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Concrete Credentials: How Concrete Can Lead in Building a Sustainable Future

In this episode of Concrete Credentials, Gregg Lewis sits down with former President and CEO of the U.S. Green Building Council Mahesh Ramanujam. Mahesh is a thought leader in green building standards and environmental sustainability. He discusses his background, his process developing the LEED certification and the future of sustainable concrete construction and how it will help countries achieve their ESG goals.

NRMCA’s Gregg Lewis sits down with former President & CEO of the U.S. Green Building Council and thought leader in green building standards and environmental sustainability, Mahesh Ramanujam.

Gregg Lewis:
Hello, and welcome to today’s installment of Concrete Credentials. I’m Gregg Lewis, executive vice president of the National Ready Mix Concrete Association, and I am delighted that our guest today is Mahesh Ramanujam, a leading voice in green building. Driven by his belief in a brighter future, Mahesh is an enthusiastic thought leader paving a new path for green buildings, communities and cities. Known for his optimism, embedding purpose in everything he touches, Mahesh’s vision is a universal adoption of high-minded practices with healthy buildings as urgent civic responsibilities to ensure a better quality of life for current and future generations.

One of Business Insider’s 100 People Transforming Business, Mahesh is trusted across the globe by both investors and policy makers. For five years, Mahesh led a community of millions of green builders as president and CEO of the U.S. Green Building Council, the Green Business Certification Incorporated, and the global technology platform, Arc, transforming green building standards to ensure public health, equity, and environmental sustainability in communities across the world.

Through USGBC, Mahesh was at the helm of the LEED rating system setting the gold standard for green building certification and credentialing. Prior to his tenure as president and CEO, Mahesh served as both COO and CIO of the USGBC, during which he ushered in a new era of groundbreaking programs. His USGBC work was preceded by leadership positions at IBM and Lenovo, where he reshaped several business programs. Graduate from India’s Annamalai University with a degree in computer engineering, Mahesh is an expert at the intersection of investment and technology, leveraging his managerial experience in both to maximize innovation. He brings an international perspective to his work with an emphasis on inclusion and bridging divides.

As the concrete industry continues to embrace innovation and prioritize sustainability, we are obviously honored to have a driving force in all things green building here with us today. Mahesh, welcome to Concrete Credentials.

Mahesh Ramanujam:
Thank you, Greg. Thanks for having me and it is exciting to speak with you again.

Gregg Lewis:
Well, we appreciate you joining us here and especially for dialing in from across the globe in Chennai, India. With so much ground to cover, let’s take it way back to the beginning. What inspired you to shift in your career from engineering and consulting focused roles to a deep dive into sustainability and green building?

Mahesh Ramanujam:
Gregg, I grew up in Chennai, India, and my background is in computer science and engineering. While growing up in Chennai, and of course, in the entire Indian subcontinent, I’ve seen firsthand how our environment can have a deep impact on the standard of living on a person’s life. I’m one of the beneficiary of that construct.

Still in many parts of India and in fact, some parts of the U.S. and around the world, access to clean water, energy, and air is a privilege than a right. Now that’s totally unacceptable. I am very happy that the economic development raised millions out of poverty, but this progress did not come without a cost. While every sector negatively impacts the environment and generate carbon emissions, one third of energy use and 40% of global emissions comes from building and construction sector.

After spending over 15 years in driving business and technology transformation with corporations like IBM and Lenovo, I saw a unique opportunity to use all I have learned to transform the building sector to have less impact on the environment. I also realized this was my opportunity to pay forward by helping the world ensure that every building is a green building, because I truly believe better buildings equal better lives. That was the motivation and that is what kicked off my journey into the U.S. Green Building Council.

Gregg Lewis:
It makes a lot of sense to me. It’s a logical path, I think, in a lot of ways. You’ve been a leader in green building, you’ve used your voice to advocate for healthy living environments and prioritizing compassion in construction. Can you tell us a little bit more about what this means and what inspired this?

Mahesh Ramanujam:
Actually, you heard this thing very frequently within our industry and within our community that before COVID, we used to say we spend 90% of our time indoors, but during COVID it became 100%. Now let’s say that we have gone back to the 90% again. This means the places where we live, learn, work and play need to ensure every individual’s well-being.

