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Planning a more resilient future: Four takeaways from the 2017 Resilient Cities Summit

July 26, 2017
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This article was co-authored by Katharine Burgess, Director, Urban Resilience at the Urban Land Institute, and Cooper Martin, Program Director, Sustainable Cities Institute, National League of Cities.

Last week, an inspirational group of mayors, senior city officials, and nationally recognized experts gathered in Stowe, Vermont, for the 2017 Resilient Cities Summit, hosted by the National League of Cities (NLC), the Urban Land Institute (ULI) and the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC). Against the scenic backdrop of Stowe’s mountain views and rustic charm, the group of 60 attendees from across the nation discussed how cities can be more prepared for climate risk and achieve a more resilient future.

After a successful 2016 summit focused on successful environmental planning and solutions for sustainable land use, the 2017 summit centered around how to finance resilient infrastructure and implement actions to build more resilient communities. Summit sessions discussed identifying funding sources, prioritizing equity in resilience planning and motivating support for investing in a more resilient city.

While the challenges that attendees face back at home vary from sea level rise and heat islands to earthquakes and severe storms, it was striking how much city leaders found they had in common in their approaches to community resilience. Here are four key takeaways from this year’s summit:

1) Local leaders must be willing to reimagine their city.

At its core, a resilient city is one that is thriving and evolving, rather than simply surviving. Resilient cities are adaptive, competitive and equitable, and this requires local leaders to position their city to respond to changes. Resilient city leaders should have an outlook for infrastructure and land use that incorporates the next 20, 30 or even 50 years, as opposed to a time frame that only extends through the length of their term. This often requires cities to do something they’ve never done before, whether it’s changing how they finance redevelopment projects or how they use data to inform decision-making.

Resilient Cities conference 2017

Mayors Lily Mei of Fremont, California, Dennis Doyle of Beaverton, Oregon, and Mark Mitchel of Tempe, Arizona, join other mayors, city staff and national experts at the 2017 Resilient Cities Summit.

The status quo might be comfortable, and governments are rightfully risk-averse, but elected leaders also have a responsibility to reach for the future. In today’s world, contexts are constantly in flux, whether they are based on economic, social, climatic or other factors. The city that thinks about tomorrow’s risks and vulnerabilities and acts on that future in a collaborative, equitable fashion will ultimately be more resilient.

Read the full article

For third year, District of Columbia ranks number one for Energy Star

July 26, 2017
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For the third year in a row, Washington, D.C., has earned the number one ranking on the U.S. EPA’s annual list of U.S. metropolitan areas with the most buildings certified by Energy Star.

The top cities list ranks metropolitan areas by to the number of buildings earning Energy Star certification in 2016. To qualify, a building must outperform 75 percent of similar buildings nationwide by earning an Energy Star score of 75 or higher on a 100-point scale.

In 2016, 790 D.C.-area buildings earned an Energy Star rating, an increase of 104 buildings over 2015. What does this translate to in energy savings? The Energy Star buildings in D.C. helped the District save $167 million in total energy costs and avoid over 716,000 tons of greenhouse gases, the equivalent of taking over 151,000 passenger vehicles off the road.

Energy Star's website noted several facts about the D.C. area that may have contributed to its success:

  • A few local school districts contributed almost 280 buildings: Fairfax County Public Schools (151), Prince William County Public Schools (52), Loudoun County Public Schools (57, and Stafford County Public Schools (17).
  • D.C.-area initiatives such as The Clean and Affordable Energy Act of 2008 have aimed to improve the energy efficiency of the area’s commercial buildings. 
  • Other initiatives have included tax credits and a campaign by the downtown D.C. Business Improvement District, the “Smarter Business Challenge.”
  • Federal agencies are only allowed to lease space in Energy Star-certified buildings, which means that landlords may be motivated to earn the rating in order to attract federal tenants.

