The importance of Integrative Process and Metrics - as made apparent by Bill McKibben

Bill McKibben is the co-founder of, and an author and educator around sustainability and climate change reduction. He offers unique ways of looking at all of the impacts and considerations necessary to a true and transparent conversation around climate change. In his newest article (Global Warming's Terrifying New Chemistry), McKibben makes the claim that unforeseen (at least publicly unforeseen) methane emissions from fracking may completely offset any and all CO2 emission reductions from increasing natural gas use for powering our country. In 2014, his article (Global Warming's Terrifying New Math) posited that our biggest challenge to industry transformation is the billions dollars of future investments in fossil fuels still in the ground. His insight and ability to see the whole picture, make McKibben extremely valuable for understanding the reality of environmental awareness and a path to a sustainable future.

As the old adage goes, we can’t manage what we don’t measure...

I find this particularly enlightening - if we don't consider the full scope of a decision or solution, and solicit expertise from the best minds in each area, we'll never understand the total impact we might have, whether restorative or destructive! It is imperative to at least consider, in a thought exercise or hopefully something more impactful, the potential web of connections that might happen once we move forward. In addition to broadening our planning and analysis, and bringing in appropriate expertise, it's always best to have measurable metrics to inform whatever progress might happen. As the old adage goes, we can't manage what we don't measure. It becomes clear that true success requires a clear picture of all impacts, as well as defining key metrics and goals for monitoring ongoing performance.

What this means at the Building Scale: In the green building industry, we talk about the Integrative Process as a "holy grail" of project design, construction, and operations. How can we make a decision about fine-tuning the sizing of an HVAC system, if we don't understand the building envelope (how much conditioned air will seep out of the building, or outdoor air will seep in)? The intent of the Integrative Process is to align industry professionals and their expertise; which can result in interconnected building systems that operate most efficiently together, and are appropriately sized (and also priced); and finally to result in a building optimizing its site, climate, and surrounding culture - all in a way that bests serves building occupants. This also requires us to set appropriate metrics, to define and measure "value" to occupants, and define and measure intended building performance in all areas.

What this means at an industry scale: Looking at the green building industry itself, as mentioned above, integrative process and design have been the focus of new approaches for diverse teams to reach unified and optimized performance goals. Integrative Process is a buzzword in the sustainability industry, has a credit in the LEEDv4 rating systems and represented in the Living Building Challenge, as well as a frequent topic at conferences like GreenBuild and Living Future. However, without a clear picture of how the building design, construction, and operations industries work - we won't know any future opportunities or barriers to adoption of the integrative process as a general practice. One example is the idea of a 'shared liability clause'. This allows project team members to operate "out of their comfort zone", by understanding that the whole team shares liability on whatever is delivered, and making the project a safe place to specify strategies that are not general practice. At this scale, we can understand interactions within the building, examples of new strategies, and develop templates for charrettes and integrative process - but until we consider how this will be adopted and who will be impacted, we can't expect anything to be used.

What this means at a Global Scale: The example from McKibben's article demonstrates why it's even more important to paint a broad picture at a global scale. Proponents of natural gas extraction (primarily through hydraulic fracturing, or fracking), have latched onto the idea that we can bring jobs and economic success back to the US, along with a 'bridge' fuel that releases less CO2 emissions than coal-fired power plants. Additionally, advances in engineering reduce the cost of extracting this fuel. However, it has recently been discovered (as mentioned in McKibben's article) that methane leakage from natural gas will offset any greenhouse gas emission reductions, and that fracking would in fact be more harmful as a system to climate change, than originally thought. Without a defined goal and specific metrics, and without a whole picture of all impacts and an integrative approach - we would never know that our 'clean natural gas' strategies have in fact had more negative impact on climate change than good.

Courtesy Creative Commons

Courtesy Creative Commons

A little bit of background, and more about the two mentioned McKibben articles:

A few years back, Bill McKibben published an article with the Rolling Stone called "Global Warming's Terrifying New Math", which added a new lens to the climate change reduction movement of truly understanding the economic factors involved in the fossil fuel extraction industry. Specifically, as we seek to implement readily available energy technologies and positively disrupt the energy generation framework in the US and globally, we'll at some point have to address the fact that the top 5 oil companies in the world have already invested billions of dollars in futures related to oil still in the ground. While I feel (somewhat harshly) that these companies made a big gamble, and if the market drives a different direction, well, too bad - we as a society can make the transition more pleasant and all-inclusive if we can find an innovative way to address these investments and keep fossil fuels in the ground.

