Greenbuild: International LEED Projects

In a session at Greenbuild, architects from the firms DMJM H + N, and RNL Design discussed the state of sustainability in key international real estate markets, and the challenge of dealing with multiple rating systems. In total, there are more than 30 rating systems similar to LEED in use worldwide.

The panelists highlighted some recent developments:

In the UK, the BREAM standard is now mandated for new buildings, and has been incorporated into the building code. Panelists remarked that it may be many more years before this occurs in the US.

In China, while the number of buildings using the LEED rating system has increased, the panelists foresaw the rise of China’s own three-star rating system, which was initiated in 2006. In China, LEED Gold is perceived as easier to achieve than the third star in the Chinese rating system. China will eventually mandate the use of their own three-star system, which is also seen as more compatible with local building codes than LEED.

One reason LEED may continue to be used in China is the increased market value associated with LEED-certified projects.

An architect building LEED-certified projects in China thought the biggest challenge was getting good documentation. Chinese construction firms aren’t used to collecting the type of data needed for LEED certification.

In the Middle East, particularly U.A.E., a number of new LEED buildings are going up, but one panelist saw “social stratification and culture of excess”, and oil money, as posing major challenges for improving the sustainability of large, commercial architecture across the board.

One panelist pointed to multinationals (MNC’s) with overseas offices as key drivers of LEED. These firms want to work in LEED buildings for their own corporate sustainability and good governance purposes, and are creating a transnational demand for LEED. MNC’s may help turn LEED into the global rating system standard. BREAM is the second most-used green building standard worldwide.

An audience member raised a concern that new buildings developed by Western architects aren’t using traditional, local energy saving technologies that may be just as effective as LEED standards. She mentioned that traditional Indian ventilation technologies, once tested, easily matched LEED Platinum or Gold levels. The panelists answered that these technologies are not easily accessible, or documented, like LEED, and therefore not as likely to spread globally.

Find out about the 2008 event as well as Greenbuild 2009 in Phoenix.


Greenbuild: Fresh Pond in the City of Cambridge, Massachusetts

In a packed session at Greenbuild, Chip Norton, Watershed Manager, City of Cambridge, Massachusetts, and Thomas Benjamin, Senior Landscape Architect, Vanasse Hangen Brustlin gave a presentation on the USD 1 million habitat improvement project focused on the park around Fresh Pond reservoir in the City of Cambridge.

Fresh Pond is the main water source for the City of Cambridge. Fresh Pond Reservation consists of a 155 acre lake, and 162 acres of surrounding land, with a 2.25 mile perimeter road used by walkers, runners and cyclists. There is also a nine-hole golf course.

Chip Norton of the City of Cambridge government explained that dealing with the local community, and government constituted 20 percent of the cost of project. The design phase has taken more than two years, and involved numerous community groups, local boards, and water officials. The design goal for the project was for local residents not to notice anything had been done. Norton explained the importance of selecting a landscape architecture firm with solid sustainability experience.

The landscape architect, Thomas Benjamin, explained how his firm focused on removing invasive plants, increasing the use of native plant species, making the reservoir shore more accessible, and building in plant diversity. Benjamin equated increased plant diversity with increased biodiversity, and pointed to the return of deer, rabbits, birds, and snakes to rehabilitated areas of the park.

The improvement of the habitat will be completed in mid-2009.

Find out about the 2008 event as well as Greenbuild 2009 in Phoenix.

Greenbuild: LEED 2009 / V3.0 Lift-off


At Greenbuild, the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) highlighted the changes in the 2009 or version 3.0 release of the rating system.

USGBC executives gave a talk describing the LEED rating system as a key tool for dealing with the current environmental crisis, as well as an evolutionary process for achieving higher levels of sustainability. Their argument: only when architects and builders engage the rating system can they then move up through the process and use more complex sustainability concepts and processes.

They also noted that even if every building in the world was LEED platinum, the global community would still be facing the same dire predictions on climate change.