DC ranks at the top for Energy Star

By the end of 2016, nearly 30,000 buildings across the U.S. had earned EPA’s Energy Star certification. Together, these buildings have saved more than $4 billion on utility bills and prevented greenhouse gas emissions equal to the annual electricity use of nearly three million homes. For more information about the 2017 Energy Star Top Cities list, visit

District of Columbia law requires buildings over 50,000 gross square feet to annually report their energy and water performance for public disclosure. This data is then published online.

USGBC recently sent a message to Congress in support of the EPA's Energy Star, WaterSense, and Safer Choice programs. About 500 organizations signed on to the letter, and around 300 sent individual letters to their elected officials in addition.

Learn more about the top cities

From student leader to solar career: One student's story

July 26, 2017
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The Center for Green Schools staff at USGBC are fortunate to hear of many inspiring stories across the country, and Amory Fischer's is one we wanted to share. Fischer recently began a career in the solar industry after leading his former high school through a long journey to put solar PV on its roof. As we work to empower young people to lead our world toward sustainability, his path shows what's possible when a student is inspired to make a difference at school.

Jobs in Virginia’s solar industry grew by 65 percent last year, mine included. However, my interest in solar began well before I received my first private sector paycheck, when I was a student activist brainstorming around an Albemarle High School cafeteria table.

Albemarle High and five other Albemarle County Public Schools (ACPS) installed a total of 1.1 megawatts in 2016. This was the result of a campaign I launched with community support in spring 2013. Our message was simple—that students supported a solar installation on our school to bring economic savings, educational resources and reduced pollution. To reach our goal, we ran a petition drive, hosted a press conference and made multiple presentations to the school board and board of supervisors.

My favorite moment of the campaign was in late summer 2014, when my sister brought a solar-powered bipedal robot she had made in a summer class and walked it across the desk of the board of supervisors to prove solar power worked. Being addressed by a passionate and well-spoken eighth grader was all the board could talk about for weeks.

And it was enough to move the needle. In fall 2014, Albemarle County Public Schools issued a request for proposals for a solar power purchase agreement. After a unanimous vote by the school board, a contract was awarded in May 2015 to Secure Futures, a solar development company based in Staunton, Virginia.

Terry McAuliffe dedicates the solar panels at ACPS

Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe dedicates the solar panels at ACPS with Superintendent Dr. Pam Moran, Secure Futures CEO Tony Smith, Amory Fischer and students at Monticello High School on October 20, 2016.

Without fully understanding it at the time, my passion to build a more sustainable economic and environmental future for all, starting with solar at my school, was driving me to learn valuable life skills that would useful in my career: public speaking, working with the press media, persuasive writing and [familiarizing myself] with the public procurement process and the economic details of solar projects.

After Secure Futures won the RFP, they brought me on as an intern to learn the ropes of solar development. When I graduated from Virginia Tech with a degree in environmental policy and planning in 2016, Secure Futures hired me full-time to bring the message of solar benefits across the state.

That fall, I climbed on the roof of my high school to conduct an inspection that would maintain the roof warranty under their new solar array. Three hundred and sixty solar panels sparkled in the morning sun as students practiced on the sports fields and chatted in the breezeway. Somewhere, the light and sound equipment in my sister’s choir class were being run by solar energy. Our project had come full circle.

Amory Fischer

Amory Fischer at a solar array installation in Harrisonburg, Virginia.

In June 2017, I found myself wearing a suit and tie in a school board meeting at a rural school district outside of Richmond, Virginia. I was there to offer technical support to several high school student leaders at the podium, who were giving a pitch about how solar energy could bring economic, educational and environmental benefits to their school.

One student leader, a graduating senior, has just been hired by a local solar company for a summer internship to learn if a career in solar is right for her. One day, I hope she will be able to write an article like this one.

Feature image: Secure Futures' 224 kW solar array at Baker-Butler Elementary School in Albemarle County. Photo credit: Grant Gotlinger.

Arena Stage and the Southwest Waterfront (USGBC National Capital Region)

July 25, 2017
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For the second year in a row, USGBC National Capital Region hosted its annual A Midsummer Night’s Green at the Arena Stage at the Mead Center for American Theater. This event is the premier summer social for the Washington, D.C., green building community. Arena Stage’s location in the Southwest Waterfront—a neighborhood that is quickly evolving into one of the District’s most exciting new areas—as well as the venue’s history, makes it the perfect location for hosting this event.  

