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VG CEO Drew Shula Featured on Metropolis Magazine Earth Day Panel

VG CEO Drew Shula Featured on Metropolis Magazine Earth Day Panel

 

Architects and designers have a role to play not just in reducing carbon emissions, but also in addressing the needs of those affected by the climate crisis. We need a global effort to address today’s challenges, with strategies that address equity, health, and resilience. 

On April 22, 2021, Verdical Group’s CEO & Founder Drew Shula spoke on a panel hosted by Metropolis Magazine’s Editor in Chief Avi Rajagopal alongside USGBC’s Elizabeth Thompson and Carnegie Mellon University’s Vivan Loftness. 

The panel, “Earth Day 2021: Design and the Climate Crisis,” focused on ways to incorporate sustainability into your projects and how designers can inspire key players in our industry to commit to making a positive impact. You can watch the full recording below.

Transcription:

Avi (00:06): Hi everyone and welcome to DesignTV by Sandow on Earth Day. I hope you have a great day today thinking about the impact that we have on the planet, the relationship that we share with all living and nonliving entities on this planet. You know, Earth Day is a great reminder every year of the impact of human activity, the footprint of human activity, on the systems on this planet of which we are apart. And it is a day of reflection. I am so thrilled to have a fantastic group of people to reflect with me today on the opportunities that we have in the building sector. Whether you’re an architect or an interior designer or a developer or contractor or engineer, all the different roles that we have the building sector. The things we in the fight against the climate crisis, which is of course the large looming challenges ahead of all of us. As well as what we can do to create a more sustainable and more harmonious relationship between all living beings and all processes on this planet. So happy Earth Day everyone.

 

With me today are Professor Vivian Loftness, who is a professor and Paul Mellon Chair at Carnegie Mellon University. Vivian such a pleasure to have you here with us today.

 

Also with us is Drew Shula who is the founder and president of Verdical Group and a create of the Net Zero Conference. Drew, such a please, thank you for joining us.

 

Drew (01:49): Glad to be here happy Earth Day.

 

Avi (01:51): Happy Earth Day. And we also have Elizabeth Thompson, who is the Vice President at USGBC the U.S. Green Building Council. Elizabeth thank you so much for taking the time to join us today.

 

Elizabeth (02:03): Thank you for having me Happy Earth Day.

 

Avi (02:06): So, everyone, I’d to get a sense where you are at. This Earth Day is about 9 years from the 2030 deadline. And the IPCC at the start of the year again, reminded us that this year has to be a year of action. So, tell us what is top of mind for you as far as sustainability is concerned. Vivian maybe you want to start us off here.

 

Vivian (02:36): Thank you and happy Earth Day to all of you. I have had the privilege of serving on a National Academy committee on decarbonizing the U.S. by 2050 and what we have to do by 2030, which as you say is imminent, if we’re actually going to achieve carbon neutrality as a nation. And the first thing is a message to the entire audience of metropolises is the importance of making it clear how critical a building section is to a solution set. Because if you actually google “greenhouse gases” and look at every pie chart you’ll find that buildings are this little sliver that is split into residential and commercial. And they’ve literally stripped the building with their electric loads, and they’ve given them to an electricity sector as if it was an [energy] sector.  So as a consequence, public policy often diminishes the importance of built environment to the answer and yet we are absolutely somewhere between 35% to 40% of the answer. So, the first thing we need to do is get all those pie chart taking down and replaced by ones where building sectors are clearly indicated, including of course the embodied carbon in the materials. And then I’d like to talk a little bit about how much of the solutions we have already in our hands as professionals. The first would be the 2030 challenge and the number of firms that have signed on for 2030 commitment is rising rapidly. I think they’re well over 700 firms, large and small, and they’re literally ensuring that their entire portfolio, both new and retrofit, is driving towards carbon neutrality. And at this point, many of them are 70% below, where they started in their commitment, which is huge! And we had to get to a 50-quad reduction in carbon by 2050, as a standing load for a nation at large. And the building sector though efficient new building design could give 5 or 6 of those quads just through this 2030 commitments. For those who are interior designers come in in this room, the importance of what we pick and select to put inside buildings, all those electric plug loads are huge. Tt’s another five or six squads of plug load and often that is growing as a bigger phenomenon as we start to get more and more efficiently buildings. Then finally urban planning and infrastructure, the entire transportation sector, which it a significant sector in carbon footprint, is obviously compromised by our inability to walk or bike places or even take transit. So ultimately, if we can get ourselves engaged in a transit-oriented development and building buildings in places where people can walk and building communities so people can live, work, and walk. We can have such a positive impact on reducing the loads in the transportation sector.  I think that’s enough ideas for my side, I’ll pass baton to the next.

 

Avi (05:46): Thanks so much Vivian. That’s a really important reminder you know we often see the building sector as you said representative small sliver of the solution or you know of people who have influence on carbon emissions worldwide but, you know our influence is huge so thank you so much for being for laying that out!

