Tuesday, July 31, 2012

A Renewed Commitment to Buildings and their Social Benefits

Maggie Comstock
Policy Analyst
U.S. Green Building Council

As the dust settles from Rio+20, I finally have a moment to reflect upon the outcomes of the historic Earth Summit Conference. The non-committal nature of the Rio text was a surprise to no one, yet the identification of buildings as an important strategy for the development of sustainable cities and urban infrastructure was still a “win” for the green building movement. Energy efficiency was also recognized as a strategy for combating climate change within both the developed and developing world. Our leaders’ acknowledgement of the role of the buildings sector in sustainable development is a testament to the benefits of green building that go beyond protecting the environment, as outlined in the United Nations Environment Programme Sustainable Buildings and Climate Initiative’s new report, "Building Design and Construction: Forging Resource Efficiency and Sustainable Development."

Snapped on USGBC's trip to the Rio+20 conference. 
As the world’s population rapidly urbanizes, we need to address future development and construction. Picture this: In order to accommodate the expected increase in urban population of two billion people before 2030, we would need to construct 200 new cities larger than Paris! Our planet cannot accommodate such development, especially if done conventionally. Clearly the decisions that we make today are crucial to ensuring the future health of our planet as cities put more pressure on our finite resources.

Green buildings not only address the development requirements of future urbanization, but also serve important social and economic needs of these populations. For example, the International Labour Organization estimates that the construction sector employs 111 million people globally; and as green buildings increase their share of the market, they also provide stable employment for millions and boost local economies around the world. Green schools and affordable housing programs help spread the social benefits of green buildings to a wider audience, promoting education and health.

Download the report
Finally, the report outlines the role of cities in driving green building construction and sustainability. Sub-national governments are taking the lead on urban sustainability as national governments are slower to implement progressive policies. As building design and construction have acute benefits for local populations, cities are often best suited to implement these policies.

The UNEP-SBCI report helps builds the broader case for green building throughout the world as more than an environmental movement, but also a social and economic one, which appropriately aligns with the themes of Rio+20—economic prosperity, social inclusion and environmental protection.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Two Billion or Bust: LEED Square Footage Tips the Scales

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

Ever been to New York, NY? Picture the island of Manhattan in your mind (or Google’s). Now multiply that by three. Or, picture the entire District of Columbia.

Both are roughly equivalent to two billion square feet – the amount of LEED-certified space that now exists around the world, a milestone that we announced yesterday. And while it’s difficult to conceptualize so much space, I think we can all agree that it’s a milestone worthy of celebration – and one to which so many people, from architects to project managers to building inhabitants – have contributed.

To exemplify that point, let’s take a peak at some of the recent certifications:
  • Google’s LEED Platinum office in Mumbai, India, a commercial interiors project
  • A new construction project in Lem, Denmark: the LEED Platinum Vestas Technology Center
  • LEED Gold Warrensburg Elementary School in Warrensburg, Missouri
  • LEED Platinum Ernst & Young Plaza in Los Angeles, California, an existing buildings project
  • LEED Platinum University of California Irvine Medical Education Building in Irvine, California

Two billion is a great benchmark for LEED’s growth. Twelve years ago, LEED started as a singular rating system for new construction projects. Now, LEED encompasses a suite of rating systems that touches just about every possible building type, from hospitals to our homes, offices to outlet malls. We’re certifying two million square feet of commercial LEED space every single day in 130 countries. There are 50,000 LEED-certified and LEED-registered projects, comprising a grand total of nine billion square feet. And if that isn’t enough to blow your mind, perhaps the 22,000 LEED for Homes certified units will. (51% of which are in the affordable housing sector!) In twelve years, LEED has made more than a splash in the marketplace (cannonball, anyone?), which would have never been possible without the continued input and involvement of a vast array of industries. Today, LEED is a rating system that more than 1,200 companies, from architecture firms to product manufacturers to Fortune 500 companies, are willing to stand behind.

To all of you LEED users out there, whether your certified project was a commercial building that accounts for hundreds of thousands of square feet, or a small storefront of just a couple hundred, we applaud you - and we thank you. Green building is our collective movement, and no matter how far you moved the needle, you’ve helped tip the scales to two billion square feet. One billion = big. But two billion? It’s safe to say that LEED has grown larger than we ever imagined in the early days, and now, it’s difficult to imagine a built world without it.

All this amazing work notwithstanding – let’s all agree that this is just the beginning!

