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Wynd Podcast with Kena David, BCCI Construction and Max Kiefer, Wynd

Kena David, Director of Sustainability, Wellness & ESG for BCCI Construction and Max Kiefer, Global Alliances Lead for Wynd Technologies, discuss changing dynamics in construction and a greater focus on air quality in the built environment.

Max Kiefer: Hello listeners and thank you for joining another week’s podcast from Wynd entitled ESG 123. This is Max Kiefer, and I am the host of the podcast. I am also the head of Sustainability for Wynd, and Wynd focuses on air quality monitoring and purification technology. This week we’re very excited to have Kena join us. Kena and I have known each other for over ten years in sustainability and the green building environment. She comes to us from BCCI Construction. She has a background sustainability, green building, and environmental chemistry, and also as mentioned, she leads the BCCI Sustainability and Wellness team. In addition to her LEED AP, WELL AP and Fitwel Ambassador credentials, Kena is a WELL faculty member. That is a group that provides education and training on the WELL Building Standard and contributes to program development. We’ll touch upon a number of those different building certifications, not only how they apply to building a building, but then also the operations and maintenance after the building has been completed. In addition to that part of the podcast, we will talk about Kena’s other areas that she’s focused on. She has served as the chair of BCCI’s Community Builders philanthropic group, helped found the Sustainable Builders and Social Justice Focus Groups, as well as managed BCCI’s Just Label. We have a very exciting podcast with her, and a lot of good information to cover. Thank you for tuning in this week, and I encourage the group to follow up and listen to upcoming weeks as well.

Kiefer: Hello, Kena. How’s everything going?

David: Good, how are you doing, Max?

Kiefer: Yeah, doing well. I’m glad that we got a chance to make this happen. As I mentioned before, we’re lucky to have Kena here as an expert on a number of different areas of sustainability. To our listeners that are just tuning in this week, I do encourage you to check out a few weeks ago when we had Drew Shula on, he’s the founder of the largest Net Zero Conference. One of the reasons we’re excited to have Kena here is that Drew laid the foundation on everything sustainability at a high level. Kena comes to us from not only a general contracting and a construction background, but also with a chemistry background, and she knows her way around indoor air quality and a few other components. So maybe this is a good place to start here. Kena, we obviously connected when I was at CBRE in the construction management side of things. I think you would be a very great resource for our listeners to hear how construction is really focused on not only just looking at one time and place and building a building. But if you call it a lifecycle analysis, what goes into not only building a building and then after the fact, once it’s been completed, handing it off to the other folks or other teams, and having them work together. So maybe that’s a good place to start, and we’ll go from there.

David: Yeah. I’ve been part of BCCI, which is a general contractor headquartered in the Bay Area, for over ten years. And in that time, I think construction has really understood that their impact on global carbon emissions is significant. About 39% of greenhouse gas emissions comes from the built environment. A portion of that is design and construction, and actually the things that go into building a building. The other part of that is operating the building. The trends, especially in California, with the green building codes have been really to reduce the demand of energy. Now we’re seeing a lot of buildings move towards electrification and getting away from natural gas. But as far as the impact of a contractor, it really comes down to onsite practices, lowering your embodied carbon for better materials, anti-idling plans onsite, lean construction practices, and better delivery schedules. Really simple things that we didn’t really think about as much as an industry that we’re starting to move more towards for projects, regardless of any sort of LEED or WELL or Living Building Challenge certification.

Kiefer: That’s very well said. One of our other interviewees, if you will, was Dustin Healer. He was over at Steelcase, and he was talking about embodied carbon. We’ll probably get into it more later in the podcast in terms of how these materials really fit into not only achieving some building certifications, but also the air quality. Maybe that’s the place to start is on the air quality front. I will give a refresher, no pun intended, to our listeners that Wynd is focused on air quality monitoring as well as purification technology. We were lucky enough to put together a number of case studies with BCCI. This is kind of an open-ended question. I know it’s always kind of changing, but really, you and I have been in this air quality space for a number of years now. I started my air quality journey, if we want to call it that at Healthy Buildings International, and that was in 2010. Won’t date myself too much here, but I have seen how focus on air quality has changed over the years. I’ve been with Wynd since 2019; Wynd has been around since 2014. And I remember it really just focused on not only the fires that we’re facing here in California, but how we get people focused on air quality in general. And that was obviously pre-pandemic, and now I’m not even going to say post-pandemic, we’re really still in it. So, with that, I will stop talking and ask you what is your take on these last few years? And just as importantly, how you see the built environment changing, geared more towards air quality and how it’s being addressed maybe even earlier on in the building of a building process.