 

Drew what are your thoughts on Earth Day.

 

Drew (06:10): Yeah, I’m so happy to be here, thank you Avi and to be here with Vivian and Elizabeth. Luminaries in our field so really excited to be speaking with you all today. I think a couple things that stand out to me and I’m a startup guy you know started a small green building company in Los Angeles, Verdical group, all we do is green building consulting and then our net zero conference as well with this big conference about all this stuff that we’re talking about today. One big thing for me is just simplifying the message, there is a lot of terminology that’s complicated and we just need to simplify things as much as we can and stick to the most important data points. I think Vivian mentioned one of the most important for me is that the AEC industry is 40% of the problem but that’s also inspiring to me because it’s such a positive impact that we make as an industry. So, simplifying the message I think is really important, just to focus on what we’re doing to get everybody on the same page. And carbon is the buzzword it’s the big thing to focus on. Operational carbon ad embodied carbon, I am sure well get into lot of those discussions today as we take about the really massive impact designers on the carbon footprint of the whole planet.

 

Avi (07:29): Elizabeth, your thoughts on Earth Day.

 

Elizabeth (7:34): Thank you so much and I really enjoyed how you said, towards beginning of the discussion, that what we’re doing here is appreciating our relationships with all beings on the planet. And I think that that kind of sets the that’s the tone for where we are at this particular Earth Day, where we’re in the towards end of the pandemic and we’ve also been challenged in all sorts of ways to increase our understanding of equity and social justice. I love Drew’s message simplifying and taking that broad scope of the construction industry and looking at as something where we can make a big difference. And also, I think that we can bring a lot of really particular expertise. Certainly, in the USGBC, we are so lucky to be have abled to harness the expertise of all of our amazing volunteers, experts throughout the world, of which Drew and Vivian are two of the wonderful ones. And be able to bring all of that expertise, all of those reference standards and use that toolkit to help substantially transformed the way that we think about the build environment. So, if a client comes to us and says I want an X, how can we help that client to use the expertise that we have and re-imagine what they want in a way that’s more empowering for all people. While, meeting our very ambitious and necessary carbon goals.  

 

Avi (9:11): You know the thing that I think I take away from both Drew’s comments and your comments, Elizabeth, is that while we’re driving towards these goals there is this kind of a constant reflection and introspection we need to have, in terms of you know whether we’re on track what we’re doing, how we’re doing it, and what the impacts of it are. But also, there’s such a huge creative opportunity and even in the three things within that you listed out, there’s just so much opportunity for us in terms of the things we can be doing to lower carbon emissions, absolutely that’s our number one goal with the climate crisis, but as we’re looking at carbon, as you said, it is about looking at some of those other factors as well. And if there is one lesson for Earth Day is that everything is connected. I mean that is that is fundamentally the message of Earth Day. And so that’s really important to keep track of.

 

Vivian are you optimistic do you think especially on energy and carbon, which are the 2 big things for tracking now, do you feel like the building sector we can meet those goals? I know you’ve been part of that recent study. Is it possible are we still in the realm of being able to do something about it?

 

Vivian (10:29): Well, the time is running quickly. I am optimistic. I’m optimistic relative to the 2050 goals. I certainly feel that we need to accelerate a lot between now and 2030 across our professions. I think maybe one of the things that is going to be catalytic to this is not just getting sort of a carbon price or making people aware of the carbon footprint, but kind of our response to energy efficiency and greenhouse gas reduction and tying it to quality of life and tying to equity. I think we’ve got a challenge in front of us to sort of rephrase the purpose of what we’re doing. I mean we obviously one of the main purposes is to live in harmony with all living things up on this globe and realizing that we have a limited amount of resources. But we have an opportunity right now, especially in this administration, to talk about what building sector contribute to jobs, what does it contribute to addressing inequity, how does it provided access to better physical environments that people can use as walkable communities, which are a real asset. The ability for kids going to walk to school or for families to be able to get healthy groceries. If we can begin to turn our dialogue around the outcomes of carbon neutrality and what it does to improve quality of life, I think we have a real chance and I think we need to find that language together.

 

Avi (12:11): Drew that sounds like a like a queue for you. At the Net Zero Conference, you’re talking to some of the people who are at the forefront for driving for carbon neutrality. And yet as Vivian was saying, carbon neutrality in and of itself is not just a material goal, it’s not just a manufacturing processes of cement and concrete. It has the potential to change the way we live, the way we work, the way we connect with each other and communities. Specifically, Drew, you talk about climate resilience a lot. Tell us what this idea of resilience is and how does that feature your thinking around net zero and zero carbon?