Arena Stage is a not-for-profit theater, and was one of first of its kind in the United States, known for being a pioneer of the regional theater movement. Each year, Arena Stage welcomes more than 300,000 audience members through its doors to enjoy productions in its three theaters. 

Arena Stage

Established as a company in 1950, the theater company had its building located in the Southwest Waterfront originally constructed in 1960. More recently, the complex underwent a two-year, $135 million renovation pioneered by the team of Bing Thom Architects and Fast + Epp consulting engineers.

Through the renovation, the team designed the main columns for the building, while leaving the two larger theaters, The Fichlandler Stage and the Kreeger Theater, largely untouched. The theaters’ connecting structures were demolished and are now surrounded by a glass curtain wall and incorporated into a larger building. Additionally, the renovation included the construction of the Kogod Cradle Theater, where USGBC National Capital Region held its annual awards for the second year in a row. Following this renovation, Arena Stage has become the second largest performing arts center in the District, after the Kennedy Center.

For the past three years, the team at Arena Stage has watched the formation of the city’s largest new development, dubbed The Wharf, from across the street. The project is led by the development team of PN Hoffman and Madison Marquette. Not only is this development the largest in the city, it is one of the largest along the East Coast, encompassing over a mile of shoreline and 24,000 acres of space. Opening ceremonies for Phase I of this project are planned for this October. Phase I will include new apartment towers and condos, hotels, piers, restaurants and a 6,000-seat concert venue. Plans for Phase II of this project were just submitted earlier this year and have proposed an additional 1.2 million square feet of new buildings.

The Wharf on the Southeast D.C. waterfront

Image provided by The Wharf.

Although new development is nothing new to the District and its surrounding areas, something unique about The Wharf is that the Hoffman-Madison Waterfront group has committed to building the project with sustainability in mind, in order to develop the neighborhood into a lasting waterfront community.

The entire Wharf development has been designed to achieve and is seeking LEED Gold under LEED for Neighborhood Development, and individual buildings are designed to achieve LEED Gold or Silver. The project includes public parks and piers to encourage the surrounding community to enjoy the waterfront. Also, the development will include multiple forms of on-site sustainable energy production, including a cogeneration plant and solar PV systems. 

USGBC National Capital Region is excited to be host this year’s event again at Arena Stage, in a neighborhood that so many in the green building and the commercial real estate community have seen evolve over the past three years. 

Drawdown and LEED: Alignment in climate change solutions

July 25, 2017
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The best-selling book Drawdown, edited by Paul Hawken, offers a model for "the 100 most substantive solutions to global warming." The goal of the research presented in the book is to find out whether human beings can reverse the buildup of atmospheric carbon within the next 30 years. 

In the USGBC customer service department, we've been reading this book with interest, and have noticed overlaps between the actions that the authors identify as most critical and the emphasis on certain credits in LEED and other GBCI rating systems. 

For example, the first solution in the book is Refrigerant Management, a concept that is reinforced by the LEED prerequisite Fundamental Refrigerant Management and the LEED credit Enhanced Refrigerant Management.

Here are a few more examples of similar solutions:

LEED green building offers solutions to the climate problems we are facing, in a way that aligns with what researchers have discovered about our top priorities in ensuring a sustainable human impact on the Earth.

At the 2014 opening plenary of Greenbuild, Paul Hawken discussed the Drawdown project. Watch our video from the event to learn more:

What you need to know to achieve LEED certification in 2017

July 24, 2017
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Are you planning to complete a LEED review this year, before Greenbuild? If so, be sure to submit for review on time. See below for application deadlines based on typical review timelines.

The following deadlines apply to all commercial rating systems (not including LEED Volume). These timelines also assume that no appeal review is necessary. Appeal reviews typically take 20–25 business days; expedited appeal reviews take about 10 business days.  

Regardless of when a deadline occurs, all project teams hoping to achieve review milestones by a certain date should inform GBCI of their specific needs. Reviewers will make every effort to accommodate reasonable requests, subject to capacity.

