Greenbuild - Building Upon The Right Intentions

Fri, 2012-11-30 10:43

Arriving at the Greenbuild 2012 conference, there was no doubt that the green building movement had arrived squarely in the mainstream. It was abundantly clear that green building is here to stay, evidenced by the long list of corporate sponsors and the closing plenary where William McDonough, one of the design world’s heavy hitters, interviewed executives from Steelcase, Shaw, and others, on how being green is a profitable business model. In fact, green building has become a major driver of the development industry. As Rick Fedrezzi said in his opening plenary speech, “We are right."

escalator-north-hall-moscone   four-conference-attendees

Photo Left: escalator at North Hall, Moscone Center   Photo Right: L-R Leisha John, Director of Sustainability at Ernst & Young, Penny Bonda, FAISD & LEED Fellow, Joan Mahon, Senior LEED & Corporate Sustainability Instructor for Everblue, Vicki Flaherty, PhD, GBCI Board of Directors

I started out my Greenbuild experience by attending the Codes Summit where several themes that would permeate the conference emerged. Addressing existing buildings, plug loads, performance, integrated design, transparency in building materials, and, in the wake of super storm Sandy, the concepts of resilience and adaptation were all on the docket.

Voluntary vs. Mandatory

Green codes may be the vehicle for taking the next step from the voluntary LEED standard to mandatory integration of green building practices into development. The International Green Construction Code (IgCC), created by the International Code Council (ICC), and the ASHRAE 189.1 standard, are model green building codes. These two codes are similar to LEED in the topic areas they address but different in that when adopted by a municipality or state they would be mandatory and enforced by local building officials.

LEED Progress

It wouldn’t be Greenbuild if we weren’t talking about LEED, and performance was the key word. LEED Version 4 is still slated for release in 2013. The Materials and Resources credits in the new version of the rating system have been controversial to say the least, so there was a tremendous effort to educate attendees about the health product declaration (HPD) “nutrition label.” This label is a mechanism for transparency on the part of the manufacturer and a basis for informed consumer choices to control what goes into our buildings.

The dynamic plaque idea really got us talking about performance. In the future (2015 or so), a LEED building would measure performance across the credit categories in real time and would use an IPO address to verify certification. Goodbye LEED-Online? I wouldn’t go that far, but stay tuned because contrary to what the USGBC has said in the past, LEED-Online is going to upgrade to a version 4. Scott Horst and others presented an exciting future version of re-certification for existing buildings that would allow the building occupants and managers to utilize a user-friendly software interface to measure everything from water consumption to absenteeism and happiness.

New Resource

Anyone who has ever pursued “green building tourism” and gone in search of green buildings while on vacation or visiting unfamiliar cities will be excited about the new GBIG database. As an alternative to minimal information about rating system and certification level currently available on the USGBC site, one can now search the Green Building Information Gateway (GBIG) database. Information will be provided on buildings around the country including which credits were pursued and which buildings are “greener” than others. All of this will be searchable by geographic area. Genius!

Adapting For Climate Change

What is the difference between climate change mitigation and adaptation? Mitigation is what we do to allow our buildings to earn lots of points in the Energy and Atmosphere credit category so that the building’s contribution to climate change is theoretically lessened. Adaptation, on the other hand, is what we need to do to prepare our buildings and communities for rising sea levels (as seen with super storm Sandy), extended drought, and other climate change impacts. The City of San Francisco, for example, has been engaging in adaption planning which includes identifying vulnerable areas and infrastructure, and taking actions such as enhancing wetlands to help prevent flooding. Designing our communities to be better adapted and more resilient to a changing climate may be the future of our industry.

Projected Growth

As reassurance that we are indeed helping to grow an industry, Harvey Bernstein from McGraw-Hill shared the statistics that in 2015, 50 percent of all non-residential building starts are expected to be green. In 2016, 33 percent of all homebuilders will build green, and currently, over 70 percent of all architecture, engineering, and construction firms value professional accreditation such as the LEED Green Associate.

Closing Thoughts

Greenbuild is a place to share and consider big ideas, motivation, and inspiration. In the closing plenary on Friday, McDonough posed one of the big questions that stayed with me: “If design is a signal of intention, then what is our intention?” He reminded us that we surely didn’t intend some of the consequences of creating the built environment like finding toxic chemicals in a mother’s milk. Amongst the challenges that we face every day, it’s easy to lose sight of what really matters. McDonough’s question reminded me that it’s worth asking, “What is my intention?”

About the Author Erin Murphy is an Instructor and Curriculum Developer for Everblue. She is a LEED Accredited Professional (LEED AP) with extensive experience in environmental planning and green building who believes in applying sustainability principles to create positive change.

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