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Everything You Always Wanted to Know About the Green Apple Day of Service (But Were Afraid to Ask)

Mallory Shelter 
Communications Associate
U.S. Green Building Council

Hello San Antonio! The Center for Green Schools team arrived this week in the great state of Texas for USGBC’s annual mid-year meeting, chatting with our most engaged stakeholders about Green Apple and the Day of Service. It’s been inspiring to hear how engaged so many of our leaders are planning to be on Sept. 29, and what they’ve already done to promote this day.

We’ve been spending our days with the chapter green schools committees and those interested in how they can further become involved in our mission to create healthy, high-performing schools for all within this generation. But through talking further about the Day of Service, one thing we’re finding is that people still have a lot of questions. How do I register? How can I get more volunteers? How do I promote my event on and after Sept. 29? Where can I find funds for my project? And the list goes on.

Well, for those of you reading this post and find yourself asking similar questions, you’re in luck! We’ve answered some of the inquiries we’ve been getting a lot of below. If we didn’t answer your questions, feel free to reach out to me at mshelter@usgbc.org and our team will be sure to get you an answer ASAP.

How do I find projects in my area?
Our Green Apple website supports search functionality for registered projects within a 100 mile radius of a zipcode, or by country. We’re seeing 8-10 new registrations a day, so check often!

Green Buildings: A Bridge to a More Resilient Future

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

I overheard a lot of scary things in the workshops and in the halls during last week’s 37th Annual Natural Hazards Research and Applications Workshop. The sessions I attended were worrisome, and the mere titles of some of the sessions I missed were downright frightening – like, “Community at Risk: Biodefense and Civic Action after the Anthrax Attacks,” or “What Keeps Me up at Night: Senior Hazards Researchers Reflect on Lessons (Not) Learned.” It's a sobering conference to be sure, but it's also extremely important to learn about the many ways that our society, economy and infrastructure are very, and increasingly vulnerable to disaster.

Where I come from, the motivation for action today is not typically driven by the threat of disaster. Instead, we're driven by the promise of a brighter, greener future. I was uncertain about how this optimism would be received when I was invited to participate on behalf of USGBC in this conference, but I learned very quickly that emergency managers and the many minds that stay up late thinking about how to better prepare for and mitigate myriad disasters are advancing a hopeful and constructive approach to planning for a resilient future. Phew!

Build to last: Green building methods and codes can help prepare and mitigate the effects of natural disasters. Photo source: NOAA Photo Library, Flickr

As you may know, USGBC has been involved in this line of thinking for several years, after being called upon time and again to help communities rebound from disasters and build back better, stronger and greener. Resistance, preparedness, mitigation and resilience to natural hazards are at the heart of a resiliency agenda. And we know, intuitively, that a resilient future is a sustainable future.

At our panel session, we addressed a simple question, “The Future of Green Codes and Standards: Is there a Place for Disaster Resistance?” The short answer is, “Of course!”

Friday, July 20, 2012

Fresh Approach to Education @ Greenbuild 2012

Rina Brulé
Manager, Event Content
U.S. Green Building Council

Heading into the eleventh Greenbuild, our education program continues to evolve with a fresh approach to entertaining and motivating you inside the session room.

Check out some of the changes I’m most excited about:
  • Shorter education sessions = 60 minutes. In an effort to help you make the most of your experience, education sessions are now hour-long presentations. View the program »
  • Earn your continuing education. This year we’re increasing time slots and education opportunities. LEED APs and Green Associates can still earn one year’s worth of continuing education credits at Greenbuild. Learn more »
  • USGBC Updates are one track. In the past, specialty updates were offered during one time slot, and you told us it wasn’t working. So we’re changing it up. In 2012, if you wish, you will have the opportunity to attend every USGBC update.
  • More special sets. This is your year to experience the magic of special sets. Special sets feature unique stages, lighting, audience polling and interactive presentation styles to better engage the audience. Forty sessions will be held on a special set.
  • Start scheduling and connecting. Looking to connect with an attendee, exhibitor, or presenter? Greenbuild Connect not only reserves your seat in education sessions, it also helps you plan your entire Greenbuild experience. Greenbuild Connect »
What are you looking forward to learning @ Greenbuild 2012? Let us know and tweet @Greenbuild.