What we observe around the world now is the contrary. We all know that green buildings is not just about energy efficiency and reducing carbon emissions, but also about ensuring clean indoor and external outdoor environment to protect the physical, social, and emotional health and well-being of people. Particularly during COVID, we saw the inextricable link between the environment and the people, and importantly the impact it had on its economy because of the lack of preparation of the building sector in terms of being able to protect the people inside those buildings.

In addition to this, when you think of a building or its construction, we have to think of the people it impacts. In addition to occupants, we need to think about construction workers and the community as a part of who can either be positively or negatively impacted by the building construction operations. This is why I’ve consistently said that if you want to talk about a building, we need to talk about the people inside of it, and importantly, the people it impacts. If we can ensure that the design construction and operations of a building is aligned with this intention and really prioritize healthy living as a premise, then we will not just change lives, but sometimes save lives.

So to me, it’s about really embedding that intentionality all throughout the operations and really making sure that we continue to remind people that buildings and people should not be looked in isolation. We are building buildings after all for the people who are the living side of them.

That’s basically the notion in which I came from because when I entered the building sector, for me, it was a new sector. It’s a sector that I don’t have any expertise or knowledge in. I’m not an architect. I’m not a design guy. I’m not an engineering guy from the building sector. But what I realized was buildings connect with people, but do people connect with buildings? That was a question I kept asking, and the only way we can do that is when we realized what we realized during COVID.

Wow, if my environment would certify that I can be COVID-free, that house would go on a billion dollar sale right away, right? I mean, we couldn’t do that. It’s a very pragmatic way of looking at it and saying, “Let’s make sure we connect the people to the buildings,” which means that you really appeal to their health and well-being, and of course their families and their friends, all the things that we learned very clearly during COVID.

Gregg Lewis:
Your enthusiasm for this is obviously very infectious. One of the things that I really appreciate about you, and clearly this humanistic approach should, I think, be front and center in terms of the way we think about the building sector in general. Obviously there’s more than just a little bit more work to be done, incorporating compassionate thinking into construction. Do you think that there are similar barriers in incorporating sustainability measures in construction?

Mahesh Ramanujam:
Yes, absolutely. I feel like the construction sector does the biggest heavy lift on the building and construction field, right? There is architecture, there is building construction, and then obviously you’re eventually going into operations and maintenance, etc. You go into the future states of the business or the buildings itself.

Definitely there are clear barriers, and the obvious barriers are definitely education. We cannot have enough education about how this whole thing comes together because buildings are complex. People just don’t really tie themselves to it, and most importantly, they act in silos. Definitely education cost of construction technology.

When we think about technology, the disruptive technologies that are coming in, as well as the existing technologies that goes into a building and capacity building, I believe that since 2008 to 2009, we lost a lot of workforce during the financial crisis, particularly from the building construction sector. I’m not sure whether they ever came back. Capacity building is a significant piece.

And then if you layer in sustainability on top of it, if you layer in this net zero and other commitments on top of it, it becomes an enormous pressure on the construction sector not only to build buildings faster so that we can move more people out of poverty, but they need to be more qualified, more knowledgeable, and most importantly, they need to be the best of everything because they’re dealing with the broader safety issues of the individuals who are going to be housed in those buildings.

And then the next point, I think, is quality management, managing quality. Once you have this level of complexity, it’s a marathon task. It’s a Herculean task, and that has to be taken to consideration. Obviously, last but not the least, the most important one, the motivation of owners, developers, and investors continues to be a challenge for the construction industry. What happens is that everybody says the right words now, but very rarely it translates into dollars that are being freed up for building, construction and design because finally it comes to the construction budget.

Finally, it comes to the construction timeline. Finally, it comes to the fact that while this is where you cut the coverage and you really make it work because we need to really occupy this building. These are pragmatic issues that try to side-step the sustainability as being a core principle and most only the value that every building has to depict. I believe that these challenges are real. Because you’re a leader advocating for the industry, I can share this with you in a very simplistic way.

I don’t think we celebrate the great work of the construction workers and the work they do to support the environment, the people, and the economy in a good way. I’ve said this before, I’ll say it again. Building a bad building is a sin, and not talking about a good building is a cardinal sin. I think for the construction side, it matters more than ever now because we need to celebrate the work.