Deadlines to submit for review and achieve certification in 2017

Table 1. Regular Review Timeline

Application Type and Review Phase Application submitted, payment cleared Target Return Date
Certification before Greenbuild (November 8) Standard Preliminary Review July 31 (9:00 am EST) September 1 (approx.)
Standard Final Review** October 2 (9:00 am EST) November 3 (approx.)
Construction Preliminary Review July 31 (9:00 am EST) September 1 (approx.)
Construction Final Review** October 2 (9:00 am EST) November 3 (approx.)
Certification before the end of 2017* Standard Preliminary Review September 14 (9:00 am EST) October 19 (approx)
Standard Final Review** November 16 (9:00 am EST) December 22 (approx.)
Construction Preliminary Review September 14 (9:00 am EST) October 19 (approx)
Construction Final Review** November 16 (9:00 am EST) December 22 (approx.)

Table 2. Expedited Review Timeline

If you're seeking an expedited review, please see the table below and note the surcharge for the LEED Registration and Certification Fees. The expedite surcharge is in addition to the regular certification fee. The availability of expedited review timelines is based on GBCI capacity. If you are requesting an expedited review, contact GBCI at least 10 business days prior to submitting your application.

Application Type and Review Phase Application submitted, payment cleared Target Return Date
Certification before Greenbuild (November 8) Expedited Standard Preliminary Review September 26 (approx.) October 11 (approx.)
Expedited Standard Final Review** October 19 (9:00 am EST) November 3 (approx.)
Expedited Construction Preliminary Review September 26 (approx.) October 11 (approx.)
Expedited Construction Final Review** October 19 (9:00 am EST) November 3 (approx.)
Certification before the end of 2017* Expedited Standard Preliminary Review November 10 (9:00 am EST) November 29 (approx.)
Expedited Standard Final Review** December 7 (9:00 am EST) December 22 (approx.)
Expedited Construction Preliminary Review November 10 (9:00 am EST) November 29 (approx.)
Expedited Construction Final Review** December 7 (9:00 am EST) December 22 (approx.)

* These timelines include a two-business-day buffer for the Thanksgiving holiday (USGBC is closed). Additionally, USGBC is closed from Dec. 25, 2017 through Jan. 1, 2018.

** Regular review timelines include 20 business days after the preliminary review is returned for project teams to prepare clarifications and submit for final review. Expedited review timelines assume five business days for the same.

Access your project through LEED Online

Attend the annual Women in Green event at Greenbuild

July 24, 2017
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Gather with green building champions, at one of our upcoming Women in Green events at Greenbuild 2017.

Greenbuild China: Women in Green Power Breakfast
October 18 from 7:30–9 a.m.
Learn more

Greenbuild India: Women in Green Power Lunch
November 3 from 1–2:30 p.m.
Learn more

Greenbuild Boston: Women in Green Power Breakfast
November 9 from 7–9 p.m.
Learn more

Women are change agents in business, in education, in health care, in technology and cutting-edge research, in service of our common defense, in government and in our homes. Without the powerful voices of women seeking change, so much progress would be stifled or delayed. Attend Women in Green to hear from groundbreaking women who will call upon attendees to speak up as individuals and as a group to achieve change in the workplace and the world.

USGBC National Capital Region presents 2017 Community Leader Awards

July 21, 2017
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USGBC National Capital Region announced the recipients of the 2017 Community Leader Awards during the organization’s 16th annual  A Midsummer Night’s Green  event on July 20, 2017. The event was held at the Arena Stage at the Mead Center for American Theater in Washington, D.C.

Three awards were given to LEED projects in the National Capital Region that exemplify green building practices and principles:

  • Innovative Project of the Year—New Construction was presented to Mundo Verde Public Charter School, nominated by Studio Twenty Seven Architecture.

  • Innovative Project of the Year—Interior Design was presented to Nixon-Peabody, LLP, nominated by Perkins + Will.

