SIG’s Top Takeaways from Greenbuild 2014

Sustainable Investment Group (SIG) | Greenbuild 2014
Sustainable Investment Group (SIG) team members enjoyed Jackson Square at sunset, at Greenbuild 2014, in New Orleans, LA. Photo credit: Collin Shepard

Greenbuild this year was held in New Orleans, Louisiana. Rick Fedrizzi, the CEO of the U.S. Green Building Council, mentioned in the opening plenary that the USGBC made a commitment to host the conference in the city as soon as it had recovered from Hurricane Katrina. Holding true to their word, this conference was quite a large one! Over 25,000 attendees from around the world and vendors from every sector of the green building industry imaginable were present to collaborate, educate, and inspire. Sustainable Investment Group (SIG) sent eight of its team members to the conference and learned a great deal from the educational sessions and the expo hall full of new sustainable design ideas and technologies. They even managed to listen to some amazing live music by performers Trombone Shorty and The Alabama Shakes, peruse Jackson Square and Bourbon Street, and of course snag a beignet or two from Café Du Monde.

SIG’s team members share their key takeaways and biggest impressions from Greenbuild below.

From Monica Gonzalez, LEED AP BD+C, O+M, ID+C
Senior Sustainability Consultant

My take-aways from Greenbuild:

  • Quantifying Performance Metrics in Occupant Health: This session reinforced the heavy emphasis on IEQ and occupant health/impact that we found to be new to Greenbuild (see Ashish’s comment to come). Google’s goal is to “focus on the user [their employees] and all else will follow,” and they rely on this philosophy to inform design decisions for their employee spaces. A team that works on Google employee spaces, including the Cx team, the IEQ team, a mechanical engineer, and the design and construction lead from the Google Green Team, discussed their approach to creating an employee environment that fosters both the people and their work. The teams focus on creative solutions to design problems (for example, installing a slide or a fireman pole as a way to get from the top to bottom floor of the space) and establishing unique performance targets to enhance the employee experience.
  • I have read Master Speaker Deepak Chopra’s work before, but I was really looking forward to seeing him speak live… He talked about how the environment in which we find ourselves and our consciousness of that environment shape our mental state, our ability to learn and grow, and our “total well-being” (physical, emotional, spiritual, social, community, financial and ecological well-being). He brought this down from the broader perspective of the universe and galaxy to our immediate surroundings. Chopra ended the session by leading a 10-minute meditation!

From Corey Little, Chief Technology Officer, GBES (This was Corey’s first trip to Greenbuild)

  • I did not realize there were as many companies supporting green building by making so many products. I saw a lot of items for building I didn’t know existed.
  • LEED is international. Every session about LEED I was in they mentioned how many countries had LEED projects. Over 165 countries have LEED projects going on right now.
  • Human health added to LEED. Again every session about anything LEED they mentioned this. We spend 90+% of our time indoors. Even Deepak Chopra talked about it.

Collin Shepard, LEED AP O+M
Sustainability Consultant

“Marketing + Sustainability: The Tools and Tips to Tell Your Story”

  • Find your story
  • Pretend your social media applications were a person (would you be friends with someone who constantly talks about/promotes themselves?)
  • Give helpful info to your consumers at the point of decision making/purchase
  • logical agreement doesn’t spur action: emotional connection and touching on key issues will
  • action = motivation x ease x trigger
  • Can’t change motivation necessarily, but focus most energy on ease then plan and develop the best trigger to get them into it
  • Start with the why, not the what
  • Be humble: say we’re not perfect but it’s a journey (avoid greenwashing) no absolutes
  • using data is great, but use metrics people can understand (instead of we saved 1,000,000 KW, say we saved electricity equivalent to the power bills of 15,0000 American households)
  • don’t use “green” all the time! Know your audience: person on the street green is good, but industry people are tired of it.
  • Other “green” words: high performing, sustainable, healthy, transparent, citizenship, resiliency

“The State of the Science of Using Urban Trees for Stormwater Management”:

