Author Archive

September 11, 2012

While You Were Out: Our Take on the Sustainability Stories of the Summer

Summer Vacation

Image via Laura Menenberg

Summer can be a hard time to keep up with the news – vacations, travel, and business planning for fall can take your attention away from the front pages. Before summer slips away, don’t miss these sustainability stories from summer 2012 that could affect your business in 2013.

LEED Gets Lobbied

In June, the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) announced that it would delay releasing the LEED rating system’s next version after pressure from a wide variety of interest groups.  Those groups included building owners, concerned that the new version would be too stringent or difficult to document; business interests like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce; and manufacturers of products panned by the new version of LEED.

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May 31, 2012

Biomimicry evolves from concept to concrete

Pigmented domes on alligator, Author/Photographer/Artist: Roger Smith

Photo via Roger Smith on

Aron Bosworth, Brightworks Sustainability AdvisorJennifer Barnes, Brightworks Sustainability AdvisorBy Aron Bosworth and Jennifer Barnes

Brightworks Sustainability Advisors

Why would we invite an alligator and a San Diego Zoo staff member to an educational workshop geared toward architects and designers? The answer lies in biomimicry, the field of studying and emulating nature’s patterns to create innovative and sustainable solutions to today’s business challenges.

Biomimicry has received acclaim for years as a potential game changer for sustainability. Only recently, however, has it started to take hold in design communities and prove itself to private businesses. As private industry, research and government unite around the concept and put it to work, we will see new success stories that demonstrate biomimicry’s evolution from exciting concept to proven design tool.

A New Way to See Nature

Most if not all of us have a desire to connect with nature – we try and schedule time in our busy days to spend time outside: getting a breath of fresh air during a work break or going for a weekend hike. Edward O. Wilson refers to our subconscious yearning to connect with the natural world as biophilia, and suggests it’s deeply rooted in our biological DNA.

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March 30, 2012

Making Your Green Building Work For Your Business

When is going green a sound investment, and is it ever the wrong move?  This recent blog post from the Green Real Estate Law Journal reported on a new study citing evidence against the market value of pursuing green building certifications in certain geographical/geopolitical areas, or on certain project types.  As it made the rounds at Brightworks, one of our schools of thought could be summed up as, “So there is no ‘one size fits all’ green building solution for everyone…and this is news?”

The study focused on a small group of industrial buildings that underperformed their “non-green” peers – an effect which was especially pronounced in politically conservative counties.  This runs contrary to more common studies showing increased value tied to green building.  It asked, “…If green rental premiums are attributable to the branding of space, why would industrial warehouse facilities…benefit? Alternatively, if energy efficiency drives green premia, such effects may well be more pronounced within the industrial sector.”  Exploring questions like these with clients is the foundation of our work, because the business case for sustainability is different for everyone.

These two charts from our Business Case for Sustainability presentation (you can read our related article or  view the presentation deck on SlideShare) present sample breakdowns of how the business benefits of green building might look different for two different buildings – an owner occupied building versus a speculative building meant to be sold.

The Business Case for a Green Owner Occupied Building

Owner Occupied Building

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March 5, 2012

“I want to build sustainably, but I’m not sure where to start.”

Dennis Lynch, VP Sustainable Buildings Group, BrightworksBy Dennis Lynch, VP, Sustainable Buildings Group

The other day an architect started a conversation with Brightworks about green building by saying he was not in favor of LEED and didn’t see the value in it for his firms’ clients. As our conversation continued, he related a few instances where he was able to interest his clients in at least considering some sustainable features for their building design. By the end, he confessed he did want to build more sustainably more often. His question to us was: “How do I get started?”

After reflecting on this question for some time, I realized you can begin building green in several ways. You can start with something easy, something strategic or something meaningful that makes the changes most valuable to you. Each entry point opens the door to more action, and each will suit a different type of business.


Start! Image via The Lost Jacket

Start with Easy and Inexpensive

My very first thought in response to his question was: Why not try greener alternatives that will have little or no cost? Recycled carpet to reduce waste and low-VOC paints and adhesives to keep toxic chemicals out of the building are easy substitutions. You’re already specifying carpet and paint, so just specify something greener. There are probably a dozen items like these you can easily incorporate into your design and construction.

Start with Strategy

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January 10, 2012

“It’s More Difficult to Change a Building Than to Change a Person.”

By Brandon G. Sprague, Brightworks Communications Team

Eric Corey Freed, organicARCHITECTPart One of our interview with architect, innovator, and thought leader Eric Corey Freed of organicARCHITECT explored his thoughts on the green building innovations and critical issues we’ll see in 2012. Here in Part Two, he shares practical steps building owners can take right now at no cost, and where he finds hope and the greatest potential for change.