USCBC executives said the way architects were using LEED changed, so the rating system had to be adapted:

  • Pre-requisites and credits were standardized, then harmonized across project types, which makes working on complex projects that cover multiple project types easier. 
  • The weighting (importance) of credits changed, and reflects an effort to associate a list of environmental problems, such as climate change, with the relative impact of individual LEED credits on the environment.  
  • LEED 2009 is now on a hundred point scale.
  •  There is a greater focus on regional credits, and the regionalization of LEED. USGBC asked chapters how they wanted to incentivize local innovation and design, and the response was to create regional priority credits.
  • Building energy bills must now be submitted with the project so that LEED can create better data on LEED performance over time. USGBC seeks a “new committment” to high performance, and to prove that LEED buildings perform better over time than non-LEED buildings.

To encourage continued exploration of the LEED rating system, and entrepreneurship, USGBC is setting up a “Pilot Credit Library,” where project owners can submit new ideas for credits.

The next year will be spent rolling out the 2009 version. 2010 will be spent refinining the 2009 version, and the next iteration of LEED will appear in 2011.

The new message was: “Green buildings for everyone in a generation.”

Find out about the 2008 event as well as Greenbuild 2009 in Phoenix.

Greenbuild: Bill McKibben on Climate Change

Bill McKibben, author and environmental activist, gave a speech at Greenbuild on the moral implications of climate change.

McKibben explained that the US, with 4 percent of the world’s population, is creating 25 percent of the world’s carbon output. If, as a result of climate change, the shore line of Bangladesh were to rise four feet, Americans would be accountable for one foot of that rise.

His new campaign,, focuses on creating a worldwide movement for bringing carbon levels back down to 350 parts per million (ppm), the level which climate scientists have pointed to as the edge of safe carbon levels in the atmosphere. McKibben explained that current levels are around 387 ppm and increase by about 1-2 ppm per year. He argues that this small increase over safe levels has kick-started a natural process of climate change, which has already had far-reaching consequences, including melting ice sheets in the Arctic Ocean and upwards of 30 percent increases in hurricane power and frequency along parts of the east coast of the U.S.

McKibben pointed to a statement from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which argued that dramatic change needed to happen by 2012 if the world is going to mount any serious effort to interrupt the “negative feedback loop” that has been initiated. To achieve this, “coal would have to be left in the ground.” By 2030, the world would have to stop burning coal, and developed countries would need to stop sooner. A shift as large as the move from an agricultural economy to the industrial economy is needed to stop the negative effects of climate change.

McKibben outlined a few ways Americans can help mitigate the effects of climate change:

  • Americans needs to move closer together. Americans have been building larger homes, farther apart from each other. Driving around running errands, and going to work creates carbon emissions. The current housing crisis, houses in high-density urban areas are losing their value less quickly than those in suburbs farther away from cities. Markets are valuing high-density areas as more valuable.
  • The cost of fossil fuels needs to reflect the damage they do to the environment. A global and U.S. national cap on carbon emissions and a national cap and trade system are needed so that the market can begin to associate costs with carbon emissions. McKibben argues for a rebate system for taxpayers, which would take funds earned by the government by issuing carbon credits and return them to taxpayers to help off-set any increase in energy prices. He noted that the Obama transition team seems to be moving in this direction.
  • Participate in This new campaign focuses on building worldwide awareness of the need for returning carbon levels in the atmosphere to 350 parts per million. aims to hold a worldwide set of rallies a few weeks before the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) final negotiations for a new protocol to replace Kyoto. Negotiators meet in Copenhagen in December 2009.

McKibben said the results of his 2007 “Step It Up” campaign were 1,400 rallies in 50 states and revisions to the Obama and Clinton candidate platforms on climate change, with a move towards the more difficult targets – 80 percent reduction in carbon emissions by 2050.

Find out about the 2008 event as well as Greenbuild 2009 in Phoenix.