  • Innovative Project of the Year—Existing Building Performance was presented to 650 Massachusetts Avenue, nominated by Sustainable Building Partners.

Innovative project of the year winners at A Midsummer Night's Green

Innovative Project of the Year, New Construction—Mundo Verde Public Charter School, nominated by Studio Twenty Seven Architecture.

Although only one winner was chosen in each of these categories, because of the strengths of the projects that applied, our judges decided to name two honorable mentions. MGM Grand National Harbor, nominated by SmithGroupJJR, was given an honorable mention in the category of Innovative Project of the Year—New Construction. American University/WAMU, nominated by AU Design and Construction, was given honorable mention in the category of Innovative Project of the Year—Interior Design.

Human capital costs typically account for 90 percent of business operating costs and most people spend 90 percent of their time indoors, so the built environment has the potential to deeply impact our greatest asset—people. The quality of indoor space design—including temperature, humidity, noise, light, space and air quality—affects health and productivity, and can have significant financial implications for employers.

This year, for the first time, USGBC National Capital Region recognized a project for advanced commitment to health and wellness in the built environment. The award for Innovative Project of the Year—Health and Wellness in the Built Environment went to the American Society of Interior Designers (ASID), which has achieved both LEED and WELL Platinum certification, and was nominated by Perkins + Will and rand* construction.

Attendees at A Midsummer Night's Green

Our final category for project awards recognizes outstanding projects that either are certified under a GBCI rating system other than LEED or do not have a third-party certification. Because we had two standout projects apply in this category, our judges decided to name two winners. Innovative Project of the Year—Responsible Design was awarded to Intelligence Community Campus in Bethesda, Maryland, nominated by AECOM, and to Bunny Mellon Healing Garden, nominated by DAVIS Construction.

USGBC National Capital Region is proud to recognize inspiring individuals who are helping make sustainable communities a reality for the D.C. metro area with our Leadership Awards. Award winners were recognized in the three categories below:

  • The Award for Leadership in Government, Advocacy or Policy recognizes an individual who has worked to make real and meaningful change on the local level. This year, the award went to Patrick Kunze, GHT Limited.

  • The Award for Leadership in Health and Wellness recognizes an individual who has worked to advance awareness and implementation of standards, principles or policies that improve human health and well-being through the built environment. This year's award went to Rachel Cowen and Andrea Swiatocha, Hord Coplan Macht.

  • Last, e>very year we recognize our most energetic, engaged and supportive individual local community members with an award for Member of the Year. This year's award went to Julia Craighill, Ensight Consulting and Sarah Rentfro, Simpson Gumpertz & Heger Inc.

Our community developed the awards program in order to acknowledge outstanding accomplishments in sustainable design and construction and to celebrate individuals.

A Midsummer Night’s Green was sponsored by Above GreenGHT Limited, Sustainable Building PartnersView Dynamic GlassThe JBG CompaniesBozzutoCushman & Wakefield, DonohoeGPIGrimm and ParkerHBW ConstructionSkanskaThe WharfThe Electrical Alliance, Ernest Maier Block & BrickDPR Construction and Perkins + Will

LEED paperwork streamlined for California projects

July 21, 2017
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The GreenerBuilder conference on July 13 was a festive, information-packed summit full of leaders from the USGBC Northern California green building community. Attendees and speakers learned about the latest news in the green building industry at the LEED Gold Zero Net Energy Center in the Bay Area.

Industry professionals shared updates on topics in the built environment, from measuring human health in buildings and cities to triple bottom line cost benefit analysis. Experts shared new tools for resilient building design, ongoing performance tracking through Arc and resources for identifying products that comply with codes and LEED. The event was capped with lessons learned in conducting net zero energy school retrofits, examining the costs of LEED v4 in California, and gaining helpful new resources on designing for onsite water reuse.

To kick off the conference, USGBC’s President and CEO Mahesh Ramanujam announced exciting news about LEED in California: New commercial projects built to California’s robust building codes are pre-approved for significant streamlining of fundamental LEED Building Design and Construction (BD+C) requirements. Qualifying projects will be able use code compliance documentation in order to satisfy all LEED v4 B+C prerequisites and earn 6 points.