 

Drew (12:57):  Great question, so I’ll stick with my theme of keeping things simple. And so, for me talk about resiliency, which again so much terminology in the sustainability world, I just think about it as “Thinking about the future”, like future proofing being ready for what’s going to happen in the future thinking and ahead. It is not straightforward. Vivian mentioning a lot of great points just now. You were asking about do we have time to pull this off and we’re trying to stay below 1.5 degrees of warming the planet. A lot of people are working towards 2030. I am really optimistic as well, I’m optimistic by nature but I do feel optimistic about our ability to get there. I’m in California and we had a big drought here a few years ago. And I’ve seen how quickly things change when Governor, Brown at the time, mandated restrictions around water use for the state. Immediately there’s a 30% reduction in water use overnight. Once you know we’ve got everybody on this call right now, we’re out there ringing the alarm bells. You know bill McKibben is a huge advocate right in our community and there’s many others. But as more and more people get on board and that is happening it was one of the primary talking points in our most recent presidential election. We saw the debates with Trump and Biden One of the big questions around climate change and climate actions. So, America as a country and then globally, united nation, we’re starting to focus on this. And Vivian mentioned carbon tax like that’s something that I think will really make change happen very fast when something like that comes out. So yeah, all these things we’re talking about in our Net Zero Conference. It’s very complicated there’s a lot of moving parts with this whole thing, but I am optimistic about our ability to pull it off.

 

Avi (15:04): Absolutely, all sustainability practices in a way of looking at the future. As we’re building a building today and as we’re facing community today, we’re trying to project how water it going to function and how is it going to build relationships with material flaws and with human beings with you know other living things. It is an act of imagining the future and I think that’s there’s something inherently optimistic that use it to about what we do.

Elizabeth, I would like to bring you in because you were speaking about the pandemic and how it is changed our viewpoint. And you know one of those I think critical perspectives that emerged that you know had been building up for a while before the pandemic, but it seemed you know the global pandemic kind of just brought it to a boil which is really looking at health: the health community, the health of buildings and the health of sort of ecologies. Tell us a little bit about how are at the USGBC you’ve been adopting health as a lens to look at sustainable architecture.

 

Elizabeth (16:11): Yeah, thank you that it a question. At the USGBC, we shifted to incorporate the safety-first credit, which it the credit that gives guidelines on how to safely reemerge into our build places. And we’ve of course also have had this long trajectory of future proofing, as I think Drew said, where we recognize similar to how many books during the pandemic that a small investment early in a different action than we would normally take a great mask can make a big difference in the future and investments are required to have people be healthy and safe going forward. So, we’ve been lucky again to have our volunteer and to create those safety-first credit. Also, our credits in general have about 2/3 our credits are indirectly or directly related to Health and Human safety. And then I think it’s about 40% are directly related to human health. So, we have always felt that those small investments in using healthier materials, which make for better indoor air quality, are a great investment for everyone. And then of course these materials have important ripple effects in terms of our environmental health and safety.

 

Avi (17:36): I think Drew and Elizabeth, you both set this straight at the beginning, this Earth Day, just because we’ve all been part of this global events that has been felt locally in different places around the world. But it’s something that has really tied us together in our in a common experience, around the world. Something we’ve not had for a while. It feels like this year should be some kind of a watershed moment for not just health, but the sustainability movement as well. So, I’d love to just hear from all of you and any talks you have on sort of what has this year meant to you. This past year, I mean a 2020-21, what has it meant to you in terms of accelerating maybe some parts of your work? Hasn’t given you in new priorities or new insights in places? Are you pushing for advocating for connections maybe that we weren’t advocating for quite as much know before 2020? So just to get a sense how this year has shifted things for you.

 

Drew (18:45): I can start with that one. Yean, great question Avi. There’s a great Bill Gates quote that he came out with last year around COVID and the pandemic that we’ve been facing that I think our global emissions dropped by something like 8% which it a huge deal. Like we had this trend of you know raising emissions and then they immediately dropped because the whole global economy shut down. But his quote was great because it was like he flipped that and said it only dropped by 8% with a massive you know global shutdown that we experienced so much pain and it only reduced emissions by 8%. So, we have a lot of work to do and it’s really illustrating that this with the COVID response year. Shoot out USGBC for amazing leadership, Elizabeth, with the COVID response credits, I’ve been using those on our projects. It’s been super cool to have those available to us on the lead project that we manage. But Avi, you were asking about one of the biggest focal point sort of in response, to me again for simplifying dumbing it down, we need to stop burning fossil fuels, right like that’s what we need to stop doing. Gas, coal, getting natural gas out of the building it a huge focus for right now. So, you will hear people talking about “electrification”, “de-carbonization” these are all terms around that goal. To the extend we can get off gas, we are really reducing our footprint in a big way, it’s one of the big focal points that my company is focusing on right now.

