USGBC's Holistic Approach to Green Building Certification
On June 28, the United States Green Building Council (USGBC) kicked off Convergence, its mid-year national conference, in San Diego, CA. Hundreds of USGBC members from across the globe all gathered for four days for a series of intense business meetings, forums, presentations, awards, hands-on sustainability projects, and inspiring conversations. I attended Convergence as a member of the Emerging Professionals National Committee (EPNC). This was my first time experiencing USGBC on a national level--and the experience was life-changing.
Never before have I been surrounded by so many passionate, intelligent, and driven individuals all trying to better the world by making our built environment more sustainable. USGBC is moving past LEED Certification and onto a more holistic approach of what it truly takes to make our industry ‘green’. Much of the discussion surrounded the four new green building certification and rating systems that Green Business Certification Inc. (GBCI) will be overseeing: WELL, PEERS, SITES, and GRESB.
The WELL Building Standard is a building certification system based on seven concepts: air, water, light, nourishment, fitness, comfort, and mind. WELL is the world’s first rating system based solely on human health and wellness. It takes into account how the user is interacting with his or her built environment and how we can use design technologies to encourage physical activity. This rating system is a great complement to the existing LEED Rating System and users will be able to cross-pollinate between the two. I think there is a tremendous amount of potential within the healthcare industry for this certification and I can’t wait to learn more about it when they announce more details at Greenbuild in November.
The other three rating systems discussed in the forum are also very exciting. PEER (Performance Excellence in Electricity Renewal) is a rating process for measuring the performance of power grids. SITES can be described as an expansion of the Sustainable Sites section of the LEED Rating System, focusing on the importance of landscapes around our built environment. Its goal is to ‘create ecologically resilient communities’ that will be able to quickly recover from events like natural disasters. Lastly, GRESB is a real estate sustainability benchmarking tool for investors to be able to measure their portfolios. It aims to be the sustainability standard for the real estate industry. LEED will still have a vital role in our industry by continuing to push the barriers of what it means to be sustainable, but it is becoming more fluid with other methods and means of being green. It is not so much a ‘this or that’ choice anymore, but how can these systems work together to help us achieve our end goal of transforming our built environment.
Also introduced at the conference, was USGBC’s ADVANCE platform that connects skilled volunteers with community-based organizations in under-served areas to promote green building to all. It provides opportunities for those new to the industry to gain experience and learn more about sustainable practices and for veterans in the industry, it gives them a chance to give back to a cause that they care deeply about. For community organizations (i.e. non-profits, community centers, faith-based organizations, etc.), it enables them to build and operate a sustainable building that they would not have had the resources to do before.
In previous years, this conference was called the mid-year meeting, but USGBC realized that this did not reflect the actual experience. Meetings connote long, dry discussions that are not usually something to get excited about. That is not what this conference was or is. Convergence suggests people coming together and uniting, which seems more apt. This was not hours of discussion on the future of LEED and how to revise credits. Convergence was people coming from across the country and sharing their ideas of what it takes to optimize our existing and future building stock.
In a fast-paced four days, I met people from across the world, each working towards the same goal but in their own way. Architects were designing net zero energy buildings. Superintendents were creating green training programs. Entrepreneurs were creating green jobs and business plans. Financiers were finding ways to invest in sustainable projects. The paths toward sustainable leadership were endless. It was emphasized that USGBC is not just an organization, but a movement. There is no org chart, but instead a large group of talented individuals all bonded by one goal – “transforming the way buildings and communities are designed, built and operated, enabling an environmentally and socially responsible, healthy, and prosperous environment that improves the quality of life.” I must say, if the world is filled with more people like I met at Convergence, this movement is only going to continue to grow.