This July, Terrapin Bright Green celebrates its ten-year anniversary as a firm. Our partners, Bill, Bob, and Chris, each reflect on Terrapin’s last ten years, how it has evolved, and where they see the firm going in the next decade and beyond.
Co-Founder and Partner
We launched Terrapin to help clients tackle complex green building challenges. Most of our initial projects were working on large new communities and resorts. Some of the work was an extension of what I had explored while at Rocky Mountain Institute. Early on, we decided that our main role would be to develop the underlying goals and strategies of projects. This for the most part precluded doing LEED certification. LEED after all is a measurement tool, but not a roadmap. We felt that by taking this holistic approach, we could help our clients find the solutions that are most appropriate for their needs and that achieve the largest impact. I think this tailored approach has set us apart.
We came to realize that we were not just a consulting firm, that we are also a firm that produces new intellectual capital for the larger green building movement.”
When the recession hit, we collectively stepped back and really began to home in on those areas that we were most passionate about. This led to the NYSERDA Bioinspired Innovation Program, the biophilic design publications and projects, the development of a framework using ecosystem services as aspirational goals (Phoebe), and large scale net-zero projects. We came to realize that we were not just a consulting firm, that we are also a firm that produces new intellectual capital for the larger green building movement.
Since our pivot into these focus areas, a lot has changed for Terrapin. We have active work in each of the areas. We expanded our team and moved into a separate office space in the financial district of Manhattan. We are also involved in research experiments and building product development, expanding the breadth of our impact. However, Terrapin is also still involved in large-scale complex green building projects.
All the while, our original focus of making the built environment better for people and the broader ecosystem remains the same.
Co-Founder and Partner
When Terrapin was founded, it was an experiment. At the time, sustainable thinking was siloed by profession and expertise—architecture, engineering, real estate, etc. Rick Cook and I joined with Bill Browning to change that thinking. We wanted to have a greater impact on the sustainable building practices, and we felt that the best way to do that was through collaboration. We wanted to convene experts to work with developers, designers, communities, and companies on building projects. By bringing these key thought leaders together, we felt we could collectively make a difference.
In the beginning, Terrapin implemented this collaborative model mainly through “environmental opportunities charrettes,” where we convened all the major stakeholders and experts at the beginning of a design project to discuss the major goals of the project so that everyone could share a singular vision. Additionally, we focused on in-depth research, where we collaborated with specialists to tackle specific problems and make a difference. No one else in the field of sustainability was really doing this at the time, no one else was convening all of these thought leaders and stakeholders to create successful projects guided by rigorous research.
What started as an experiment ten years ago has matured into an amazing team of dedicated professionals producing seminal research and providing thought leadership.”
Ten years later, Terrapin has perfected charrettes, but there’s so much more going on now. When we first started, I used to refer to Terrapin as an environmental think tank; now I refer to it as a research and consulting firm because it has brilliantly evolved into something so much more robust. What I’m particularly thrilled about is that we’ve built a team of really excited, passionate people who do outstanding work. What started as an experiment ten years ago has matured into an amazing team of dedicated professionals producing seminal research and providing thought leadership.
When Bob and Rick invited me to join COOKFOX Architects and Terrapin Bright Green, I was excited to have a greater impact on the sustainability movement. At the time, climate change was just coming into focus for the building industry and Terrapin was poised to make a real difference.
Reflecting on the past ten years, I believe our true impact has been at a higher level: focusing on human health, ecological health, and their interdependence, has helped elevate the conversation across the industry.”
Reflecting on the past ten years, I believe our true impact has been at a higher level: focusing on human health, ecological health, and their interdependence, has helped elevate the conversation across the industry (and in parallel with other conversations like material transparency). It started with Bill’s interest in biophilia, which dates back 15 to 20 years ago. Biophilic design has now become a real focus for many companies, manufacturers, and researchers in part because of Terrapin’s contributions to the field. When I came to Terrapin, I had already started a side project on biomimicry that became the five-year NYSERDA bioinspired innovation program. Bringing the bioinspired research community into the innovation discussion became our speciality. Now, biomimicry is a recognized innovation tool in New York State because of our work. These early successes helped us realize the need and opportunity for more work and research in these areas.
Over the past few years, we’ve transitioned the firm from addressing broad sustainability challenges to focusing on ways to jointly support human and ecosystem health to create a prosperous, regenerative society. Our four service areas—environmental strategies, biophilic design, ecological design or “Phoebe,” and bioinspired innovation—are a direct outcome of our passions and perspectives on the built environment. They reflect the need in the sustainability movement to refocus on human wellbeing and integrate ecology into the sustainability framework.
Another gratifying experience with Terrapin has been leading the team, because they have taught me so much. We decided to assess and verify our impact after team members requested it. They helped me to embrace the idea, and this led us to pursue the 2015 Best for NYC competition and to become a Certified B Corporation®. I’m very proud of these achievements.
Looking forward, I see an exciting future for Terrapin. There are still many challenges to help tackle—reversing climate change, creating a circular economy, updating building codes and industry standards to reflect ecosystems and human wellbeing—but we have a strong process and a great team. Our team’s diversity and talent is our greatest asset. We will continue to nurture the team and new talent to ensure we produce the highest quality of work for our clients. Our research efforts continue to grow and influence the larger movement. I’m also excited about our vibrant and growing client base of committed organizations—watching these organizations reap the benefits of our work is one of the best rewards. Without them, we couldn’t have such a tangible impact on creating a healthy, regenerative future.
A Quick Look Back at Terrapin’s Impact
On this ten-year anniversary, Terrapin is pleased to announce that we have officially become a Certified B Corporation®. Read about how we’re committed to bettering the environment, society, and the world through business!
- Bioinspired Innovation
- Biophilic Design
- Net Zero
- Resorts & Hospitality
- Energy Utilization
- Water Management
- Corporations and Institutions
- Ecosystem Science
- Green Guidelines
- Climate Resiliency
- Health & Wellbeing
- Indoor Environmental Quality
- Building Performance
- Systems Integration
- Master Planning
- Architects and Designers
- Developers and Building Owners
- Governments and NGOs
- Urban Design
- Product Development
- Original Research
- Industrial Ecology
- Resource Management
- Sustainability Plans
- Health Care
- Carbon Neutrality
- Materials Science
- Terrapin Team
- Community Development
- Biophilic Design Interactive
- Catie Ryan
- Occupant Comfort