Lou Nowikas Sees Sustainability and Wellness as One

Hearst’s Lou Nowikas goes beyond his role as vice president of real estate and facility planning to reduce environmental impact and increase employees’ well-being

Skyline view of Hearst Tower in New York City. Photo: Courtesy of Hearst Corporation

When Lou Nowikas came to Hearst fifteen years ago, he assumed it would be in a role similar to the specialized design and construction project management he had perfected at Goldman Sachs. But as has become a tradition, the job wasn’t entirely the job.

“I came to Hearst to manage specific areas of the Hearst Tower design and construction and quickly learned I’d be involved with . . . everything,” Nowikas says with a laugh. The robust team he was used to being part of was now Nowikas and one other person. From programming and building to office design and furniture selection (along with more traditional amenities, operations, and security), it was now under Nowikas’s purview, and he’s only taken on more as the years rolled on.

The now vice president of real estate and facility planning has seen the breadth of his work increase exponentially, but in ascending roles at Hearst, Nowikas has maintained a determined dedication to the employees by making sure Hearst Tower is able to evolve with the times, and his recognition that sustainability and wellness initiatives can often intersect has laid the groundwork for the betterment of both Hearst’s employees and the environment.

Lou Nowikas Hearst Corporation
Lou Nowikas, Hearst CorporationPhoto: Philip Friedman

What to Do After the Gold

After the Hearst Tower received its distinguished LEED certification upon the completion of its nearly eighty-years-in-the-works tower construction, Nowikas said there was cause for massive celebration. The project initially only had been projected to earn LEED silver distinction, but during the process, it was determined the building could go for the higher gold certification.

The Hearst Tower was the first skyscraper in New York City to achieve the distinction for both the exterior and the interior, but Nowikas says it was only the first step. “I’ll be honest, we moved in and patted ourselves on the back, but I really didn’t know what was going to happen next,” the VP says. “People were really excited, so they started to ask questions about sustainability. A lot of questions.”

The problem with being the first is the learning curves that have yet to be discovered. Nowikas found that the plastic cups offered on-site were biodegradable, not recyclable, and there is a stark difference. “We were recycling, not composting, so we were essentially contaminating our recycling stream,” Nowikas remembers. “These were decisions that were made with good intentions, but they weren’t always made with the right information.”

The cups were switched immediately: a new lesson learned. Hearst’s newest sustainability effort will substantially reduce its environmental impact by eliminating not only the plastic cups but also a litany of single-use materials in favor of more reusables.

He’ll Do It

For the past thirteen years, Hearst’s Wellbeing employee wellness initiative has provided health, nutritional, and fitness programming and opportunities for those inside Hearst Tower and spread around its nationwide offices. It was a very different program on Nowikas’s first day.

“I realized that, for whatever reason, we didn’t have wellness initiatives rolling up to HR,” Nowikas says. “So, I owned it.” Despite having little experience in the area, wellness became a passion point for the then-director of operations. He just wasn’t sure how to get started.

“I brought in our third-party restaurant and food service associates, our wellness provider, and our fitness provider and got them in a room,” Nowikas says. That meeting occurs monthly to this day as Hearst focuses on monthly health topics, employee competition opportunities, and other wellness initiatives.

When Nowikas was promoted to his current role, he continued to stay involved with the Wellbeing program he helped shape.

Cafe57 is the internal food service venue on the third floor of the Hearst Tower.Photo: Courtesy of Hearst Corporation

Changing with The Times

Part of what has kept Nowikas interested in his role for the past fifteen years is that Hearst’s portfolio encompasses more than 360 different companies. “We’re so many companies that each have very different needs,” the VP says.

From the Country Living offices in Birmingham, Alabama, to the WPTZ television station in Burlington, Vermont, every single project is different.

“The world is also a much different place than it was in 2006,” Nowikas says. “When we moved into Hearst Tower, our business was very heavily print. Half the floor was editorial, half the floor was sales and publishing. That’s how it was organized.”

An increasingly digital world has greatly modified the needs and uses of office space. “With changing technologies, continued growth, reorganizations, and consolidations, the space is organized in a much different manner today,” Nowikas says. “We have a much denser number of bodies on each floor.”

Adapting to that evolution without unlimited access to constant rehabilitation funds means thinking smart and ahead. “We have to change with the times, or else we become obstacles for the business,” Nowikas says. “We may own and manage a lot of real estate, but our core business is media information and services, and I’m here to support that.”

Main lobby and the Cafe57 setting area in Hearst Tower.Photo: Courtesy of Hearst Corporation

The Continuing Link 

The sheer breadth and portfolio that is under Nowikas’s purview may seem shocking, but the VP maintains that its crucial to recognize the link between sustainability and wellness.

“Sustainability is building and maintaining to support the environment,” the VP says. “That’s also for the health and well-being of the people as well. We include our people’s well-being as part of our sustainability efforts.”

“For employees to experience a true culture of health and sustain long-term engagement in corporate well-being programs, some level of on-site support needs to be manifested in the physical work environment,” says David Milani, vice president of Optum On-Site Services.

And Nowikas’ efforts to create sustainable and welcoming environment affect more than just Hearst employees.

“Lou fosters a culture where the Harvard Maintenance staff who clean and maintain the Hearst Tower feel valued, engaged, and are treated like part of the Hearst family,” says Mark Hellman, senior vice president at Harvard Maintenance. “While appreciation and recognition of our staff is part of Lou’s character, it also aligns with his (and our) goal of keeping Hearst Tower looking like the day it opened fourteen years ago.”

Hearst has provided the best challenge for Nowikas precisely because it hasn’t allowed him to fall into a routine. He’s now built two buildings, created longstanding and proven wellness initiatives, and continues to keep the most talked about building of 2006 at the forefront of doing right by its people by doing right by the environment.