within the field. To do so means understanding all facets of green building code and policy compliance (and hopefully policy leadership down the road); energy generation, transmission, and efficiency, from building-scale to city-scale; and finally how to effectively address the management challenges that these companies face. Currently, I’m particularly interested in creative avenues for energy efficiency financing, as this is a rich area which banks and other financing entities are struggling to understand. Creating (and financing) efficient, beautiful, livable spaces for people and organizations excites me, and I intend to use my expertise in business to contribute to these efforts.
9. What tips do you have for your fellow students who are looking for a job in sustainability?
As anyone who is in this program knows, sustainability is a broad field and can represent an overwhelming array of choices. When exploring professional options in social policy as an undergraduate, I was told by many different practitioners to “pick a cause.” Picking a cause that resonates with you and is complimentary to your inherent skill-set is critical to being successful in this field. Sustainability still needs to be sold to companies and their constituents so it is important to demonstrate to the customer your passion for what you’re selling—in our case, senior management or potential clients. So make sure that whatever your “cause”—architecture, corporate marketing, consulting, agriculture, public health, advocacy, etc.—you are passionate about what you do.
10. What do you think is the most beneficial aspect of the MSSM program with regard to your career?
I believe I will gain the most from the multidisciplinary nature of the program and the diversity of the student body. I learn as much from my fellow students as I do from my classes. I know, for example, that if I am ever tasked with managing an issue concerning water scarcity (something I do not know much about), I have an incredible network of experts, and now friends, that I can draw upon. This is an invaluable resource, and one that will grow with the program.
The MS in Sustainability Management, co-sponsored by the Earth Institute and Columbia’s School of Continuing Education, trains students to tackle complex and pressing environmental and managerial challenges. The M.S.in Sustainability Management program requires the successful completion of 36 credit points. Those credit points are divided among five comprehensive content areas: integrative sustainability management, economics and quantitative analysis, the physical dimensions of sustainability, the public policy environment of sustainability management, and general and financial management. Please visit our website to learn more about the program.