Photo labeled for reuse, courtesy Creative Commons

Photo labeled for reuse, courtesy Creative Commons

Most recently, another lens was added, this time to fracking for natural gas. McKibben's new article published in the Nation, "Global Warming's Terrifying New Chemistry", tackles the issue of methane leakage from fracking processes and sites throughout the US.

For a moment, let's set aside the social and ecological (and geological) concerns over fracking. The fact that fracking is happening in close proximity to low-income or tribal nations, is extremely harmful for groundwater quality, creates a huge risk in the storage and conveyance of a combustible fuel, and is still a non-renewable resource, aren't part of this new lens on climate change. Instead, McKibben looks at the risk of methane emissions from fracking and distribution. Cornell researchers took it upon themselves to ask this question, and have proved that a 3 percent leakage could completely offset any CO2 emissions reductions from the use of natural gas. Additionally, he mentions that there was no data available from fracking companies, so these researchers had to measure using satellite data and expected methane release. Unfortunately, measured leakage is higher than 3%, and thus it becomes crucial that we begin measuring at all fracking sites.

Where this conversation goes next I am excited to see. Hopefully, armed with metrics and a holistic and broad-based understanding, our decision-makers and general public can make more informed decisions about our country's energy future, and it's various impacts.

[ ASIDE -  The issues listed above about fracking, set aside for this conversation, are however the main reasons why a triple bottom line approach is necessary in all economy for a sustainable future (socially equitable, financially profitable, and ecologically responsible). I am personally motivated by the fact that solving issues addressing climate change can also solve ecological health, social equity and health, and national security issues. My hope is that all the incentives aligned around a logical path for growth will create enough momentum to make things happen on the scale necessary. ]


Thanks for listening,

Ravi Bajaj, Education Manager

San Diego Green Building Council

Ravi has professional experience as a green building consultant with an emphasis on education and training.  He holds a degree in Earth Science from UC San Diego and is a LEED Accredited Professional with specialties in Existing Buildings Operations and Maintenance, Building Design and Construction, and Interior Design + Construction (LEED AP EB: O+M, BD+C, and ID+C).  He coordinates the Green Associate and LEED AP Building Design and Construction and Existing Buildings Operations and Maintenance study groups for the San Diego Chapter.  He has also completed the USGBC Instructor Training Course.

Ravi has professional experience as a green building consultant with an emphasis on education and training.  He holds a degree in Earth Science from UC San Diego and is a LEED Accredited Professional with specialties in Existing Buildings Operations and Maintenance, Building Design and Construction, and Interior Design + Construction (LEED AP EB: O+M, BD+C, and ID+C).  He coordinates the Green Associate and LEED AP Building Design and Construction and Existing Buildings Operations and Maintenance study groups for the San Diego Chapter.  He has also completed the USGBC Instructor Training Course.

Sustainability in the East Village - a conversation with Globe St. and John Ambert (BNIM Architects)

This is an article by Carrie Rossenfeld originally posted here.

How The East Village Is Promoting Sustainability

The East Village neighborhood of Downtown San Diego will focus on improving key “green” indicators including energy, water, mobility, economy, health, streetscape vitality and waste, San Diego Green Building Council volunteer John Ambert tells Ambert, AIA LEED AP BD+C, artchitecture, with BNIM, recently moderated a panel discussion here, hosted by SDGBC, about opportunities and obstacles to implementation of smart growth, net-zero water and energy developments and the facilitation of innovative partnerships in this neighborhood. We spoke exclusively with Ambert about sustainability in the East Village and how the organization is getting involved in this market.

photo courtesy Paulina Lis

photo courtesy Paulina Lis How is the East Village promoting sustainability?

Ambert: The East Village area of Downtown San Diego is starting a unique transformation process towards the development of a smart community—a transformation that will investigate the economic, environmental, and social health of the land and residents within. This transformation toward a more sustainable neighborhood can take many forms, but ultimately it focuses on improve key “green” indicators including energy, water, mobility, economy, health, streetscape vitality and waste.