Support for LEED and Sustainability: Briefing at the Capitol

Bryan Howard
Legislative Director
U.S. Green Building Council

LEED for Business: No, it’s not a new rating system – but rather, the pulse of every LEED rating system. LEED has become an instrumental tool for businesses, from commercial construction companies to global financial firms to your favorite coffee shop. Forty-eight companies in the Fortune 100 use LEED certification to reduce operating and energy costs, and nearly 1,300 product manufacturers are USGBC members. Why? As USGBC’s Vice President of National Policy, Jason Hartke, put it, “The business case for LEED is unassailable.”

This afternoon, three key LEED users, from Hines, Interface, and Yates Construction - came to the Capitol to talk business: Why they use LEED and how it impacts their business operations.

Congressman Robert Dold (R-IL), co-chair of the Congressional Green Schools Caucus, kicked off the event with a nod to green building practices.

L to R: Mason Statham of Yates Construction, Congressman Dold, Gary Holtzer of Hines, and Jason Hartke, USGBC

“I’ve been talking to businesses everyday about removing overhead costs,” said Dold. “I’ve seen solution after solution that pay themselves off after 18 months. Certainly, we need to follow suit with government buildings.

“I think this is a very important topic and one we’re going to hear a lot more about.”

And that we did.

Speak Up for LEED: Spurring Job Growth & Innovation for Over a Decade

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

If 10 years ago, someone had told you that a consumer desire to buy paints that don’t emit harmful fumes (also known as VOCs) would jeopardize the jobs of decent, hard working Americans, would you have believed them? If they had predicted that 10 years in the future, low-emitting paint, carpets and adhesives, would not only be widely available but also considered by many industry practitioners as standard rather than specialty products, would you have believed them? For me, it’s honestly tough to say.

Ten years ago I doubt I knew 50% of what I have come to know as a result of my engagement with the green building movement. Ten years ago I’m pretty sure I knew what VOCs were – but only because I had to endure organic chemistry in college: Not because I knew they were a paint ingredient. Ten years ago I’m pretty certain I knew that VOCs weren’t good for you, but I probably couldn’t have explained why (I was a pretty focused energy guy back in the day). Ten years ago I’m 100% certain that I would not have been able to tell you that VOCs were a chemical ingredient that, although they were very common at the time, would be completely absent from every single paint we used when we renovated the house we moved in to last year. And there’s just absolutely no way that 10 years ago I would have been able to tell you that it wouldn’t cost me a dime more to purchase a product that performs the same, but is vastly healthier than available alternatives.

Photo credit: Bob Mical 

Since USGBC launched LEED in 2000, we’ve seen some extraordinary changes in our industry. Pick a product: paint, carpet, chillers, glass, lighting, furniture, air handlers, adhesives, lavatories, composite wood, concrete, toilets, steel, wood, building automation/controls, aluminum, drywall, insulation – virtually any product we make buildings out of/with – and I’m certain you can find a product that performs the same or better but has a vastly improved environmental and/or human health footprint than a comparable product sold in 2000. Has LEED driven all this? Certainly not on its own – the clever people who brought us these improved products were just as clever before LEED came along – but one thing I think we can say with confidence is that the rate at which this innovation occurred was accelerated by LEED. I think we can also say with confidence that the companies that took hold of the leadership of this movement and cultivated the innovation that has changed our industry are vastly better positioned than their competitors to respond to the global challenges we all collectively face.

In spite of all of this, trade associations are currently running around telling lawmakers that the ideas that USGBC is considering for future versions of LEED – ideas that are enhancements to the market-based ideas from previous versions of LEED, ideas that led to revolutionary innovation which has made hundreds of companies globally more competitive and hugely more profitable – are putting the jobs of decent, hard working Americans at risk. Do you believe them?

Me neither. Let's do something about it.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Plano Environmental Education Center: A City's Symbol for Sustainability

GGO Architects

It's curious how times change. During the ‘80s, I heard about how the city of Plano was a rapidly growing example of Dallas sprawl. It was looked upon as a scourge of urban revitalization. But by the millennium, Plano had evolved to become simply the northern edge of a growing greater Dallas metropolitan area.

And just as the city’s reputation changed in this context, so did its commitment to environmentally-friendly practices. This is the story of how a green building in Plano, TX has become a symbol for the city’s ever-increasing commitment to sustainability.

Plano Environmental Education Center. Photo Credit: Mark Olsen

The Vision

Flashback to the year 2000: As the city of Plano matured, conversations with city staff at local sustainable conferences and USGBC events evolved around the potential for a more sustainable approach for solid waste practices, water conservation and innovative municipal policies that would benefit Plano long term.

