Thursday, April 26, 2012

Top 10: How the Golden State Became the Green Building Leader

Matt Pearce
Campaign Specialist
U.S. Green Building Council

"If you would understand anything, observe its beginning and its development." – Aristotle

Yesterday marked a pivotal moment for state and local green building policy wins. In the state capitol of California, USGBC, in partnership with the eight chapters that make up USGBC California, announced the Top 10 list of California state and local green building policies. The list celebrates decades of leadership by state and local governments to advance green buildings through effective policies and codes.

Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson at the Top 10 Event
But it was a stop-the-presses moment when we learned that Gov. Brown issued a sweeping executive order yesterday - addressing LEED certification, emissions reduction and more - ensuring that California continues to be a national leader in green building. At our reception at the CalEPA LEED Platinum building, we applauded Gov. Brown for his dedication to green building and his lifetime achievement working to protect the environment.

“We must lead by example," said Brown. "Greening the state's buildings will shrink our environmental footprint and save taxpayers millions of dollars."

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

UN Secretary-General: Rio+20 must provide Roadmap for the Future We Want

Maggie Comstock
Policy Analyst
U.S. Green Building Council

Last week, the Center for Global Development (CGD), in partnership with Climate Advisors and the Embassy of Denmark, hosted a high-level event on Delivering Sustainable Energy for All: Opportunities at Rio+20. The event, which boasted two panels of seasoned experts and keynote addresses by Christian Friis Bach, Denmark’s Minister of Development and Cooperation, and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, also featured the release of a CGD report, “Energizing Rio+20: How the United States Can Promote Sustainable Energy for All at the 2012 Earth Summit.”

The report by the Center for Global Development and Climate Advisors was released ahead of the upcoming Rio+20 in June with recommendations for U.S. engagement in the Earth Summit. The report explains realistic and measured expectations for Rio stating, “Few people following the preparations for Rio+20 have high hopes for the upcoming summit. No new treaties or financial mechanisms will be concluded.” However, it goes on to offer tangible and viable recommendations for U.S. engagement as part of the UN’s Sustainable Energy for All (SE4ALL) initiative. The SE4ALL initiative sets ambitious goals to achieve universal access to energy, double the rate of energy efficiency improvements, and double the share of renewable energy worldwide by 2030. Ideally, the provisions of SE4ALL will be incorporated into a suite of sustainable development goals, similar to the UN’s Millennium Development Goals adopted in 2000.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Introducing the Green Apple Day of Service

Rachel Gutter
Director, Center for Green Schools

Last week, I was able to visit one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been to make an exciting announcement, recognizing the Green School in Bali as the Center for Green School’s “2012 Greenest School on Earth.” The school has some incredible features, such as structures made from environmentally friendly bamboo, solar energy and vortex hydro technology projects to remove the school entirely off the grid, bio-intensive farming around campus to raise organic food and so much more. The Green School is a reflection of the values of the Balinese people, an inextricable tie to nature, a true appreciation of the earth’s beauty and a fertile environment for most anything (and in this case children) to grow.

One of the things that most impressed us about the Green School was its commitment to giving back to the local Balinese community – the school offers an Indonesian Scholarship Program, which provides almost 100 percent financial support for local children to attend. The school is the way that famous jeweler John Hardy elected to give back to a country that had made his business so successful. The school is in and of itself an act of service.

This, and so many other actions by parents, teachers and students around the world have become inspiration for us. We wanted to find a way to bring together the people who care about our schools and making them healthier, more sustainable learning environments. So we are calling on volunteers to come together for one day to participate in the first ever Green Apple Day of Service.

The Road to Rio+20: Houston is a city leading by example

Jason Hartke
Vice President, National Policy
U.S. Green Building Council

Note: this blog was originally published on The Guardian

When you think of Houston you might think of 10-gallon cowboy hats, Nasa and a terrific barbecue. But you might not necessarily think about green building and sustainability initiatives.

Houston has been employing several very impressive sustainability strategies to achieve the city's self-proclaimed goal of being the greenest city in the country. It was another great stop on our Road to Rio+20 series of events that focuses on exploring the role of cities and buildings in the green economy.

Last year, in partnership with the World Business Council for Sustainable Development and the UN Environment Programme, we launched the series as a way to foster local discussion about how innovation in the built environment can translate into a global movement for driving a green economy before the 20-year anniversary Rio+20 conference in June 2012.

Cities were a logical focus when you consider more than half the world's population lives in cities – and that will rise to 70% by 2030. In addition, our urban areas generate 80% of all greenhouse gases worldwide, 75% of all energy and 60% of all water use.