David: Well, I think the one thing that COVID has really done in the built environment is acknowledge the importance of healthy air, and that is for any type of space, whether it be our home, a public space, an office, a stadium where we can watch the Celtics beat the Warriors. You know. Having that level of understanding of importance for really anyone, not just mechanical engineers and contractors, etc. We are seeing increases in filtration for mechanical systems. In California, they actually increased the code minimum from MERV 8 to MERV 13. What that really means is they’re collecting the finer particles that are being circulated from the outdoors in, but that does not address the recirculated air indoors in our spaces. That is really why we wanted to get engaged with Wynd on our space since we don’t have the control over the recirculated systems being a tenant in our office in San Francisco. Having that level of assurance with the filtration, the air purification systems you guys have, as well as that air quality monitoring is really something that we wanted to assure ourselves when we were returning to the office in May 2020. Since then we’ve had, I believe, still zero reported cases of transfer of COVID within our office, which is pretty cool. But COVID aside, air quality is really paramount for cognitive function in our spaces. At the International WELL Building Institute, IWBI, of which I’m a WELL faculty member, we really focus on the importance of air quality and all of these other parameters that help occupants optimize their life and their health and their productivity in these spaces. I think with the pandemic, with the information about cognitive function and fires in general, climate change, air quality is going to continue to be something that we focus on. And I’m going to just keep talking here.

Kiefer: This is great. Thank you.

David: As we look towards the future of sustainability, I think we really need to start to identify the relationship between energy use for indoor controlled air and air quality. And how can we monitor our indoor air quality in order to reduce the energy usage of bringing in that outdoor air? How can we use better technology in our buildings to really have the intersection of good air quality and lower energy usage?

Kiefer: Well said. And you had me thinking because CBRE was in Salesforce Tower, don’t get me wrong, there’s Class A offices, but we’ve gotten pulled into a number of schools. And I think the school side of it, nothing new in terms of the filters, and it’s HEPA certified and HEPA True filters that we put into our purifiers. But one of the elements that we found is you couldn’t put a HEPA filter into commercial ductwork or it would just disintegrate. The idea that a lot of these buildings, maybe they don’t have the means to make upgrades to their systems. Schools, thankfully, are getting more attention and/or more funding, especially from a federal standpoint where they say, okay, it’s finding the sweet spot between the two. It’s a balancing act between putting in the localized purifiers and sensors. Sensors are more to collect the data just to even figure out what’s going on. I think you made a great point in terms of WELL, IWBI and then the Harvard study on cognitive ability. A lot of places are starting on carbon dioxide. But that was an excellent point. Many excellent points, I should say.

David: The other thing I’ll mention right now is I’m part of a peer network with BuildingGreen, so sustainable engineers, design, and construction leaders. And we put out a paper, a white paper, about the considerations for continuous air quality monitoring. This is really focused on an office environment. And we’re currently working on a little bit more of that K-12/other types of buildings that haven’t focused on this, and the relationship between the energy piece. So, my plug is to look out for that. But it’s something that we’re all starting to talk about in the building sector.

Kiefer: Awesome. Thank you. And thank you for pulling that all together because as we just hit on, there’s a number of different parties and companies. I’m sure you’ve seen just in terms of building a building, how many different companies are involved and subs on there. But that is a nice segue. I encourage the group to check out some of the links. I will make sure that everyone has access to all those reports and studies, especially from the building part in terms of materials. I did, as we have Kena on the podcast, want to talk at more of a macro level of what companies can do as a whole. So, when Drew was on, Drew Shoola from Vertical Group, he had talked about B Corp. B Corp works, especially if companies are looking at becoming a public benefit corporation in the future. Another nice, dare I say, alternative and Kena can correct me if that’s not how it’s positioned, but is the Just label through ILFI. So, ILFI, for those who are not familiar, is the International Living Future Institute. They also have the Living Building Challenge, which when I was more familiar with it, was even more challenging to achieve level than the LEED’s and the WELL’s and the Fitwel’s of the world. But maybe two sides of that, because not only is Kena involved with WELL, being a WELL faculty member, but could you walk our listeners through what that Just label is for businesses and maybe the best places that they can start on that journey?

