Thursday, September 6, 2012

Out with the old...

We're excited to announce that the USGBC blog has moved to the new website.

Head there now to check out our recent posts, including:
And don't forget to update our RSS feed link in your readers.

Thank you for sticking with us during this change and for reading the USGBC blog. See you on the other side!

- The USGBC blog team

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Q&A with Mark MacCracken: Taking Project Haiti Fundraising to New "Heights"

Marisa Long 
External Relations Manager
U.S. Green Building Council

Mark MacCracken, Immediate Past Chair of USGBC's Board of Directors and CEO of CALMAC Manufacturing Corporation, is embarking on an adventure that’s taken him and his 25-year-old son, Josh, to the Swiss Alps; where they are climbing the Matterhorn, one of the highest peaks in the region, and clearly the most recognizable. Each foot they climb is raising money to build USGBC’s LEED Platinum Project Haiti Orphanage & Children’s Center being designed by HOK Architects.

Marisa Long: What made you decide to climb the Matterhorn?

Mark with his son, Josh, on a recent climbing expedition

Mark MacCracken: I was fortunate to first visit Switzerland and Zermatt almost 20 years ago and have been going with my wife Kimberly to ski for many years. The mountain is truly majestic and the lure to climb it was palpable, at least for me. About 10 years ago I mentioned it to my son and we put it in the "bucket" list. Two years ago my son said to me, “Dad, you aren’t getting any younger, I think we need to do this now.” I’m always looking for adventures for my son and I to take together and this seemed like a perfect fit. Knowing my year as Chair of USGBC’s Board of Directors would be very demanding on my time, and needing time to prepare, we set the date for Summer 2012.

Friday, August 17, 2012

The EBies: Honoring Great Work in Buildings Gone Green

William Nutt
Associate, Marketing and Communications
U.S. Green Building Council

Urban Green Council, the New York City chapter of USGBC, held the first-ever EBie Awards on June 28th at the Hard Rock Café Theater. Though this marks the first public showcase for the EBies, the project reflects concepts and ideas that have been discussed for years by NYC leaders in sustainability. The basic idea is this: We need to recognize and encourage the people who are making amazing improvements to existing buildings (hence “EB”ies). Last month, a total of 10 projects from around the country received awards across eight categories.

Sixty-seven entries were submitted; the jurors narrowed the list down to a select 18 finalists, and then chose the winners. Winning the All-Rounder was Glen Neville, a Director of Deutsche Bank, with a team from Jones Lang LaSalle for the Deutsche Bank Americas Headquarters at 60 Wall Street. Maintenance, operational, and capital improvements to the property increased its energy and water efficiency as it moves towards a goal of carbon neutrality by 2013. Included in the spectacular outcome of this $8 million project is the creation of a 123KW flat panel solar array – the largest rooftop array in New York City.

Forty percent energy savings over the past three years earned Jesse Dillard of the Dallas Museum of Art the Reformed Gas Guzzler Award thanks to lighting, HVAC and water heater retrofits. The Reformed Drinker Award went to Steve Allwine of the Johnson Braund office building in Seattle for reducing water consumption by 95%. The range of building types that received other innovative awards include a commercial office space, a mixed-use industrial complex and office building, an elementary school, a condominium complex and a rental apartment building.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

LEED: A Global Reinvention

Mahesh Ramanujam
Chief Operating Officer
U.S. Green Building Council

“Invent because you must.”

Tom Sachs’ adage is a fitting mantra for our International vision for LEED. As the market and the passion for LEED grows around the world, we must re-invent USGBC in the context of the global landscape. There are new destinations ripe with green building potential, and emerging markets from Berlin to Budapest.

Our strategy? To follow the knowledge, to go where there is passion. Last month, that took USGBC leadership to China.

