Innovator Spotlight



Patrick Thibaudeau

Vice President, Sustainability

2018 Environmental Leader 75 Honoree

Patrick Thibaudeau doesn’t like the word “can’t.” Thibaudeau spends his days expanding the vision of building owners and design teams to turn their environmental design dreams into reality. His focus is to help individuals, teams and organizations achieve something they did not know they could.

Sparkfund: Describe your role at HGA. 

Patrick Thibaudeau: I joined HGA in 2001, 18 years ago, and started leading sustainability soon thereafter. Back then, sustainability wasn’t mainstream like it is today. Today, clients are now asking for LEED certification, specific performance outcomes like an energy use intensity target, net zero energy, carbon neutral design and much more.

What’s your approach to sustainable design?

We’re building an idea! We are seeking to have a powerful, transformative impact for good and leave a long-lasting legacy well beyond the direct purpose of the building. It starts with reframing traditional questions to change the way we approach solutions, such as starting at zero (as in zero energy) instead of ending there. It takes a really good building to be better for the environment than no building at all. Once those ideas are formed, that makes a different building. My approach is to find strategic insights that have value though holistic sustainability.

What’s an industry trend you think is overrated?

HGA has always tried to stay ahead of whatever the trend is. Becoming net zero energy is a big idea right now. Many are approaching the idea of zero energy as an ending point — zero is their goal. But there is a better way.  Reframing that question to clients, asking, “Instead of ending at zero, what if we start at zero?” really changes everything.

How does reframing that question impact the rest of a project?

The approach of starting at zero is critical to finding insights that have impact. For example, if we have a conversation with an electrical engineer about lighting, we’re talking about creating a building that does not use electricity for lighting in the daytime. That changes how designers think about the orientation of the building, how electrical engineers avoid making the building over-lit, and so on. That one question applied holistically has a big influence on how the building is designed and how the system are integrated.

What’s one accomplishment at HGA you’re proud of?

I get most excited when helping people achieve something they didn’t think was possible. We designed a net zero energy laboratory building on a Southern California college campus with a tight budget. Many said it couldn’t be done. I thought that was a challenge worth taking so I set out to show how it could be done. Today, that building is constructed and operating. We’re collecting performance data, and the building with its renewable energy system produces more energy than it consumes. If we did it at a high energy use building on a tight budget, then what does that suggest about other things we can accomplish?

What's standing between the average organization and sustainability?

Organizations fear setting high goals and stretching themselves to hit them because they fear what will happen if they don’t achieve those goals. There is too much acceptance of mediocrity. If we want to be sustainable then “less bad” isn’t good enough, it’s just less bad. Our biggest hurdle toward a sustainable future is the way we think.  

I don’t like the word “can’t.” We can do more than we thought we could, we just have to ask ourselves different questions, believe it can be achieved, and then get in there and do it.

What’s one small thing you do every day to be environmentally friendly?

At home, I start each day at zero and go about my day so that, by the end, the net result of each day is a positive impact. I look to achieve the same things I do for a client project. I ask, “How can I make our home the best setting for my family and share that benefit with as many others as I can?” The default condition is off.  We have high recycling rates and we compost. We have very low water use.