Category Archives: USGBC

Cascadia launches Groundswell to amplify its regional collective impact

The following post is by Kathleen O’Brien:

You could say it’s just a party, a fundraiser, or an awards ceremony. You could say that, but you’d be wrong. According to Mona Lemoine, VP and Executive Director of the Cascadia Green Building Council, “Groundswell”  is all that, but more.  According to the dictionary, “groundswell” means a sudden gathering of force.  Lemoine stresses that the December 12th event in downtown Seattle is designed to showcase a “call to action that intentionally energizes the region’s grassroots and takes the green building movement to the next level.”  The council plans to repeat the event on an annual basis, offering new challenges each time to galvanize and amplify regional collective impact.

In an interview with Lemoine at Greenbuild in November, Lemoine was quick to say “there has and continues to be lots of green building activity in the Cascadia Region. We could be satisfied with that. But the Council can play a special role stimulating and supporting new grass roots initiatives.”

Of all the US Green Building Council Chapters, Cascadia has tended to be the first out of the block with new ideas and action to suit.  (Unlike most other chapters, Cascadia was founded based on bioregional boundaries, not geopolitical ones.) In fact, it’s safe to say we have a bit of a “renegade” reputation within the larger organization.  So it’s no surprise that the Council has invited “innovators, rulebreakers, and changemakers” to this part celebration, and part instigation event.

Michelle Long

This year the call to action will be framed by keynote Michelle Long, Executive Director of BALLE, which uses collaboration to identify and promote “the most innovative business models for creating healthier, sustainable, and prosperous communities.”  Cascadia members will be asked to enlarge their thinking (and scope) beyond (green) bricks and mortar to include sustainable business development with the goal of “transform(ing) the communities where we work and live.”  BALLE, which stands for Business Alliance for Local Economies envisions “a global system of human-scale, interconnected local economies that function in harmony with local eco-systems to meet the basic needs of all people, support just an democratic societies, and foster joyful community life.”  By inviting Council members to consider this vision, Cascadia’s leadership is seeking to expand on the collective impact that members have already had on the built environment.

David Barmon, a permaculture designer based in Portland, and Naomi Wachira, a local folk singer with African roots will round out the program.  And yes, there will be awards. All with a mind on acknowledging, but also inspiring, grassroots action. For the first time, Cascadia will be presenting Emerging Professional, Branch Collaborative, and Public Sector Leadership Awards.  Cascadia Fellows will be recognized at Groundswell as well. Fellows are local leaders recognized for catalyzing transformative advancements in green building at the local and national level. And yes, Groundswell is a fundraiser: $50 of every ticket is a tax-deductible donation to support the mission of the Cascadia Green Building Council. And, yes, it will be a party. According to the website, dress if “formal.” Hmm..dress jeans?

Registration closes December 9, 2013. Click here for more information on the event and award nominees.

Kathleen O’Brien is a long time advocate for and prolific writer about green building and sustainable development since before it was “cool.” She lives in a green home, and drives a hybrid when she drives at all. Recently retired from O’Brien & Company, the green consulting firm she founded over 22 years ago,  she is now the Executive Director of The EMERGE Leadership Project, a 501c3 nonprofit whose mission is to accelerate life-sustaining solutions in the built environment through emergent leadership training.


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When it comes to certified wood, GSA is right to question LEED

The following post is by William Street:

Contrary to what Meghan Douris wrote in these pages in your Building Green issue (“Is LEED’s Future with Federal Projects Under Threat?” 2/28), the Government Services Administration is correct to seek opinion regarding LEED’s acceptability for public procurement projects, given the cost involved with LEED certification and LEED’s unfortunate discrimination against two respected and widely used certification standards, the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI) and the American Tree Farm System (ATFS).

Photo by Luciano Burtini/

There's more than one forest certification system.

The fact that GSA is seeking input on their use of green building rating systems is a positive development. This will hopefully shed light on the problem with GSA’s use of the US Green Building Council’s LEED rating system. USGBC, unlike Green Building Councils in Italy, Germany or Australia — all of which recognize the importance of all forest certification systems — has been victimized by narrow interest groups seeking to push their own political agenda at the expense of actual science-based energy efficiency, local jobs, competitiveness and inclusivity. USGBC has never publicly explained why they only reward wood certified to the Forest Stewardship Council standard.

PEFC, the world’s largest and only purely non-profit forest certification system — which includes SFI and ATFS,  both of which are independent, non-profit, charitable organizations — has proven on every continent and in all governmental procurement and independent and neutral evaluations that it is a superior system to FSC. PEFC affiliates are recognized by Green Building Councils in many other countries, but not by the USGBC. Thus, wood products from SFI and ATFS are placed at a market disadvantage while forest products from FSC (many of which are sourced outside of the U.S.) are accepted, even though FSC‘s for-profit structure is not recognized by, and fails to comply with, the International Accreditation Forum (IAF) and ISO guidelines.

In the U.S., SFI and ATFS are the only forest certification systems to require and enforce compliance with the International Labor Organization’s core labor standards for forest workers.  Strong labor standards mean safer work, better wages, sustainable jobs and viable rural communities that depend on them.

Rather than attempt to create a monopoly for FSC, USGBC should do what practically every other national and third-party system has done: recognize and reward wood from all sustainably managed forests. To do otherwise is to promote deforestation in the tropics and the conversion of sustainably managed forests here into resorts, golf courses and second homes.

It’s well past time to stop fighting over the well-managed forests of North America and start speaking with a single voice to send a unified message to the rest of the world: that green buildings benefit from using wood from all sustainably managed forests. By speaking with a single voice, Americans can truly be a force against deforestation and the conversion of forests to other land uses.

William Street is director of the Woodworkers Department of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers.

