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GreenBuild 2017 Boston
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GreenBuild 2017 Boston

Solid Green’s Marloes Reinink and Gavin Westbrook visited Boston from 6 to 10 November to attend GreenBuild 2017, the world’s largest conference and expo dedicated to green building. Here they share their experiences, which included sessions on industry leadership, cutting edge technologies, development in green building certification systems and courses.


With 14 educational parallel sessions over a period of three days, delegates were spoilt for choice, with topics covering energy efficiency, health and well-being, sustainable urban planning, greening existing buildings, materials, biophilia, water efficiency and industrial facilities, among others. The opening address was delivered by Bill Clinton, and the closing address by Neil deGrasse Tyson, American astrophysicist, author, and science communicator.

Biophilia in Buildings and Public Spaces

Talks around Biophilia demonstrated a common-sense approach to the design of buildings. Biophilic design integrates nature in places where we live, work and learn. Humans have an innate relationship with nature, and science demonstrates that we are happier and perform better if nature is integrated in our built surroundings.

The first session that we attended on this topic discussed how biophilic design can be made more mainstream and which tools are available for designers to encourage adoption. The speakers, all from the Biophilic Design Initiative, also presented the Biophilic Design Map, which is a database for case studies. The second session, Biophilic Urban Acupuncture, explained ways to make public spaces more attractive through biophilic initiatives. A new book was launched, “Creating Biophilic Buildings” by Amanda Sturgeon – an easily readable and beautifully edited book that describes biophilic initiatives in a number of case study buildings.

Living Building Challenge: Biophilic Design Map

Health & Well-being

A session about Fitwel was also very interesting and inspiring. Fitwel is a cost-effective, high performance building certification system developed by the Center for Active Design with the aim of improving user health and well-being in buildings. The Fitwel scorecard includes 55+ design and operational strategies that enhance building environments by addressing a range of health behaviours and risks. The approach is very hands-on and can be applied to existing operations, new buildings, interiors and multi-family residential.

Meeting Net Positive Water

The greatest challenge to the re-use or capture of water is the local regulatory environment regarding water usage. The key question to ask is: Is it legal? And, if not, can it become legal? This involves a little bit of lateral thinking and working with your local building code official to find out how best your project can be accommodated within the existing regulations. There are regulations for almost everything and it just involves finding the right ones that most people never use or don’t know about. Valuable advice in this session included taking into account and providing a buffer for future climate change. (Resources: https://www.collaborativedesign.org, http://weathershift.com)

LEED Courses & Updates

The “Integrative Design Process” is a new LEED credit but not a new concept, and this approach can have major cost benefits for developers. Unfortunately, it is difficult to implement properly when Green Building Consultants are appointed too late in the process. The course offered inspiring alternatives to standard design processes so that teams can work together to create better performing buildings.

The LEED Project Management Course covered the advantages and disadvantages of different submission strategies and the paths that have the highest success rates. Interestingly, it is recommended to submit for Design and As-built ratings separately even though this carries a higher submission fee. Documentation tips and guidance were given to make the audit as easy as possible and give projects the greatest chance of success in achieving ratings. In addition, changes from LEED 2009 to LEED V4 were identified and common misunderstandings and pitfalls explained.

LEED V4 now has a full building Life Cycle Analysis (LCA) as part of the rating systems options. This allows the full carbon footprint of the building and materials to be measured over its lifetime. It is best to perform an LCA very early in the design process and identify the big-ticket items that will have the biggest impact on the project. This also allows teams to experiment with different options before material specifications are finalised. Guidance and further reading on LCA’s can be found at the Embodied Carbon Network website.

The difference between, and application of, LEED-Neighbourhood Development and the EcoDistricts rating tools where discussed and demonstrated with case study projects. LEED-ND is described as a prescriptive top down rating tool while EcoDistricts is rather a set of guidelines with a bottom-up approach. When dealing with both rating systems, it is important to deal with stakeholders on their own terms in order to address their concerns and hopes for their project.

Stay tuned for our first newsletter in 2018, which will explore some of the fascinating case studies from GreenBuild 2017

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