Brandon G. Sprague: Many readers of this blog are members of the real estate community. When you travel around the country speaking and teaching, you often state, “My vision of why I’m doing this is the basic idea that everything that exists in this world should exist because it makes the world a better place.” In what ways is the design and building community making the world a better place with its current practices? In what ways is it not?

Eric Corey Freed: On a very high level, you can argue that the built environment – any built environment – improves the world by providing human beings with shelter, habitat, places to work, places to live…

But at the same time, practically all of the buildings that exist in the industrialized world – all but a very small percentage – ignore how they use energy, water, and resources. In creating such a built environment over the last 150 to 200 years, we have created a system that that is too expensive for us to maintain, a system that is actually threatening our existence. When we planned and designed this system, energy was cheap and abundant. But in the last 50 years, we’ve realized that energy is neither cheap nor abundant. And we’ve realized that our consumption of energy is actually threatening, if not killing, our way of life.

Now that cheap energy no longer exists and our consumption patterns are forcing us to change our way of life, what do we do? This is where the opportunity comes in for the design and construction industry to transform buildings and thereby transform civilization. We have the technology to do it, we have the ability to do it, we just need the will to do it. In doing so, we will have to look for innovative ways to work in, live in, and operate our buildings.

This Could Be Your Shopping Center

This could be your shopping center. Image via organicARCHITECT

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December 14, 2011

Eric Corey Freed on “Innovations That Would Freak People Out”

By Brandon G. Sprague, Brightworks Communications Team

Eric Corey Freed, organicARCHITECT

Eric Corey Freed

We at Brightworks are frequently in conversation with clients, partners and the media about what’s new and what’s next in sustainability. Heading into 2012, we sat down with architect, innovator and thought leader Eric Corey Freed of organicARCHITECT to get his perspective on the future of green building. A frequent speaker and author of four books on sustainable design, Eric shared his views on the limits of “sustainable design”, the three most critical issues for the building industry in 2012, and the next waves of innovation.

Brandon G. Sprague: Organic Architecture is an approach to the design of buildings that has guided your career. How do you describe Organic Architecture?

Eric Corey Freed: For decades now, we’ve had this thing called “green building” or “sustainable design” which dictates that the designers, builders, owners, and operators of buildings orient them in certain ways and take responsibility for the energy, water, and materials used in them. Defined this way, sustainable buildings are pretty straightforward. Make “better” siting and material and building system choices and you make a “better” building by focusing on the nuts and bolts of the building’s assembly. Organic Architecture – which is the term Frank Lloyd Wright used for designing the way nature designs – looks beyond that, into how the form and structure is shaped by these natural principles.

10 Principles of Organic Architecture

Photo via organicARCHITECT

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August 11, 2011

Moving the Market for Electronics Recycling

Recycling can get a bad rap in sustainability circles for being too fundamental.  As in, “They say they’re doing sustainability, but they just have a recycling program.”  So when is recycling a big deal?  When the biggest electronics consumer in the United States announces a landmark electronics recycling program that moves the whole market forward.

E Waste and electronics recycling

Image from New American Media

The new plan from the General Services Administration (GSA) commits them to recycling all electronics responsibly, using their presence in the market to encourage major manufacturers like Dell, Sprint and Sony to create recycling options for all consumers.  They will also use their hefty purchasing power to encourage the design of more efficient electronics by cutting ENERGY STAR and EPEAT non-compliant items from their purchasing contracts. Large purchasers and markets can often use their leverage to move industries forward faster than individual consumers.  The green building movement continues to cause similar shifts in building material marketplaces, like the rise in responsibly managed, FSC-certified forests.

Piper Kujac of Sustainable Industries spoke with James Kao of e-Stewards, a third party certification system for responsible electronics recyclers, to get insight into the new policy.  “Kao anticipates that we will see a lot more restrictions and recycling components, as well as consumer reports aimed at rating the recyclability of a product, not just its performance during use.”  While we wait for electronics manufacturers to rise to the GSA’s elevated standards, e-Stewards is a great resource for individuals trying to recycle their electronics with a clear conscience.  Many of their approved recyclers also repair items to keep them in use and out of the waste stream entirely, such as  Portland’s Free Geek.  Take a look at e-Stewards’ interactive map of responsible electronics recyclers the next time you make an upgrade at your home or office.