 

Vivian (20:26):  I’m going to jump in, but with a slightly different set of issues that I certainly always been on the front burner for me and have risen up in this pandemic which is the importance of embracing nature in design. I think everyone has felt the pent up, couped up emotions of being in a physical building at home, by in large, for days and days and months and months and getting outside. And being able to enjoy any percent of outdoor living and walking and biking, has been a hugely regenerative part of everyone’s life, but it actually ends up being a huge part of reducing our carbon footprint. We really haven’t given it full tribute. Nature offers us free light for a lot of hours of the day, it offers us free breathing air, free cooling for a lot of days in the year, it offers us free heating in terms of sunshine, and we do not embrace it to the level we should. And yet we now realize in the pandemic that we have to increase ventilation rates that we really benefit from having sunshine, Ultraviolet light is a sterilizer. We are beginning to realize that biophilic content both inside our spaces and being able to spill outdoors to outdoor living and teaching spaces, entertainment, everything that we used to do inside a sealed box, we are finding that maybe it’s better if it’s not quite so sealed. So, I hope that will walk away from this pandemic we can completely renewed energy about passive conditioning.

 

Drew (22:08): Just love that. Focus on biomimicry, biophilia. Thank you, Vivian, that was awesome.

 

Avi (22:14): Elizabeth any further thoughts on sort of the effects of the pandemic and the movement.

 

Elizabeth (22:20): Yeah, yeah you also mentioned kind of early on that there is this introspection that I think all of us have been kind of invited to. And well it’s been amazing to see that our green building market has actually increased and spending on green building is actually gone up during this pandemic. And I think that those speak to people noticing both the value for human health and the essential qualities of making a more sustainable world. It’s also a time of introspection and being more in our indoor and outdoor spaces together notice the radical shift towards racial justice and toward making space for everyone at the table and listening and bringing humility and getting to know the really hard and in some cases horrible stories that go with that those different experiences. And so, I think that that’s something that especially in my volunteer work I really appreciated this challenge to come there. And then and been inspired by the USGBC leadership on that front too where there’s a lot of areas where we’re working really hard to racial justice to educate ourselves as individuals as part of USGBC and to collaborate with our community to see that better. And getting to see the projects that we have over the years and certainly the conversations over the past year during this pandemic where those values are really coming to light in ways that challenge us and inspire us and give us hope for moving forward.

 

Avi (23:54): Absolutely, thanks so much for bringing that up. And I’d like to actually dive a little deeper into the question of racial justice, climate justice, and equity in just a few moments. Before we do that, I want to kind of round out the discussion we’ve had around carbon just a little bit because I think the two are ultimately, of course like everything, connected. We spoke about embodied carbon and in the context of both architects and interior designers. Just to you know for anybody listening who it new-Drew thank you for reminding us of lot that like you know we have our own jargon in sustainable architecture and design, we need precisse language for precise concepts-but I think just to simplify it, when you’re designing a building, often we’re calculating as energy. The energy for instance it takes to turn the lights on in the building and to keep them on over the life of the building, that’s called an operational energy or operations and then the emissions associated with that are operational carbon. But you know there’s also all the energy that’s already been spent to mine those minerals out of the earth turned them into parts for lighting make them into lights, ship them to the building site, and then install them right and all that energy that’s used up is of course embodied energy and the emissions spaces within our embodied carbon. Tt’s great for you know building owners and everyone, it’s been wonderful for the last 20-30 years for everybody to really look at how are our utility bills are going to be lower and that it a powerful return on investment for green building. That operational energy has we’ve made big strides in reducing that, even though we have challenges with electrification and so on.

 

I’m from all your points of view would you mind start talking to us a little bit about embodied carbon, that is the carbon that is used the emissions that we are generating while making all the materials and all of that and bringing them together and turning them into buildings and interiors. How do we go how do we start to shift our focus on that? Why do we need a bigger focus on that at this point in time?

 

Vivian (26:23): I’m happy to start. I’m sure Drew as a lot of say about this as a leader in this field. But there there’s some big players in the embodied carbon, there at least five really big players: concrete, steel, aluminum, installations (especially petrochemical installation), and plastics. And as architects and interior designers we specify these materials with abandoned. We’re not actually saying “how little concrete do I need to put in to make this a structurally stable building” and there’s some wonderful innovations in floor slabs, which is a big use of concrete and additional foundations, where you use bubble deck as a way in which you do innovative very structurally, in fact structurally stronger than just pouring a lot of concrete with rebar, a bubble deck is two millions of little bolts created with the bubbles. So, you can do things very innovatively to reduce the total quantities of concrete, steel, aluminum. Of course, wood construction is as an alternative and the exploration of mass timber and cross laminated timber is really exciting because it not only reduces the footprint of materials, it can actually be selected to sequester and to actually take some of the carbon back out of the atmosphere. Insulation will probably need to move away from petrochemical based insulation and move to more benign natural insulation. Plastics we just need reduce all together. There is something very exciting about this because it requires a lot of creativity, and it opens a new palette for designers that actually are biophilic and it tends to improve quality of the environment. So, I think the focus on embodied carbon is going to be wonderful catalyst for the design community.