The USGBC team in Shanghai, along with bian lian performers wearing USGBC-themed masks

Why China? The passion and pro-activeness for green building among Chinese developers cannot be understated. Despite language barriers and other challenges, the Chinese have begun applying LEED across an array of projects and building types, from green schools to Shanghai Tower, which will be the tallest LEED building in the world once complete. China is a place where the dispersion of green building has grown organically, 7,500 miles from the birthplace of LEED. For our USGBC team, it felt like we were parents looking at our own child: Our creation made us look very small. And that was a remarkable feeling.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Policymakers Imagine a Contributing Role for 130+ Million (Greener) Homes

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

Even in a still struggling economy, green building policymaking continues. To celebrate some of the impressive progress this year, USGBC partnered with the National Caucus of Environmental Legislators (NCEL) to convene key state lawmakers in Chicago this past Tuesday during the annual meeting of the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL). The most notable successes to date have been in the proliferation of green schools policymaking – more than 80 bills in 28 states this year alone.

Big buildings – like schools, office buildings and civic structures – capture a lot of the limelight in green building policy and practice. Rightfully so, you might say, due to their typically large social, economic and environmental footprint. But in a nation with more than 130 million homes and growing, the numbers point to a similarly important opportunity for residential buildings to make important contributions to a more sustainable future.

Access the policy brief.
At Tuesday’s event, the group of leading state policymakers explored how government could help augment the potential of residential buildings to contribute to achieving sustainability goals. We introduced a new policy brief to answer that question: Green Homes are Better Homes.

To date, USGBC counts more than 400 public policy initiatives that promote or advance green building and LEED. Only 25 of these, however, make a concerted effort to leverage all that a green home can contribute to a greener neighborhood or community. (If I’m missing one you know about, please do send it in!) New Mexico and Cincinnati have probably had some of the most celebrated successes with their programs, and New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo just approved a bill last month that would allow New York municipalities to offer similar, powerful incentives.

Of course, Adam Smith would argue that the Invisible Hand of the free market, too, has a critical role to play. But efficient and transparent systems for sellers and buyers of green homes aren’t yet widely available. We’ve got a campaign for that: Highlight Green Homes. And while the market may eventually provide adequate and appropriate housing for all, healthy and efficient affordable housing is needed today. We’ve got a campaign for that, too: Value Healthy and Efficient Affordable Housing. And to accelerate the market uptake of green homebuilding practices, our Leadership with LEED campaign promotes incentives for building green homes that are verified and tested by a third-party, like a LEED for Homes Green Rater.

State Legislators Celebrate Green Schools While Paying Tribute to One of the Movement’s Greatest Champions

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

Earlier this week, the Center for Green Schools at the U.S. Green Building Council co-hosted a reception at the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) alongside the National Caucus of Environmental Legislators (NCEL) to celebrate the impressive growth of green schools policy activity. More than 80 related bills across 28 states have been considered in state legislatures just this year. Additionally, 28 of these bills have been signed into law, and more may still be on the way. Surely these are stats worth celebrating.

This year’s monumental progress is enumerated in a report released at the reception, which drew together approximately 50 lawmakers and members of the NGO community. The report highlights the variety of ways that legislators are using their pen to help make green schools for all within this generation a reality. From appropriating funds for school upgrades, to standards around new school construction, to improved operations and maintenance best practices, the report showcases tried-and-tested policy ideas and fresh, new approaches.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Sowing Seattle Seeds for the Green Apple Day of Service

Emily Knupp 
Grassroots Outreach
Center for Green Schools

Last week, I had the opportunity to travel to Seattle for our very first Day of Service project. I joined the Seattle Mariners, Seattle Seahawks, Seattle Sounders and Seattle Storm, along with Washington Green Schools and Seattle Public Schools, the Green Sports Alliance, Skanska, community volunteers and students from Denny International Middle School and Chief Sealth High School to conduct a service project to gain momentum leading up to the official Green Apple Day of Service on Sept. 29.

The goal for the day was to expand the garden. We were tasked with building three plant beds and filling them with compost, soil, and plants, installing shelves in the tool shed and building a few benches. There were 22 middle and high school students there to join including the garden clubbers and some of the school’s athletes, new Seattle Public Schools Superintendent José Banda, an amazing crew from Skanska, the Washington Green Schools program, Cedar Grove Composting who even donated a truckload of composted soil, as well as players past and present from the Mariners, Seahawks, Sounders and Storm.