July 25, 2011

Changing Behavior Versus Changing Technology

Max Temkin Poster

Image: Max Temkin via

Grist featured this great print by Max Temkin recently which really resonates with some conversations we’ve had with clients lately. It turns out there are problems that are better solved by influencing behavior than by upgrading technology. We’ve spoken before about how to operate a building for high performance instead of just designing for efficiency and calling it a day.  Our upcoming free webinar; “Why Isn’t My LEED Plaque Performing?” dives further into how to improve the aspects of performance that are driven by people more than equipment. After all, it isn’t the plaque that performs, it’s the people working and living in the building every day.  If people are opening windows when the air conditioning is on, or turn on the lights for an entire floor because one workspace is too dark, a building designed to have low energy bills and a healthy indoor experience can easily be thrown off track.

Starbucks threw its weight behind the behavior change idea last year when they held a contest to design a better disposable coffee cup. The winner they chose wasn’t a cup at all, it was a clever incentive system that encouraged patrons to bring reusable mugs. “What people really need is an incentive to make the behavior change – a free cup of coffee and a bit of peer pressure,” argued contest winning team Karma Cup. You can make a lot of progress by working with human behavior alone, whether through subtle influence or active education. This is great news since if you wait for technology alone to solve all of our environmental challenges, you’ll waiting for a long time.

June 9, 2011

“What is the Future That We Want to Create?”


Darcy Winslow, Brightworks Sustainable Systems Group

Darcy Winslow

Businesses around the world are increasingly acknowledging the role of sustainability in their business operations – not just as a perk, but as a strategic initiative. Studies show 96% of global CEOs believe sustainability issues should be fully integrated into the strategy and operations of a company, a figure that rose 24% in just three years. And 80% of CEOs believe we will reach a point in the next 15 years when sustainability is embedded within the core business strategies of the majority of companies around the world.  (See the United Nations Global Compact CEO Survey 2010)

An exciting prospect, but how will they get there? In 2010, Brightworks formed the Sustainable Systems Group to advise companies around techniques and processes that catapult companies toward or hold them back from this goal. Systems Group member Darcy Winslow sat down for the Experts Behind the Experts interview with Kiersten De West recently for an informative 30-minute session on the methods leading businesses are using to tackle this transition and what their results look like.

This preview of their conversation highlights one of the issues Brightworks is actively working on with our enterprise clients – how the framing and definition of strategic goals opens your business to opportunities and innovation, or stifles it by focusing on incremental and issue-specific problems. To learn from the full session, visit Ci: Conscious Innovation.

Kiersten De West: What is sustainability to you?

Darcy Winslow: It’s the ability or capacity to thrive. It’s about thriving into the future, but not at the expense of next generation. How do we live in favor of the future? At a recent “Leading for Sustainability” workshop, we reframed sustainability as not a problem to be solved, but rather a condition we want to create.

Kiersten: Do you find that there are organizations that approach sustainability as a problem, and there are those that approach it as a solution or an opportunity? And do you find that there is a distinct difference in the results between the two as a result of their approaches?

Darcy: Yes, I do… When you look at sustainability as a problem to be solved, what typically happens is people get into reductive thinking, and things become issue specific. “How do we solve our recycling problem? How do we deal with waste throughout our business model?” Or whatever it might be, but it becomes issue specific. If you take a creative orientation, it comes back to: “What is the future that we want to create?” I think your long-term vision or north star – and consequently the actions that you take and how you organize the system in which you’re working – is very different and has a much greater impact. It forces you to see the entire system, to understand the interconnectedness, and consequently, the greater levers and opportunities that reside there.

In terms of some of the greatest examples out there, I have to throw Nike in there… They’ve set really aggressive long-term goals that go back almost 15 years. And those goals, and I think what we can learn from other companies is, they’ve got to be aggressive. What do you want to take to 100%? And what do you want to take to 0% in your business model? If we stay in the “50% increase/decrease” mode, then we continue to approach the problem through the same mindset and achieve incremental improvements vs. breakthrough thinking. Without companies on this leading edge we would not have seen much of the progress in the realm of sustainability.

I think Patagonia has always stood out, especially from their philanthropic aspect, but also their business model in general. Patagonia, Interface, Unilever – these are examples of companies that are really starting to wrestle with the question of the financial aspect and changing the rules of the game. How big is too big? How big is big enough? What does a “sustainable ROI” look like? Patagonia is certainly setting a benchmark by addressing the number of product SKU’s in their product line. And Interface is addressing the issue of lifecycle ownership: How do you, as a company, own everything that you create by leasing your product as a service rather than offering only a one-directional consumer product relationship?

The number of examples of companies involved in this work is increasing exponentially every year. But we have such a long way to go to achieve the necessary level of reduced impact on the environment and the positive impact to society. So there’s plenty of work still to be done…and the clock is ticking.

March 16, 2011

CALGreen: Triumphs and Challenges

Marian Thomas

By Marian Thomas

Brightworks Sustainability Advisor

On January 1, 2011, CALGreen, California’s new statewide green building code went into effect – soon followed by widespread confusion, panic (and quite possibly tears) among those responsible for securing building permits on new projects. While the actual code requirements are quite reasonable, the implementation of CALGreen appears to be another matter entirely – for building departments and project applicants alike.

