Our Man Across the Pond
We’re delighted to announce the appointment of Tristam Coffin as President of Livingstone Consulting in the US.
Tristam is a LEED Accredited Professional, leader in built environment sustainability and holds a broad array of environmental expertise in areas including green building, refrigeration systems, and energy efficiency. Before joining Livingstone he was Director of Sustainability & Facilities for Whole Foods Market’s, Northern California Region.
His initial focus will be to introduce Livingstone to North America and, in collaboration with partners/customers, drive solutions forward for a more environmentally and economically sustainable built environment and business paradigm. He will also work with the Livingstone team in the UK to help direct the company internationally and provide technical and sustainability expertise across the entire enterprise.
By way of introduction, we asked Tristam to summarise his career to date, his mission for Livingstone and his enthusiasm for sustainability in the built environment.
Tell us about your career to date?
My education and career have been mainly focused on sustainability in the built environment; however, I did try my hand in the natural sciences and environmental advocacy for a short time, just outside Yellowstone National Park. Despite loving the natural sciences and the great outdoors, I quickly came to the conclusion that they would be my inspiration to change and influence how we approach the built environment, but that I needed to be more immediately focused on our infrastructure, buildings, transportation and cities.
I spent the next year working in renewable energy and sustainable transportation for a newly founded transportation research center. After cutting my teeth in this space, I had the fortunate opportunity to join the Store Development Team at Whole Foods Market, where I spent the next 12 years, growing from a Sustainability Manager position in the northeast to the Director of Sustainability and Facilities for the company’s Northern California division.
Over my time with Whole Foods Market, I worked on countless projects and programs. I opened more than 20 new stores for the company, many of which I certified LEED Gold, GreenChill Platinum, or simply comprised state-of-the-art technologies or design strategies that I was responsible for. These included some of North America’s first natural refrigeration system architectures, the first commercial scale hydroponic greenhouse integrated onto a supermarket rooftop, and on-site generation projects, such as fuel cells, solar PV, combined heat and power etc.
I directly oversaw up to 50 facilities at a time and was responsible for their resource and facility management, including energy and refrigerant management, hazardous and non-hazardous waste management/diversion etc. I built the facilities management program for the Northern California division from scratch, beginning in 2012.
Over the last five years I had the pleasure of leading a team responsible for environmental compliance, engineering, facility management and sustainability. In addition to day-to-day operations for my immediate territory, I supported programs across the larger company, including the rooftop solar program, energy procurement, asset and facility management, procurement of facility services and, more broadly, Whole Foods Market’s Sustainability Program. I also led several deep energy/infrastructure upgrades, hundreds of efficiency program rollouts, dozens of energy storage implementations and emissions reporting.
Some of the most exciting projects I led included New York City’s first LEED Gold Certified grocery store at Whole Foods Market’s Upper West Side location, North America’s first synthetic refrigerant free grocery store at Whole Foods Market Third and 3rd store in Brooklyn NY, which I also certified LEED Platinum and Four Green Globes, Whole Foods Market’s largest solar array at our Richmond CA distribution center, and the Zero-Net Energy retrofit of Whole Foods Market’s Noe Valley San Francisco location, affectionately known as MarketZero.
What excites you about joining Livingstone?
Livingstone is the business I would start if I was starting my own business. The beauty of this opportunity is I essentially get to do just that, by starting an office for Livingstone here in the US, but with the support and resources of a well-established team of experts in the UK.
Livingstone isn’t your typical consulting group. Consultants often come with negative connotations here in the US, for a number of reasons, many of which I tried to weed out over my 12 years as a client to countless consultants. Livingstone is by no means the only consulting partner that proves willing to go above and beyond the standard terms of consulting to ensure execution and implementation at the highest level of excellence, but they are one of the few that do it well in the area of built environment sustainability.
Livingstone is nimble, actively seeks out partners to collaborate with and collectively deliver high quality projects and products. Most importantly, they operationally cover the breadth of what I have focused my career on to date, and then some. So I am excited to continue the work I have done with Whole Foods Market, only now with a much broader audience.
What is your mission and how do you see it being accomplished?
My mission is to see that we as a society, and more specifically our built environment, grow and evolve in concert with the planet. No more status quo, the science is clear: we need to do more.
We need to build unlikely partnerships. We need to breakdown imaginary obstacles. We need to focus on collaboration and not just set climate goals, but execute on them. Livingstone wants to pioneer change for the built environment and I want to be the ship out ahead of the rest in those uncharted waters.
If there is one thing I have learned in my career, being on the cutting edge doesn’t require undue risk, financially or otherwise. Instead, a “Utopian built environment”, as Livingstone puts it, can be met with a concerted strategy and, for the most part, existing off-the-shelf technologies. When you sprinkle in innovation and my idea of “there is no such thing as competition” partnerships, you may be surprised what can be accomplished.