I’ve done thousands of black presentations all the world, but I never seen a construction leader come in the front and talk about it. We had a architect talk about it. We talked about it, but the construction sector would be a little bit behind the scenes playing the game as always they play, and they don’t take enough credit. I think we need to give them more credit, and we need to educate them to demand more credit. That’s one of the barriers, in my opinion, as well.

Gregg Lewis:
Very well put. I’m amazed at your ability to both hold the complexities of each of those issues in mind simultaneously and maintain your obvious optimism and enthusiasm for tackling them. That’s a unique set of skills, I think, and I applaud you for that.

One of the issues that we see in the sustainability space in particular are the folks that push back, right? I’m curious from your perspective and in your history, have you experienced pushback in the development in regard to green building? What are your recommendations for others who are facing similar pushback to overcome them?

Mahesh Ramanujam:
That’s a great question, Greg, because you know what happens? There is a lot of activism. In 1993, when U.S. Green Building Council was established, or even during that time, many green building ideas came into fruition. The idea was we should lead with activism and optimism, but then what happens when we’re dealing with building construction sector? That is very well-organized sector, a regulated sector. There is a lot of consequence around the sector in terms of safety priorities, budget scope, and predictability, which you and I know that this is slap. The more predictability we can give to businesses, the better they will be able to scale up the aspirations.

There are numerous pushbacks, but you know, but some of those pushbacks may not be real. If you really take the three tangible pushbacks, at least for today, I would like to talk about them. Number one is return on investment. You and I have heard this over and over and over again. What is the return on investment for green building? Why do we need to build green buildings? Why do we need to build green?

The question is not about what is a green building. The question is about how much does it cost? Should I build a building that is silver, gold, platinum? These questions always come up. What I feel where the industry has gone a little and is still falling short is that we don’t have real data, and I would call it an investment grade data or a CFO grade data to basically clearly show the return on investment for green buildings.

The anecdotal messaging is good. There are some disbursed sort of data that’s available for return on investment, but there is not a single place that you and I can go to and say like, “Wait a second. There is a green building. This is what the delivery in terms of the return and investment and the payback period and the return impact. All these things have been calibrated and actually the whole calibration works. This is why you need to go and build a green building.”

That method or that information is not available. It disappoints me even more because after 107,000 green buildings around the world, I don’t think we should be here. That is 30 years of transformation. We still are trying to figure out, “Give me the basic data. Figure out why should I do this.” That’s something that we should really push forward.

Now, the solution for that is we must push projects to be not just transparent about their sustainability efforts, but also with the cost it took because we are doing ourselves at disservice if we don’t do that. It means that we can clearly take the data because that data is not available with you or me. That data is available with the projects, and they need to present the data. We can help definitely advocate for it, message it, and most importantly demonstrate that it’s not only right for the environment, but it is good for the economy. We can prove sustainability is profitable, and profitability can be sustainable through this effort.

Second, I touched on this earlier, we have a narrative issue. Particularly in the United States, even more challenging. As industry insiders, you and I introduce a lot of jargon on a daily basis. That’s just the way we do business, right? But in 2019, when I launched the Living Standard campaign inside U.S. Green Building Council, we lead them with a research effort in the U.S. with a common public research to find that only 11% of the people understood the top green buildings. Only 11% in the United States, and that is after 20 per years of green building advocacy.

To me, that’s not acceptable and that’s not a good place to be. So this led me to really analyze why do people don’t connect with the term green building? They’re trying to understand things like recyclability, clean air, clean water, I need to be healthy. These words, people understand. In fact, they want those benefits because they connect them directly to the standard limit. But as a community, we have failed to bring that simple contextual language to help people understand the benefits of green building. They’re demanding it, but they don’t know that green building is how they get it.

If we can really meet the people where they are and really help them to simplify the language and not throw all these complex keywords that we should manage, but they don’t need to be intellectually involved in that exercise. If we can do that, this will change the demand, which means that we know that tag demand will change everything. That is the second point.

The third one is fragmentation of solutions we offer to the market. I’m pretty sure you’re facing this every day, right? One day you would respond to LEED, the other day you would respond to some other rating system, another rating system, another guideline, another protocol, another policy. There is basically a framework or a standard or a guideline or a platform of the day and businesses cannot respond to that on a daily basis. It makes it extremely challenging for them to really educate their own workforce and implement right process and procedures and eventually measure progress.

