Ensuring Environmental Justice in our Built Environment – A Call to Action

By Rebecca Gullott

Photo: Clean Water Action

Over the past few weeks, Americans and global citizens alike have been reflecting on our role in the creation of a more just society. The inequities that have long permeated our culture have been exposed more profoundly than in recent decades. The increased availability of an abundance of online educational resources to help combat systemic and inherent racism is a constructive response. The advancement of social equity to lift up vulnerable communities is an issue to which each of us has an opportunity to contribute every single day in our professional, personal, and community lives.

Nearly all definitions of environmental sustainability reference the social equity component of the triple bottom line approach. Ensuring social, environmental, and economic prosperity are integral pillars of our work as sustainability professionals. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) defines environmental justice as, “the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, national origin, or income, with respect to the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies.” Over the past several years, green building rating systems have implemented a more tangible focus on social impact assessment as a key feature of sustainable development. It is our responsibility, as sustainability professionals, to ensure that best practices pertaining to environmental justice in the built environment receive as much consideration as the steps we take to maximize energy efficiency and transparent building material sourcing. Fortunately, there are many tools and resources at the disposal of today’s sustainability consultants and project managers. We must now commit to understanding and integrating them into our daily practice.       

While the U.S. Green Building Council’s (USGBC) mission “To transform the way buildings and communities are designed, built and operated, enabling an environmentally and socially responsible, healthy, and prosperous environment that improves the quality of life.” has always emphasized social responsibility, in 2019, USGBC® took this a step further by providing more specific resources for action. USGBC introduced several enhanced programs as a part of its Equity Initiative, including new LEED® pilot credits, educational resources, expanded state and federal level advocacy efforts, the Advance Campaign to connect community organizations with experts and resources, and The Living Standard that illustrates how people are the priority in designing our built environment. Just as corporate human resource professionals institute policy and practice for inclusion and diversity in the workplace, professionals involved in building development should implement systems to ensure that their projects are serving communities in an equitable manner. This is part of our social contract. 

In 2012, the Institute for Sustainable Infrastructure (ISI) introduced the Envision® rating system, a framework that “encourages systemic changes in the planning, design and delivery of sustainable and resilient infrastructure.” As both urban and rural areas expand in density and land coverage with the growing human population, the need for investment in infrastructure is ubiquitous. Infrastructure is all around us. It is our roads, bridges, and tunnels; our energy and water supply and distribution systems; our sewage, wastewater, and material waste removal; and our parks and recreation areas. While fundamental infrastructure components serve entire communities, cities, and regions, the burden of the negative impacts of poorly planned development are disproportionately felt by already vulnerable minority and low-income communities.

Practices directed toward assessing impacts of infrastructure development on surrounding neighborhoods and involving local community members in decision making discussions through engagement activities are central to a substantial portion of the Envision rating system credits. In several different ways, Envision asks – will this infrastructure project make its host community stronger and more resilient? What are the human health impacts?  Will there be more opportunity for jobs and training programs for neighboring residents as a result? To what extent do community members have input in the details of the development? Will the development maintain or improve the quality of life of area residents? This system echo’s the 2017 words of United Nations Secretary General Antonio Gutteres when he stated, “Infrastructure investment will be crucial. The world should adopt a simple rule: if big infrastructure projects are not green [sustainable], they should not be given the green light. Otherwise, we will be locked into bad choices for decades to come.” A project can’t be “green” if it does not consider impacts to all people.

Photo: Google Maps

My home city of Baltimore, Maryland has its share of experience with poorly planned infrastructure. A well-known example is the “Highway to Nowhere” that divides an urban community and has made it poorer over time. Another is the waste incinerator with which I have some personal experience. Other, mostly white, communities have been threatened by ill-conceived and poorly planned infrastructure projects but eventually spared. Unsurprisingly, the communities negatively affected by these two infrastructure developments are black communities.

According to the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, the asthma rate among children under 18 in Baltimore is more than twice the national average. Within the city, it is the south Baltimore communities that suffer most profoundly as evidenced by asthma-related emergency room visits and hospitalizations which are highest in the area’s 21223 zip code. Not surprisingly, this neighborhood is directly adjacent to Baltimore’s largest stationary air polluter, Baltimore Refuse Energy Systems Co. (BRESCO), the waste incinerator that is responsible for 36% of all industrial air pollution in Baltimore according to the Chesapeake Climate Action Network (CCAN).

