The theme of GreenerBuilder 2019 was Inspire, Connect, and Advance Sustainable Building. A group of LEED Accredited Professionals from BCCI attended this year’s one-day conference hosted by the Pacific Region Communities of the U.S. Green Building Council which shares trends and best practices for better buildings and healthier, more sustainable communities. Our Sustainability Team shares their key takeaways regarding tracking and reducing carbon with mindful material selection and inspiring action towards creating healthier communities.
Inspiration and Connection, Halie Colbourne
Fresh off of the Living Standard Town Hall Series, the pre-GreenerBuilder kick-off event hosted at Perkins+Will’s San Francisco’s office, Mahesh Ramanujam, president and CEO of the U.S. Green Building Council, shared the impact of storytelling to engage a broader audience about the importance of reversing climate change. To get a pulse of people’s thinking about environmental issues, the Living Standard team surveyed focus groups across five regions in the U.S. Only 11 percent of people surveyed associated the term ‘green buildings’ strongly with the environment. An overwhelming majority did not understand the correlation of sustainable building with lessening the impact on the environment and reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Moreover, many terms used by the sustainability and green building communities were viewed as highly politicized, such as ‘climate change,’ ‘climate movement,’ ‘global warming,’ and ‘climate risk.’ Those surveyed resonated with more favorable terms such as ‘Mother Nature,’ ‘sustainability,’ and ‘green communities.’
During the Greenbuilder Opening Keynote, Paul Hawken asked why 99 percent of the world is disengaged with the climate conversation. He believes that to reverse climate change, we need to address the country’s current health needs, not our existential threat. In fact, 65 percent of survey respondents don’t believe the environment is healthy. Research has shown for some time now that changes in climate have altered people’s health, families, and communities, and when messaging is related to those issues, it’s personal, and people pay attention.
Advance Sustainable Building: Counting Carbon, Matt Koester
The Decarbonization Track featured a rich lineup of panels covering methods of carbon reduction in both organizational operations and cutting-edge projects. The Building Decarbonization Coalition defines decarbonization as removing greenhouse gas emissions from energy use and moving to clean energy sources for building energy. Decarbonization is not just about building energy use, but also involves embodied carbon or the carbon required to manufacture and install construction materials. Embodied carbon often consists of 75 percent of the building’s complete lifecycle of emissions, overshadowing the operational carbon singled out in energy efficiency measures. The international concrete industry is responsible for seven percent of global emissions alone.
BCCI’s Sustainability team is already working on implementing a few of these practices in an effort to reduce and measure carbon outputs:
• Reducing embodied carbon in specs: Early engagement and working with the design partners to specify materials for environmental impact is key to reducing embodied carbon on a project. A recent BCCI tenant improvement project, for a confidential financial firm, approached reducing embodied carbon from spec through install. The results of our teamwork and collaboration showed the reduced embodied carbon impact on specified materials compared to the baseline for concrete, metal, and carpet tile to name a few products. We were also able to use these findings as a pilot pathway for the LEEDv4 Interior Life Cycle Analysis credit.
• Measuring carbon: BCCI plans to incorporate the use of the EC3 (Embodied Carbon in Construction Calculator) tool to help clients and design partners to develop less carbon-intensive strategies for materials. By tracking carbon, we can evaluate the environmental impacts of high-carbon materials such as paint, steel, concrete and carpet tile with more accuracy, help our clients meet their internal sustainability goals and, and educate stakeholders about the carbon impact of buildings. In addition, specifying less carbon-intensive materials can sometimes reduce overall material costs.
• Understanding local codes related to natural gas: The City of Berkeley passed a new ordinance banning natural gas lines in new single-family homes. And now there are about 60 cities and towns across California, including San Jose, that are considering building code measures that would promote the use of electric appliances as a way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. In the commercial construction market, Adobe just broke ground on a new all-electric office tower in San Jose. BCCI is continuing this conversation with our clients to encourage the use of electric and clean energy for power, especially for new construction.
“If humanity changed the climate by mistake… We can change it with intent.” – Paul Hawken
Whether taking measurable steps towards improving real estate programs or making small changes in your daily life, we all have a responsibility in the way we interact with our environment. If we shift our perspectives, even just slightly, the impact we can have on the earth is profound. Many incredible thought leaders in the green building community share their stories to inspire others and take action. BCCI will continue to tell our stories to inspire other projects towards innovative, sustainable, and inspiring buildings of the future.