Codification of green building: much ado about nothing

Many of us in the green building industry have anticipated the day when green building best management practices became codified. Green building can be interpreted in myriad ways and often suffers from misconceptions around cost and feasibility. Like other building practices, it benefits from translation into concrete, regulated codes. Building codes can demystify green strategies or practice, making them as common place as other building requirements, such as structural or plumbing codes. This eases confusion and drives down costs.

As an example, in the early 1900s engineers initially began advocating seismic design requirements or “earthquake engineering” in buildings. The first generation of researchers could barely secure funding to complete their studies — even after the devastating San Francisco earthquake of 1906. Many in the building industry believed “such discussion will advertise the state as an earthquake region, and so hurt business.” Others critics considered the early seismic engineering to be both costly and unattractive. By the 1930s, seismic engineering requirements were signed into law. Today they’re as ordinary as any other building practice in California. This legislation neither hurt nor stalled the boom in real estate and business in the state.

San Francico Earthquake of 1906

Another good reason for building code updates

CALGreen, in taking this initial first step towards integrating green building practices into code, has also encountered its share of dissension that in some ways parallels the adoption of seismic engineering requirements. Like the critics of Assembly Bill 32, opponents of state-mandated green building or energy reduction requirements that claim such legislation will harm development and discourage business from locating in the state are both near-sighted and sensationalist.

The CALGreen authors intended to create a baseline of green building across the state. This now means even smaller jurisdictions without established green building ordinances are required to, at a minimum, reduce water consumption by 20 percent, recycle construction and demolition waste, install low-emitting materials and commission buildings over 10,000 sf. CALGreen’s mandatory requirements are neither overly stringent nor onerous, particularly given the state’s existing energy code. These requirements are a solid first step toward formally establishing green building in California and potentially across the rest of the country.

Implementation: much ado about something

That’s the good news. Unfortunately, it’s not the complete picture. The multitude of ways cities are choosing to implement CALGreen is not doing green building legislation in the state any favors. Since January 1, any city can amend CALGreen as it sees fit. Beyond the mandatory requirements mentioned above, CALGreen also includes a selection of voluntary measures and “tiers” (similar to LEED and GreenPoint Rated credits) that cities are encouraged to adopt as mandatory in their own adaptations of CALGreen. These can include enhanced requirements for energy efficiency, carpool/LEV parking, water use reduction, C&D waste diversion, etc. There are countless combinations of additional requirements and amendments possible under CALGreen.

At the same time, municipalities such as San Francisco and Oakland have also retained certain elements of their previous existing green building ordinances, such as requiring LEED or GreenPoint Rated certifications for certain building occupancies. For project applicants in these jurisdictions, it’s like juggling three separate green building systems. Tracking and managing all these nuances can be both time-consuming and costly.

Many have assumed documentation for all CALGreen measures, mandatory and voluntary, would be included in the construction drawings or specifications submitted to and reviewed by the building department as part of plan check. However, what we are seeing now is that each building department can mandate its own documentation and compliance review process as well – from requiring third-party reviews, to bringing on a licensed “Green Building Compliance Professional of Record” or “Green Building Certifier” (at the owner’s expense) to sign off on the green measures in the project.

While it is valuable to allow cities the ability to set higher standards and require measures that may reflect regional priorities, the inconsistency in compliance and documentation requirements may be doing more harm than good to green building in California. This variation in the municipal implementation of CALGreen is creating confusion and a bit of pandemonium among those trying to navigate these new green building requirements. As a result, many will continue to see green building as a hurdle to overcome, rather than an accepted standard of practice.

CALGreen, the “Third Wheel”

Perhaps having a separate “green building code” makes it appear, once again, that building sustainably is an add-on – as other third-party certification programs are often interpreted. Perhaps it would have been less distressing to the building design and construction industry to instead integrate many of these “green measures” more subtly into the existing building code divisions. For instance, water use reduction targets could have easily been added to the plumbing code, and enhanced indoor ventilation requirements could have been added to the energy and mechanical code sections.

In fact, many CALGreen measures are simply repeats of existing code requirements anyway. While it doesn’t carry the same mystique or catchiness as “CALGreen,” the more subtle approach may have avoided the confusion now plaguing the building design and construction industry under the new CALGreen mandates.

Bottom line: the primary challenge posed by CALGreen will not be meeting its requirements, especially for teams accustomed to meeting LEED or GreenPoint Rated systems. The real challenge will be ensuring documentation and compliance is adhered to properly for every city, county and jurisdiction in the state.

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