 

Drew (28:16): Yeah, designers, if you’re watching this, you hold the power! Listen to us you. You are very powerful in your decision. Yeah, it’s really true, specifying materials, the interior designer or the architect has a huge amount of influence on the carbon footprint of the design, of the project from the embodied carbon that Avi was talking about. And Avi, I know you’ve written about this, and there are studies out there that show you the initial build of the project but then it gets every so often, every 7-10 years, you get a new interior fit out and a whole another set of products that are specified. And that’s where you get that compounding effect over the life of the building over 50 years, you’ll see a huge impact over each one of those fit out completed. So be very aware of your selections. I talk a lot about designers need a third stream, it always used to just be the design aesthetic, how things look for the client, and the second thing you’re always looking at the costs, making sure you’re not selecting something too expensive and staying within the budget. There’s got to be a third stream for suitability that’s been happening more and more over the last 20 years. But to really you know complete a life cycle assessment, LCA, and understand your carbon footprint in material selection, so that’s a tool to use. If you haven’t done one before and you’re a designer out there and you want to make an impact you want to be a positive influence on the climate crisis, start to make a life cycle assessment a part of every project that we worked on in your firm.

 

Avi (30:03): You know we’re going to be sharing some resources later today as part of today’s programming on some of the tools, some of the perspectives you can use for responsible specifications around materials, especially around the carbon footprint of global warming potential materials. So more to come on that, there are plenty of amazing resources out there if you want to educate yourself. But Drew, I couldn’t agree more, this industry has the power. I mean, Elizabeth, at USGBG, you guys have had front row seats and been prime movers in the enormous amount of change we’ve already made. There are so many things in the way we designed buildings that, as a result of the Green Movement, we just don’t do anymore. There are factors that have changed based on what we understand about health and well-being. Somebody recently reminded me that people didn’t put as asbestos in building people have fun doing it, it was just the most appropriate material available at the time. And as our understanding of what that material does to human biology change, now of course we would never dream of, we have asbestos abatement when we come to an old structure like we’re going to find that many of the materials that we use today are going to be the asbestos of tomorrow. So, we have to be aware of that and there’s so much more that we could be doing.

Avi (32:31): You know, Elizabeth, I know at USGBC your lead carbon rating is starting to take stock of on embodied carbon. Is there anything that you’d like to add there, in terms of material selection and sort of the carbon footprint of materials and products?

 

Elizabeth (32: 41): Yeah, thank you so much. We do could certainly have that LEED zero program and we seeing more and more projects come through that and earn different aspects of and that is so exciting. We also think of carbon embodied carbon in three categories. The first one being the design team and that’s where the creativity that you talk about is so exciting because we have the potential for re-thinking what we need. So, when an owner or group comes to a designer and says I need an X that so we can say OK so how can you completely restructure this so that it has a lowest embodied carbon possible and lowest operating carbon cost as well. So, the design team, as you guys has said, so much power in order to transform how we’re imagining what comes next. And then of course the construction team and the product manufacturers have a really big role to play with EPDs and renewable materials and easily accessible content that has recycled products and the circular way of building that incorporates reuse and all of that. So, using reusable materials and all of that, I feel like we’ve gotten there some with LEAD, we figured out how to quantify that and we’re trying to do it more simply all the time. But that re-thinking is I think the most exciting frontier that we can be design and create a new imagining of what’s possible.

 

Drew (34:13): I just want to chime quickly, Avi, to add on to what Elizabeth I was talking about related to human health from the impact of material on health. Just like I when you go to a grocery store you can pick up a box of food off the aisle and look at the ingredients that are in the product that you are about consume. We have not historically had that for building products. We don’t know what crazy toxic chemicals are in the product that we’re putting into our building and that’s been a big movement the past few years. International Living Future building institute player also has something called the Declare Label that is disclosing and making it transparent what the ingredients are in the products that we are sitting on and breathing in a room in, and our kids learn in all day. So, it’s another exciting movement and it’s the kind of different from the carbon impact that we’re talking about carbon footprints. This is about disclosure of chemical ingredient and material related to human health.

 

Avi (35:14): And you know the tools that do both, address carbon and address human health, sometimes have common ground. Elizabeth, you mentioned EPD and EPD is an environment product declaration and again we’re going to go into EPD little bit further in a subsequent segment of this program. But EPD are designer best friend today, not every product has declared label which discloses every chemical and every sort of component that’s it in a product. But an EPD comes pretty close in terms of telling you at least about the potential environmental impact a product might have. An EDA, for instance, estimates a life cycle assessment the carbon emissions product is bringing with it, the embodied carbon emissions that product is bringing with it, into a project. And so, this is a very vital tool. It’s really vital tool. And I think the more we can educate ourselves about some of those basic tools and how we can use them to inform over you know the better off we are. Of course, it’s possible to go deeper and deeper and deeper into this. There are many layers to the onion and as we peel back one layer, we find we need to learn more and know more. EPD and Declare labels are great example that can tell you know why chemicals are in the product, but they don’t answer any of how they got there and what impact it had on communities in the process of getting there for instance. There’s other tools for that – there’s JUST labels, and we should look into that as well. But that is important because as architects and interior designers were not just responsible for the materials as it goes to building, that material also had a whole life before it ever got their job site. And in that process not only as an emitted carbon, which we’ve been talking about as embodied carbon, but also its affected people through his life. So, there’s a huge material transparency movement in the industry. I don’t know if anybody wants to talk about that and being transparent about where decorations are part of this movement? Where are materials and products come from? And what impact it has on the environment before they ever got to our job site? Then the impact they’re going to have on people who is occupy the building. So, I wonder if anybody wants to just characterize sort of the materials transparency movement and why it’s so important to all yours’s work.

