SAN FRANCISCO — It was no coincidence that the U.S. Green Building Council held its 2012 Greenbuild conference and expo here Nov. 14-16. San Francisco has long been lauded by the group for being a step ahead of many cities when it comes to sustainable building and using the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design program.

Mayor Ed Lee kicked off the conference by welcoming the more than 7,000 attendees. He also took the opportunity to brag about the city’s environmental accomplishments. According to Lee, there is 6 million square feet of commercial space in San Francisco that has been designed with green principles in mind.

It was one of the first cities to require government and public buildings to maintain LEED certification, including the city’s main library, City Hall, and Davies Symphony Hall. And now San Francisco is taking another step, the mayor announced. Green-certified buildings will be recognized in property records. The goal is to make real estate in the city more desirable to potential buyers.

Lee said that San Francisco’s involvement in LEED has been “very challenging, but we’ve done it.”

And more cities, builders and political leaders are joining the green movement, said USGBC President Rick Fedrizzi. In his address to Greenbuild attendees, he explained why those who oppose LEED and sustainable building principles should be ignored.

“Our detractors are wrong,” said Fedrizzi.

Some critics have said that LEED costs too much money and it doesn’t prove energy savings. Fedrizzi acknowledged that LEED “is not perfect,” but it is “evolutionary.” He also said that buildings are more energy efficient and more hospitable to occupants than they were 20 years ago.

Just weeks before the Greenbuild conference, the U.S. East Coast was devastated by Hurricane Sandy. The natural disaster left billions of dollars in damage and has led to new discussions about global climate change.

“Mother Nature gave us a lesson,” Fedrizzi said. “This is the new normal.”

He also said it is time for skeptics to realize that global warming is not only real, but preventable.

Fedrizzi compared the mission of USGBC to that of other social movements, such as civil rights and women’s suffrage. He said that people were on the wrong side of history with those issues, and today, when it comes to green building and global warming, people are wrong again.

“We are right,” he said. “(It) is time for us to succeed as a movement.”

Big Names

To get the conversation going about the “green” movement and climate change, the USGBC booked several high-profile names for some roundtable discussions. Held Nov. 14, the talks were moderated by former GOP Congressman Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski, the hosts of MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.”

The duo, best known for coming from two different sides of the political aisle, took time away from their cable news show to engage political leaders and sustainability activists. A main theme of these discussions was that green building and environmental stewardship should not be a partisan issue. This was evident when Scarborough and Brzezinski sat down with the Democrat mayor of Newark, N.J., Cory Booker; and the Republican former governor of New York, George Pataki.

Pataki told the crowd that green building should be a national goal as opposed to a political prize championed by one political party. He said that Republicans are not known for their overwhelming support of green ideas, but “the American dream must be a green dream.”

He recounted how he mandated green initiatives during his time as governor. For example, in 1997, New York City wanted new buses. The existing buses ran on diesel fuel. Pataki told the city it could get the money for the new buses if they were hybrid vehicles. The state’s transportation department said this was impossible since those kinds of buses didn’t exist. But Pataki said the answer was for someone to bring them into existence. And it happened.

“Every bus in New York is a hybrid and they are made in upstate New York,” he said.

According to Booker, New Jersey has had similar accomplishments. He pointed out that when Newark received stimulus dollars for building projects, the money went for green retrofit work. Not only did these make buildings more efficient, they created new jobs for the community.

Booker said the goal should be to “stop putting green in left-right terms.”

He explained that not only is green and sustainability a great way to save energy and put people to work, but it is a new necessity, especially with the environment changing.

The state of New Jersey “painfully watched a storm punish the coast,” Booker said. “And there are things we should have done.”

Moving forward, he said that the country will see more of these storms and states must prepare for a “21st century infrastructure.”



As Fedrizzi said in his opening remarks, LEED isn’t perfect. But USGBC is constantly trying to make sure the rating system is evolving. That is why there were two educational sessions that focused on the future of LEED.

On Nov. 14, Greenbuild offered “LEED v4: Technical Improvements.” The session explained some of the changes between LEED’s 2009 edition and the update, which is still in development.

“LEED has grown tremendously,” said Chris Schaffner with the Green Engineer LLP, and a speaker at the session.        

He said that there are 1.6 million square feet of space that are certified by LEED every day. And the changes that are coming to LEED “will make things better.”

Corey Enck of the LEED technical development committee discussed some of the changes for the new version.

First and foremost, he said, any changes are being done with climate change and human health in mind. USGBC’s goal is to not just make structures more energy efficient, but to address environmental issues and occupant comfort.

Enck also said that new version of LEED will streamline processes for developers and put performance variables in place.

Some of the ways LEED is being streamlined is with new categories that tackle different building needs. Under the program’s building design and construction category, new sectors include schools, data centers, warehouses, hospitality and retail.

There have also been changes made to LEED’s neighborhood development category. Now a community space can qualify for a LEED designation. Enck explained that these sites can earn points for sensitive land protection, access to quality transit, and the use of green vehicles in the area. A new credit is available for sites that provide open spaces for people and also conserve the land.

In the energy and atmosphere category, Enck said the focus has not changed. However, there is a now prerequisite for commissioning. Additional credits are also available for enhanced commissioning and energy monitoring. 

Demand response is also a new addition. Enck said that USGBC would like to see buildings “responding to the need of the grid,” including giving energy back to it if required.

The materials and resources category may have some of the more stringent requirements. Enck said this category has the “most fundamental shift and most pushback.”Building owners should try to show ways they are reusing materials.Finally, USGBC will begin providing more LEED credits to developments that use an existing building. 

Going Forward 

USGBC isn’t stopping at the next version of LEED. The organization wants to think even further. This was the issue addressed during the Nov. 16 session, “LEED 2030 Roadmap.”

Hundreds of attendees packed this session, which examined goals for the next two decades.

Brendan Owens, vice president of LEED technical development, explained that the next version of LEED is all about “performance results” — making sure that a building is doing what it’s been designed to do.

For the future of LEED, USGBC is brainstorming ideas and looking for input from members.

“Where can we encourage projects to be better?” Owens asked. “What can the rating system do to bring about green jobs?”

One idea presented during the session was a “dynamic LEED plaque.” Instead of just a metal sign on a building that says the structure is LEED certified, a future plaque would be a real-time monitor that could pull up energy and environmental data to see what the current LEED points are at that time.

The building would take different things into consideration, from energy use to water use, waste management, material use, and more. These would all be given a number and factored into one real-time number so visitors and occupants can see how their building is doing at that exact moment.

Another topic brought up was “regenerative LEED.” Is there a way for a building to be better than net-zero? Can the building actually have positive impacts on the environment as opposed to no impact or zero impact?

“We want to start thinking about more than just energy,” Owens said. 

Attendees were encouraged to keep thinking about the future of LEED and to work with USGBC to help the rating system grow and tackle future issues.

For reprints of this article, contact Renee Schuett at (248) 786-1661 or email