There are many players in the East Village area that are working to improve the health of the eastern edge of Downtown. The Downtown Community Planning Group, San Diego East Village Association, and the East Village Business Improvement District all work together to support and promote East Village businesses by establishing the community as a livable urban village. In addition, there are currently two large developments in the East Village working to create unique and diverse neighborhoods in the area: The I.D.E.A. District and Makers Quarter. Both of these developments aim to blend arts, culture, education and entertainment in order to create vibrant and diverse communities in this region. In addition, the City of San Diego recently completed a climate action plan that requires the city to significantly reduce greenhouse-gas emissions by 2035. All of these players are working to create a revival in the East Village, but are currently working independently to do so.

Thus, there is a huge opportunity for these developers, community organizations and city planners to develop comprehensive community initiatives for addressing the complex social problems of the East Village area, which include homelessness, public health and environmental quality. By addressing these challenges with an integrated design process that evaluates these issues over the long term, the East Village has the chance to become a truly sustainable community that can be a model for surrounding neighborhoods.

photo courtesy IDEA District

photo courtesy IDEA District What is the San Diego Green Building Council’s involvement with this cause?

Ambert: The San Diego Green Building Council is an environmental non-profit dedicated to providing education, outreach, and advocacy surrounding green building in the San Diego community. Our mission is to inspire, educate and collaborate within our community to transform our built environment toward true sustainability.

In terms of the work occurring in the East Village area, the SDGBC provides education and promotes collaboration between the community, the City, and the development teams in order to assist in the development of green buildings and smart-cities initiatives. We are interested in working with the different teams to analyze the challenges and opportunities in creating high-performance green buildings and developing the neighborhoods in the East Village into model communities that demonstrate district-scale sustainability. Our goal is to assist the San Diego community groups in creating a healthy, resilient, and sustainable downtown by providing information, education and connectivity to the orchestrators of other successful communities around the country.

photo courtesy Paulina Lis

photo courtesy Paulina Lis What can other growing urban submarkets learn from what is being done in the East Village?

Ambert: Growing urban submarkets can learn from the activities currently underway in the East Village area by taking a similar proactive approach to long-range planning and by developing a set of comprehensive community initiatives for their specific region. CCIs should be evaluated at the many scales of the community in order to determine the best magnitude of each individual initiative.

The process involves the evaluation of both state and city code as well as local policies to ensure they all support the same long-term vision for the region. It addition, this process requires input from a diverse group of stakeholders including community groups, development teams and municipal representatives in order to get the whole perspective of the complex challenges in creating a healthy and socially equitable communities.

In addition, growing urban submarkets should look to precedents from around the country for implementing sustainable strategies at the community scale. The LEED Neighborhood Development (NC) Program, Eco-Districts, 2030 Districts, and Smart Cities Initiatives are all different ways of looking at improving the health and resiliency of communities with different performance targets. Each community will have different initiatives and therefore should craft a sustainability plan that aligns with the needs of their specific region. What else should our readers know about sustainability in urban developments?

Ambert: Sustainability in urban developments can be implemented at a variety of scales. Individual buildings, neighborhoods and whole communities can take advantage of solutions that improve the quality of life for the residents, community and local ecology. District solutions often align better with the economies-of-scale concept, where the cost advantages and efficiencies are realized at greater scales. These type of solutions require communities, developers and municipalities to work together in evaluating the correct scale for each initiative.

Homeowners, planning groups, town councils, community leaders and development partners all play a part in working to implement sustainable solutions in their communities. All of these players should be working within a policy framework to conserve water, generate energy, preserve natural environments, create active urban centers and improve the walkability and bike-ability of their communities.

Lastly, sustainability does not have to be just about green buildings; rather, it can take on a variety of shapes and forms that go beyond the built environment. Sustainability involves all the things that make up communities and all of the complex challenges that come with them. Health, social equity, and economic vitality are all intimately connected, and it is when people look beyond the traditional bottom line of profit vs. loss that these complexities can be re-evaluated as a part of a larger system and addressed as such. When we expand the concept of sustainability into a conversation about helping people, the economy and the environment, we can take advantage of overlapping synergies that result from broader-stroke approaches to planning and urban design.

This is an article by Carrie Rossenfeld originally posted here.