Greenbuild: Greater Yellowstone Framework for Sustainable Development


At the Greenbuild International Conference and EXPO, the Yellowstone Business Partnership (YSP) gave a presentation outlining its adaptation of the LEED rating system for the Greater Yellowstone ecological system. The Greater Yellowstone Framework aims to protect the “largest intact ecosystem in the continental U.S.” The goal is to “manage growth while preserving the ecosystem integrity” and promote sustainable practices.

The executive director of YSP outlined how Yellowstone is a central U.S. ecosystem, where three major rivers meet. The greater Yellowstone area includes 35-40 million acres and a total population of 700,000. Much of the area can be defined as “frontier,” in that there is less than one person per square mile. Federal or state governments manage 90 person of the area. In many counties, there is a lack of zoning. Local communities, while also stewards of the area, have been the first to develop the area as well, which raises the need for a rating system that can instill sustainable development practices within the ecosystem.

The Nature Conservancy, and the Yellowstone Business Partnership surveyed 80 local leaders, facilitated a process of bottom-up community involvement in the development of the “LEED ecology” rating system, and created a new local rating system. The rating system for the Greater Yellowstone area includes seven prerequisites, 57 credits, and a 100 point system.

The credits are organized into categories:

  • Project planning / investment
  • Land Use / conservation
  • Biodiversity
  • Cultural and historical value
  • Recreation use
  • Built environment
  • Public service and infrastructure
  • Transportation and connectivity
  • Community vitality
  • Special credit opportunities for incorporating sustainable agriculture and mining.

There are 11 pilots underway under the YSP-facilitated rating system.

While not officially sanctioned by U.S. Green Building Council, the Greater Yellowstone Framework provides an effective case history of how to apply the LEED rating system to a unique local ecology. It’s also an example of LEED regionalization and illustrates the growth of landscape-related sustainability rating systems.

The Sustainable Sites Initiatives, of which the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) is a key partner, seeks to provide a definitive rating system for sustainable landscapes and will be fully incorporated into LEED rating system by 2011.

Find out about the 2008 event as well as Greenbuild 2009 in Phoenix.

Land Matters: Obama’s Green Education

The dust is still settling as I write this. Last Tuesday night, when Barack Obama’s victory was announced, my inner-city neighborhood erupted in absolute pandemonium. At 14th and U streets, people of all colors and persuasions were screaming, hugging, climbing up on bus shelters and dancing, and waving American flags in the street in a public display of sheer joy unlike anything I’ve ever seen.
A few days later, the optimism is still palpable in this town. But when Obama takes office January 20, what can we realistically expect him to accomplish? The situation he will inherit—an economic meltdown, wars on two fronts, other international challenges—is daunting. Amidst the imperative to address crucial national issues, where does that leave our environment?
Obama has consistently talked an encouraging game on the environment, and in his acceptance speech at Grant Park in Chicago, above, Obama pledged to listen. If you had 15 minutes with a receptive, environmentally friendly president of the United States, what would you as a landscape architect say?
Just to jog your thinking, Obama has already signaled that his administration will initiate a top global priority: ratifying international accords on climate change. Reversing the Bush administration’s stonewalling of the Kyoto Protocols and subsequent global environmental accords that made the United States a backslider among first-world nations, the Obama administration will likely push Congress to ratify the next stage of climate accords next year.
But the Obama administration may need to know that there are local and regional environmental initiatives that can ameliorate global warming—and they would involve the skills of landscape architects. These include designing “smart growth” communities that are less dependent on driving. They include more alternative transportation networks for pedestrians and bicyclists who don’t spew carbon into the air and schools sited once again in walkable neighborhoods. They include rebuilding our existing cities where the infrastructure for transit already exists and where policies promulgated by Obama, whose electorate came overwhelmingly from those cities, could usher in an era, not of the so-called New Urbanism, but of genuine Renewed Urbanism.
What about the public lands that landscape architects care about? I am sure the Obama administration would listen if landscape architects advocate a return to the wise federal oversight of these lands that has withered in the past eight years. Oversight that forbids drilling or mining on sensitive lands in Utah and elsewhere. That discourages siting belching power plants near national parks. That renews funding for the upkeep of those parks, national monuments, and national forests. But surely there are other issues regarding our public lands of great interest to landscape architects.
What message would you like to send President-elect Obama on the environment? Email me, or post your comments.
J. William “Bill” Thompson, FASLA
Editor /

