As a native Philadelphian, it was thrilling to attend Greenbuild in a convention center I had visited for so many years, but only for exhibits, and not to attend a larger conference. I was immediately impressed with the organization of the event, the number of attendees, and the guidance of so many helpful individuals as I navigated through the large space to locate my education sessions, expo event and speakers’ locations. I also was proud to be in attendance because of my involvement with the Philadelphia U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) chapter; the Delaware Valley Green Building Council (DVGBC), which hosted the event; and my current commitment as a volunteer to the Green Schools Committee.
My goals for the conference were to be inspired by new concepts, increase my understanding of sustainable new products and technologies, and to obtain continuing education credits to maintain my LEED Green Associate certification, which I had achieved one year ago. I also earned Interior Design Continuing Education Council (IDCEC) credits to meet my American Society of Interior Designers (ASID) CEU requirement at the same time.
As a designer, I was on the search for education sessions that specifically focused on areas in which I am currently involved and interested, including selection and specification of furnishings, finishes and materials for interiors; information related to the Green Schools Initiative; and techniques for communicating this knowledge to clients to improve decision making and environmental outcomes. The classes I attended touched on consistent themes — sustainability initiatives are here to stay, design approaches are becoming global, design is placing an increasing emphasis on ensuring health and performance in the built environment, and best practices call for collaboration across professions on each project.
The sessions advocated employing a collaborative process and fostering increased communication among clients, the designer, architect, engineer and other stakeholders, to approach holistically the goals and values related to the larger project. This approach, along with the use of accurate data provided by technology, empowers the team to more easily discuss goals, evaluate upfront costs and related lifetime benefits, and measure results and outcomes. Many of these ideas and concepts were crystalized through the introduction of the principles of LEED v4. Each of the education sessions I attended emphasized and supported the LEED v4 approach, especially as it relates to the designer’s role in product and material selection and collaboration early on in each project.
I attended a dynamic presentation, “LEED v4 and Performance,” given by Scot Horst of USGBC. In conjunction with the 20th anniversary of the USGBC and Greenbuild, LEED v4, the LEED Dynamic Plaque and Dashboard were introduced. This newest version of LEED shifts the focus from credits and LEED certification on new buildings, to continued maintenance and monitoring of a building’s performance and its effects on human health on an ongoing basis. LEED v4 also focuses on materials and includes life cycle assessment and environmental product declarations to provide increased transparency to the manufacturing and decision-making process in the built environment. LEED v4 uses technology and a reporting system to aid the design decision-making process, which will provide improvements to building performance and human health. The integrative design process is central to LEED v4, and it is intended to guide project teams toward incorporating LEED v4’s new features into their projects from inception.
The importance of collaboration and incorporating LEED v4 features into a project upfront was evident in the education session titled “Green Schools Investment Guide.” The session was collaborative in nature as attendees were grouped together to evaluate information presented and decide on proposed school improvements, environments and education. Each group was required to evaluate an existing school environment, as well as health and funding information in order to provide recommendations for building improvements based on a limited budget. Through a collaborative process, matrix presentation of product facts, group values and goals for the building and for the students were highlighted, which placed importance on the potential funding available to support each decision. The decisions each group presented focused on ensuring that the schools were healthy, thereby enhancing student performance and with the added goal of educating students to ensure that they become future leaders and stewards related to the environment.
Finally, I attended a session titled “Next Generation Interior Design Achieved with Innovative IT.” The purpose of the session was to introduce new technology that can be used to effectively help evaluate life cycle costs associated with a variety of products and compare economic and environmental impacts of these selections. This technology, being rolled out nationally by a company called Sphere E, uses product LCAs as the basis for measuring, verifying and reporting the environmental impacts of products. Data are collected from a variety of certification bodies and manufacturers, and products are ranked for LCA data for quality and transparency in an easy-to-use matrix format. A modeling and benchmarking process are calculated for each product category, including indoor air quality, ozone depletion, energy use, human health, water usage among others. Again, through a small group collaborative process, we were given the task of making product decisions based on product information presented and data summarized through the use of technology.
In summary, Greenbuild exceeded my expectations by not only teaching me new concepts, providing me with new tools to evaluate decisions, but also by requiring my participation in the process. I believe such collaboration, together with information available through technology, will empower all involved in built environment projects to effectively evaluate facts and examine values and circumstances to ensure that we are all stewards of our environment. As designers, it is our responsibility to educate our clients, to help them report on sustainability efforts and to ensure that function and aesthetics are not lost in the process.
Ellen Farber, Allied ASID, LEED Green Associate, Associate IIDA, is principal of Ellen Farber Interior Design, a firm offering interior design and design consulting. The firm combines great design with smart business strategies, for corporate, institutional, retail, nonprofit and residential clients. She is a member of USGBC, DVGBC and The 1% Architecture. For more information, visit www.ellenfarber.com or email firstname.lastname@example.org.