David: Yeah. The Just label is a social justice transparency label for organizations. And it really looks at metrics about equity, diversity, stewardship, community engagement, health benefits to employees. And it’s really seen as kind of a nutrition label of social justice and equity for an organization. I will kind of back up a little bit too, and share about BCCI’s journey with Just. We’ve had a Sustainability group since 2006, but in my ten years at the company, it’s really shaped from just green building to green building, wellness, sustainability, and ESG. ESG for those listeners who don’t know, is environmental, social, and governance. Our commitment to WELL and indoor air quality is part of that social piece of ESG that we see. We also have LEED certifications in our offices. But as part of the governance piece, we wanted to benchmark how we’re doing with social justice metrics. So, we had our first Just Label back in 2014 when it was first launched. We were actually the first contractor to ever receive a Just Label and the 10th Just Label overall. Since then, we have renewed every two years. We’re on our fifth Just Label now. And really what it’s done for us, is allowed us to look at these different metrics such as gender, pay equity, and figure out how we want to either do nothing or close the gap and get more stars. Identifying as a female, I am really proud that we have moved up in that rank, but we also look at things like charitable giving, so we’ve looked at how many volunteer hours we have through our Community Builders program and how many donations we make on an annual basis. Do we want to increase that based on our profitability? Is it something we’re okay with? And that all has been really dictated by the Just Label’s guidelines. Once you see your score on a page, leadership really wants to improve, right? So, looking at the metrics that are meaningful to us is something that’s been a really great thing; that we’ve been progressing as a leadership group at BCCI.

Kiefer: Well said. I got lost in your explanation of it. I almost forgot to read my script here of the next question. So in closing, it’s a nice segue. And last but not least is that I know you’re very involved in CREW. To our listeners, that’s Commercial Real Estate Women’s network. You’d hit on that in a couple of pieces here. Partly on the DEI, but also on the Just Label – another good place for people to get involved. I know a number of our own employees are looking to get involved in San Francisco-based events, but could you touch upon what your involvement in that network has been, and also how our listeners can get involved there as well?

David: Yeah, CREW is an international organization, and the focus of CREW is to develop and advance women as leaders in commercial real estate. That being said, it is not a women exclusive organization. It is really just to advance diversity in commercial real estate. My involvement with CREW really goes back probably eight years. I was the founder of the Rising Leaders Committee within CREW San Francisco, and since then, I’ve been part of a number of different committees. I’ve served on the board of directors for CREW San Francisco, and currently, I am the CREW Foundation champion. CREW at the international level has a 501(c)(3) organization, and that goes towards scholarships of women in the industry and also industry research and benchmarking studies. The benchmarking studies happen every five years, and it’s really about all factors and backgrounds in commercial real estate. That industry group is actually the leading organization putting out studies and metrics about diversity and inclusion in commercial real estate. If people really want to get involved in creating more diversity in the future of commercial real estate, CREW is an excellent organization to not only get information from, but also help with the industries that you have locally. There’s chapters everywhere. There’s a national network, but CREW San Francisco is where I’ve served most of my time.

Kiefer: Very well said. And I promise I will attend one of the upcoming events here.

David: It’s not a women’s only organization.

Kiefer: Just to reiterate. I know you brought that up. I will show up.

David: It is funny, though, my CEO actually went to a CREW luncheon with me, and he said he felt uncomfortable because he was one of the only men. And I turned right back and looked at him and said, well, that’s how we all feel in meetings.

Kiefer: Good for you.

David: Or on job sites.

Kiefer: Right you are. Well said. Nice. Okay, then as a great segue, I had another kind of thought on the fly here. We have just done individual interviews. I think this was great in terms of talking about business certifications as well as on the construction, the operations, and maintenance. If you’re open to it, and not to put you on the spot here, I’d almost want to have another podcast interview that digs a little bit deeper into the energy efficiency standpoint. Maybe we could have a couple of people join or get a panel going. So, if you’re open to that, we’d love to have you back on a future recording.

David: Yeah, definitely. I think there’s a lot going on in the “sustainability” world here, and DEI is a really big topic. ESG is a really big topic. Embodied carbon, energy efficiency, indoor air quality. There’s an endless amount of things that you can do and look at. What I would say is, don’t get overwhelmed. Start small. There’s always tomorrow.

Kiefer: I love it. Okay, well, thank you, Kena, for joining. And we’ll close on a “Go Warriors.” No, I won’t say that. No, “Go Celtics.” Diversity, inclusion. I’m for the best. Hopefully a good game.

David: May the best team win.

Kiefer: There you go. Thank you, Kena. Thanks for joining.

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