Helping Lucas Luetge with our project
In four hours we unloaded the soil, built three beds, two benches, planted kiwi, lavender, blueberries, strawberries and flowers, made an amazingly tasty lunch with ingredients from the garden, got really smelly and pretty much had the greatest day ever. The players were super engaged and excited to be there. I showed the Mariners relief pitcher Lucas Luetge (who pitched half an inning later that night!) how to plant a lavender bush and helped Superintendent Banda put a blueberry bush in the ground. They had a great time. The team from Skanska taught the kids about the company’s “Stretch and Flex” program which encourages job site safety and about being great advocates for Green Apple Day of Service.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

The Value of Green Labels in the California Housing Market

Nils Kok
Visiting Scholar
University of California, Berkeley

When shopping for a new car, one of the most prominent features on display is the miles-per-gallon (MPG) usage of the vehicle. There is an EnergyGuide label for dishwashers, clothes washers and other appliances, and an Energy Star label for the most efficient appliances. But when buying a home, there is usually no information on its energy efficiency — which is strange, considering the substantial impact that monthly expenditures on electricity, gas and water have on disposable income. For many people, energy is the single largest monthly expense after mortgage or rental payments.

Photo credit: Zeck Butler Architects

The recent surge in the labeling of more efficient, “green” homes should therefore be good news for people who want to make a more informed decision when purchasing a new home. In Europe, an energy label for homes has been in place for some years now, providing prospective homebuyers with a simple assessment on the energy efficiency of a dwelling. Consumers seem to value this type of information: a large-scale study on the effect of energy labels on the selling prices of homes in the Netherlands shows a price premium for more efficient homes.

Now there is comparable evidence for the U.S.

The Road to #Greenbuild is Paved in Social Media

Mara Baum
Senior Associate, HOK
Greenbuild Host Committee

Greenbuild is finally making its way to San Francisco this November – and us Bay Area locals are really excited. The conference theme is aptly “@ Greenbuild,” referencing the mindboggling array of Internet and technology companies headquartered here in the Bay Area. The big names include Google, Yahoo, Twitter (who’s co-founder, Biz Stone, will join us at the Greenbuild opening plenary), LinkedIn, Yelp, and YouTube. Smaller social media outlets are also ubiquitous, including the likes of StumbleUpon, Reddit, Delicious, Yammer, Pinterest, and many more. Of the 17 companies mentioned in a recent survey on social media for designers, all but one are headquartered here. (Tumblr hails from New York. Rebels!) We also have our host of gaming companies, many of whom tap into social networks; gamejobhunter lists over 120 companies nearby, from tiny start-ups to titans like EA and Zynga.

The “classic” Silicon Valley stretches from Palo Alto to south of San Jose, CA.
Image source: Wikipedia

Our social media bonanza has roots in the original tech boom in Silicon Valley – named after silicon chip innovators – back in the 1970s. What is Silicon Valley exactly? Although the name originally referred to a specific region emanating out from Stanford University and San Jose, its tech prowess has now spread throughout the region; San Jose Mercury News recently asserted that “Silicon Valley” now includes five Bay Area counties. For many of us, though, Silicon Valley is more about a mindset and an approach to business that’s become synonymous with high tech innovation. It has remained in this area because, as I once learned in a city planning class, companies that demand a stream of employees with the tech sector’s specialized mindset and skillset tend to thrive when they flock together. (San Francisco’s tax break for tech companies probably doesn’t hurt.)

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 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.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Stand Up and Cheer, the EBies are Here!

By Cecil Scheib
Note: this blog is cross-posted from the Urban Green Council blog

On Thursday, June 28, the first annual EBie Awards were held at the Hard Rock Café in Times Square. The EBies are a nationwide, juried competition that celebrates increased sustainability in existing buildings (thus, EBies) and the people behind these improvements. Close to 70 competitors submitted entries, from every region of the country, and the finalists gathered in New York City to down “EBie Elixirs” and wait breathlessly to hear the winners announced (between banter among local and national green building luminaries).

