Architecture graduates faced bleak job prospects in 2009. Some returned to school to wait out the recession; others found work in areas outside of architecture. Still others—like Shane Gring—took the chance to draw a clearer connection between design and its potential to change communities. As an AmeriCorps member for Flatirons Habitat for Humanity in Boulder, Colo., Gring headed up the organization’s sustainability program, which aligned with the LEED for Homes criteria. Within a few months, Gring recognized two problems with one clear solution: Habitat needed financing and expertise to achieve LEED for Homes certification and people pursuing accreditation needed access to hands-on LEED project experience.
Four years and one declined acceptance to an esteemed graduate architecture program later, Gring is now the 26-year-old CEO of Bould, a nationally recognized social for-profit enterprise that pairs people pursuing LEED accreditation with Habitat projects that need volunteers. While Gring manages the day-to-day operations, his growing team is now a mix of four dynamic professionals whose range of expertise incorporates marketing, development, and finance.
Participants in Bould’s program receive training (for a fee) on all aspects of the LEED certification process—from design to documentation to on-site construction, after being paired with a local Habitat project. By completing the program, participants receive the experience they need to qualify for LEED accreditation while supporting the design and construction of high-quality, energy-efficient homes for low-income families.
Bradley Buck, an IT systems engineer based in Charlotte, N.C., worked with Bould last year to earn his LEED accreditation. “After becoming a LEED Green Associate, options for attaining the LEED accreditation were slim, in general, and nil in Charlotte,” he says. “I began networking in local green building circles to try and sign on to projects in some sort of volunteer capacity, and was not having much success—but Bould satisfied the experience program for any LEED exam. I finished my Bould program requirements in August and slowly studied for the LEED AP Operations + Maintenance exam, passing it on my first attempt in December 2012.”
In the last two years, Bould partnered with nine Habitat affiliates in seven states, contributed to 27 homes that are now LEED-certified, and trained 225 professionals. Numberswise, this means low-income homeowners potentially save more than 40 percent on their utility bills, which Gring projects to equal about $50,000 over the term of a typical 30-year mortgage.
In addition to Bould’s tangible and foreseeable impact on the green-building, educational, and housing markets, Gring’s company is a key example of shifting values and priorities for young, entrepreneurially minded design professionals. The recession might have brought a high unemployment rate and difficult economic times, but its challenges also provided opportunities for young professionals to focus less on profit and more on how to leverage business to benefit the greater good. While Bould’s fees include a small percentage dedicated to operating expenses, people engaging in Bould programming are primarily helping pay for the materials, labor, and fees associated with building sustainable homes for low-income families.
While nonprofits such as Architecture for Humanity and Designs for Dignity leverage design thinking to seek solutions to local, global, and humanitarian issues both small and large, Bould’s emergence in the industry raises interesting questions about what role social entrepreneurship can play in the architecture and design, as well as the green-building, markets. Bould empowers both industry and related professionals to make historically “design-related” subjects such as sustainable home design accessible to a much broader audience.
Joseph Rosenberg, a Bould program graduate and an Americorps VISTA participant with Neighborhood Housing Services for New Haven (Conn.), points out that Bould’s appeal is much broader than the design profession’s. “We had people that were changing careers and interested in doing sustainable work, and Bould was the avenue they picked,” he says. “Some people were interested in the opportunity to get accredited for future job opportunities, while others were there to understand the sustainable movement and its impact on the future of [building] practice.”
Needless to say, it’s been a busy 18 months for Gring. Bould was recently selected as a winner of the Huffington Post IGNITEgood Millennial Impact Challenge and the Hitachi Foundation Yoshiyama Young Entrepreneur Program. He also participated in Boulder’s Unreasonable Institute, an intensive summer camp for aspiring entrepreneurs, and pitched Bould at Greenbuild 2012 in San Francisco.
After seeing Gring speak at Greenbuild, Lauren Elasik, who coordinates the U.S. Green Building Council Emerging Professionals Program, noted, “Bould has been making huge strides for so many people, and is proof of the importance young people can play in being business-savvy while giving back to their community.”
When asked what the game-changing company expects to do in 2013, Gring replied that he hopes to continue to encourage the next generation of sustainable professionals, “with the tools they need to launch their green careers while building a sustainable, just future for us all.” —Beth R. Mosenthal, Assoc. AIA
Learn more about Bould at bebould.com