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Study makes a case for developing more living buildings

The following post is by Kathleen O’Brien:

In early May, I traveled to Portland to the Cascadia Green Building Council’s annual Living Future Conference. I enjoyed the conference a lot, and especially the very practical financial focus in several of the sessions.


Moving the needle on real estate investment was the topic of a Living Future panel including Jason Twill (Vulcan), David Baker (Earth Economics), Theddi Wright Chappell (Cushman & Wakefield), Stuart Cowan (Autopoiesis). They noted that investment in sustainable real estate seems to be “topping out” in the market at this time — at LEED Platinum. Their hope is to help the market cross that barrier into higher realms of sustainable achievement, such as the Living Building Challenge.
Jason, David, Stuart, and Theddi are coauthors of “Economics of Change: Catalyzing the Investment Shift Towards a Restorative Built Environment.” The research study was funded by Bullitt Foundation, a long time supporter of environmental protection in the Northwest. The point of the study was to “provide evidence of monetized environmental and social benefits…currently not considered in conventional real estate model(s).” The authors hope to provide a defensible rationale for including these public and private benefits into investment models, appraiser methodologies, and supporting policies. This is especially important for U.S. real estate investments where ROI and IRR are the ultimate drivers of most transactions.
The report lays out the ABC’s, if you will, of Ecosystem Goods and Services, the potential Ecosystem Services that Living Buildings might provide, and finally the opportunity to measure, monetize, and value those ecosystem services. The study takes a scholarly approach, a step up from the early days when we in the green building field had to rely more on reason and intuition, since we had little real data to base our assumptions on. (Not that reason and intuition is bad…it’s what got us here, yes?).

"The Economics of Change"

The report also introduces the concept of integrated real estate investment modeling. From this layperson’s view, it seems to build on the conventional model, rather than replace it — an approach that makes a good deal of sense. The methodology they propose will allow many environmental and social benefits currently valued at zero to be seen as economically valuable, and therefore marketable. In the next phase of their work, they plan to produce detailed calculations and case studies of the environmental and social benefits of Living Buildings, test the impact of these values of valuation models or appraisals, and create an open source prototype of the integrated real estate investment marketing tool to “demonstrate how environmental and social benefits can be embedded within a pro forma in an new building development context.”
In addition to taking this tool out to the real estate development communities (appraisers and valuation specialists), they hope to provide a basis for changes in local, state, and federal policy that will acknowledge public benefits of Living Building development and incentivize it.
As Theddi noted, “right now investors are going for the low hanging fruit — energy efficiency — for example. We need to provide sufficient rationale if we want them to go beyond that.”

Hear, hear.

Kathleen O’Brien is a long time advocate for green building and sustainable development since before it was “cool.” She lives in a green home, and drives a hybrid when she drives at all. Having recently sold her firm, O’Brien & Company, she is now focused on leadership work with those “still in the trenches.”  For more info see

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Off to Living Future 2011!

Hello Readers.

It’s (one of) my favorite times of year here at the DJC Green Building Blog: time to head to the Cascadia Green Building Council’s Living Future Conference! Starting tomorrow and lasting until Friday, I’ll update you on the happenings of my favorite annual conference. If you’ve never heard of

Off to Vancouver!
Living Future and won’t be heading up to Vancouver, B.C., either keep your eyes tuned here or check out the blog’s archives on past events. You can also follow me on twitter @KatieZemtseff for a more thorough and concise take on sessions and speeches.

This is my fifth Living Future event (which means I’ve been to all of them). The conference alternates each year between Seattle, Vancouver and Portland. In past years, I’ve heard and documented talks in this blog from Janine Benyus, Paul Hawken and James Howard Kunstler among others. This year, I’m looking forward to hearing what Majora Carter has to say. I’m also really excited to tour the University of British Columbia’s Centre for Interactive Research on Sustainability.

Living Future, here I come!

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Greenbuild recap: Seattle represented!

GreenBuild is done for another year. Looking back, I can definitely say the Pacific Northwest – and Seattle in particular – represented.

From speakers (there were at least 35 from the Pacific Northwest) to people in the crowd (I must have seen at least 50 people from the area) to a reference in Rick Fedrizzi’s opening speech to the Living Building Challenge to expo hall presenters, there was a giant contingent representing what

The expo hall at GreenBuild, by Katie Zemtseff
some *ahem* consider to be the greenest region of the country.

Overall, I noticed a change in GreenBuild presenters. It seemed (to me) that there was a little less architectural focus and more focus on the financial aspect of green building from the real estate side. Speakers came from Kennedy Associates, Wright Runstad & Co., Hines, PNC Real Estate, Lease Crutcher Lewis, Vulcan, Jones Lang LaSalle etc. To me, this reinforced the idea that “green” is becoming more and more mainstream. While the design aspect is important, the financial metrics really sell it — just look at LEED volume. I also noticed a focus on the sustainability of the site, versus just the sustainability of the building.

I enjoyed the focus of the expo floor to reduce waste. Instead of a flood of literature that stays on my desk for months, presenters were encouraged to limit waste and only give away business cards. It was impressive.

I also enjoyed some of the wild outfits that turned up. Especially colorful cowboy hats, a full fake animal print suit in different colors and the myriad of cowboy boots worn on people’s feet. A friend of mine said there seemed to be a lot more suits at GreenBuild this year – which she said is a good thing “cuz we need ’em!”

As for dislikes, I heard a lot of complaints about the lack of vegetarian food (this is GreenBuild afterall!) I also heard a lot of people complaining about two elements of Colin Powell’s speech: his discussion of the state of terrorism in the U.S. and abroad and his statement that coal, nuclear and oil need to be just as much a part of our energy portfolio as solar and wind energy.

What did you think of GreenBuild? Comment below and tell me what your favorite – or least favorite part was. Would love to hear your reaction!

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