LEED: The Infographic

LEED eye candy from

Monday, April 23, 2012

What You Need to Know About the U.S. Department of Education’s Green Ribbon Schools Program

Nathaniel Allen
Center for Green Schools Advocacy Lead
U.S. Green Building Council

In his 2012 Earth Day Proclamation, President Obama outlines the case for green schools and recognizes the U.S. Department of Education’s Green Ribbon Schools program as a driver for improving school sustainability, health and education for 21st century jobs. Earlier this morning, I had the privilege to attend the announcement of the inaugural class of Green Ribbon Schools, made by Education Secretary Arne Duncan, EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson, and White House Council on Environmental Quality Chair Nancy Sutley. The event was held at Stoddert Elementary, a beautiful LEED Gold facility and one of Washington, D.C.’s winning Green Ribbon Schools (it was also the location we chose to launch the Center for Green Schools in September of 2010).

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan,
Stoddert Principal Marjorie Cuthbert and myself
I have a special place in my heart for Stoddert. While I went to the public school in the next neighborhood over (where my sister currently teaches first grade), I spent a good amount of my youth playing baseball and soccer on Stoddert’s field. Since those days, I’ve seen incredible progress at DCPS. The school system that was once full of facilities in utter disrepair has become, in many ways, a model green district. I was glad that one of the key champions of this effort, D.C. Councilmember Mary Cheh, author of the D.C. Healthy Schools Act, was also standing proud Stoddert this morning. It was incredibly powerful to see the Secretary of Education announcing a monumental moment in the green schools movement – frankly, the biggest thing to happen to date – at Stoddert.

#EarthDay: What You Did

Every day should be Earth Day. But having a holiday to serve as an important reminder and a rallying point for all makes celebrating that much sweeter...and significant.

We asked you about your #EarthDay plans on Twitter: Read on for some of our favorite tweets and submissions.
Happy Earth Day! I'm celebrating by reducing my carbon footprint & telecommuting to work each day instead of driving 50+ miles.
- @SpaceSays, Andrea Henderson, LEED AP ID+C

Walk in the woods and planting seedlings with the kids. :)
- Elizabeth Thompson, LEED specialist at USGBC

With 37 LEED certified projects, and 50 registered with @USGBC, we're helping communities celebrate #EarthDay every day.
- @MoseleyArch, USGBC member company

I am planning to plant some houseplants to absorb the VOCs from my parents' new kitchen cabinets. I'm also going to buy Joanna Macy's new book, Active Hope: How to Face the Mess We're in without Going Crazy.
@AmyMKing from the USGBC team

North Shore CDC is hosting the Energize the Earth 5/10k run & festival in Beverly, MA to celebrate Earth Day!
- @NorthShoreCDC, community development

We're planting some bulbs & sunflowers and going for a bike ride:) And tune up our bikes! Happy #EarthDay to you!
- @PlanetFassa, family blog
It's not too late to tell us what you did to recognize Earth Day. Tweet #EarthDay at @USGBC and we'll share your message.

Well Worth the Sleepless Nights: Fourth Public Comment Period for LEED 2012

Brendan Owens, LEED AP, P.E.
Vice President, LEED Technical Development
U.S. Green Building Council

Earlier this week, USGBC announced a Fourth Public Comment period for LEED 2012, running from May 1 – 15. While we’re not particularly looking forward to the upcoming sleepless nights required to keep things on schedule, staff is excited about other aspects of this upcoming comment period. As we engage in what we expect to be the final public comment period prior to ballot, we can take stock of the contributions of thousands of volunteers and stakeholders who are all dedicated to balancing technical advancements in the system with market ability to continue to show leadership in design, construction and operation of LEED projects.

We’ve known it since the beginning, but the nearly 20,000 public comments submitted to date about LEED 2012 development are positive proof that we continue to benefit from an incredibly knowledgeable and engaged stakeholder base that directly inspires the technical and market development of LEED. The input from those who have commented has been used to dramatically improve every iteration of LEED 2012 since the first public comment period and we’re confident in a similar outcome this time as well.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Green Building Progress in the Southeast: Part 1

Jeremy Sigmon, LEED® AP BD+C
Director, Technical Policy
U.S. Green Building Council

Take a seat. Lose your stereotypes. Grab a few hush puppies and a glass of sweet tea. Here’s a few highlights you may have otherwise missed about how energy efficiency and green building is moving forward in the Southeast.

