John Rossi: "Design is not drawing..."

After a brief hiatus, another in a series of miniprofiles of sustainability-minded people who are working to reduce humankind’s footprint on the planet. They're "mini" not only because they're short, but because all the questions are 10 words or less, and the answers are requested to match. I met today's subject while writing about a green, urban in-fill property in Lawrence, Mass., and later hired him to help us plan an expansion at our house

JOHN ROSSI, 42, of Newburyport, Mass. 
Barendsen Rossi Collaborative, which does architecture, design, and industrial design

Why do you do this work? "Because I love solving problems."

Green epiphany: "In college, we read Rachel Carson's "Silent Spring," and I realized at one point, 'oh my, this was written 30-40 years ago, and how much worse could it be now?' I’ve realized since that it isn’t all doom and gloomy, that there really is an opportunity here."

A sustainability practice you’ve taken on: "Raising kids who appreciate the earth and want to take care of it."

An example of greenwashing that really bothers you: "GE’s term, 'ecomagination.' First of all, it’s hokey, and secondly, though GE is doing some interesting and progressive things, they’re continuing some really terrible practices."

Like what? "They’re continuing to use the chemicals, use heavy metals in their products. They've made no major efforts to change that, or they haven't publicized them, anyway."

Technology or design? "It’s both! It’s always going to be both."

New or used? "New, depending on what it’s made of."

The most important thing an individual can do? "Give a damn, and do something about it."

A technology you’re particularly hopeful about: "Hydrogen, not just as a source of energy, but as a game-changer in terms of energy. And its byproduct is water — that’s not bad."

A bit of architect’s wisdom: "The best design doesn’t necessarily come from the best designers. It comes from the best clients."

What don’t clients understand? "Design in not drawing. It’s listening, it’s thinking, it’s turning ideas into 3-D expressions."

The one thing you wish everyone would just get right? An understanding of their own impact."

What’s a question I should have asked you? "Are you pessimistic or optimistic?"

And your answer? "I’m optimistic. Human nature is that we don’t react until we realize there’s a crisis. And people everywhere are understanding that if we’re not in a crisis, we’re heading for one."

Are we going to make it? "Absolutely."

But you had to think about it. "'Yes' would have sufficed, but it’s more definitive than that."

Author and wellness innovator Michael Prager helps smart companies
make investments in employee wellbeing that pay off in corporate success.
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