The full list of streamlined measures:

  • SS Prerequisite: Construction Activity Pollution Prevention
  • SS Credit: Light Pollution Reduction (1 Point, Option 1)
  • WE Prerequisite: Outdoor Water Use Reduction
  • WE Prerequisite: Indoor Water Use Reduction
  • WE Prerequisite: Building-Level Water Metering
  • WE Credit: Outdoor Water Use Reduction (1 Point, Option 2)
  • WE Credit: Indoor Water Use Reduction (1 Point)
  • EA Prerequisite: Fundamental Commissioning and Verification
  • EA Prerequisite: Minimum Energy Performance
  • EA Prerequisite: Building-Level Energy Metering
  • EA Prerequisite: Fundamental Refrigerant Management
  • EA Credit: Optimize Energy Performance (1 Point, Option 1)
  • MR Prerequisite: Storage and Collection of Recyclables
  • MR Prerequisite: Construction and Demolition Waste Management Planning
  • MR Credit: Construction and Demolition Waste Management (1 Point, Option 1)
  • EQ Prerequisite: Minimum Indoor Air Quality Performance
  • EQ Prerequisite: Environmental Tobacco Smoke Control
  • EQ Credit Construction Indoor Air Quality Management Plan (1 point)

An 50 additional points are within reach via LEED credits that exceed code minimums but are complementary to state requirements.

USGBC hopes to significantly streamline documentation requirements for California projects. This new approach will simultaneously reward projects throughout California for meeting the stringent statewide standards and provide a more direct entry point for LEED certification (and an incentive for more projects to exceed code minimums voluntarily).

USGBC hopes this alignment will speed uptake of deeper green strategies in more buildings in California, leading to potentially bolder code updates in the future that can be informed by data collected from LEED projects. This effort in California illustrates how a growing green building code movement can be recognized and encouraged through LEED.

See more recent news from California

2017 National Green Building Adoption Index releases data on growth

July 20, 2017
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Every year, a National Green Building Adoption Index is published by CBRE, in partnership with Maastricht University, to measure the growth and uptake of energy efficiency and sustainability in buildings. Other collaborators include USGBC, CBRE Research and the Institute for Market Transformation (IMT).

In 2017, the index shows that the percentage of commercial office space that has been certified as “green” or “efficient” by LEED or Energy Star certification now stands at 38 percent across 30 office markets in the United States. That has risen from less than 5 percent in 2005. According to the report, this long-term growth in certified buildings shows continued interest in energy efficiency and sustainability in the built environment. 

Other noteworthy findings:

  • The Energy Star program expanded slightly in 2016, with 10.3 percent of all commercial office buildings in the largest markets now certified, up from 9.9 percent. This represents 31.7 percent of total commercial office space, up from 29.9 percent.
  • At the end of 2016, LEED certifications represented 4.7 percent of the total number of commercial office buildings across the 30 largest U.S. office markets, up from 4.6 percent the year before.
  • Large geographic variation in the adoption of LEED and Energy Star certification remains. Counting both LEED and Energy Star certification, the top three markets for green building adoption by percentage of square footage are 1) Chicago, 2) San Francisco and 3) Atlanta, with Chicago taking the top position for the first time.

Over the past 10 years, 22 cities, the District of Columbia, two counties and two states have passed laws requiring privately owned buildings to annually benchmark their energy consumption, as well as to publish the resulting metric. The CBRE study states the evidence "suggests that these benchmarking and transparency laws may contribute to increased adoption of environmental building certification." Digging a little deeper into these policies, 20 of these policies had not reached their full phase-in of reporting by January 2016. In other words, the vast majority of polices saw new buildings reporting for the first time in 2016 or later.

The report shares that a city that enacts a benchmarking ordinance is correlated with a 9 percent increase in Energy Star and LEED-certified buildings, and a 21 percent increase in such square footage. Several cities experienced an increase in the adoption of environmental building certification after the passage of benchmarking and transparency laws.

See the interactive map of green building adoption.

Read the full report


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