Part One: Mainstreet Green in Music City

The Nashville Ledger reports today: “when it comes to new houses, green is the new granite.” Healthy, high-performance homes in Middle Tennessee are not only in high demand, they are emerging as part of homebuyers’ minimum expectations. The Ledger cites estimates that builders are supplying approximately one third of new residential construction starts with a green building label. The Volunteer State is home to more than 1,000 homes that are participating in the LEED for Homes program, including 246 that are already certified, 199 (or 80 percent) of which are designated as affordable.

Green buildings and green homes are generally designed to create comfortable, healthy indoor environments that reduce our impact on the environment while saving energy, water and money. The City of Nashville sees a further benefit of one of the less frequently applied green building methods to reduce the strain on both Metro Nashville’s combined sewer system and also the Cumberland River.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

My Vampire Pad in Frankfurt and the Youngest LEED AP in Germany

Jennivine Kwan
Vice President, International Operations
U.S. Green Building Council

My time in Frankfurt had a rather interesting start.

For those of you who haven't been there, at first glance, Frankfurt is a very conservative, very straight-laced, finance-focused town. So, it came as quite a pleasant juxtaposition that my home base in Frankfurt was a cool boutique hotel that I can only describe as a trendy vampire pad…with a bird fetish.

Imagine walking in from a bright, cold day to a hotel lobby - in fact, an entire hotel - that is black and shiny. Black floors, black mirrored walls, black gauze curtains. The only spots of color in the hotel were the dark purple touches, and, oh - the headless swan chairs in the lobby. My perception of Frankfurt was changed within 30 minutes of my arrival, and the hotel paved the way for even more unexpected surprises.

Old town Frankfurt: Who would guess it's hiding my all-black hotel?

The Center for Green Schools and Princeton Review Release Free Guide to 322 Green Colleges

Kristin Simmons Ferguson
Higher Ed. Associate
U.S. Green Building Council

For the third year in a row, we at the Center for Green Schools are pleased to celebrate today’s release of The Princeton Review’s Guide to 322 Green College: 2012 Edition. This year’s guide profiles 322 institutions of higher education in the United States and Canada that demonstrate notable commitments to sustainability in their academic offerings, campus infrastructure, activities and career preparation.

The guide comes at an important time, with many high school seniors getting ready to decide which school they will spend the next four years of their life attending. 68 percent of college-bound high school students in the United States say that a university’s commitment to sustainability is an important factor for selecting the “right” school – and with 20.3 million students in higher education, that’s a significant chunk of people who are focused on these issues.

The 232-page book—the only free, comprehensive, annually updated guide to green colleges—can be downloaded at and The Guide was developed with generous support from United Technologies Corp., founding sponsor of the Center for Green Schools.

Monday, April 16, 2012

The Top Three Reasons Rio+20 Will Change the World

Maggie Comstock
Policy Analyst
U.S. Green Building Council

Note: This blog was originally posted on

Please vote for Maggie to be the official blogger for World Environment Day in Rio! Click “Vote Now” below her picture or at the end of the blog and enter the security code. Please share with friends and colleagues!

Though two months away, the UN Conference on Sustainable Development’s Earth Summit, better known as Rio+20, has already been labeled vital, momentous and historic. And while delegates, students and activists have yet to arrive in Brazil, we already know that Rio+20 has the potential to be a “big deal.”

It all begs the question, can the people engaging in Rio+20, in-person or remotely, really change the world? My sage and inspiration for answering this question is Margaret Mead who said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

Simply, Rio+20 is about being part of that thoughtful group committed to "getting it right" for future generations. The outcome and commitments of the Conference will affect us all, from the farmer in Iowa to the IT specialist in India, and whether you attend the conference or not, your voice can and needs to be heard.

The first Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in 1992 wasn’t a quiet affair by any means. An estimated 172 governments (108 heads of state), 2,400 NGO representatives and 17,000 attendees of the parallel Global Forum participated in the original Earth Summit. Additionally, the 1992 conference yielded vital, momentous and historic gains, including Agenda 21 (the action plan supporting sustainable development goals through government engagement at all levels), the UN Convention on Biological Diversity and the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), from which all of our climate negotiations stem.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Fine Gardening Lessons for All of Us

Rick Fedrizzi
President, CEO & Founding Chairman
U.S. Green Building Council

One of the things that may surprise people about me is that the first place I head when I arrive home to upstate New York on the weekend is to my garden. After a long week in Washington, DC or the stress of long stretches of international travel, my garden is my place of quiet and reflection. It's my creation.

Recently I had the absolute joy of touring two of the UK's most extraordinary gardens-- each with its own twist on the important role gardens play on how we interact with our world.

