In this interview, Mezey discusses her role and the challenge of equitable, financially efficient decarbonization.
What are the responsibilities for your role with WSP?
My work as a consultant with our Built Ecology practice is focused mainly on corporate strategy, certifications and early-stage performance analysis for sustainable, low-carbon buildings.
I work with a range of clients in commercial, education, government and financial sectors to create holistic sustainability and decarbonization programs for their projects and enterprises. These programs articulate clients’ unique environmental, wellness and social justice strategy and goals while presenting a roadmap and governance framework for implementation.
WSP customizes programs to the client’s vision and understanding of what “sustainability” means. A robust sustainability strategy typically builds on the prescriptive requirements of popular building rating systems like Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED), WELL Building Standards or Living Building Challenge to foreground the people and issues most important to the client. Our Built Ecology team uses our custom analytical workflows to make data-driven design recommendations for buildings while also leaning on WSP’s network of experts in building systems, climate change, resiliency, digital consulting and other fields.
I focus on a few of the analytical services that we offer, including whole building life cycle assessment (WBLCA), water budget analysis, solar radiation and daylight analysis, greenhouse gas (GHG) accounting and environmental, social and governance disclosure. I am also part of our taskforce for achieving WSP’s commitment to the Structural Engineering Institute’s SE2050 Program. Here I collaborate with structural and lifecycle assessment engineers to research carbon-smart products, materials and new tools to support reduction, measurement and reporting.
What is your background in this field, and what excites you about the work that you’re now doing in this field for WSP?
As a member of WSP’s Built Ecology team, I’m excited to collaborate every day at the intersection of so many disciplines and to think about physical and social pillars for strong, resilient and equitable communities and institutions.
While studying mechanical engineering and energy studies at Yale University, I was a student researcher in coastal resiliency at the Urban Ecology and Design Laboratory. As part of a Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) grant, we focused on gray and green infrastructure turnkey solutions for increasing the resilient capacity of vulnerable coastal towns. I saw firsthand how sustainable design can increase economic value and promote environmental justice.
“Sustainable” is not a one-size-fits-all end state. It’s multifaceted, and my job is to listen deeply and help craft a compelling sustainability narrative for the project — one that the client feels is wholly theirs. The client knows themselves better than anyone else and has the extensive knowledge that should be incorporated into the design process, and I try to impart to the client a design vocabulary for expressing their needs, as well as an approach to measuring if those needs are met.
I’m grateful for the opportunities at WSP to have meaningful client engagement because the question of “how do we engage correctly” has been compelling to me since I started my sustainability career in college. We’re partnering with all types of clients at WSP — such as public housing agencies, healthcare and residential developers and public schools — to leverage design projects as a springboard for critical conversations, for piloting technologies and cultivating buy-in, and for investing in a low-carbon future.
What are some of the biggest projects that you’ve been part of at WSP?
One of the most impactful projects in my WSP career so far is a Science-based Targets (SBT) Program for a leading financial services company. We are engaging a large bank and its stakeholders to plan and launch an SBT Program that sets and achieves Science Based Targets Initiative (SBTi) approved SBTs for reducing the bank’s GHG emissions along a Paris Agreement-aligned pathway.
I am the project manager responsible for project delivery across all workstreams and am heavily involved in our analysis scope — particularly carbon accounting, reporting and Net Zero scenario modelling. We are advising the client at the inception and roll-out of this program and supporting them to set up, phase and deploy multiple interconnected climate program components: target-setting and third-party approval, carbon data management software, new company policy, employee engagement and socialization, and procurement of renewables and carbon removals.
Through its SBT Enterprise Program, the bank is strengthening its long-standing commitment to environmental protection, demonstrating leadership among financial institutions and minimizing regulatory and reputational risk by decarbonizing its operations, supply chain and investments.
What is the biggest challenge in your field that you are working to help overcome?
The biggest challenge is how we decarbonize the built environment, and how we do it in an equitable and financially efficient way.
When working on the challenge — but it’s really a call to action — of decarbonizing, the key is to balance specificity and flexibility. A good way to do this is to support clients by providing them with three essentials:
- a formalized criteria to make decisions,
- the data that’s needed to evaluate a robust menu of GHG reduction options along those criteria, and
- a process for continuous improvement.
Ultimately, we’re trying to best prepare the client to make evidence-based decisions with enduring environmental payoffs that are informed by what their team cares about.
Will any innovations developed for this project be incorporated/adapted into future WSP projects?
For the SBT Enterprise Program, we are refining our approach to modelling the performance of existing buildings and developing a building portfolio strategy for phasing in and financing energy conservation measures that reduce operational carbon. Architecture 2030 reports that by 2040, roughly two-thirds of the building area that exists today will still be standing, so focusing our efforts on what’s existing is critical.
I’ve always had a real appreciation for all those activities that repair and sustain, and I look forward to being part of our Built Ecology team as we adapt and expand on our tools for existing buildings.
[To subscribe to Insights, contact the editorial staff at [email protected].]