The CEOs of U.S. Green Building Council and International WELL Building Institute discuss the obstacles preventing more facility managers from earning LEED and WELL

Biggest Challenges Facing Sustainable and Healthy Buildings

The CEOs of U.S. Green Building Council and International WELL Building Institute discuss the obstacles preventing more facility managers from earning LEED and WELL.

By Greg Zimmerman, senior contributing editor  
OTHER PARTS OF THIS ARTICLEPt. 1: The Future of Green Building and WellnessPt. 2: This Page

For decades, organizations have been proving their sustainable initiatives by earning LEED certification from the U.S Green Building Institute. However, sustainability — and now more recently referred to as ESG — has always focused on more than just environmental benefits. Improvements to working conditions for building occupants is another major component to these initiatives. That’s where WELL certification from the International WELL Building Institute came in.  

As climate change and the COVID-19 pandemic prove, there is an urgency to improving sustainability and health and wellness existing buildings in the United States. By working towards LEED and WELL, facility managers can make great strides in meeting ESG goals.  

USGBC and IWBI recently announced a partnership to make it easier for facilities to earn both certifications. In that spirit of cooperation, for the first time ever, the leaders of the U.S. Green Building Council – CEO Peter Templeton – and the International WELL Building Institute – CEO Rachel Hodgdon – have come together for a joint interview to discuss the challenges they’re facing. 

FacilitiesNet: What do you see as the strongest headwinds facing the green building industry generally? 

Templeton: Earlier this year, the United Nations issued its global stock take report on progress toward the Paris climate accord. It found the rise in global emissions has slowed, but progress by global nations is not nearly enough to achieve the Paris targets and avoid the most catastrophic impacts of climate change.  

The challenge for USGBC and the industry is to accelerate building decarbonization while navigating economic uncertainty in the real estate sector, which is facing shifts in demand and tighter access to capital. But it’s a challenge we’re embracing. 

First, USGBC is focused on existing buildings since 80 percent of buildings today will still exist in 2050 and meeting global climate goals requires cutting operational emissions from all buildings in half by 2030. We recently announced LEED Operations and Maintenance for Existing Buildings as the first rating system release under the next-generation LEED v5 program. The LEED v5 O&M draft framework includes new credits for improving operational carbon performance, reducing embodied carbon in renovations, and executing long-range decarbonization planning – all of which will create enormous impact and stakeholder value. We’re also developing and testing new tools to drive continuous building performance improvement and accountability at the portfolio level, which will empower organizations to achieve their ESG goals and enable USGBC to drive impact at significantly greater scales. 

Second, I’m optimistic that global policymakers will use the UN report to step up their support of bold decarbonization action. A great example is the Inflation Reduction Act, the single largest investment in climate and energy in American history, which is providing billions of dollars to accelerate energy efficiency, low-embodied carbon materials, building code adoption, and energy retrofits to state, local, and federal government buildings. This investment is enabling states and cities across the country to prioritize actions with direct benefits including local incentives for homeowners and businesses, school facility improvements, and job creation. 

FacilitiesNet: Rachel, what do you see as the strongest headwinds facing facility managers interested in implementing sustainability and health strategies?  

Hodgdon: First off, facility managers are pivotal in driving sustainability and health-focused building strategies. Their efforts over the past several years, especially during the pandemic, have highlighted the importance of prioritizing health, safety and well-being alongside sustainability. When it comes to the future of better buildings, our facility managers will need to continue to navigate us toward buildings that both enhance health and lead in the fight against climate change. 

Yet, as facility managers work to deploy a more holistic health roadmap like the one WELL offers, they may not always get the organizational support they need because C-suite leaders don’t always recognize the myriad health and organizational benefits that can be realized through well-managed facilities. For example, better indoor environments could lead to annual economic gains of $200 billion. We also know indoor ventilation enhancements support improved worker productivity, which according to one study translates to a per-person productivity benefit of up to $7,500 per year. Also, similar to findings for sustainable buildings, healthy buildings demand higher rents, as much as 7.7 percent higher, and longer lease terms, according to research led by MIT. 

Simply put, facility managers directly influence health, productivity and safety – all elements central to an organization’s success. The C-suite and other leaders need to acknowledge facility managers for the key role they play in creating people-first places and resource them accordingly.  

How do you continue to balance science and evidence-based standard building with the need to move quickly with LEED to make it the most effective standard for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, protecting buildings, and mitigating climate change?  

Templeton: USGBC’s primary objective is market transformation to address the urgent challenges facing our communities and our planet. Achieving this purpose requires identifying proven solutions — innovations in both technology and practice — that deliver better outcomes and can be readily adopted across the industry. This requires working closely with stakeholders representing all disciplines and regions who inform the standard development process to ensure the technical and scientific rigor and market applicability of the LEED requirements.  

We also draw on the work of respected industry partners such as referenced standards from ASHRAE, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and other organizations to support both technical credibility and market relevance. The collective expertise and experience of these stakeholders and partner organizations underpins the LEED requirements while enabling greater speed to market. Our LEED committees, which are comprised of highly accomplished and dedicated volunteers, deserve this credit in particular. Their hard work year after year is the reason why LEED has grown to be the most trusted and widely used green building rating in the world. 

And, most importantly, we’re always challenging ourselves to improve. LEED v5 takes a revolutionary step forward in aligning building decarbonization action with the Paris climate targets while also addressing critical human health, resilience, and equity imperatives. It will be our most technically rigorous rating system ever released and – given the global urgency to decarbonize – it is being developed on the most aggressive timeframe in our history. 

Greg Zimmerman is senior contributing editor for FacilitiesNet.com and Building Operating Management magazine. 

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  posted on 11/30/2023   Article Use Policy

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