This wasn’t some retirement practice event of clicking photos of roses and watching birds do their bird stuff -- (not that there’s anything wrong with that). Rather, it was a well-timed break in the action during an intense weekend of strategic planning with my World Green Building Council counterparts, Paul, Romilly, and Bruce...from the UK, Australia, and South Africa GBC’s respectively, and WGBC’s executive director, Jane Henley.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Among the Canals of Amsterdam

Jennivine Kwan
Vice President, International Operations
U.S. Green Building Council

This is the story of how I almost drank a 45 euro shot of Japanese whiskey, why I fell in love with Amsterdam, and the Dutch LEED AP - who, through his friendship and sincere passion for LEED - has touched my heart and validated for me yet again the transformational power that is LEED.

I’ll start with the LEED AP.

Cradle to cradle project in the Netherlands

He was one of my hosts during my recent trip to the Netherlands, and during that time, I felt truly privileged to witness his excitement at being a part of LEED and his aspirations for moving green building forward in his country. What particularly made my time with him stand out was that several months earlier, I had received an e-mail from him letting me know that his company had just fired 30% of its staff...and that his job was spared because he was the "LEED" guy. In his own words, had he not invested the time and energy in LEED several years ago, he would have been out on the street that day.

Monday, April 9, 2012

What is a Smart City and How Can a City Boost Its IQ?

Maggie Comstock
Associate, Policy
U.S. Green Building Council

Note: This blog was originally posted on WB Sustainable Cities

Earlier this month, the World Bank hosted a Smart Cities for All workshop in Washington, DC which convened experts from the United Nations, academia, government agencies, non-profits and industry. The purpose of the workshop was to share insights and experiences of equipping cities with the tools for intelligent growth. Additionally, the forum established a public-private partnership for collaboration in pursuit of shared goals for global sustainability. But what does it mean to be a “smart city”? Is this distinction only reserved for cities starting from scratch? Can an established city boost its IQ?

First, we must take a step back to reflect upon what it means to be a “smart city.” While there is no official definition, many have contributed to this debate. Industry leaders, such as Seimens and IBM, believe that stronger use of technology and data will enable government leaders to make better informed decisions. Whereas others, including the Sustainable Cities Blog’s very own Dan Hoornweg, consider the social aspects as a component of what it means to be a smart city. In his blog, “Smart Cities for Dummies,” published last November, Dan contends: “At its core a smart city is a welcoming, inclusive city, an open city. By being forthright with citizens, with clear accountability, integrity, and fair and honest measures of progress, cities get smarter.” Though I agree with both the data-driven and socially-conscious approaches, I’d like to propose my own definition of a smart city.

At its most basic level, a city is comprised of a government (in some form), people, industry, infrastructure, education and social services. A smart city thoughtfully and sustainably pursues development with all of these components in mind with the additional foresight of the future needs of the city. This approach allows cities to provide for its citizens through services and infrastructure that address both the current needs of the population as well as for projected growth.

Friday, April 6, 2012

LEED and Life in the City of Lights: Paris

Jennivine Kwan
Vice President, International Operations
U.S. Green Building Council

My job fascinates me. Obviously because I get to visit interesting places, but more importantly, because of that delicious curl of anticipation that comes with facing large groups of strangers (yes, I actually enjoy this) and the thrill of discovery that comes with getting to know people. Who among them will be that passionate local advocate I'm looking for to unite the LEED community in that country? Is that lady by the window in the green skirt a technical expert with a rare specialization? How has LEED transformed the lives of those I meet? Hmmm, where did she buy those shoes!

I guess I'm just nosy, but to tell truth, I'm not just drawn to green building because of the architecture. I want the juicy stuff - what makes people tick and how does LEED opens doors and empower individuals to transcend cultural and national borders? How does LEED change lives?

No, it's not LEED-certified!

Recently, I had the good fortune to visit Paris and meet some local LEED Professionals. I met a number of wonderful people, but one story sticks in my mind in particular.

The Most Sustainable Show Yet: Greenbuild Sustinability Report Released

Kimberly Lewis
Senior Vice President, Conferences and Events
U.S. Green Building Council

It’s no surprise that after 10 years of green meeting experience, the 2011 Greenbuild International Conference and Expo held in Toronto has proved to be the most sustainable to date.

Today, we are excited to share our 10th Anniversary Greenbuild Event Sustainability Report, the culmination of a decade of tremendous growth, learning and success.

Rubbermaid bins incorporated waste streams: paper; plastic, cans & glass; organics; and landfill. 