An early advocate, Nancy Nevil, Director of Sustainability & Environmental Services for the City of Plano, decided to take matters into her own hands and make a difference at the local level. Armed with a vision to reduce, reuse, and recycle, she groomed the support of the city’s elected officials and implemented automated recycling and household chemical collections programs that have became benchmarks for other cities throughout the state.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Who's Coming to Greenbuild 2012?

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

Four IMEX Green Meetings Awards. Tens of thousands of attendees. Greenbuild is not just an event, but
the award-winning tent revival for the most passionate and innovative leaders of the green building movement. Can you believe it's just a few months away? This year, at the 2012 Greenbuild Conference and Expo, we’re expecting over 35,000 attendees from every facet of the green building sphere to join us at the Moscone Center in San Francisco, Calif. for the largest Greenbuild event to date.

I’m thrilled to announce today that Greenbuild 2012 will kick-off with Mika Brzezinski and Joe Scarborough of MSNBC’s weekday morning show “Morning Joe,” and Biz Stone, co-founder of Twitter, Inc. headlining at the opening plenary on Wednesday, Nov. 14 at the Moscone Center.

Greenbuild 2012 speakers: Mika Brzezinski and Joe Scarborough of “Morning Joe” (outer photos); Biz Stone, co-founder of Twitter, Inc. (center photo)

Our Greenbuild theme for 2012 is all about bringing technology and sustainability together in the global green environment, and I can’t think of a better speaker line-up to drive this point home. And what better place to celebrate than San Francisco, a city known world-wide for its ongoing commitment to green practices and sustainability? San Francisco embodies the fusion of sustainability and technology with its diverse range of LEED-certified buildings – not to mention its proximity to Silicon Valley and reputation as the nucleus of tech giants and start-ups. This impressive city will provide the perfect backdrop for Greenbuild 2012’s green building tours, 150+ educational sessions, networking opportunities, and more.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Think and Be Greener: A Visit to Woodland Hill Montessori School

Jodi Smits Anderson
USGBC NY Upstate Chapter

What would you do if you found yourself in front of an audience of 20 kids, all convinced they know it all, yet totally open to new thoughts and ideas? If you were bold and a bit naïve, you might try to teach them about the triple bottom line, only to be blown away by their reception of the concept.

I had the opportunity to teach the middle school kids of Woodland Hill Montessori School about sustainability after complaining one too many times about the Styrofoam cups at their monthly coffeehouse fundraiser. Rather than accepting my offer to donate paper cups, one teacher conceived a greener, more dynamic alternative, and I was fully game to partake.

I began with Annie Leonard’s appropriately inflammatory short film about our consumer culture, “The Story of Stuff,” which prompted an engaging discussion about what the students’ families purchase and how those choices affect our world—including other people and the built environment, as mankind and nature are not independent.

Greening your computer: The students suggested that old computers could always benefit from redecoration with stickers. (Source: Phil Hawksworth, Flickr)

We then considered an example: How can you be a little greener in buying a new computer? Ideas flooded the discussion as if we were deciding where to eat ice cream. Laptops take less energy and are smaller! Buy one with a take-back policy! Be sure to clean out and maintain your computer! Buy from a local company! Buy a refurbished one! When it seems old, decorate it with stickers instead of buying a newer, prettier one that works the same way! I need to learn the last one.

The point was made. The only wrong answer is: Don’t ask any questions! If you want to be greener, all it takes is training yourself to think—about the purchases you make; about the spaces you are designing; about how you are doing something and if its working for you, your wallet (long-term) and the planet. “Think and be greener” is the motto I tried to teach.

Watch my recent TEDxTalk for the whole story, including how the students applied what they learned to their coffeehouse fundraiser.

Greener every day.

The Scoundrel's Handbook

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

It was Samuel Johnson who said that patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel. He talked a lot about false patriots, those who "appeal to the rabble, circulate pointless petitions, and who allow their passions to confound the distinctions between right and wrong." He never said if he had anyone particular in mind, but I sure do. A lot of people in Washington, D.C. have become quite adept in using the Scoundrel's Handbook to advance their narrow view of the world.

The first chapter in this primer for the morally challenged, of course, is denial, and we've seen any number of people over the years willing to stand up and lie bold-faced to the American people simply because admitting to their actions would expose them for the scoundrels they are.

