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GoGreen Austin Green Line Series: Building a Greener Future With Gail Vittori

Gail Vittori has been pushing boundaries at the intersection of building science and sustainability for 35 years. On April 6 she’ll share with GoGreen Austin attendees where green buildings are going and the impact they have on both the bottom line and our communities. But for now, we’ve got a sneak peek at what you’ll hear from Gail. In this edition of the Green Line Series we discuss the impact of LEED, how green buildings can serve everyone (not just the well-to-do) and what we need to do as citizens to ensure these buildings live up to their potential.

GoGreen Conference: What does it say to you that we’re seeing such iconic buildings as the Empire State Buildings, the Pentagon, etc. undergo renovations to be greener and more efficient? Do you think we’ve hit a tipping point in how we define a successful architectural project?
Gail Vittori: Green building is increasingly viewed as an investment strategy to secure long-term and resilient value in our building portfolio—whether public or private sector, residential, commercial or institutional.

GG: LEED has its critics, but what do you think that program has done for the green movement and the building industry?
GV: Every transformational initiative generates a healthy dialogue and debate. LEED has successfully integrated green building methods and materials into the fabric of the 21st century’s built environment at virtually every scale and every building type. By providing a common language and metric to measure performance in the context of a 3rd party certification system, LEED provides a unique literacy about the built environment’s relationship to environmental quality, human health, and social equity. And, because it is an evolving and ‘learning’ system, it continues to raise the bar and refines market signaling based on maturing practice.

GG: Is there a disconnect between the moral argument and the business case for sustainable buildings? Or are they two sides of the same coin?
GV: They are intrinsically connected though people may focus on one more than the other.  The business case is an underpinning to bring this to scale—which is happening—particularly notable in an economically fragile environment.  For green building to sustain its market position in this context is testament to its immediate and longer-term measurable values.

GG: Can businesses afford not to build green? What is at stake here? And what are the consequences of not choosing green?
GV: The market is differentiating green buildings as better buildings for people and the environment and the bottom line. That’s versus non-green buildings that burden owners with high operational costs and have compromised interior environments that undermine people’s health, well-being and productivity.  The green schools movement is an example of how this mindset has shifted from spending money to investing in better buildings and better environments for the future.

GG: What is the missing link? If greener buildings save more energy (and therefore resources/money) and are safer (less toxic; more structurally sound) then why isn’t every city mandating they be the standard going forward?
GV: Innovation is a gradual process that tracks early adopters, early majority, majority etc. through the innovation life cycle. There continue to be misperceptions in the marketplace about the cost and value of green.  The early adopters have a unique opportunity to share their stories buttressed with real data to bust the myths.

GG: How do we bring these safer, more efficient living, working and social environments to people in lower income brackets? So that they truly serve a triple bottom line rather than merely becoming symbols of gentrification?
GV: It’s happening more than is readily apparent. There are multiple initiatives underway today that underscore the viability of green building for all—including the federal commitment to green all public housing units in the US; 40% of LEED for Homes certified projects meet affordability criteria; Enterprise Foundation’s commitment to affordable green and many, many more.

GG: What is the educational component of maximizing the effectiveness of green buildings? Are they just inherently better or do we need to “read the owner’s manual?” Does that just go for building owners/users or for builders/contractors as well?
GV: It’s important to have green building visibility and literacy through the entire supply chain—and integrate multiple stakeholders through the process to inform, guide and teach so that solutions reflect the collective intelligence.

GG: What is your take on the EcoDistricts concept? Is it the next wave of progress for the green building movement?
GV: Moving from a building-centric focus to a neighborhood or block focus makes sense and gains the value of economies of scale while building the communities where people want to live, work, learn, heal and play.

GG: What do you hope attendees of GoGreen take home with them? What is the value of coming together as a business community to discuss sustainability issues?
GV: It’s happening; it’s a compelling business proposition; it provides a competitive edge; it establishes a basis for resilient value; we will do better from listening to and learning from each other.

Gail Vittori is Co-Director of the Center for Maximum Potential Building Systems, a non-profit design firm dedicated to sustainable planning, design and demonstration. She is also a featured speaker at GoGreen Austin, April 6 at the Austin Convention Center. To see Gail and over 60 more renowned green professionals from the Austin business region speak, visit: http://austin.gogreenconference.net/registration.

To learn more about Gail and the Center For Maximum Potential Building Systems, visit: http://www.cmpbs.org/t.people-bios.html