In 2011, we set an unprecedented goal of 90% waste diversion at the conference, which we were ecstatic to exceed by diverting 95% of conference waste from landfills. We successfully eliminated ground shuttles between hotels and the convention center and encouraged walking. We also “walked the talk” by busing 35% of USGBC staff attendees to Toronto from our headquarters in Washington, DC, and walking or utilizing public transportation on-site. We rigorously vetted the sourcing of our show materials, merchandise and food and beverages, and worked to measure and report our efforts and impact with more detail and transparency than ever before.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Building an Inclusive Economy: Green Building Construction Supports Green Jobs for All

Maggie Comstock
Associate, Policy
U.S. Green Building Council

Buzz words and hot topics come and go, but “green jobs” are here to stay. In a recovering economy, jobs remain a top priority for our leaders and the Americans they represent. Green building jobs represent a bright light in the recovery process, because these are long-term, high-quality jobs for the future. As the economy rebounds, there are employment needs at all levels of the proverbial “career ladder.” Green building fills the billet by supporting jobs at all professional and skill levels. Through the demand for LEED, energy and resource efficient buildings, and healthy, safe schools for our children, we are building an inclusive economy with green jobs for all. The third regional Good Jobs, Green Jobs Conference kicks off today in Philadelphia as a diverse group of stakeholders convene in support of good, green jobs.

Green building construction is supports jobs in a range of occupations. Booz Allen Hamilton estimates that from 2009-2013 the green building industry will support 8 million jobs throughout the economy, from “construction managers and carpenters to truck drivers and cost estimators.” These jobs will provide $396 billion in labor earnings and will generate an additional $554 billion in GDP. Just as all parts of an ecosystem are indispensible, ALL of the jobs in the green building supply chain are crucial to the functioning of the industry and economy.

Next Steps for LEED 2012: Q&A with Chrissy

Chrissy Macken
Manager, LEED
U.S. Green Building Council

It takes a lot to finalize a new LEED rating system: A lot of time (years), a lot of public comments (over 19,000), and a lot of steps in the process (hence this explanatory entry). With the closing of third public comment, now seems a particularly good opportunity to focus on a fundamental piece of LEED 2012’s evolution - the ballot period. If there are no more substantive changes – and as a result – additional public comment periods, balloting will be the next step in the process. Today, I sat down with Gwen Building, an inquisitive (and sadly, fictional) USGBC Member, to defog this critical step in developing LEED 2012. Read on, because this involves you! (Yes, you!)

Gwen Building (GB): There’s been a lot of buzz about the upcoming ballot for LEED 2012. What exactly is “ballot?”
Chrissy Macken (CM): The ballot period is the opportunity for USGBC membership to vote on the rating system changes for LEED 2012. We ballot all technical changes and new versions of rating systems.

GB: How does balloting work?
CM: Our USGBC national members interested in voting opt into a consensus body. That group votes on behalf of the entire membership whether to approve the proposed changes to the rating system. If the changes pass ballot, then LEED 2012 is finalized and becomes available for project teams everywhere to utilize. Hooray! The opportunity to opt in to the consensus body starts April 2. From there, we’ll ensure the consensus body is balanced, with members from every interest category - prior to opening ballot.

Monday, April 2, 2012

I Don’t Need to Rule, But Our Leaders Do

Maggie Comstock
Associate, Policy
U.S. Green Building Council

Editor's note: We are proud to announce that our staff blogger, Maggie Comstock, is a finalist in the Rio+20 Big Blog Off! Vote for Maggie so she can win a trip to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, to blog for World Environment Day on June 5, 2012.

As any pageant queen could tell you, the winning answer to “If I ruled the world” is something BIG. If I ruled the world…I would cure cancer! …I would end all world hunger! And, of course, …there would be WORLD PEACE!

Unfortunately, I am not a beauty queen and I am far too practical for overly idealistic goals for my world domination. But if I ruled the world…there would be policies in place at both the local and national levels of government that promote the green economy and sustainable development in an economically efficient and socially appropriate way! (Though, I’m not sure if I would win the interview category with that answer.)

We have the power and the tools already at our disposal to make the 2000s a sustainable century, though time is of the essence. We need to move quickly in order to get our carbon emissions in check and to stabilize our greenhouse gas emissions below the scientifically recommended 450 parts per million (ppm) and, ideally, get them down to the 350 ppm figure supported by vulnerable geographic regions for the best chance of survival. This is completely doable through international cooperation at Rio+20 in June and the Conference of Parties climate change negotiations in Qatar in December. However, there are a few points of context needed to understand what UN delegates are up against and why action on climate change hasn’t been realized already.