They end up reacting to all these things. That I think is a disservice. Again, we do [inaudible 00:15:47] because we are preventing a scaling effect. Ultimately, if we can all work together, the associations, the nonprofit leaders, the policy makers, if we can all understand and say, “Let’s not create one more thing. Let’s try to create the only thing that integrates very well all these principles.” We can learn from a tech sector so that we organize the various strategies and solutions and provide a clear method of measurement and recognize good work.

For example, a clear method of measurement is how much does it cost? When will the payback be? That could be a very simple measurement that could move the needle. And then most importantly, people want to be recognized by good work, particularly in this complicated world we live in. People want to really learn from leaders who have done good work and people follow leaders. I truly believe that these three pushbacks that I’ve heard and the solution that I’ve tried to articulate here, I’m sure there are better solutions other people could think of.

Clearly I would scale up the green building efforts and actually disrupt the green building sector, and then eventually set a precedent for sectors like agriculture and transportation sectors, where I believe that the transformation efforts are still emerging. We are definitely ahead of the curve, but we can definitely get far up in the curve.

Gregg Lewis:
The good thing about doing a recorded podcast is that the listeners of this podcast can now go back and back up to the beginning of your answer to that last question and listen to it again. There’s so much in there, we could spend a two-hour session just talking about those three pushbacks. Understanding them and understanding the complexity involved, I think, is important for anybody who has an interest in the development of green building. So, wow, just amazing stuff.

I’m going to pivot a little bit. One of your most widely known accomplishments is establishing the LEED standard and seeing that grow. Can you tell us a little bit about what inspired its creation and its impact?

Mahesh Ramanujam:
First of all, thank you for that good recognition for the work that the Green Building Movement has done. I’m glad to have played my small role in promoting LEED as the most widely used green building rating center of the world. I’m extremely proud of being associated with it.

The true credit for development of LEED and its adoption goes to our founders, USGBC members like yourself, projects, advocates across various sectors, and that army of LEED professionals around the world.

A little bit about the story of LEED. In 1993, U.S. Green Building Council was established with a simple mission. Buildings, communities, and cities will regenerate and sustain the health and vitality of all lives within a generation. What a fantastic and lofty goal.

As they were establishing this mission, it became very quickly clear that we need to have some kind of a tool platform. In 1998, LEED was developed as a checklist for better building design, construction, and operation. It’s a simple idea that we must build a building that is different than the traditional building, which means that it must reduce carbon emissions while having a positive impact on the environment, people, and the economy.

Now, the way I talk about LEED is that the first 10 years of LEED was about making people think about green buildings. The second 10 years of LEED was all about really making people implement green buildings because that’s when the boom happened in the construction sector in the Asia Pacific while the financial crisis was simultaneously breaking the backbone of every economy in the world. We grew construction sector significantly in the Asia Pacific zone at that time, having LEED as a standard that everybody could implement to basically build not just a traditional building but a green building.

And then here we are in 2021 being able to now measure the impact of those buildings and really set a greater trend into the marketplace about why green buildings are capable of generating a healthy economy. Today, we have hundreds of thousands buildings in 182 countries and territories relentlessly working LEED projects to save energy, save water, reduce waste, remove carbon, and importantly create a positive indoor and outdoor environment for millions of people around the world. Today, it is a $2 trillion industry with its own economic engine clearly demonstrating the power of the LEED moment.

When people have talked to me about LEED, when I came into LEED, I thought it was a standard. It was a guideline. It was a protocol. All of it is true, but to me LEED is a mindset because it clearly changed the way people thought about buildings. It forced people to think about holistic design and how you can actually work towards integrative design by bringing the architects, the constructional leaders, the structural engineers, and even the investors together to sit and actually plan for downsizing the resource conception of the system to upscale the system and to get the maximum benefit of the system. Here we are, we are talking about really setting the baseline for what we want the net-zero revolution to be.

The best part of these LEED buildings is that they benefit both the rich and the poor, which is very important because a sustainable world is important, but a sustainable world will be useless without an equitable world. LEED has done that. I think that’s the journey of LEED and that’s a progress with LEED. I consider LEED today as to be the baseline for any building around the world. Now so much we can do on that platform and so much good work we can do scaling it up.

