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.

ML: What did you have to do to get ready for this trip?

MM: Since it is a pretty dangerous adventure, my wife, Kimberly, laid down the ground rules: I had to take a mountaineering course first and had to get in great condition. Last year I took an extensive mountaineering course, learned all the safety techniques including cravats rescue and climbing in snow with crampons on 60 degree inclines. The week ended with an ascent of Mount Baker in Washington, which is about 11,000 feet. Physically, the Matterhorn climb is very demanding. I spent about two years getting into better shape. One of the best preparation exercises has been climbing the stairs in the 36-story building where I live (New York City). I slowly built up from doing the building two or three times, with no pack, to nine times in succession with 30 pounds on my back. I would take the elevator down, to save the knees and time, which resulted in some interesting conversations and some new friends.

ML: How are you using this opportunity to raise money for Project Haiti?

MM: I’ve wanted to do some type of fundraising for Project Haiti and was looking for a good opportunity that would be challenging and worthwhile. I had the idea to link it to the climb and after supportive conversations with Rick (Fedrizzi, USGBC’s president & CEO) and Roger (Limoges, USGBC’s vice president of organizational development) it became real. At USGBC’s Mid-Year Meeting this summer, I was given the opportunity to speak to all of the attendees during the opening plenary, and I announced my intentions in front of more than 500 USGBC chapter leaders and board members. Within just the first 20 minutes more than 30 people emailed me saying they wanted to make a donation.

I wanted it to be simple for people to donate, so for every foot I climb on the Matterhorn, I asked for a penny to be pledged toward Project Haiti. On the big day, we climb Hornli Hut at 10,000 feet to the peak at 14,800 feet, so each cent would be a $48 dollar donation, rounded to $50 if I made the summit. To incentivize further, my company, CALMAC, agreed to matching the funds I raised through others, up to $10,000. To my surprise some people donated 5, 10 and even 20 cents per foot! Nearly 100 percent of USGBC¹s Board of Directors, and dozens of USGBC Chapter leaders, industry contacts, squash buddies and friends are supporting this cause.

ML: What are you most excited about for this adventure?

MM: Sharing this experience with my son is what I am looking forward to the most. The Swiss Alps are mystical with rolling fields and fantastic snow covered mountains so we will just take it all in. I’m also excited that through this experience, I will be able to contribute to Project Haiti in a meaningful way. I will be thinking about the children and families who will benefit throughout this journey.

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.

A few highlights include:

  • Utah passed HJR1 which highlights the importance of green schools and encourages new construction and major renovation projects to be healthy and energy-efficient.
  • Vermont passed S.92, instituting a green cleaning policy for schools.
  • Arkansas appropriated money through HB1078 to fund infrastructure improvements consistent with green building rating systems.
  • Illinois passed a resolution to encourage participation in Green Apple Day of Service this coming September 29.

The full report includes many more examples. The new ideas have also been incorporated into the Center’s growing green schools menu of policy options.

This is a significant increase in the volume of state legislative activity on green schools from years past, and it demonstrates that even amid unproductive political discourse and gridlock, state lawmakers are continuing to put differences aside to prioritize the importance of green schools in our communities.

Illinois State Representative Karen May, chair and co-founder of the 50 for 50 Green Schools Caucus Initiative, urged her colleagues to continue to fight to make green schools their lasting legacy that will impact communities for generations to come.

Doug Widener, Executive Director of the IL-USGBC Chapter,
Rep. May, Nate Allen and Jeremy Sigmon, pictured with a  green
apple necklace, hand-made by USGBC’s own Maggie Comstock

After six terms of dedicated service to the legislature, Rep. May is retiring at the end of this session. She has been a terrific champion for the green schools movement. Since helping to found the 50 for 50 Initiative, Rep. May has elevated this topic among her colleagues in Illinois, organized state lawmakers around the country in the 50 for 50 network, helped create resources specifically for state legislators to advance green schools, and most recently, brought together both sides of the aisle around an issue that’s too important to fall victim to partisan politics. We will miss working with Rep. May as a member of the Illinois legislature, but look forward to future opportunities to engage with one of this movement’s greatest champions. On behalf of all your friends at USGBC, thank you, Karen!