 

Vivian (37:55): Maybe the best example of that is the wood industry when that started to certify forests. The whole idea of chain of custody was to know where the extraction occurred and whether they were living wages and acceptable environmental conditions for workers? And how far did it travel? What other processing did it goes through? And what would the chemicals involve with that processing? And then ultimately where does it go when it’s when it’s no longer in use? You talked earlier, or Drew did, about the number cycles of change and interior environments especially in office buildings and retail stores, there it just constant evolution of space. And unfortunately, with that there is a lot of waste. And we often just sort of put their hands up and say “well it’s not my problem because it’s out of my hands” but it’s actually in our hands to select product, number one, that are so valuable that people don’t want to throw them away, which changes the economic discourse. If you’re saying, “I want to buy something that’s timeless and that people want to keep” and, or design for disassembly. And I think there’s a these are again really exciting shifts for the design community that are really exciting for us as professionals. It gives us a whole new avenue of innovation.

 

Drew (39:18): Yeah, I would chime in. What’s catalyzing change here. A big thing is just the phase “vote with your dollar” right now, that so important to remember. Every time you spend a dollar you are voting for something, it’s really important to remember and so plays into designers specifying products like those are the products that are going to be purchased and installed a new project. And again, the designer holds the power and the key. You guys are selecting project products and you’re voting for these products and more votes that they get the higher the demand will get, the more get produced, the more they will be incorporated in the buildings in the market. So just remember that in your specifications. And I also wanted to give a shout out to Market Movers, like Google a great example. Google headquarters projects in the Bay Area, in the RFP, they decided that they were going to pursue living building challenge certification. And they were going to go after products that had declare labels. And so, all the furniture companies that were bidding on the project immediately went and started getting declare labels for their products. And so, when a big company you know puts out an RFP it really makes you know other companies in the marketplace react and had a very positive impact directly our day-to-day work. And I think we’ll see a lot more of that happening beyond this Earth Day in the near future.

 

Elizabeth (40:45): I’d love to chime in on that too. I think with LEED we often talk about telling the story of LEED and I really appreciate how the discussion has talked about how into the parts of buildings have a story and the making of the project has a story. My husband and I were designing and building a house. We were able to access materials that had been salvage and wood that was from sustainable forest. We were in in Montana at the time and a lot of the forest there needed to be thinned been in order to reduce the fire risk, so we were able to work with this amazing man who help us to use that wood and mill it locally and then bring it to the site. And at one point I was reading a Dr. Seuss books to my kids. I’m forgetting the title of it but if there was a movie made of it. Maybe someone else will remember it. But they were saying “Wait Mom, our house is full of wood. Where did all this wood come from” it was about The Lorax. And to be able to say to your kids, “we did our best to like bring our integrity to this house and this story”. I think that kind of story is of course with tiny micro story. But when we apply that and the research that Professor Loftness and the large scale of Drew’s work, we have that potential to be able to give our kids an empowering story.

 

Avi (42:13): Right, absolutely. Drew has been cautioning us not to get too caught up in the jargon because it is about understanding where things come from how they’re made. And we need to know that because for a long time we created a new product without thinking about those aftereffects on the environment and on people. With considering things fully, sometimes out of ignorance, sometimes not. And now it’s the time when we must go back and almost do this investigation through in mode of inquiry, where we must investigate everything, we are designing and make sure that what we are voting for with our dollar, again to steal Drew’s phrase, is something worth voting for. How do we put our integrity of, as design professionals? behind what we do? I have one more thought connected to this that I’d love to bring to all of you. The one other thing that the pandemic has taught us is that very often these giant crises, these global crises and the climate crisis is going to be a slow burning crisis like the coronavirus epidemic was a quick burning crisis. These crises tend to affect people most who have the least resources, who already bear the brunt of inequity, already bear the brunt of lack of opportunity. And they’re likely to be the first people affected. The intergovernmental panel on climate change from the UN, set this up quite clearly. They said “unless we do something by 2030, we’re going to see by 2040 a real impact on communities around world. So I guess my question is how do we cast a wider net with what we do? What can we do that has an impact on not just the people who pay for our buildings or the people who get paid to work in them or live in them or the people who bought them but rather has a has a wider impact in the world? Is it possible for us to do that as architects and interior designers?