But it's the second chapter I'd like to talk about: the one in which the scoundrel goes on offense and attacks anyone and everyone willing to expose him for what he is.

Unfortunately these scoundrels come in a variety of shapes and stripes. The ones that concern me most are those who attempt to savage a mountain of scientific evidence in favor of obfuscation and innuendo. They cloud what's clear because the light of day would expose them for what they are -- scoundrels of the worst sort. In their effort to protect a status quo that is good for them but not so much for the rest of us, they wrap their world view in flag and country and patriotism, and loudly proclaim that to question their self-interest is somehow un-American.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Healthy, Sustainable Interior Design: A Conversation with ASID

We're surrounded by interior design. Take a look around you: For those of you reading this blog from your office, coffee shop down the street, or living room at home, everything from your overhead lighting to flooring represents a design decision. Given that we spend upwards of 90 percent of our time indoors, these decisions matter - and can have profound effects on our health and the environment.

Sustainable interior design continues to be a key pulse of LEED - and who better to discuss the industry than the the American Society of Interior Designers (ASID)?

We caught up with Randy Fiser, Executive Vice President and CEO of ASID, to get his take.

Randy Fiser, ASID
ASID has been involved in a variety of sustainable design initiatives. Why does the organization deem it important to get involved in this space? What does sustainability mean to ASID?

Randy Fiser: Because people ultimately spend most of their time indoors, interior design plays a significant role in helping to create functional spaces that improve the human experience and our everyday interactions with our environments. Sustainability is an essential part of the built environment, but we believe that its ultimate goals and outcomes should address both the impact on bottom-line and the people who live and work in those spaces.

Why is green interior design important? How does it impact occupants and the environment?

RF: One of the most important aspects of sustainability is health – health of the indoor environment, of the occupants, of the materials. Interior designers offer specialized knowledge of interiors materials and FF&E (furniture, fixtures and equipment) that promote good indoor air quality, are toxin-free, and are water/energy-efficient. For example, formaldehyde is a known carcinogen that is ubiquitous in furniture and cabinetry. Understanding the health implications of this substance and how to source formaldehyde-free products demonstrates the value interior designers bring to the table.

USGBC's green office digs in Washington, DC

How important is it for interior design professionals to understand the concepts of sustainability?

RF: ASID recently issued our Facts & Figures report which cites that on average, interior designers specify products in nearly 9 out of 10 projects in both residential and commercial projects. This figure illustrates the impact that interior designers have on the built environment. For example, consider the issue of water conservation. At least 2/3 of the U.S. has experienced or is expected to experience water shortages. Reducing the amount of water we use is imperative and one of the easiest solutions is to improve water efficiency of kitchen and bath fixtures and appliances. If every household in America installed a water-efficient faucet, the U.S. could save 60 billion gallons of water annually. From the commercial perspective, a small office with as few as 10 employees can save about 69,000 gallons of water and $420 in water utility bills in a single year if they replace just one toilet. Scale that up to a 500-room hotel and you get a sense of the impact interior designers have on their clients’ pocketbook as well as the environment. Specifying water-efficient fixtures is just one example of something interior designers do on a daily basis that makes a real impact one project at a time.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Evolving LEED for Existing Buildings at BOMA's Every Building Conference & Expo

Lauren Riggs, LEEP® AP
Manager, LEED and Building Performance Partnership
U.S. Green Building Council

This Tuesday, I participated in a panel at BOMA’s Every Building Show in Seattle, WA. The topic: The Evolution of LEED for Existing Buildings: Operations and Maintenance.

Now, you’d think that we would have shared a lovely timeline of how LEED for Existing Buildings has grown from a renovation strategy baby to an operations-focused teenager – we didn’t. Instead the panel focused on our movement towards emphasizing building performance outcomes. Specifically, USGBC has launched Pilot Credit 67 (aka. Energy Jumpstart!), is emphasizing performance through a restructuring of the rating system requirements and will be launching LEED EB: O&M recertification program guidelines in the near future.

Given all that we covered, there were two comments from that audience that have stuck in my mind.

First comment: LEED should award a point to building owners and managers who provide submetering to tenant spaces.

My reaction to this comment was, “But what about tenant data privacy? Isn’t the intent of awarding points for tenant metering to also allow the property manager to manage and trend tenant energy consumption?” But, I was wrong. Rather, tenants would be presented with the opportunity to monitor and control their own energy consumption – something that isn’t as standard practice as some would like.