The stated point of the competition is to recognize unsung heroes – but let me tell you, after last night, those heroes have been sung! As a building geek (and speaking for all the other building geeks in the room), it was heartwarming to hear the applause and cheers for all the people working their chillers off to reduce energy and water use in existing buildings. While the “sexy” focus is often on the construction of fancy new structures, in order to reduce the overall impact of our built environment we must also greatly improve our existing buildings.

And while all the hardworking people doing this will tell you they don’t care, I think the truth is that people are motivated by the recognition of their peers (and let’s face it – the chance to have a Broadway star sing to you, as Emily Padgett did). It also helps the recognition of the profession overall to have an Oscar-like production celebrating existing building efforts.

Occupant Empowerment: Creating a Culture of Sustainability with LEED

Lonny Blumenthal, LEED AP O+M
Associate, LEED
U.S. Green Building Council

I hear people say it all the time: “Buildings don’t use energy, people do.” So then I ask myself: Why has the idea of engaging with building occupants fallen by the wayside?...Despite the fact that it’s one of the most cost-effective ways to minimize energy consumption and save money? I wish I could provide a simple answer to that question, but the reality is that influencing occupants to modify their behavior to meet the sustainability goals of a building and/or an organization is far from straightforward. It requires an understanding of the actions people perform and even more importantly, the motivation behind those actions. Sounds easy, right?

Less power, more occupant empowerment.
Photo credit: Public Domain Photos
To address the impact occupants have on resource consumption in the built environment, USGBC recently released Pilot Credit 59: Occupant Engagement. Our goal is to help improve the performance of existing buildings by enabling energy efficient behaviors among building occupants. The credit encourages building owners and tenants to create a culture of sustainability and resource conservation for occupants in LEED-certified projects. Project teams are awarded for implementing innovative engagement mechanisms that empower occupants to become aware of and responsible for their own energy consumption.

Pilot Credit 59: Occupant Engagement requires two main components:
  1. Consumption feedback: Inform occupants about the actual energy consumption of the building and/or their workspace and provide a relevant comparison point
  2. Occupant empowerment: Implement and maintain an occupant engagement program that includes education, empowerment and feedback components
We would like project teams to establish performance goals and develop a way to effectively track the success of the occupant engagement program. Additionally, the requirements above are only intended to serve as a foundation for an occupant engagement program and are by no means meant to display a “one size fits all” approach.

Introducing this concept as a pilot credit allows us to leverage both project team and market feedback to directly inform whether the credit’s requirements are effective or if they should be modified to better accomplish the stated intent.

So, let’s hear from you. Have you recently implemented an occupant engagement program focused on energy efficiency? What strategies did you find effective? What barriers kept your program from achieving its goals?

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Hospitality Development Update: Moving Towards LEED

Jefferson Thomas, AIA, LEED AP BD+C
Sr. Design Manager (LEED Advocate)
Marriott International

Green construction starts have increased by 50% in the past two years, and now represent 25% of all new construction today, according to a study by McGraw Hill. Green and sustainable construction initially had a slow start for the hospitality industry, but now seem to be gaining momentum. Today, there are 141 LEED-certified hotels and nearly 1,200 more that are registered with the intent to certify upon completion.

Because there are wide misperceptions about the cost of building green, hotel owners have been hesitant to embrace green practices. However, it has been proven that green building does not have to cost more. In some cases, where projects target higher or more complex levels of green building, there may be added upfront costs of 1-4% - but these costs can be recouped relatively quickly, often within the first few years. Investing in high energy performance equipment and high insulated building materials has the shortest pay back from a cost standpoint, and generally, high-performance buildings and building green reduce operating costs and increase the net operating income for the life of the building.