 

Vivian (44:36): I think these are totally unrelated. There is no question that the wastefulness of the energy, carbon, and material intensity of the past has contributed to the inequities. So, for us to be far more conscious of the materials we use and will contribute to a greater sense of equity. And just very specifically, if you look at infrastructure investments that are potentially going to be emerging in the United States for the next five years with some serious speed and we start to say, “where should those infrastructure investments be?”. I’m part of a smart surface coalition that’s focused on the horizontal Surface RT, the roofs, the streets, the sidewalk, parking lot, and we paid everything. And we paid it with dark stuff. And we create heat islands, and we create space with no greenery whatsoever. And striped all those the spaces of greenery and we just pave, and it becomes inert. We have essentially sealed the skin of the earth. And if we’re going to reverse that with infrastructure, investment, we need to reverse it in a very deliberative way to deliver a higher level of equity. We needed to do tree canopies and rain gardens and a continuous green space, green roofs. If you think about it driveway, instead of doubling or tripling the size of your driveway so you can have more cars, what if the driveway went back to being 2 stripes of concrete in a Meadow where it’s just the exact width of concreted that you need to drive into your garage and everything else is just getting back to the earth and to the bees and the biodiversity. I think we’re at a threshold now of being able to rethink investments in our infrastructure in a way that only helps the earth, but address are starts in the community that have the least.

 

Avi (46:35): Absolutely! Before Drew and Elizabeth weight in, I just wanted to say we covered this very interesting project in Metropolis that came out of Columbia University, where they overlaid maps in the highest infection and death rates from COVID-19 with the places that have the highest degree of paved green space. And in no surprise, neighborhoods that have the most paved space are also the neighborhoods with the highest of COVID-19. And that’s not because of any direct connection between those two things; paving does not cause COVID-19, obviously. But what it says is that the same social indicators underly both of those things. So, it’s really fantastic story and I would urge you to search for it on the Metropolis site. It’s incredible how inequity is coded into our built environment in those ways. But sorry, Drew and Elizabeth I would love to have you both come in as well.

 

Drew (47:35): Yeah, great point Avi. We hit a scary milestone in recently too. Many of you might already be aware, but we went above 420 parts per million in atmospheric CO2 in the past month prior to this Earth Day, which is the highest it’s ever been reported. And I think it’s three industrial levels was many 300 parts per million. Now we are up to 420 just in the past couple hundred years of burning fossil fuels around the planet, pumping them into the atmosphere. It’s the same terminology, it’s global warming. It is the terminology that we’re talking about with climate change and climate crisis. The sun rays are coming in getting trapped and heating the planet. It’s very milestone that we hit 420 now. I think policy it a huge that part of the solution Avi. Again, I go back to what I experience here in California with the drought, and policy immediately having a 30% reduction. If we can pass through a carbon tax and attack the social cost of carbon by making companies pay for their carbon emissions that will have a very immediate impact. And in companies are starting to pay attention, right now it’s all voluntary. There are the leading-edge companies are starting to pay attention and voluntarily do something to reduce their carbon footprint. But we have a tax of course if everyone could do it, it would make a huge impact. Big changes ahead, I think I think companies should start to plan for a reality in the near future, where carbon tax is a real thing. We’ve been talking to our clients about that now and they’re doing calculations that projects for millions of dollars of costs around there around their carbon footprint that they would have to pay for it. But to the extent that they can reduce their operational carbon body carbon footprint now over the next 10 years as we move towards 2030, its big cost savings for them and its sometime for companies to focus on today, Earth Day.

 

Elizabeth (49:58): Yeah, I would agree. I think when we start to look at the sort of climate planners’ level, the scale of teams that take all of piece into account at more of an urban level and we start to incorporate those the long-term costs to businesses communities. Then both quantify them in terms of looking at what the variables are that affect people who are invulnerable position. And also ensure that we’re paying attention to the quality aspects and that were noticing who isn’t at the table and trying to find a way to make space so that more people can be at the decision-making table, so that the experience is truly informed by the whole. And the federal policy reflects that state policy and local policy, so that the stories that come out of this next challenge with can reflected all that expertise and all of that background and the needs that we might not even beware of. I think pandemic should use that if we have any extra that it makes the pandemic so much easier. If we were able to at the beginning of the pandemic buy toilet paper or and if there’s a significant event in the family life and they’re able to order food at night so that they don’t have to prepare it. I think that those little, tiny changes that we might have been more aware of in the pandemic in our neighbors didn’t have access to those things and we did or if our neighbors had access to more those things that we did. I think that small experiences taught us to reframe how we imagine what’s possible for ourselves and for others and I hope we’ll bring those forwards for what comes next.

 

Vivian (51:50): Avi, I’d like to jump in there because Elizabeth’s comments sparked immediate response about bring everyone to the table. Environmental hazards that are associated with the factoring in power production and transportation and number of other things, we have a tendency to not -and this of course it becomes a global channel not just a local channel-we tend to not feel them because we essentially have chosen to live away from the environmental hazards. So, a lot of the decision makers who are displaying the future of buildings and built environments and infrastructures tend to be oblivious. And the important thing is to make sure that the table and who’s at the table is completely aware of what the environmental conditions are on the ground. And then committed to fixing them. I think one of the very early goals under the LEED program which I think is critical, which is the 500-mile radius for hiring not just a professional but buying materials and assemblies. And what it did is it said, “We’re going to hold responsibility for how things are sourced and manufactured and delivered and we’re going to provide employment” and keeping things within a five-mile radius means it’s in your backyard. And I think that’s going to be an important lesson for us to deal with both equity and regeneration of the planet.

