Q&A with USGBC's Communications Director Marisa Long

Two decades have seen the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) expand from a small group of well-intentioned, environmentally conscious design and construction professionals to a sweeping movement that has transformed the built environment. USGBC continues to grow and set its sights ever higher, with the intent of raising the bar for efficient, healthy buildings around the world.

Phc News recently had a chance to chat about the organization with USGBC Communications Director Marisa Long. She shared with us some background on the organization and lots of insight into the exciting plans and programs USGBC continues to generate.

PHC: For our readers who aren't all that familiar with USGBC, can you talk about the organization and its mission?

ML: Officially chartered in 1993, USGBC is the organization that gave birth to the LEED green building rating system (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design)—the global standard in green building. LEED was officially launched in 2000. USGBC is currently made up of nearly 13,000 member organizations, 76 chapters, 193,000 LEED professionals and thousands of student and community volunteers who are moving the building industry forward in a way that has never been seen before. USGBC is a diverse group of builders and environmentalists, corporations and nonprofits, teachers and students, lawmakers and citizens that share the same vision of a sustainable built environment for all within the next generation.

PHC: With LEED v4 having been in practice for about a year, what has the response been?

ML: We are very pleased with the response we have had from the more than 100 beta testers of LEED v4, and the tools and resources that supported it in 2012. And, we are excited to be able to say that we have certified 6 LEED v4 projects and have more than 100 additional projects that have registered for LEED v4.

There is always a lag between the launch of a new iteration of a major certification system such as LEED and its large-scale implementation, as it takes the market time to digest the changes that have been established and to develop the processes to implement it. But, we are very happy with the response and engagement for this new version.

The best way to think about LEED v4 is that this product is a really sophisticated way of approaching sustainability and efficiency. Some of the key features of v4 are its emphasis on performance, new market sectors, global applicability, transparency, and life cycle-assessment—new waves of green building that we feel will help push to community forward in our ultimate mission of creating a greener and healthier built environment.

There is more information about LEED v4’s Materials and Resources available online at http://tinyurl.com/ot9kl2h. We also have very helpful information on the ways in which LEED v4 deals with the use of material resources, including water resources, online.

Another interesting component of v4 is that, unlike 2009, which looked at only a couple of types of water use, v4 takes a holistic approach to water use including appliances, outdoor water, and process water (whole building water use). Metering is a huge part of v4. There is a widespread misconception that in LEED we don’t want you to use water at all—this is not the case—we promote the smart use of water metering. It’s the idea that you can’t manage what you cant measure, so measure it in a more rigorous way, and you get additional points for measuring in sub-systems.

PHC: What are USGBC's plans for the next evolution of LEED?

ML: One of USGBC’s long-term goals is to emphasize the importance of performance over the course of a building’s lifecycle. Buildings and their resource consumption and overall performance change constantly. This is why USGBC has developed the LEED Dynamic Plaque, a building performance monitoring and scoring platform.

When a building becomes LEED certified it has been recognized for its efficient design, maintenance and operations in a particular moment in time, but buildings and usage can, and often times do, change over time. USGBC has been spending significant time and resources designing the LEED Dynamic Plaque, which will allow a building’s operators and tenants to understand how their LEED certified building is performing, not just at the moment of its certification, but in real time, today.

When new data enters the system, it automatically generates an up-to-the minute LEED performance score tied to the familiar LEED certification levels (Certified, Silver, Gold, Platinum), spanning energy use, water use, waste reduction, transportation impacts of your colleagues and also their view of the human experience while inside the space.

The LEED Dynamic Plaque is part of our mission to emphasize the green building process as a dynamic and ongoing process that measures a building’s performance over time in a way that maximizes on the exciting and innovative principles of building and design developed by the green building community.

PHC: With the recent drought in the southwest, and this year's passage of the Reduction of Lead in Drinking Water Act, water safety and conservation is front of mind for many. What role do you see USGBC playing in those efforts?

ML: As mentioned earlier, the current emphasis of USGBC and new green building instruments such as LEED v4 is the smarter use of resources, including water resources, in an ongoing and dynamic way. USGBC LA has educational material on this subject. An article titled, “Biomimicry for green building: Harnessing the genius of nature to help conserve water,” is available at http://tinyurl.com/nsrnmp6 for those that are interested in learning more about some of the current work being done to help rethink our use of water within our collective built environment.

PHC: Does USGBC have any programs or education specific to water and plumbing design?

ML: There is a course related to this issue at this year’s Greenbuild conference titled, “Water Quality Impacts of Plumbing Design, Operation, & Maintenance.” Here’s the course primer:

“A growing number of studies have demonstrated that drinking water plumbing system design and operations can enable pathogen proliferation, such as Legionella, facilitate chemical leaching and degrade the drinking water's taste-and-odor. A recent project funded by the U.S. National Science Foundation has uncovered gaps in premarket plumbing material testing protocols as well as building codes. One finding revealed that certain existing code disinfection requirements cause pipes to release greater levels of chemicals into drinking water. Moreover, all of the approved and commercially available plastic drinking water pipes tested during the NSF study released a wide-range of chemicals into drinking water for at least 30 days, and none of the pipes passed the EPA drinking water standards. Three participants in this study – a civil engineer, an environmental toxicologist, and an architect – will present their findings and recommend material selection design, and operational strategies to reduce building occupant chemical exposure and preserve drinking water taste-and-odor integrity. These recommendations can be applied to new and existing buildings, both commercial and residential. Special focus will be given to the prevention of chemical and microbial contamination in buildings housing sensitive populations such as health care facilities, schools, or housing for the elderly.”

PHC: Can you give us a little preview of this year's Greenbuild conference?

ML: Greenbuild, owned and operated by Hanley Wood and sponsored by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), is aptly themed “Leadership Jazz” for 2014. Among the highlights of this year’s event is the Opening Plenary and Greenbuild Celebration. The evening, which concludes the first expo hall day on Wednesday, October 22, begins with renowned author and environmentalist Paul Hawken, along with special guests, and ends with the rock ‘n’ roll tunes of Alabama Shakes, featuring a special opening act.

The week of Greenbuild will feature more than 240 education sessions, LEED workshops, summits, expo education sessions and tours of notable areas in New Orleans. The expo hall boasts on-floor education, a net-zero electricity demonstration home available for tours that will be donated to Make It Right after the event and five dedicated pavilions, including a smart grid pavilion powered by alternative energy. Noted author and New York Times op-ed columnist David Brooks will deliver the closing plenary presentation to end the week on Friday, October 24.

Visit the Greenbuild website, at www.greenbuildexpo.com, to learn more about some of the exciting things that we are doing this year. Our events tab will probably be especially useful to readers. I would also recommend checking out the lectures we are planning to offer as part of our Greenbuild Master Series, which brings together leaders of diverse industries who share the common trait of championing sustainability and green building, and providing inspiration and motivation for our everyday lives.

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