Gregg Lewis:
I think that’s exactly right, referring to it as a baseline. At least when I got my LEED accreditation back bunch of years ago and worked on a couple of LEED-certified buildings back when I was practicing architecture, it occurred to me then, and I think it’s truer today, a lot of people just think about it as a static checklist without understanding the dynamic nature of the idea behind it and how this idea of continual improvement ultimately is going to get us, I hope, to a place where we’re all striving to get as we try to advance the LEED system itself, but our responses to it. I think that’s really important. I’m glad you framed it the way that you did.

Since its inception, the LEED standard has evolved to many different iterations to keep up with ever changing innovation and technology. Beyond LEED, what else do you think needs to happen?

Mahesh Ramanujam:
Yeah, I think it’s clearly first things first, we need to continue the progress that we’re making today. What happens is that still I have people questioning, “Why do we need to get certified with LEED? Why do I need to build the LEED Platinum? Why do I need to build the LEED Gold?”

This is still, to me, not acceptable. And then I heard this famous term called ABC, and I’m sure you heard about it, all but certified. I don’t think you and I are going to go to a doctor who’s never board-certified, right? As simple as that. I don’t understand why the building construction sector will take shortcuts like that. I don’t like those type of answers people give me because that shows lack of commitment and lack of their own confidence in being able to project a stronger data to reflect that they’ve done good work.

First things first, continue the progress. Continue the momentum that we’re making because there’s so much more work to do particularly in the post COVID work. That’s the first point.

The second point is that we made a tremendous progress, which you know very well with the new construction sector, but the challenge comes with the root of it. Ninety percent or I would say even 95% of the building stock around the world is existing buildings where they embody carbon emissions that is sitting right in those building structures.

The good news is we are not generating any more new emissions, but the bad news is those emissions that have been already consumed should be really redirected in a good way. What I mean by that is that there is tremendous opportunity for us to transform existing buildings to become clean buildings. That needs to get on the right trajectory for us to be able to eventually realize a unique type of climate goal, net-zero or beyond. It doesn’t matter which goal you’re trying to realize or even your ESG goals. The simplest practice that you must focus on in existing building. Otherwise the math does not add up.

Don’t hold me accountable to specific numbers, but I’m going to give an example. In 2019, I took the data based off United States’ existing buildings, 7.7 million existing buildings in the United States. Out of that, 50% of them were scoring an energy start score of less than 50, and 50% of those buildings are scoring an energy start score of less than 25. That’s totally unacceptable, which means that you are basically saying those buildings will never move to the right, but then you’re going to keep building this super net-zero buildings on the right.

It doesn’t compensate for the equation. We will need everybody to take action. Particularly we need every building to move towards the path towards net-zero. If a building is performing so poorly on the energy efficiency side, I am unable to reconcile whether it’ll be a good building for us to have a great indoor air quality, particularly emerging out of COVID. We like those buildings still really be healthy for the people inside them. I don’t want to be working in that building. I’m pretty sure you won’t be working inside.

That’s the second biggest opportunity that the LEED standard has already made progress on. In 2019, we introduced a significant changes to the LEED for existing [inaudible 00:24:57] system, but there is more work to do because it’s about adaption. It’s about measurement. It’s about progress. The truth is the existing buildings need to be approached in a different way than new construction. You don’t have those big budgets, and you are to make them make incremental progress. And then you are really understand and reflect on the reality of the ground because those realities are pragmatic realities like cost budget and where is the money going to come from? That’s the second point.

The third point is that clearly we touched on that early. LEED should become a standard guideline in terms of basically I would say the minimum that any organization should take or any building should take. I have talked to many architects and I said, “Can you please certify that or commit your minimum build to LEED certified level?” I’ve not heard a good answer from the ecosystem about it. I think that’s a very, very important push that we need to continue to do.

Last but not the least, LEED standard today is focusing on helping people build better buildings. But what LEED standard should go to is they should become a regenerative standard that helps building to become regenerative, which means that you save more energy than you use, you save more water than you consume, you remove more carbon than you produce, and you have a positive impact on the people, the planet, and of course, the economy around you. That’s today possible in the building construction sector because technology exists.

Now, the standard has to reward it so that we can help projects implement them on a pragmatic scale. I would consider those as the next big steps for LEED standard itself because the core module and the core building blocks already exist. It’s now really continuing to tweak the standard to meet these aspirations and really make it a pragmatic solution, which already it is for the people to benefit from.