For additional ideas and resources about advancing effective green school policies, consult USGBC’s evolving Green Schools Menu of Options for State Legislators, available for download at www.centerforgreenschools.org/50for50.

For more about Tuesday’s event, and the release of a new policy brief on how policymakers can tap residential buildings to further sustainability goals, see “Policymakers Imagine a Contributing Role for 130+ Million (Greener) Homes.”

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.

This project realized everything Day of Service has the potential to be:

  • A diverse group of students engaged and excited to get dirty and learn new things.
  • Community organizations and companies partnering together for a great cause (including local celebs!)
  • Local media coverage – West Seattle Herald as well as a couple of local news outlets and the sports radio station
  • Hard work with tangible results and something the community put their sweat into, will maintain, and be proud of.

Start to finish, the trip to Seattle could not have been better. Our new friends from the Mariners, Skanska and the Green Sports Alliance treated us like family the entire week, and we even got to spend an evening on the owner’s suite at the Mariners game. It was awesome, but was really just a treat on top of the experience we had the day before yesterday.

Thanks to everyone who made this day such a success, and we’re look forward to many more projects like this to come!

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!”

In fact, USGBC posed a similar question last year in a joint venture with the University of Michigan to better understand how green building – and LEED in particular – already addresses some of the longer term hazards posed by a changing climate. This report is one of the first attempts to compile all research on the impacts of climate change on the built environment, and to link impacts with strategies for addressing them.

The report finds that preparedness for future climatic conditions will require greater effort in design, mitigation and adaptation given the decreasing reliability of past climate and weather data. Appendix C spends more than 150 pages detailing how LEED credits and prerequisites are, in many cases, promoting resistance to potential climate-related disasters. LEED users may think most commonly of credit awarded for development outside of known floodplains and for minimizing contributions to global climate change through energy efficiency and renewable energy. Maybe the most direct example is LEED for Homes’ “Durability Management Process,” where all projects are required to assess durability risks (with particular emphasis on moisture control, including flood risk), prior to construction, then manage those risks, and may also earn credit for third-party verification that those measures were implemented. You are encouraged to suggest ways that LEED could evolve to even better address these and other hazards by proposing a credit for the LEED Pilot Credit Library.

Codes, too, have a clear and important role to play given their well-established role of protecting the health, safety and welfare of building occupants in any compliant building from acute risks and hazards, and the insurance industry agrees. For some natural hazards, a code that applies to all buildings may be a far more logical and effective place for design and construction safeguards and other applicable mitigation strategies. Should any building be allowed to be built in an area prone to earthquakes that would crumble under even the most frequent and predictable quakes? Determining the minimum threshold of acceptable risk is what code development and adoption is all about.

There’s a reasonably good argument to incorporate some of these safeguards into the International Green Construction Code (certain measures may extend building service life, for example), but there is an equally appropriate counter argument for them to be incorporated into the base codes (these are acute life safety hazards to which all buildings should be resistant). Either way, the codes will continue to be an important vehicle to mainstream these protections in newly constructed buildings.

I had the pleasure of catching up with Mayor Dixson of tornado-ravaged Greensburg, Kan. about his community’s rebuilding efforts, in which they have committed all new public construction to LEED Platinum. Almost any building – green or not – would be damaged if a similar tornado were to strike again.

“We’re building back in a way that will ensure that this can never happen again,” Mayor Dixson told me, referring both to the deliberate focus on preventing loss of life and property in a future storm, as well as investments to reduce the carbon footprints of city facilities that will thus contribute far less to the uncertain weather patterns and events.

Discussing green buildings and resiliency with Mayor Dixson of Greensburg, Kan. at the 37th Annual Natural Hazards Research and Applications Workshop

Most importantly, we should be pleased that this constructive conversation on green buildings and resilience is happening, and will continue. I came away from the Natural Hazards Research and Applications Workshop with a renewed sense of hope because of the common ground we found between these two communities. Through research and outreach, the green building community is taking the steps to better understand the risks posed by natural hazards and to find innovative approaches to address and mitigate those risks. Communities around the country are doing great work to analyze, design, and build today in order to ensure a better, brighter, greener and stronger tomorrow. That bridge to a more resilient future requires input and action from a diverse community of perspectives to ensure that our buildings, our communities and our society end up better, brighter, stronger and greener.