Courtyard Marriott in Portland, Ore.
Green hotels are catching on in a number of ways. For one, there is a new generation of hotel owners who put a higher asset value on their investments, and are realizing the benefits of green building practices. Many hotels are taking advantage of the federal, state and local incentives that can help pay for half to all of the additional cost to construct LEED-certified buildings: Attaining LEED certification, which is third-party verified, signifies a true green hotel. Marketing advantages, permit expediting, obtaining building approvals and reduced county fees are just a few other reasons why more owners are now turning towards building LEED. On the corporate sustainability front, major Fortune 500 corporations are changing their travel preferences to book green hotels, in order to boost their own company-wide green efforts.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

USGBC Members and Stakeholders Speak at the GSA Listening Session

Melissa Gallagher-Rogers, LEED® AP
Director, Government Sector
U.S. Green Building Council

You know from grade school, college, and maybe even your Ph.D program that an A+ is no easy feat.

Federal agencies know that, too: GSA recently received an A+ on the OMB scorecard. The statistics speak for themselves.
  • 19.2 percent reduction in energy use per square foot of space since 2003
  • 13.7 percent reduction in water use since 2007
  • 20.3 percent reduction in emissions since 2003
Obviously whatever they are doing is working, and we are thrilled that LEED has contributed to this success.

USGBC and its members spoke at a session yesterday complimenting the progress GSA has made. Dr. Chris Pyke, Vice President of Research at USGBC, offered comments about the federal government’s long history of using LEED as a common language to define sustainable buildings and a transparent framework for goal-setting, tracking and accountability for high performance federal buildings. Dr. Pyke reiterated that the consensus process for the creation of LEED continues to be the strongest part of our member organization with 22,000 public comments on the next version of LEED.

Tokyo’s Urban Cap and Trade for Commercial Buildings Sees Huge Success in First Year of Operation

Maggie Comstock
Policy Analyst
U.S. Green Building Council

Tens of thousands of delegates from diverse backgrounds and geographical regions convened in Rio to protect the future we want through sustainable development policy. While progress was made on the negotiating text, few are satisfied with the level of commitments and accountability from national governments. However, the news from Rio isn’t entirely bleak. Subnational governments are leap-frogging the unambitious goals of national governments to realize their own goals of urban sustainability.

Me with Yuko Nishida, planner, Bureau of Environment
Metropolitan Government of Tokyo
The benefits of green buildings are becoming more mainstream as businesses and governments alike embrace the economic, brand, social and environmental benefits of green buildings. So what’s stopping every city in the world from building sustainably? Despite the quick payback periods of green building strategies, up-front costs to green construction still remain a significant barrier. Innovative financing solutions are now being promoted by the public and private sectors to overcome these barriers to green buildings.

Monday, June 25, 2012

We’ve Got the Power – Bummmm…Bumpa…Bumm

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

Cities Arrive in Force at Rio+20

I don’t know if that 1992 pop song "We Got the Power" was meant for cities. But it should have been. It certainly would have been apropos during Rio+20, where cities arrived in force.


Recognized widely as the driving force behind many of the most significant actions taken to combat climate change, mayors from around the world came to Rio with a simple message: We’ve got the power.


 How inspiring to attend the two signature events for local governments, the C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group’s event at Fort Copacabana and ICLEI’s Global Town Hall, where we didn’t hear rhetoric, and instead we just hear results, like Tokyo’s cap and trade program that covers commercial buildings or Brasilia’s intent to have the first LEED Platinum stadium in the world.


Mayor of Johannesburg, Mayor Bloomberg, Mayor Paes of
Rio and the Mayor of Seoul
Unfortunately at many of these global conferences, like Rio+20, where national governments convene and negotiate, the role of cities all too often seem to be an afterthought. Yet cities are economic engines. They generate 75 percent of GDP. They nurture investment and innovation. “Intellectual capital gravitates to cities,” said Mayor Bloomberg of New York City last Monday at the C40 Climate Cities Leadership Group kickoff event at Rio+20.

Bloomberg announced that C40’s 59 megacities have collectively taken nearly 5,000 actions to combat climate change, which is expected to reduce greenhouse gases by over a billion tons by 2030.