Gregg Lewis:
You started down a path there that begins to suggest at least this idea of circularity, what Bill McDonald would cradle the cradle, right?

Mahesh Ramanujam:

Gregg Lewis:
Moving beyond zero to better them, to improving all of these things. Since you mentioned net zero, I’m curious. Achieving net zero obviously in addition to all of the good work done in the LEED program, net zero has become a priority for many in the public and private sectors on a global scale. From your perspective, Mahesh, what do you think the global community needs to do to achieve that goal?

First, let me quote my dear friend, our community leader, one of the strongest leaders in our community, Kevin Kampschroer, the director and the leader for sustainability at GSA. He said it the best. He said, “Mahesh, net less is critical. Net zero is essential. Net positive is the goal.”

I love that statement because he succinctly put it saying that we don’t look at them as either/or. Continue to help the market, make progress, get on the roadmap so that you can eventually get to that circularity or the regenerative principle that I earlier talked about. That’s basically the broader frame in which I like to address this particular topic.

Today, when you look at the LEED standard in the past three to four years, we have introduced a couple of LEED Zero certifications. There is a LEED Zero certification for energy, LEED Zero certification for water, LEED Zero certification for waste, and LEED Zero certification for carbon. These are basically an add-on certification on top of an existing LEED certification.

Why I’m differentiating the waste? A true LEED standard, which will address a full-blown net-zero requirement has to be holistic, which means that it has to look at net-zero end-to-end as an integrated principle, as I earlier talked about, and really help the building design construction leaders to really think of this as an integrated design process, but building a net-zero building from end to end. It needs improvement. The work, I believe, the team is doing a good job of trying to improve it. You will see that standards slowly match from that side of the organization.

Now, the reality today is that in 2020 and 2021, we have seen a ton of net-zero commitments. Everybody is committing and everybody is making these big, bold declarations. You’re seen significant sign-up for these PTIs and all the wonderful things around the world. But then I spent time talking to the implementation leaders of those a automations and asked them, “How are you going to implement this? Where are you going to start? Do you have a budget? Do you have the capacity? Do you have the knowledge? Do you know who are to be your partners? Most importantly, do you know how are you going to measure progress and how are you going to mitigate?”

If you’re going to set up a 2030 goal, we already lost two years unfortunately because of COVID, so eight years left. If you really put a clear plan for these leaders to say, “Okay, in eight years, how are you going to deliver the promises that you’re not delivering in the last 20 years? What are you going to do differently?”

This is the time to ask those hard questions. Sadly, I’ve not heard good answers. Even from the most disruptive leaders who have really made progress in the past, they have not shown a commitment and implementation plan. I shouldn’t say commitment, I should say implementation plan to demonstrate that they’re going to arrive.

Now, the larger their portfolio, the larger their challenges are. I truly believe this is the time for us to double down and not only just double up standards, but double down our developing standards and put in efforts to convert that awareness to adoption, so that adoption should be eventually measured, managed, and scaled up.

I think this is a very important shift to LEED in their position to make because it’s an implementation tool and it can help people to really go beyond the current commitment process and get on a good implementation road map to get there.

The second thing into this, we also can help people to really articulate the progress that they’re making against their commitments. Otherwise, right now, unfortunately we penalize people for… It’s a binary approach we are taking, either we are celebrating them or we are diminishing them. I don’t think that’s going to encourage a market to do good work. You need to help the market to have the right tools and then continue to encourage them, give them [inaudible 00:31:13] goals, and then allow them to really see the [inaudible 00:31:16].

These are the opportunities that we have with the LEED standards evolution, and clearly LEED is in a position to do it and a lot of good work is already happening. We must make sure all of these things work together so that’s the bottom line.

Gregg Lewis:
It’s such an important point that you just made about making sure that everybody’s pulling in the same direction effectively, and applauding the efforts that are being made, even for those who maybe have a long way to go in addressing this.

Obviously this podcast is Concrete Credentials. We are speaking in part, at least, to the concrete industry. I would say that a large part of ensuring that buildings are green is ensuring that building materials are green. The concrete industry itself has made massive strides and is continuing to work to further reduce their carbon footprint through innovations. Things like utilizing Portland-limestone cement, low carbon concrete, synthetic aggregates, and carbon capture and utilization technologies. All of those kinds of things are advancing fairly quickly. From your point of view, what role should the concrete industry play in achieving net-zero on a global scale?

