By Scott Kriner, Green Metal Consulting
The 2015 Greenbuild Conference and Expo took place in Washington, DC in November. The motto for this year’s conference was “Monumental Green”. The amount of education sessions and exhibitors was indeed a monumental effort. Over 120 education sessions took place over three days, plus numerous additional educational sessions on the show floor amidst more than 600 exhibits of a variety of sizes and shapes.
Greenbuild is where the building design community comes together from all over the world to learn about new trends, new materials, new technologies, new examples of green building performance and new programs supporting the green building market. This year’s Greenbuild show attracted around 20,000 attendees from North America and 83 other countries.
The phrases used throughout the show and the speeches from the guest speakers give you a sense of the emphasis to expect over the next year. For example, there were many phrases and presentations on “How to Build for People”. Similar phrases like “Our job is not to design buildings, but to create habitats for life” reinforced the emphasis on the health, wellness and safety of the occupants of buildings in the next year or more. In fact there was a phrase heard that suggested “green building must move beyond solar panels, air systems and rainwater harvesting.” This sets the stage for new programs that can support LEED separately and in some cases collaborate with each other.
In fact, one of several summits that occurred before the official kickoff of Greenbuild was the Materials and Human Health Summit. The growth of the WELL Building Standard was clear. That standard has 15% of its credits that overlap the Living Building Challenge program. It also overlaps 20% of a LEED Platinum project. The Well Building Standard has already registered 18 million square feet and is involved in 78 registered projects with six of those receiving certification in the program. Since we spend 90% of our time inside buildings, and health insurance is moving more toward preventative tactics rather than treatment, it is no wonder that more attention is now being spent on how to make employees healthier, more productive, more comfortable, more connected with the outdoors, and overall well. Wellness takes all of this into account with scientific data to support new design technology. For example data were shown that suggest the location, pattern and color of lighting can affect an employee’s health. Some are saying “We are in the Decade of Wellness”. The WELL Standard was developed with input from scientists, practitioners, medical professionals, engineers, architects, designers and facility managers. During the conference we heard about Human Experience Laboratory developed by the large architectural firm Perkins + Will, as well as the AIA’s Health Company Laboratory established to determine how the brain reacts to materials, textures, and dimensions in a building space. Some even suggested that there was a link between cancer and office ceiling height and lighting!
Another indication that the health and wellness issue is gaining momentum, is the fact that GOOGLE (with the assistance of USGBC), Healthy Building Network and C2C are now working together on a single database that would contain the chemicals that are now on every major database or red list. As part of that announcement, we were informed that the GreenScreen profiles of products could also be added to that database eventually. This has raised some serious concerns over the way the data would be used or possibly misused without proper evaluation.
WELL is but one of several organizations that are now being administered by the GBCI – Green Business Certification Institute. Once only serving as the certifying body for LEED registered projects, GBCI now works with SITES (Sustainable Sites Initiative), GRESB (Global Real Estate Sustainability Benchmark), EDGE (Excellence in Design for Greater Efficiencies), PEER (Performance Excellence in Electricity Renewal) and LEED. The relationship between GBCI and the other organizations that are administered allows a straddling of credits with LEED but allows the organizations to also exist separately…at least for now.
Related to the wellness issues we learned that the second version of the Health Product Declaration (HPD) was launched. However, only a few thousand of the hundreds of thousand chemical products have been certified with HPDs to-date.
Another topic that seems to be gaining in popularity is the use of technology to make buildings smarter. Some are saying that after homes, phones, and cars, buildings will be the next frontier for internet and sensor applications. In fact, some expect people to act as sensors in the future.
Larger demographic changes were also described at the conference. Today 50% of the worldwide population lives in urban settings. But by 2050 it is estimated that 70% of our population will be living in cities. With that change coming it is expected that sensor networks in neighborhoods and cities with meters, cameras, phones, high-speed wireless connection, bio-sensing and simulations will change our lives forever.
Along with that trend is the concern over reliable and efficient sources of energy. This spurred the formation of the Performance Excellence in Electricity Renewal organization. (PEER). The PEER program is designed to incentivize users to improve the quality of supplied energy. Improvements in energy efficiency, operational efficiencies, and changes in customer behavioral practices are combined with design capabilities and metrics to comply with the program. In fact, some LEED Pilot Credits are soon to be released for distributed generation, energy storage, and micro-grids.
The issue of chemicals of concern was front and center in many of the topics in the educational sessions. One topic was on the importance of manufacturers establishing their chemical footprint from raw materials provided by their suppliers. This can apply to products, building spaces and companies. The manufacturers must take responsibility for keeping toxic materials from being used and to be vigilant moving forward. One speaker commented that “you can tell a lot about a company how they respond to this challenge. Those that say ‘ look what we’ve done’ rather than ‘look at what we are doing’ is telling.
The American Chemistry Council was publically acknowledged for their successful work with USGBC on the Supply Chain Optimization project related to Option 3 in the LEEDv4 Materials and Resources Credit on Optimization Material Ingredients. This is now introducing the concept of considering not only the presence of a chemical of concern (hazard) but also considering the exposure to that chemical which then determines the actual risk with using that chemical.
Finally, another topic that got a lot of attention at Greenbuild was the concept of Net Zero Water. Building design combined with novel technology and systems are showing promise in creating a net zero water building, even in severe drought regions of the country. This effort relies on things like conserving water, capturing water from all sources (rain, storm water, and waste) recycling the water, subsidies for removing turf lawns, desalination facilities, composting toilets, bio-reactors, purification and treatment of all types of water. Unfortunately in many cases local municipalities do not yet have the standards in place to implement these ideas. But that is expected to change.
So do you believe we are in the Decade of Wellness as some were stating at Greenbuild 2015? The track record of USGBC’s LEED program has shown that their goal of transforming the building construction industry has been met as each version of LEED changes the landscape of what is required for LEED-certified building projects. The new vocabulary, and growing number of other organizations that are collaborating with LEED suggests that over the next decade, the world of green building rating programs will likely indeed move beyond solar panels, air systems and rainwater harvesting. What that new transformation of the industry will look like will be very interesting to see. I hope we are feeling better and living longer thanks to the new generation of green buildings at that time.