Eight takeaways from Greenbuild 2015

The sustainability conference is maturing and that’s a good thing.

By Jamie Meyers,  AIA, LEED AP, Michele Vernon, NCIDQ, LEED AP and Richard G. Wolf, AIA, LEED AP

The sessions we attended at Greenbuild this year in Washington, D.C. spoke to the maturation of green building and sustainability. Green building has entered the mainstream. We attended sessions for everything from an introduction to LEED v4 and other rating systems to the health impact of circadian disruptive lighting. Some were more thoughtful than others, but all were informative and interesting.

Noteworthy was the fact that the sessions were full or nearly full.  The sessions we attended were packed.  Given the robust attendance and the broad variety of topics, it appears sustainability has reached its tipping point.  If you are not addressing sustainability during the goal setting process for your projects, you are in the minority.

The message at Greenbuild has matured. When we attended earlier conferences, it was very common to see expo booths informing us of how many different LEED credits a company’s product or service could help a project achieve. At this year’s expo, rather than credits, the focus was on the impact of the built environment on people and their health, which is largely what sustainability has always been about. This changing message reflects a refined direction for the industry which needed a few years to connect the dots and form the big picture.

LEED V.4 has many changes in documentation required of vendors for Materials and Resources, but our interior designer noticed that manufacturers were not highlighting documentation relative to V.4 in their product offerings at their booths. Either not too many vendors had products for interiors to showcase or the market isn’t ready for V.4 yet.

We found a workplace of the future session particularly thoughtful. A review of predictions from several previous eras on how we would live and work today shows that such predictions tend to be wildly inaccurate. The Jetsons were as good a guess at how we live and work in 2015 as the prognostications of scientific thought leaders from 50 years ago.  So what will the future look like? To predict the future, we learned, it’s necessary to think about movement and health, continuous change in technology and availability of healthy food. Naturally, the future will be about conserving energy. We need to bring geeks into the design process to focus on saving energy.

Urban Food Studio at the Capital Area Food Bank was unveiled at Greenbuild 2015.

Urban Food Studio at the Capital Area Food Bank was unveiled at Greenbuild 2015.

USGBC’s LEED product line is rapidly expanding to the point of saturation across all markets.  LEED is tackling energy distribution systems with its PEER product. The SITES system is taking over the sustainable landscape realm. A partnership with the International Well Building Institute (the Green Building Certification Institute now provides third-party certification for the WELL Building Standard®) has pushed the impact that buildings have on the health and well-being of occupants to new levels. USGBC is leveraging new programs such as Volume (for multiple similar buildings), Campus, and Recertification to further expand project scope in scale and over the lifecycle of projects.

The Net Zero movement has emerged to meet the tough goals in the AIA’s 2030 challenge. We’re seeing various efforts to establish drastic targets to achieve carbon neutrality and go beyond it with buildings that produce more than 100% energy requirements and harvest rainwater.

LEED and other rating systems continue to make environmental, social and financial sustainability goals the absolute requirement for companies, manufacturers and even governments that are going to succeed in the future.

We were particularly impressed with the International Living Future Institute’s Living Building Challenge and Living Community Challenge systems–as these certification strategies are going far and beyond where LEED currently is in efforts to meet or exceed the typical Net Zero requirements for water and energy use in addition to cutting edge health, equity and beauty imperatives. Rather than relying on system modeling expected performance, these certifications are only awarded when all aspects are actually are fully operational and audited.

The last takeaway I had from Greenbuild was another sign of maturity: results.  From exhibitors to session topics, there was a large focus on measuring and reporting on results. Gone are the days of experimental systems and products. The building industry knows that green building can make financial sense and tracking and delivering projections is now the normal course of business.  One can’t just put sustainable elements into a building, one must track and measure the impacts and those elements.  After all, one definition of sustainability is being able to conduct business today without compromising the resources needed to conduct business in the future.

Our biggest take away from Greenbuild: Measure what you do.

[Main photo: Green rooftop at North Park University Johnson Center, designed by VOA]

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