How do you intend to go about building the operation from scratch in the US?
I have had the great pleasure of building a network of extremely talented and hard working colleagues, partners and friends throughout my career. The theme you will continue to hear echo throughout this interview is partnership. I don’t expect to be able to build something from scratch here in the US by myself. Instead, I am fortunate enough to be starting off with a huge head start, being that the UK team has been delivering what I quickly recognized as top-notch services for many years in Europe.
The other partners in Livingstone, as well as the team they have grown, bring a breadth and wealth of knowledge rooted in direct experience and a “stakeholder first” attitude. I don’t expect to change that, but rather to seed that here in the US with my personal and professional network, to be a resource for those who value sustainable growth or regrowth – which I believe to be everyone, whether they have recognized it yet or not.
Why is this an exciting time to be working on sustainability in the built environment?
Working in sustainability has always been exciting. Where some see challenge, I see opportunity. That’s never been truer than it is today. The science tells us we are facing an uncertain future if we do not act and act swiftly.
But that action isn’t just for the sake of the planet, nor does it mean that we have to sacrifice our current standard of living – or, more importantly, that an equitable standard of living isn’t possible for the 7.8bn people and counting on this planet. I would argue that it’s so we can thrive, not just now but long into the future. I want my son’s grandchildren to thank my generation not curse it.
Further to this excitement is the fact that the built environment is a giant 3D puzzle. Like its natural counterpart, it’s only complete with all the pieces perfectly aligned and it is constantly evolving; unlike natural ecosystems, it requires our input to ensure it acts in harmony with those systems that sustain it and, if not balanced, it may not crumble immediately, but it will almost certainly fail.
I personally like working in the midst of this puzzle and acting as one of the stewards safeguarding that harmony. Furthermore, the idea that we can build something that mimics nature and gives back more than it takes out, while creating a far healthier environment for its occupants, is nothing short of that Utopia that Livingstone speaks of.
What are the main areas of interest for you?
The specific areas that excite me are natural refrigerants, existing building decarbonization and net zero retrofits, climate resiliency planning and microgrids, ecological and climate positive design. Nevertheless, beyond the buzz words and the theoretical talk, I am excited to work with people and organizations no matter where they are in their sustainability journey, to drive incremental and very necessary change in the built environment, even if that is as simple as supporting a grocery store with a refrigerant retrofit.
My main areas of expertise that complement and build off what Livingstone is already doing include:
- Refrigerants, including refrigerant management/strategy and natural system architectures
- High performance building technical services, including zero net energy and carbon neutral/negative strategy, design and execution
- Climate resiliency strategy, design and execution
- Climate goal strategy, execution, measurement and reporting/story telling – complemented by Livingstone’s excellent data visualisation
More broadly, I have dedicated my entire career to making sustainability work for business. I enjoy making it practical and meeting folks on common ground. I understand sustainability has to make business sense, while I also recognize that without deep commitments and action, business as we know it will not continue. I think recent events, from wildfires, to hurricanes, to Covid-19, have made that extremely clear. With that said, my main interest is helping businesses and partners work toward and through the much needed paradigm shift that is surely coming, in the most efficient and effective way possible.
You mention Covid-19. What has the lockdown taught us about the feasibility of achieving net zero targets and how does that affect the message behind what Livingstone is offering in the US?
Plain and simple, the global pandemic and the subsequent lockdowns have taught us that we are resilient, are capable of adapting and adapting quickly, and that business and life can go on much differently than they looked before, without the level of compromise some may have imagined.
This is not to say that recent events have not been extremely painful emotionally, physically and economically, but they have proven that we have the ability to change and, quite honestly, that we should.
Last week a friend and fellow sustainability professional mentioned a quote she saw recently that read, “Does anyone else feel like Mother Nature has sent us to our rooms to think about what we have done?” This may be viewed as making light of an extremely grave situation, but the reality is we have a choice: wave away this “timeout” as a hiccup and attempt to go back to business as usual, or take this time as an opportunity to reassess priorities, draw lessons from what worked well during the current crisis and led to global emission reductions, and pivot the same intensity of focus used to address the global pandemic to address the climate crisis.
A recent GreenBiz article further evaluated opportunities in this very space and in part concluded that as commercial buildings begin to come back online, we have the opportunity to drive toward decarbonization especially, if building owners and their partners can:
- Shift their priorities to retrofit to get facilities up and running
- Shift their focus from longer-term new construction to decarbonization through electrification or sustainable district heating
The article went onto to say that “New synergies can emerge between utilities, technology and service providers, and building owners, as traditional market roles give way to a more fluid competitive ecosystem”.
This is exactly what I meant earlier when I said that there is no such thing as competition. By forging new partnerships, acting together and evolving with, rather than against, our planet, we can achieve a thriving carbon-free economy and perhaps that Utopian built environment Livingstone has been talking about.