 

Avi (53:26): I think both your comments and as well Drew’s comments about carbon leadership, really point of how we study healthy, participially, movement. A real kind of grassroots movement in order to really make things happen. And I think as architects and interior designers, again we have the power in terms of who we choose to consult and projects, whose voices we choose to hear, what kind of groups begin to bring into the room for our charettes and our research you know phases and are developed design development phases that is a sustainability decision too. It’s not just about how much carbon or what you specify but also who you bring the room and who you’re listening to. And Drew, of course leadership that we’ve seen with some of these big giant supplies this past year: Amazon, Facebook, Google, Salesforce, you name. So many of these large corporations have made big carbon neutrality commitments, carbon negative commitments because they’re seeing the events on the horizons. They are seeing that at some point we’re all going to have to pay for what we what we spent and in what we put out there. And everybody has to pay their little bits. When Google has to pay millions of dollars in carbon tax that is going to affect their employees and it’s going to affect their larger sphere and it’s going to affect all their suppliers and all their partners. Everything has an effect on all of us, we are all connected and so that’s important when we bring in multiple diverse perspectives and when we look at them both locally and globally that’s really important. Vivian, that 500-mile radius is so key to some of the initial thinking around LEED and its so powerful in terms of how we can shape our action and thinking.

 

I would love to kind of you know just hear some last comments from all of you. We’ve spoken a lot about architects and designers can do in professional sphere and how they can influence the world for the good and how they can help fight against the climate crisis. Is there anything to add in terms of what architects and designers can do professionally or do you have suggestions for what we should be doing as citizens and consumers on this Earth Day. What are some Earth Day resolution we should be taking?

 

Drew (56:10): You hold the power guys! Everyone’s decision’s matter. Don’t let yourself think that you’re not part of the solution or that it’s too big of a problem for you to have an impact on. Every individual matter and most of us in design community work in teams at work and you influence the people you work with, and you influence firms that are part of your project. So be an advocate for these issues, the climate related issues, on your team at works. You guys hold power. And then in your personal life Avi, I think that’s a great point that this these things don’t happen immediately but next time you get a car make sure you get an electric vehicle. It might be five years from now but do that. Look at solar panels on your home. There are small things, like use green cleaning products at home, there are little things as well. But these making choices and vote with your dollars and stop burning fossil fuels focus on that and focus on the carbon impact of your choices to get off fossil fuels.

 

Elizabeth (57:22): I’m happy to speak to another action, I think definitely vote also. Putting our elected leaders and telling them what we want, not just when we vote, but in an ongoing way of building our own expertise and building the expertise of our communities and helping us to bring those things forward. And say that this is the world we want, and this is the world we require. I think at USGBC we are really happy to have this social equity pilot credit that emphasize the supply chain, project team, and community and continue to push us as USGBC and engage with us at a place there we want this expertise to continue to grow. And also, just don’t stop imagining the world that we all hope to be there next. Let ourselves had much freedom as possible in creating it, imagining it, and building it one small step at a time. So, thank you so much.

 

Vivian (58:22): Yeah, and I might end it with two points. One is where I began which is I think we have to get all those pie diagrams replaced that really do tell the story of not just buildings but the materials and land use patterns that are associated with built environment. And how much impact they are going to have on the greenhouse gas footprint and how much opportunity we have to really reduce that which wedge of the pie. But the second message I wanted to add was just -and Drew’s right, there’s a lot of words out there to describe sustainability and all the range of sustainability- but one of the probably the most powerful is regeneration. And I think the notion of regenerative environments is a way to remind us, first to achieve LEED and living building and WELL, take every standard you can make it you make it your standard. And then take a step further. And the step further is the regenerative environment in which we’re actually getting back more than we take and it’s it has to do with sequestering carbon, and it has to do with the rewilding the world and taking up less land. To my mind, we are in a transformative moment for the practice, for the professions that are part of the metropolis family and I have a lot of wonderful opportunity.

 

Avi (59:48): Thank you so much Vivian. And that it such as great note for use to end on. Yes, we need to stop doing harm, but we also need to figure out how we can do more good. What is the positive impact we can have on the world? How can we help the world heal? How can we help ourselves heal? That’s a really big question for us this Earth Day. Thank you all so much for joining us for this session. It’s been absolutely wonderful to have Drew, Vivian, and Elizabeth on today’s panel. Thank you so much for all the work that you do. Thanks to all our viewers for tuning in. More Earth Day programming coming up. A huge thanks also to Keilhauer, who sponsored this event and who are partnering with us for a lot of Earth Day content this year. Thank you all so much and have a great Earth Day!