Visit USGBC.org/resiliency to learn more.

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.

“What it does is create passion.”

Gary M. Holtzer, managing director and global sustainability officer at Hines, described LEED as a vehicle that “…allows you to start to think about the broader picture of what sustainability means.” He added later, “Seventy percent of the world’s population will be living in cities by 2050. We are a firm that wants to be forward thinking about sustainability now.”

But the real importance of LEED? “What it does is create passion.”

To underscore this point, Holtzer told the story of 101 California, a LEED-certified building and Hines project in San Francisco. The project was ranked at the Certified level on April 14, 2009.

“The operating engineers decided that wasn’t good enough,” Holtzer said. “They wanted Platinum to prove that they ran a good building.”

The culmination? The 30-year-old 101 California building took a second go at LEED and earned Platinum last July – becoming the highest scoring existing building project awarded at that time.

“It’s profitable for us.”

George Bandy Jr., of Interface

As George Bandy Jr., Vice President of Interface, spoke about his company’s commitment to sustainability (pioneered by corporate sustainability legend Ray Anderson), he pointed to the floor.

“At this very day we can take this carpet tile on this floor and re-manufacture it in to new carpet.” He added, “And it’s profitable for us.”

Bandy noted that transparency and corporate responsibility have always been foundational elements of the Interface brand, and sustainable operations have been a key way to emphasize that.

“It’s no longer okay to privatize wealth and socialize the risk.”

“It’s created markets and supported business.”

Mason Statham, Director of Sustainability for Yates Construction, said the interest in LEED is “…owner-driven. We work for owners and investors. We build what they want, and what they see is a good investment. It creates a competitive advantage.”

What’s more, Statham said, is that LEED has “…created markets and supported business.”

To exemplify this point, Statham recalled working on the Keesler Air Force Base LEED for Homes project in Mississippi – the largest LEED for Homes project in history. His team was pursuing sustainable construction waste management, but faced difficulties when they realized local waste facilities and vendors did not provide sustainable services. So Statham’s team began asking local vendors to provide this option.

Two years later, when Statham’s team returned to this market to work on another LEED project, the infrastructure had been built out and local businesses were offering construction waste management services.

“All the sudden, this service existed. [LEED has] created markets and supported business.”

“It’s pushing technology.”

Holtzer, of Hines, closed out the briefing after a Q & A session.

His final anecdote touched on Hines’ relationship with LEED, of which he noted, “We don’t always agree with USGBC.” But disagreements lead to dialogues, which ultimately lead to innovation. Specifically, Holtzer noted that many investors and clients request building spaces with floor to ceiling windows, often conflicting with green building strategies. In seeking solutions, innovation occurs: Windows that transition from transparent to shaded based on how much daylight the building is receiving, or glazes that mitigate the effects of UV rays and heat.

“The buildings that do not continuously improve will be left behind…[LEED] is pushing technology. Without this push/pull dialogue, it may not happen as quickly – and we want it to happen quickly, because it’s good for all of us.”

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.

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.

After years of trimming my trees and witnessing mountains of woody debris being collected and hauled off to the landfill, I was thrilled to discover that an outgrowth of Plano’s new program was the conversion of the collected debris into soil amendment products such as humus, mulch and compost. The city was marketing those products to consumers as a revenue stream! This was the most realistic example of closed loop thinking I had ever encountered. Soon afterward, Nancy made me aware that they were also crushing collected glass and selling it as billet to local glass product manufacturers.

Novel thinking and committed action! In that moment the concept of thinking globally and acting locally became clear.

The Building

Nancy’s team built a small backyard composting demonstration garden that grew in popularity with volunteers and residents, eventually evolving into the Environmental Discovery Center. A typical Saturday featured hands-on master gardener classes, master composting, water conservation, xeriscape landscaping, beneficial insects identification, organic pest control and recycling classes outdoors. As a consequence of their passion, City Council ultimately tasked Nancy’s department with educating the community on sustainability and incorporating sustainable best practices into city government, local businesses and the daily lives of its residents. The mission and the vision just got bigger! The focus of the educational effort was expanded to include energy conservation, air quality, water conservation, native planting materials, pest control, etc.