Majora Carter: Environmental Justice for Inner-Cities through More Green Roofs and Parks

Majora Carter, MacArthur “Genius” grant winner, and founder of the South Bronx Project, discusses why green roofs need to move out of the demonstration phase and into the mainstream.

From the interview: “At this point, green roof demonstration projects have about as much value as another study to see if intensive diesel and powerplant exhaust give kids asthma — none.  We know fossil fuel emissions are bad and we know green roofs work.  By continually calling for repetitive studies and “demonstrations”, we imply that there is uncertainty.  Kind of like what the oil companies did with global warming. The very word “demonstration” implies untested; the “study” implies a surprise around the corner. We need change on a massive scale. We might not get it perfectly right immediately, but we certainly know that we have not been doing a good job with regard to our social or environmental future so far. If you know something works, do it — and do it big, bold, and beautifully and make an impact!”

Read the full interview

What Cities Can Expect from an Obama Administration

The Office of President-Elect Obama has indicated it will create an “Office of Urban Policy,” which will be charged with a creating a “comprehensive approach to urban development.” 

Listen to an interview with leading urban development expert Ester Fuchs of Columbia University on what Obama’s plans will mean for cities.

Also, read the latest policy paper from the Obama campaign outlining environmental priorities, including plans for urban environments related to clean water, healthy communities, and brownfields. From the policy paper: “Barack Obama and Joe Biden will fight to clean brownfields, restore abandoned industrial river fronts, and give communities the tools they need to eat healthy foods, and expand livable, walkable neighborhoods.”

The key question may be whether votes from urban areas, which contributed directly to Obama’s election, will translate into smarter federal support for cities, and greener urban renewal programs.

Dirt-based Energy

Lebone Solutions, which is being financed by a $200,000 grant from the World Bank, is developing a microbial fuel cell battery that makes small amounts of energy out of common household items like manure, soil and cloth.

The Lebone Solutions’ founders were classmates at Harvard, and used a class project focused on sustainable lighting technologies to explore what would work in Africa. The team brought technology to a village in Tanzania to understand how households would use the batteries. According to the New York Times, “For three hours each night, six families used batteries made of manure, graphite cloth and buckets, and a copper wire to conduct the current to a circuit board.”

Lebone seeks a new business model for energy creation and distribution in Africa, creating home-grown fuel cells tested on the continent, rather than altering existing developed-world technologies to meet the needs of Africa’s villagers.

Read the full article

Renewable Energy in a Downturn

T. Boone Pickens, the Texas Oilman, and a force behind Proposition 10, which was recently defeated by California voters, was quoted as saying the boom he foresaw in wind power would be “put off.” (The New York Times Green Inc blog discussed Mr. Picken’s role in Proposition 10 a few months ago).

Mr. Pickens had announced plans to build the world’s biggest wind farm in Texas, and invest USD 58 million of his own funds in promoting wind energy. Now, Mr. Pickens and other clean energy investors are caught in the on-going credit crunch that has spread worldwide. The Economist reported that “New Energy Finance, a research firm, calculates that the amount of project finance devoted to clean-energy projects around the world fell by almost 25% in the third quarter, to $18 billion.”

While investment in clean technology is falling, US legislators are seeing clean energy as a way to combat climate change, and create “green-color jobs.” Clean energy technologies are viewed by President-Elect Obama as a key source of innovation, which can lead to new economic growth. This view seems to be shared across the political spectrum: US lawmakers recently extended subsidies for renewable energy, and added them into the recent bail-out for financial services.

Read the Economist Article on Clean Technology