December 2017 //

All in With Greenbuild

By Cindy Davis


The green building movement is now, more than ever, a global community, and it takes a diverse one to combat climate change and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.


“ALL IN” was the theme for the 2017 Greenbuild Conference held in Boston. This was my 11th Greenbuild! Having attended so many in the past, you might ask, “What could possibly stand out?” The distinguishing factor this year was less about leaders and dynamic speakers, and more about connecting with the greater green building community – the individuals you meet in sessions and workshops who you share ideas with.

In the opening plenary, Mahesh Ramanujam, CEO of USGBC and the Green Business Certification Inc. (GBCI) explained, “Real change starts with real people, and in order to keep the green building movement going we must be ALL IN.”

As the new leader of USGBC, Ramanujam is paving the way for the next twenty years of green building that reflects diversity: culturally, economically and politically with the goal of being more inclusive. The green building movement is now, more than ever, a global community, and it takes a diverse one to combat climate change and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

To grow and diversify the global green building community, the conference expanded internationally with multiple conferences held this year in India, China and Brazil in addition to the United States. Germany has committed to join the list in 2018.

Data, Data and More Data!

So what was my big takeaway this year? For me, it’s all about the data! I know, I know. I can see your eyes glazing over, but hear me out. Without exception, every session and workshop I attended talked about the importance of measuring your performance and providing transparent data.

With regard to performance, “Data is the new natural resource,” stated Ramanujam in the workshop ARC, LEED and Measuring Performance at the City Scale. The Arc tool (Arc Skoru) is the foundation of the LEED for Cities pilot certification program, which launched last year. Arc manages the data, measures performance and provides benchmarking across a portfolio of buildings and other metrics – in this case on a community or city scale. That’s right, LEED for cities! Washington, D.C. recently earned LEED Platinum, the first city to earn certification in the new program. Jay Wilson, the District Department of Energy and Environment’s green building expert, reiterated, “You can’t improve what you don’t measure.”

Material Girl

We all like to know what is in our food; I know I do. So why wouldn’t we want to know what is in the products we’re specifying for our projects? Material transparency, introduced by ILFI’s Living Building Challenge Red List Imperative and LEED v4’s Building Product Disclosure and Optimization is gaining traction by both the design community and manufacturers.

There are a number of new organizations that have formed to advocate for and streamline access to this data. One forward-thinking organization, mindfulMaterials, hosted a number of events at Greenbuild to generate ideas, provide a forum for concerns and advocate with the manufacturing community transparency of building product material ingredients.

MindfulMaterials teamed with Giga to provide the design community a database of products and their self-declared and third-party declared certifications. This data includes health product declarations (HPDs) and environmental product declarations (EPDs) and other certifications from Cradle to Cradle, Declare, HPD Collaborative, UL Greenguard, SCS and many more. For anyone that has had to research product information for the Living Building Challenge or LEED sees this as welcome relief to this time-consuming effort; however, it depends on a green building community that is ‘ALL IN.’

Another pivotal change in material transparency comes from a world-renowned chemist with an incredibly witty and unassuming demeanor, John Warner. He is one of the founders of the field of Green Chemistry during his tenure at UMass Lowell and co-author of the defining text Green Chemistry: Theory and Practice with Paul Anastas.

If you think about it, architects are required to be licensed, chemists are not, and yet their work can have a profound effect on our health. Warner’s work at UMass was a game changer in the way chemistry is taught at the molecular level by reducing the use of hazardous materials. The results of his 12 Principles of Green Chemistry is that it works better, reduces costs, is less toxic and reduces barriers to invention and risks. His Green Chemistry program is quickly being adopted by many schools and universities.

Designing With Data

So where is all this data taking us? VR, AI and the IoT are quickly infiltrating everything we do, and that is no exception to how we design and how our buildings operate. We’ve already seen how VR has enhanced the visualization experience of what we’re designing. Now, AI can enhance our designs to provide solutions that mimic nature in response to our goals.

At the Greenbuild Expo, I had Autodesk demonstrate their Generative Design tools. These tools are being used to optimize the forms for products and buildings. It uses algorithms to generate every possible variation of a design solution in response to the goals and constraints for the product or project such as energy use, access to solar, mitigating heat gain, prevailing wind loads, strength and durability and the building footprint.

In the session Occupant Aware Buildings, or Building Aware Occupants? Seattle engineer, Tom Marseille of WSP-Parsons Brinckerhoff led a discussion on how to get building occupants more engaged and aware of their buildings to improve performance outcomes. With the advent of, “Smart buildings and leveraging the big data from thousands of inexpensive sensors and the IoT, these technologies promise to improve convenience, comfort and productivity, all in a more sustainable manner.”

Marseille talked about how this technology can learn where we are and how we work within spaces, which in turn provides us better information on how to improve utilization of these spaces and make our buildings more efficient. But at what expense? Tom went on to raise questions about how and if Occupant Aware Buildings are infringing on personal privacy and opened the discussion to the audience. Much to think about in a world where security of data is paramount.

Greenbuild wouldn’t be complete without hearing the plenary speakers, President Bill Clinton and astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson. In closing, Dr. Tyson shared images that changed how people perceive Earth. The first was the famous image Earthrise, taken from Apollo 8 in 1968. The second image was captured from Cassini, the unmanned spaceship that just completed its 20-year mission to Saturn in September. This image captures Saturn and some of its rings, in addition to Earth millions of miles away – as a pale blue speck of light. Dr. Tyson implored his audience “to preserve and cherish that pale blue dot.”

The Next 20 Years

LEED has no doubt made its mark on the world. It has allowed green building and sustainability to become a main stream topic in our project meetings and board rooms. As the most recognized green building rating system, it has more than 90,000 registered and certified projects, representing more than 19 billion SF across 165 countries. Everyday 2.2 million SF certifies to LEED. Not only that, GBCI the independent certification and accreditation organization for LEED now oversees eight green business programs, including LEED – GRESB, Parksmart, PEER, SITES, WELL, Zero Waste and Investor Confidence Project.

ARC will be the foundation for aligning all the data from these certifications and providing performance measurement and benchmarking analysis from a building level to a city scale. USGBC is involved in the development of model Green Codes such as IgCC and performance standards that continue to raise the floor for performance and health. So if you think LEED is going away, think again!


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