  • Beware of using trees for greenwashing your initiative: “green” cities plant thousands of trees, however small brittle trees don’t divert much storm-water at all. Concern yourself with tree health, age and size instead of the amount of trees (average street tree in America lives 13 years)
  • bigger is better when it comes to trees: exponential water mitigation as tree trunk/canopy gets larger and more mature
  • monocultures in cities: I.e chestnuts, elms, Ashe have all lead to blights; need to have diverse large trees in our cities
  • Need larger soil volume and good quality soil to allow max growth
  • 40 year old tree can intercept ~5,500 gallons of water a year
  • Roots need at least 5% air in soil to grow tree roots, cannot be overly compacted soil
  • $1,000 per tree planting standard
  • $5,000-$6,000 for larger soil volume and plastic structure system but this system captures way more storm water

Overall: Attending sessions outside of the scope of sustainability within buildings allowed me to look at the “green” movement from a more holistic standpoint. It’s not just about the data and dollars saved; this movement revolves around fostering a symbiotic relationship between the human experience and the environment, focusing on health and equity for us now, while mindfully considering those who will inherit what we leave behind.

From Jeff Stewart, Mechanical Engineer 

I really liked walking the expo floor and seeing the different products. One that really stuck out to me was a CFL bulb crusher. Although expensive up front, it can (supposedly) reduce your recycling costs by 50%. The second aspect of Greenbuild I really liked was the session on LEED on an international scope which showcased LEED projects in Peru, Sweden, Brazil, India, China, and Turkey. I feel that this is a market we can start to pursue as it is just starting to take off.

From Asa Posner, LEED AP BD+C, O+M
Senior Sustainability Consultant

My big takeaway was the focus on resilience and revitalization. Past Greenbuilds have focused on ever-improving technologies and pushing the boundaries of innovation, but this one (potentially due to the connection of New Orleans and Hurricane Katrina) concentrated on elements of rebuilding, rejuvenating, and improving buildings and communities affected by natural disasters, poor socio-economic surroundings, or simply aging infrastructure. I found it to be a refreshing take on the green building movement and an ever-increasing importance on improving our existing building stock and “greening up” what’s already here.

From Nick Kassanis, Commissioning Authority
Energy Modeling Consultant

  • The Greenbuild EXPO was an excellent opportunity to see what Green technologies have become mainstream. There were noticeably more Green Roof and efficient/sustainable building envelope companies with booths than in previous years. This shows that these markets are slowly saturating with competition.
  • Another takeaway was that the Greenbuild EXPO has enough information to satisfy even the most specific of needs in the sustainability industry. There is anything between green roof manufacturers, cooling tower manufacturers, software developers and even wood suppliers.

From Ashish Bagle, LEED AP O+M, ND, BPI Building Analyst
Sustainability Consultant

  • While occupant comfort has always been a component of the Indoor Environmental Quality section of LEED, there is a major shift occurring in the focus of green building strategy – moving from a heavy priority on the expense, or input side of the equation (energy, water, and material reduction), to the output or revenue side (drivers of higher value – spaces conducive for increased productivity, comfort, health, and well-being).
  • We saw this exemplified by various different initiatives. Beginning with the value proposition, we finally saw at least one session in which brokers were actually brought in on the conversation! Industry-leading leasing experts have realized the importance of not only lowering our impact, but actually highlighting to prospective building occupants the true value of being in spaces that excel in the realm of environmental conservation AND improved occupant well-being.
  • The formula that that has been uncovered for successfully communicating the value of green incorporates all of the following – Legal: push for Green Lease provisions; Broker: understand and incorporate language pertaining to the most material (relevant) green aspects of the building; Project Managers/Consultants: advise on and follow through with sustainable design aligned with the tenant and owner’s needs; Owners/Investors: confirm alignment between all stakeholders’ expectations; Corporate Sustainability Director/Team: provide forum for communication between brokers and sustainability champions withing the prospective tenant’s organization.
  • In order to create and back up this compelling business case (the ammunition for the brokers), there are studies being conducted to get to the heart how amorphous concepts such as productivity, comfort, and well-being are measured. Several real estate service companies, along with various institutional organizations are in process of figuring out first, how to put metrics behind these aspects of operations, and then hopefully prove that LEED or green buildings have higher levels of performance in these categories.

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