Mahesh Ramanujam:
First of all, I had to recollect that moment that you and I went together very first time and for introducing me to this particular side of the world, right? Although I’ve been playing this sector, you allowed me to develop additional interests. Kudos to you and to your team for making that connection happen to me personally.

Now that means the first thing, we have to share the success stories because I knew Gregg, I knew the people around Gregg. I saw a group of passionate people who are really trying to make progress and basically being able to make the direct line connection saying this concrete industry is not going to sit on the sidelines and is sitting in the middle of the solving the next generation problem be it decarbonation, be it net zero, be it better medieval technology, or for that matter, eventually the net positive regenerative circularity principles, right?

That passion was evident at the first meeting when you guys hosted that great dinner for our team. I walked away with a lot of hope and optimism. To me, sharing those type of success duties led by people showing their commitment, showing their good work, and most importantly, showing their aspirations and intentionality is the key step that the industry could take because there is still the stuff happens by the industry very naturally because the business drivers demand it and there is a little bit of blind spot for everybody.

We also know that there’s ton of data. You guys have ton of data because your industry is so mature and you speak everything with data. I think you’ve got better data than most of the industries. But we also know that data only helps people to understand the concepts, but stories inspire people to action. That’s the first part.

The second part is educating stakeholders on the various efforts of industry, which you are doing by the way, which you are leading, but importantly, including the technical terms is important. I think today, if you start talking some construction terms, I probably will probably tune off. If you talk to some lay person, probably they tune off.

Alternatively, if you look at the technology sector, today if you go to a lay person, they use terms like artificial intelligence and machine learning and metaverse, and IGs and what-not. Even if they don’t know anything about it, they like to talk about it as if they know about it, or they’re familiar with the topic or whatever.

I think a similar effort has to be made to demystify or to introduce these specific technical terms the industry uses to broaden the environments of the public to saying like how these things work, how these things come together, how these things really help people to really have the buildings that they have or the homes they have and so on and so forth. The truth is I have hardly seen people besides your group speak about the various progress, challenges, and innovation happening within the industry. To me, that’s a second part. It’s a little bit variant to the storytelling part, but this is not about storytelling. This is about educating the broad audience about the complexities and opportunities and the technicalities of the industry itself.

The third is that I think the most promising thing that I feel the industry would benefit from now, particularly after spending a lot of time on this subject, is engaging the next generation in supporting the opportunities that you have and also solving the problems that the industry has faced. There is a tremendous interest from this new audience to learn, innovate, and lead. Today, an eight-year-old is writing a code. A nine-year-old is putting a start-up. A 10-year-old kid is basically trying to come back and actually raise a start-up capital. They’re able to really come back and challenge leaders in the room for a variety of questions. This is the type of learning that also has a larger moral consciousness than all of us, I would say, with all due respect to us.

There’s an extraordinary talent, passion, and motivation that is sitting that I believe that the concrete industry can tap into so that you can just leverage a LEED product. That also means we have to shed our old way of thinking. Definitely construction, concrete industries are pretty established industries. “This is how we do things. This is where we go. This is what we should do. This is what we should not do.” That should change quickly too. We had to shift the thinking to say, “We had to meet them where they are.”

Obviously, there are other recommendations, other thoughts that comes to me in terms of you need to repair technology, you need to come up with better products, you need to reduce the carbon calibrations, et. al. I’m pretty sure that’s happening, but I saw that these three things could really amplify those efforts and really project those efforts in the good sense.

I think every occupant must understand the role of concrete in a building and how the concrete is helping them to achieve the sustainable goals or the ESG goals, or for that matter, the decarbonation goals of the building. You eventually build a better tool at construction process. I think those are three thoughts that came to me as coming into the process.

Gregg Lewis:
You sort of answered the next question there with your third point and the challenge. I think the concrete industry continues to have are some of the misconceptions, right?

Mahesh Ramanujam:

Gregg Lewis:
People have these ideas that aren’t necessarily founded in understanding what the latest technologies are and how the industry is, in fact, innovating at the U.S. Green Building Council before. Since then, I’m curious about what you’ve seen about some of these misconceptions as it relates to concrete and sustainability in green buildings.