GreenBuild 2015 Session Spotlight - Health & Sustainability in the Built Environment

Master Speaker Series - Dr. Donald Schwarz (Director, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation) -

Photo of Bamboo 'Forest Therapy' in Japan -Creative Commons

Photo of Bamboo 'Forest Therapy' in Japan -Creative Commons

On Thursday morning of the GreenBuild 2015 conference, after a long search through the mis-labeled convention center in DC (literally a flood of about 50 people all walking from one corner “Hall D” to the other corner “Ballroom D” for this session), I sat down for a Master Series session on public health. Dr. Donald Schwarz, a former commissioner on public health for Philadelphia, now working with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, shared stories and data further proving the nexus between our built environment and public health. Big surprise – most of the strategies we talk about for New Urbanism or Smart Growth, and sustainability at the community scale – achieve both sustainability and health goals!

The session started off with a set of images and word-play about Italy’s cultural and financial relationship with tomatoes. (As a side-note, who knew that tomatoes didn’t come to Italy until the mid-1800’s, originating from Peru?!) Interestingly, after becoming central to Italian culture, Schwarz noted, tomatoes became a driving force for the way agriculture is done in the country. Specifically, he talked about how much small-scale farming there is in Italy(best tomatoes come from), compared to only a few industrial farms in the country. Then came the really exciting conversation; how the economy, built environment, and food culture in Italy all drive each other as a system. In context then, our culture of health management in the US, our built environment, and associated economy, can influence each other in many ways – and that community health can be a driver of sustainability and social equity (triple bottom line!).

Probably the most shocking graphics from this session included maps of income levels, mortality, chronic disease, and education levels across LA County. Super-imposed on each other, it is astounding how closely demographic boundaries overlap in each of these scenarios. The data shows a very close nexus between culture, our community structure (design for accessibility and planning strategies), and our health and wellbeing.

This plays off of a favorite session from last year as well, a session about biomimicry, urban planning, and public health – a trend we hope will give us the momentum and public support we need as sustainability advocates. If we can’t push ourselves to live more sustainably just for long-term environmental benefits, maybe it’s the immediate public health opportunities, and the dollars we’ll save in so doing, that’ll get us one step closer to a sustainable future. As Bob Berkebile has said in his presentations, "what will our children see in 2020, the year of perfect vision?" Seemingly far away, as that blurred future comes into focus over the next five years, I know I personally hope to see a healthy, bio-diverse community in San Diego – one rooted in ecological, financial, and social resilience.

Building upon this inspiration and data, the San Diego Green Building Council will be hosting a handful of sessions in 2016, focused on the nexus of health and sustainability and our built environment, as well as on the WELL building standard. Check out our Events Calendar for more info!


For more information, please reach out to:

Ravi Bajaj, LEED AP BD+C, O_M, ID+C

Education Manager, San Diego Green Building Council | 805-368-7670

Green Assistance Program - Two More LEED O+M Projects Submitted!

The GAP Project Teams for the Old Globe Theatre and Federal Building (Hall of Champions) in Balboa Park have been hard at work documenting all the LEED O+M credits and prerequisites.  With our volunteers’ enormous effort and dedication from Old Globe and Federal Building staff, we have officially submitted each project for LEED Review! The Old Globe was submitted for 52 points and the Federal Building was submitted for 51 points under the LEED O+M rating system.  If all points are approved, both projects will achieve LEED Silver certification!  

The San Diego Green Building Council would like to thank our numerous volunteers and facilities staff for the countless hours of work they all put in on both projects!  We could not have completed these without your continuous work.  We would also like to thank our partners for making these projects possible; Balboa Park Cultural Partnership, San Diego Gas and Electric and the City of San Diego!

With the two projects coming to an end, we are happy to announce the beginning of two new GAP Projects.  We have partnered with two new non-profit organizations to help in the greening of their facility and educating participants in the field of sustainability/green building.  The two new organizations include the Jacobs Center for Neighborhood Innovation (JCNI) and the Jacobs & Cushman San Diego Food Bank (Food Bank).  The JCNI project will be a hands-on/educational learning series about sustainability and green buildings concluding with a feasibility study on the JCNI facility.  The Food Bank project will be a project-based education program to help the facility in their pursuit of LEED O+M certification. We are excited to kick off both projects in October of this year! Please follow this link to sign up on our interest list.  Further details regarding each project will be released soon on our GAP page.

Josh has professional experience working in the real estate, sustainability and construction industries. He holds a Bachelor's Degree in Construction Management from Southern Polytechnic State University, a Green Building Certificate from Colorado State University, and is a LEED Accredited Professional in O+M. He has been involved in the Existing Buildings Committee and Green Assistance Program at SDGBC since 2013, and he has worked on LEED EBOM and energy projects throughout Balboa Park in San Diego.