From his unassuming office in a converted organ factory in southern Vermont, Alex Wilson, founder of Environmental Building News (EBN) and nationally recognized champion of sustainable building, has spent the past 25 years on a mission to alter how we design, build, and remodel homes. And by all accounts, through his humble yet constant resolve, he has made the kind of significant and widespread impact on the housing industry few can claim. His unwavering focus and determination, clear and courageous voice, and pioneering contributions toward our understanding of green building have led to his selection as this year’s recipient of The Hanley Award for Vision and Leadership in Sustainable Housing.
“Alex Wilson has quietly and methodically gone about the business of changing the way we build by defining green building product standards, promoting performance-based thresholds for projects, and challenging all sectors of the industry to become active and honest brokers in advancing environmental building,” says Michael J. Hanley, founder of The Hanley Foundation and creator of the award. “In the process, because of his objective and clear analysis, tireless and courageous leadership, and insightful long-range vision, Alex Wilson’s voice is trusted throughout the industry, and we are thrilled to name him as our 2010 recipient.”
The Hanley Award is sponsored by The Hanley Foundation, EcoHome, and EcoHome’s parent company, Hanley Wood, LLC, and will be presented to Wilson along with its $50,000 grant on Nov. 17 at the USGBC Hanley Award Dinner during the USGBC’s Greenbuild Residential Summit in Chicago.
“Alex Wilson is a deserving recipient of this prestigious award,” says Rick Fedrizzi, USGBC president, CEO, and founding chair. “He’s long been a leader of the green building movement, providing dependable, objective information about all aspects of the built environment in ways that advance both commercial and residential building practice. His editorial work at Environmental Building News and his long and honored volunteer service to USGBC are how he’s delivered on a lifelong mission to make the world a better place, and we are all beneficiaries of that dedication and passion.” Almost single-handedly, Wilson has shaped the field of environmental journalism focused on the built environment. Serving the deepest-green builders, architects, engineers, and advocates, the writer-consultant’s work has always been on the cutting edge, in part because of the independence he defined for himself early on when adopting a no-advertising model for EBN. And while scorning advertising may have created financial challenges for his company—particularly during these tough economic times—for the nature enthusiast who bikes to work, drives a hybrid car, and canoes on weekends, the environmental rewards far outweigh the monetary sacrifices.
“Alex has been, perhaps, the No. 1 steward of the sweeping changes that have begun to revolutionize the housing industry during the past two decades,” says John Abrams, co-founder and CEO of South Mountain Co., a 35-year-old green design/build firm in West Tisbury, Mass. “I can’t remember ever hearing a negative word about Alex—his ability to assemble people, information, and ideas is astonishing, and his contributions have always been entirely positive.”
Abrams, a pioneering green builder, says he’s always been a great admirer and beneficiary of Wilson’s thorough research, unbiased writing, and abiding advocacy. “From its earliest days, EBN has been, quite simply, the source of impeccable information about environmental building. It has exercised remarkable influence on the movement toward higher-performance building and has been a major influence on everyone I know in our industry.”
But even after such a long era of innovation and leadership, Wilson sees a long way to go: “Our company has a mission that we wrote within the first five years of starting Environmental Building News, and that was to transform the building industry,” says the 55-year-old founder and executive editor of BuildingGreen LLC, the parent of EBN and other print and electronic resources. “But the building industry hasn’t been transformed; it’s shifted a little bit, but there is still so much to do.”