Mahesh Ramanujam:
I think the single largest one is that the carbonated steel. It is not environmental-friendly and it’s a thing that goes into the building and we don’t have a substitute for it. It’s a very, very simple thing to say, but that’s a big misconception, particularly after talking to you, it became even more clearer than ever. Even for a person like me, it’s a little bit distant.

You already talked about buildings don’t connect with people, but people connect with buildings. When we say that, I don’t think people connect with concrete, right? We need to bring that because historically that’s where we were before 30 years ago because that technology didn’t exist, the motivation didn’t exist. Importantly leaders, like you are challenging the industry to think from a clarity point. That innovation has happened. Now we had to play catch-up on making people understand it. Importantly, we need to reset the timeline. The way to to bring the next generation leaders and have them talk about and have them get excited about having a career in it. Everybody you talk to now wants to be a programmer. I’m like, okay, why not have a career in concrete? Why not? You should. [inaudible 00:38:43]. That’s a misconception, but also the remedy we can follow.

Gregg Lewis:
That’s the holy grail right there. We need to have young people look at concrete and understand its impact and role in bettering society in general, and how innovation in that sector ultimately is going to yield even better results and better benefits for human mind.

Personally, I’ve never been powered to work in the concrete industry than I am today because there are a lot of really passionate leaders trying to move this industry among our members, among our staff, you name it. It’s an exciting time to be in this industry as it is.

Mahesh Ramanujam:
Can I just add one point, Gregg, if you don’t mind?

Gregg Lewis:

Mahesh Ramanujam:
That was an excellent point you raised. I could not leave that moment out, although I was [inaudible 00:39:30]. For example, if I’m an 8% and I’m building my career now, let’s say I’m even an underserved community member because we didn’t touch equity as a component. I don’t want to leave it on a little bit flat foot here. Equity is a critical component, and when you think about the work that you guys are doing, you are spending a lot of time helping that level of the community to have a job, to have access to be part of a living, and even actually contribute to a better world process. They’re so hidden in the process.

Let’s say that I’m an engineering student from an underserved community, and me being able to have access to you, Gregg, here and being able to learn from you that I have an opportunity in this sector, and then I can actually come back and put a mark, and most importantly, I’m being welcomed into it, which I know is obvious thing that you will embrace is a tremendous way to really introduce this concept of really trying to tackle sustainability and industry evolution, and eventually equity and equality.

I wouldn’t leave that because you just made me think of that. I think it’s a super exciting opportunity for us to be able to really reintroduce this concept to a completely different audience.

Gregg Lewis:
Absolutely, Mahesh. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed this conversation. I see by my clock here that we’re running up against time, but what I’ve tried to do in these podcasts in the past, and I obviously will offer you the same.

And that is if you could leave the audience, the listeners of this podcast with one thing for them to focus on or for them to take away from listening to this conversation, what would that be?

Mahesh Ramanujam:
I think it is very important to remember the power of our action to influence the lives of people that we would never meet in our lives. The purpose of building a standard, the purpose of doing this podcast, even this discussion, and really trying to get into the deeper of these products and you really look at it, either building a better concrete or zero carbon concrete, all these things will happen in one corner of the world by one group of people because they care to contribute. That concept will get implemented on the other side of the world, and you will never know who the beneficiary is.

Don’t stop the good work, regardless of whatever the size it is. Put the effort in and pay it forward because the world needs that now more than ever after this COVID unfortunate part. I think that one message I would like everybody to remember that let’s take action in the most radius way.

Gregg Lewis:
Thank you for that. Mahesh, thank you really. My deep appreciation for your making time to share your thoughts with our audience and with me. I look forward to a dinner perhaps again soon when our paths cross. I enjoyed that and I really enjoyed this conversation, incredibly insightful. Obviously, I’m also excited to see what you do next, what your next endeavors are. Hopefully, maybe we’ll have you come back on and you can update us on the next generation role that you take on.

Mahesh Ramanujam:
I would love to, and thank you very much, Gregg, for this opportunity and really thank you for your leadership.

Gregg Lewis:
I appreciate that. I’d also like to take the opportunity here to thank our Concrete Credentials podcast listeners. Please remember to subscribe to Concrete Credentials, which is available wherever you get your podcasts. We also strongly encourage your participation in this important conversation. Please reach out to us with your thoughts and feedback, as well as your suggestions for future content by emailing concrete [email protected]. And we’ll see you soon. Thanks.