Plano Environmental Education Center.
Photo Credit: Mark Olsen

Ms. Nevil and her staff soon recognized that to implement this environmental mission effectively, they needed to encourage Plano residents of all economic levels and diverse cultural backgrounds to see, touch and experience a green building. “The only way for our citizens to understand the value of green buildings and their triple bottom line benefit was to provide this experience – by creating a building for them!”

The finished facility – the LEED Platinum Plano Enivronmental Education Center – displays dynamically how to integrate sustainable features and actions into the homes and businesses of the community’s residents.

It’s not surprising that one of the most popular aspects of the building is that all of the stormwater runoff is contained on site. Our region is reeling from the effects of extreme summer heat, extended drought conditions and current municipal water restrictions. Residents are delighted to learn that 25,000 gals of rainwater are harvested from every square inch of the roof and shade canopies and recycled first as flush water for the toilets, then to irrigate the living roof and finally to water the native demonstration landscape that envelopes the facility.

Every aspect of this facility was designed as an educational tool to highlight and celebrate sustainable features with a simplicity and friendly practicality that informs the cities’ diverse multicultural residents that environmentally responsible actions are not difficult to implement and are easy to do. Plano’s local leadership with this green building is already having an influence on economic and environmental actions by citizens and businesses alike to save energy, create jobs, and restore the local environment.

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.

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.

Can you highlight a green interior space or project that you find particularly inspiring?

RF: Prior to joining to ASID, I worked as an advisor for the Make It Right Foundation that led the development of the world’s largest LEED Platinum residential community in New Orleans’ Lower Ninth Ward. It was through my experience there that I witnessed first-hand the power and impact that sustainable design can make on the well-being of a community. The residents not only benefitted from safe and healthy homes, but also significantly reduced utility expenses. In some cases, residents went from electric bills that exceeded $300 a month in their old homes, to bills that averaged less than $50 per month in their new homes. The benefits of sustainable design on the environment are evident, but the potential cost savings provides significant economic advantages and increased opportunities for families and communities to allocate more money to essentials like education, groceries and healthcare.

What’s the future for green interior design?

RF: Even though sustainability has made significant inroads into the everyday design vernacular, we need to do much more for it to become common practice. One of the more impactful education sessions at NeoCon this year focused on developing industry-wide models for a sustainable future. We believe that an integrated model of collaboration and a holistic approach that brings builders, designers, architects and the occupants together is integral to the future of sustainable design and we look forward to being a key partner in this quest.

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.

I fully support incentivizing buildings to have tenant level metering and to provide occupants with the information and power to influence how the energy is used. A colleague and I recently launched a LEED pilot credit that shares that intent. Check it out.

Second comment: Raising the minimum ENERGY STAR score to 75 in LEED v4 EB: O&M may prohibit the next tier of LEED projects from participating in the program.

Why? Because portfolio owners have already queued their best buildings for LEED. Those buildings that could easily achieve the current minimum ENERGY STAR score of 69 are already certified or are on their way; the next tier of buildings will not easily reach a score of 69, never mind a 75.

[Pan to me] “Oh my god, no one has ever said that to me before.” This is a great point that I thank Gary Thomas for making. Even with Energy Jumpstart!, EAp2 may still be a barrier to entry for some existing buildings and this is an issue that USGBC will need to discuss before LEED v4 fifth public comment.

There were other good comments and great conversation that followed the panel session. Overall, the session was like a microcosm of one of our public comment periods, demonstrating just how powerful “audience participation” is in the LEED development process. However, there was a surprising lack of excitement for the sneak peak at the recertification guidance for LEED v3 EB projects… I’d like to put it out there: This is exciting! More information is on the way – sample LEED Online forms, full guideline document, etc.

We hope to be able to provide you with full LEED EB: O&M recertification program details in the very near future. In fact, it is my only desire…(hint hint: I work in LEED).