HBN is excited to welcome Monica Nakielski as our new Board Chair in 2022! A longtime champion of healthy buildings and spaces, Monica is the Vice President of Sustainability at Advocate Aurora Health. She has over 15 years of experience as a sustainability practitioner and consultant to Fortune 500 organizations, governments, institutions, and nonprofits, with a focus on health care, hospitals, and health systems.
Monica has long had a passion for healthy materials. Traveling to her mother’s home country of Ecuador years ago, she was deeply impacted by the visible effects of industrial processes and pollution. It was clear that in those communities – like many in the US and around the world – it was the already marginalized communities who were bearing the brunt of the impact of our choices.
Monica first connected with HBN in 2011 at a BizNGO gathering, where she began to learn about the deeper connections between health and the built environment and the way business and product decisions can deeply impact both. She quickly became an advocate for healthier materials and joined the HBN board in 2019.
“I was excited to join an organization having the impact that HBN does. Your influence and impact spans across industries and the globe with the science and resources you create,” Monica said. “I was interested in networking with other leaders in this space while contributing to the conversation and bringing a healthcare perspective to the table.”
A commitment to create healthier spaces for patients, staff, and communities has shaped Monica’s career for more than a decade. Before joining Advocate Aurora Health, she served as the head of sustainability at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts (BCBSMA), where she and her team worked to influence health insurers to be leaders of environmental sustainability. She also led and managed sustainability at MassGeneralBrigham (formerly Partners HealthCare) across 16 facilities and 18 million square feet.
A Both-And Approach
As a leader in sustainable healthcare, Monica has been a vocal advocate for integrated approaches to creating safer and healthier spaces. She pushes back against the false dichotomy many practitioners feel of having to choose between climate or chemicals – ie, focusing on energy efficiency or low-carbon choices versus eliminating toxic chemicals from products and the supply chain. She believes, as we do at HBN, that both approaches can and must be aligned and integrated to create truly healthy spaces for all.
One of her proudest successes was impacting the amended fire code while working for a healthcare system in Boston in 2013. She had the opportunity to advocate with the Boston City Council to ensure that the new fire code met both public safety and public health needs. They were successful in removing toxic flame retardants from the requirements, which directly impacted the administrative headquarters they were building at the time. For that project, Monica’s team was successful in ensuring that more than 70% of the materials used in the building interiors avoided the worst chemicals of concern.
Monica is committed to blazing a trail and bringing others along for the journey. “We are able to drive this cultural shift and change, all the way down to selecting healthier, safer products, while we’re assuring the same, if not better health outcomes,” she said. “It comes down to connecting with our colleagues and educating them – finding the stories and the information that will inspire them to act.”
Monica believes that HBN is well-positioned to lead this work and create a healthier, more just world. “The heart and the center of why HBN exists is to address environmental injustice. It’s up to us to lead, to share, to continue to collaborate, network, and leverage the science, tools, and resources that HBN publishes.”
A Bright Future for HBN
Monica is incredibly excited for the growth and expansion that HBN is poised to take on in the coming years, and we are fortunate to have her as a leading voice guiding the way.
“I love the HBN board!” she said. “Our strengths lie in the fact that we come from various industries and sectors, and in different roles that utilize the tools and resources to support chemicals management and the reduction of chemicals of concern.”
“At the end of the day, we’re all here because we want to help drive growth and impact, and because of what we have seen: the organization's rich history, its commitment and accomplishments to date, and the possibilities we can see for the future.”
Monica is hopeful for the future and believes HBN has a big role to play in leading the way to drive market change and provide resources and information that empower safer and healthier choices.
“What I find most exciting is that these discussions are bubbling up everywhere. Today you see eco and the environment everywhere, integrated across ecosystems. With new ESG reporting standards and rules, people are being held accountable. I love the idea of continuing to raise awareness and drive perception, tying it back to the science. For people who have worked in the space of sustainability, we have waited for a really long time for people to connect the dots and to get as excited about this work as we are.”
We are grateful for Monica’s leadership and commitment to helping us achieve our vision that all people and the planet thrive in a world free of toxic chemicals.
“I want to leave the world a better world for my kids, and their kids, and the generations that follow,” she said. “I think we all do.”