Posts tagged ‘sustainability certifications’

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.

March 10, 2011

The More You Know…

Better Educated = Better World

Nate backpacking on Washington's Olympic Penninsulaby Nate Young

Brightworks Education Coordinator

I’ve always been impressed with the impact knowledge can have on an individual. My driving habits were forever changed when I learned automakers and the EPA advise that there is no mechanical reason to idle a car longer than 30 seconds. If all US drivers changed their behavior accordingly, this tidbit of knowledge could save as much as 1.8 billion gallons of gasoline. The GHG impact would be comparable to removing more than three million cars from the road annually.1

Similarly, professional, adult or continuing education helps the educated make better decisions. As Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke said, “Benefiting society as a whole, educated individuals are more likely to participate in civic affairs, volunteer their time to charities, and subscribe to personal values…that are increasingly crucial for the healthy functioning of our diverse society.”2 Education leads to positive changes within our personal and professional practice and, in turn, benefits an entire ecosystem, raising all boats.

Sustainable Careers Require Constant Evolution

The value of continuing education is not lost on the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC). In June 2009, the Green Building Certification Institute (GBCI) revamped the credentialing process. Individuals accredited by the GBCI are now required to earn a number of continuing education credits every two years. (Check out our brief guide to the Credential Maintenance Program for those Legacy LEED APs without specialty who are interested in the prescriptive path to a LEED specialty.)

Further, the first ballot version of the 2012 LEED rating systems states that Legacy LEED APs will not qualify for “LEED AP credits” as they have in the past. This is meant to ensure the credit is awarded only for green building professionals that are up to date on industry best practices. (For more information, see this article on LEEDUser.)

We agree green building education is not a static destination, but a journey. Brightworks recently launched a series of continuing ed. workshops that aim to fulfill the specific requirements of the prescriptive path to a specialty (though our content aims to move beyond the LEED fundamentals by bringing innovative and practical courses to the industry).

To stand still professionally is to be moving backwards, particularly in today’s job market. Participating in workshops and trainings is one sure way to stay on top of changes in green building. It also shows current and future employers you’re making an ongoing investment in your career and industry.

Bored at Work? Get Inspired!

The inspirational value of ongoing education should not be ignored either. Professionals are continually pushing the boundaries of green building. Additional standards, such as Passive House and the Living Building Challenge, raise the bar for rating systems and set a new benchmark for green buildings that strive for regenerative design. New initiatives such as STARS quantify for the first time better practices for new transportation projects. And frameworks such as biomimicry support the design and implementation of green building strategies, often changing the way we think about design.

One recent participant of a biomimicry workshop said, “The way you look at nature after taking this class is forever changed.” Not only did she benefit professionally from a framework that looks to nature for inspiration in solving design challenges – significant in itself; she also developed a new appreciation for the natural world that is a strong driver for our work!

The Multiplier Effect of Education

Finally, I’m passionate about the combination of sustainability and education because of the potential multiplier effect. As Scott alluded to earlier this week, changed individuals can create “infinite ripples of change.” Think of the power that all those ripples taken together can have!

As we individually learn more about sustainability, our knowledge filters out to the network of individuals around us. Just one A/E professional knowledgeable about sustainability influences an entire network, driving change on projects that lead to even greater triple-bottom-line benefits. In the end, that is Brightworks’ and my mission: “to foster the emergence of a sustainable, equitable society.”

1    Carrico, A. R., Padgett, P., Vandenbergh, M. P., Gilligan, J. & Wallston, K. A. (2009). Costly myths: An analysis of idling beliefs and behavior in personal motor vehicles. Energy Policy, 37, 2881-2888.

2    Bernanke, B. S. (2007). Speech to the US Chamber Education and Workforce Summit, Washington, D.C. September 24, 2007. Retrieved from http://www.federalreserve.gov/newsevents/speech/bernanke20070924a.htm

November 9, 2010

Transparency and the Triple Bottom Line

Jared Jennedy

By Jared Kennedy

Director of Operations

On the surface, the Triple Bottom Line and the issue of business transparency are unrelated. The Triple Bottom Line means taking people and planet into consideration along with profits when evaluating the actions and outcomes of your business. It says nothing about how this is measured or messaged, but to me those issues are strongly interrelated. Embracing the Triple Bottom Line means acknowledging that the choices companies make go beyond the abstract boundaries of the company, and have the potential to impact the outside world.  So unless companies are open and up front with the outside world about the impacts they have on both people and the planet, the Triple Bottom Line adoption rings hollow.  All too often, the Triple Bottom Line is bandied about simply to disguise business as usual, because no one will see what’s going on behind the scenes.  Businesses are not risking much by claiming they support these practices if there is no way to see if there are any actions behind their words.

People, planet and profit: the Triple Bottom Line

Interactions between people, planet and profit

Last month, to acknowledge the importance of providing greater transparency, Brightworks completed the certification process to become a B Corporation. This is a Triple Bottom Line certification system administered by a non-profit organization called B Labs. Certification entails completing a survey and review process that catalogues our company-wide Triple Bottom Line efforts with regards to our employees, the environment, the broader community of consumers, and the suppliers we do business with.  It also lets the world see how we’re doing in meeting Triple Bottom Line goals.

Since we opened our doors in June 2001, Brightworks has been a mission-driven professional service firm that helps clients develop their sustainability capacity and improve their environmental performance. The criteria associated with becoming a B Corp are well ingrained in how we operate. By formally becoming a B Corp, we can show both clients and industry in general not only where we are succeeding in our efforts, but also where a growing firm like ours faces challenges and finds room to improve.

Committing to the practice of transparency is a move from intention to action, and has some major advantages. It forces a company to measure its performance against established and accepted criteria — a key first step in making improvements. It is also a quick way to drive immediate improvements. When applied to business transparency, performance measurements can increase internal motivation by giving the outside world a window into how our intentions align with our actions.  This can lead to taking care of some of the easier actions that may otherwise slip through the cracks. For instance, maybe you’ve regularly encouraged employees to do volunteer work, but have never quite felt the urgency to formalize the practice and/or provide actual incentives to employees. Or in the case of Brightworks, we’ve always made an effort to purchase ENERGY STAR qualified products.  However, we didn’t have a written policy that we shared with our information-technology (IT) suppliers that made it clear ENERGY STAR certification was a requirement for all applicable purchases. We now have a written policy in place, and have shared it with any vendor who purchases on our behalf.

Transparency through certification has the added benefit of providing a third-party backing to the Triple Bottom Line efforts that many companies already have underway. Seventh Generation offers a great example of this: They are already proactive around the Triple Bottom Line, so certification just adds to their credibility.

Another bonus of becoming a B Corp is the access we gain to other businesses with similar goals and obstacles. By joining a network of other firms engaged with the Triple Bottom Line, we can share what did and didn’t work in our efforts, rather than reinvent the wheel one issue at a time.  We can also collectively solve some of the challenges we face as an industry, rather than reinvent the wheel one company at a time. A community of businesses embracing the Triple Bottom Line can help each other do more to improve performance and create positive and far-reaching impacts much faster than one company working alone. We’re all on this planet together, and the faster we can act in accordance with Triple Bottom Line principles, the better off we will all be.

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