Meet the Honorees: Eric Corey Freed, SVP/Director of Sustainability, CannonDesign

by | Jan 27, 2022

The Environment+Energy Leader honoree program is an annual list that recognizes the environment and energy “doers” who break trail in creating new solutions, programs, platforms, best practices and products to help their companies – or other companies – achieve greater success in commercial and industrial environment and energy management. Meet the Honorees… is an ongoing series that will feature one Honoree from 2022 each week. See the complete list of 2022 Honorees here.

Meet Eric Corey Freed, SVP and director of sustainability with CannonDesign, a multi-disciplinary architecture and engineering firm that creates around 20 million square feet a year of cutting edge facilities for clients. Eric has “the best job in the world,” one in which he oversees a team of “passionate designers who help our clients make their projects better,” he says. “We show them how to uncover opportunities to slash their operational costs, eliminate their carbon emissions, and connect the health of their occupants to the design of the building.”

Tell us about your biggest energy management and/or environmental challenge and how you are addressing it.

Eric Corey Freed: As early signatories to the AIA 2030 Commitment, we push net zero energy for all of our projects, are on track to cut our embodied carbon in half within eight years, and incorporate a wellness strategy on all projects.

Currently, we are working with our clients to help them do for health what we’ve been doing for energy. Just as we are able to predict and model the energy use down to the watt per square foot, we are looking to bring health and wellness to that same level of control and design. We are designing these spaces down to the parts per billion, and looking to track the physiological responses of the people in our buildings.

In addition, we know that waste is a huge liability for our clients (both in cost and in carbon) and are developing zero waste/circular economy roadmaps for them. (I recently co-wrote Circular Economy for Dummies, published this year.)

What are some successes you can share?

ECF: Right now, our creative teams are designing dozens of projects that our clients are calling, their “greenest building ever” or their “healthiest building ever.” I love that!

We’re designing cancer centers by leading with a simple provocation: “Hey, let’s not put cancer causing chemicals in our cancer center!”

For us, sustainability isn’t just tacked onto the design, but is woven throughout our process and starts at the proposal stage before we even win the project. We engage our clients in a process at the start to uncover their pain points. Instead of selling them on sustainability, we sell them on the outcomes and benefits that sustainability brings.

Do you have any tips that would help other colleagues in the space?

ECF: Listen for your client’s pain points as they are the gateway to sustainability innovation.

And don’t put sustainability at the end of your meeting agenda, but instead put it at the start to help frame every discussion.

What trends do you expect to see in the market in the next few years? What technologies or organizational changes might help organizations overcome potential challenges caused by these trends?

ECF: We are already tracking a number of disruptive trends in our industry:

Financial: 23% of the Fortune 500 companies have carbon neutrality commitments, and we expect it will eventually be 100%.

Regulatory: new codes and standards are already pushing for greater accountability with carbon in buildings.

Insurance: All of the major insurance companies are now incorporating climate risk into their models and offerings. It doesn’t matter if you believe in climate change anymore, cause your insurance company sure does!

Credit Ratings: Moody’s, the largest credit risk agency in the world, has already made bold investments in climate risk accounting and reporting. Expect this to affect your ability to borrow for projects.

Resiliency and Climate Risk: The last few years have shown us that now everyone is at risk of climate impacts and we have been factoring in the resiliency stresses and shocks of our client’s projects.

In addition, there are a number of technology trends that are shaping our work:

Modular: We own a modular design company (MD+) and believe it is a way to speed construction, lower costs, and reduce waste. Our next generation will also reduce embodied carbon too!

AR/VR/MR: We are on the brink of a virtual reality revolution. All of the pieces are in place for your world to be enhanced with layers of visual data and information and expect this to change how we design buildings in amazing ways.

Internet of Medical Things (IoMT): The nature of patient care is changing too, and ubiquitous and connected devices are going to provide a wealth of sensor information to improve the quality of care.

Big Data and Predictive Analytics: All of these new sensors will brings massive amounts of data to be analyzed, and we can use this data to shape how we design our buildings.

Automation: We are already seeing observation drones on the construction site, but soon will have robots helping to provide skilled labor on-site. This should lead to an increase in quality and savings in cost and time.

AI: Lastly, with all of these sensors collecting data autonomously from both our digital and physical worlds, we will need artificial intelligence to help us make sense out of it all. The insights that AI will provide will revolutionize our relationship to interaction within our buildings and their impacts on our environment.

It is clear you are passionate about your work. Can you tell us about a favorite hobby, passion or book you’ve read recently that has had an impact on you?

ECF: I am obsessed with a relatively new field called synthetic biology that involves manipulating DNA to grow the next generation of sustainable materials. Imagine building materials that grow, have the ability to absorb carbon dioxide, change color with the seasons, or even heal! (I recorded a popular TED talk about this!)

BOOK: Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind (Yuval Noah Harari) was so eye-opening and gave me new ideas of how to connect the health of our buildings to our human biology and physiology.

BOOK: Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action (Simon Sinek) transformed how I lead teams, how I facilitate workshops, and even how I raise my daughter.

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

ECF: I find that I am more optimistic about our future now than I have been in my 30 years in practice. I truly believe we are on the verge of addressing this climate crisis in disruptive and meaningful ways.

Editor’s note: nominations are now open for this year’s E+E honoree program. Nominate a colleague — or yourself — for the 2022 E+E Honorees today.

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