Operated by New Hampshire-based Wheelabrator Technologies, BRESCO’s health, environmental, and economic impact on Baltimore residents has long been the subject of significant study and intense discussion. Controversy over the facility’s expired air pollution permit, financial incentives for area hospitals that treat south Baltimore’s asthma patients, and the Baltimore Clean Air Act persist. We should also consider the snowball effect that occurs when sick children miss school, parents miss work, and families lose income and opportunity as the result of hospitalizations and treatment from environmentally exacerbated illnesses. This is how the unjust impacts of irresponsible development are perpetuated in our system, leaving minority and low-income residents with little opportunity to improve their resilience, financial independence, and quality of life. The question remains, how do we stop locating potentially harmful infrastructure projects in vulnerable communities and perhaps even help these communities to prosper?

Energy Answers International met with the perseverance of south Baltimore’s Curtis Bay neighborhood when the corporation was granted a permit to build a new waste-to-energy incinerator within one mile of Benjamin Franklin High School and near several area elementary schools. After years of permit renewals, hearings, and protests in the streets by community members, non-profit organizations, and local students, the Maryland Department of the Environment determined, in 2016, that the Energy Answer’s 2010 permit had expired and wouldn’t be renewed. In affiliation with non-profit, Clean Water Action, I joined students in discussion, protest, and advocacy efforts against this incinerator project. I felt so proud and hopeful that these young people took action to protect their community; to fight for their basic human right to clean air and clean water; for their right to breathe.

But here’s the thing. It shouldn’t be that hard. Keeping all people healthy and safe from harm shouldn’t require mass protests from children after permits have been issued. Providing opportunities to strengthen and increase resilience in communities shouldn’t be optional. The evaluation of the appropriateness of development within any particular community should be as integral to the site assessment process as the geotechnical survey. The green building industry and its associations have worked diligently to provide development, design, and sustainability professionals with the tools to engage communities in the conversation about what happens in their own neighborhoods. These assessment practices should be a compulsory step in the permit application process. Think about this for a minute. The Endangered Species Act of 1973:

requires federal agencies, in consultation with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and/or the NOAA Fisheries Service, to ensure that actions they authorize, fund, or carry out are not likely to jeopardize the continued existence of any listed species or result in the destruction or adverse modification of designated critical habitat of such species.

It could be argued, that for the last 47 years, the health and well-being of endangered species’ habitats have been granted more consideration than human beings in minority and low-income communities. In lieu of federal action that is not likely any time soon, it falls to us in the development industry, to encourage project teams and municipalities to use every tool at our disposal to fully evaluate the impact and appropriateness of projects to all communities, but especially those most vulnerable. That is what we can and must do every day to help build a better and more sustainable world.   

Rebecca Gullott received her Master of Science in Environmental Management from the University of London and is a LEED® Accredited Professional and an Envision® Sustainability Professional. Rebecca is a Project Manager and Business Responsibility Specialist at Doo Consulting, LLC.

Resilience in Building and Infrastructure

Over the course of 2018, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) cataloged 14 separate events in the United States, including snowstorms, hurricanes, drought and wildfires. The total cost of those events was a whopping $91 billion. As severe weather becomes more common and the climate becomes less predictable, resilience is growing in popularity when considering construction. What is resilience, and why is it so vital to the success of your green building project?

Resilience in Green Building

The Resilient Design Institute provides the following definition:

Resilient design is the intentional design of buildings, landscapes, communities, and regions in order to respond to natural and manmade disasters and disturbances—as well as long-term changes resulting from climate change—including sea level rise, increased frequency of heat waves, and regional drought.

One might also include health related risks, as some experts believe that Zoonotic diseases are related to an increase in deforestation and the subsequent increase in contact between humans and animals. Insect-born diseases are also thought to be an increasing risk as the climate changes. Sustainable infrastructure can have conserving and restorative outcomes.

While different, resiliency and sustainability have much in common. LEED encourages many resilient strategies such as choosing a site with care, using durable materials, planning for the collection and reuse of rainwater and grey water, prioritizing energy conservation and installing renewable energy systems, for example.

Rating systems such as Envision™, for infrastructure projects, and RELi™, for building projects, require assessments of potential hazards, and threats. In the language of resiliency, hazards refer to naturally occurring conditions such as severe weather while threats refer to human induced situations such as vandalism or acts of terrorism. A project’s vulnerability is the extent of disruption to normal operations for a building or system. Risk is a measure of the probability that a particular hazard or threat will exploit a project’s vulnerability.

Resilience planning involves considering the ability of a project to withstand these hazards and threats. The USGBC introduced resilient design credits in 2015 to help promote awareness of resilience in green building, including:

  • Assessment and Planning for Resilience: Identifying risks and vulnerabilities associated with climate change, like extreme heat, sea level rise or winter storms.
  • Designing for Enhanced Resilience: Collecting risk-related information and coming up with methods to address the risks when constructing and designing buildings.
  • Passive Survivability and Back-Up Power During Disruptions: Exploring ways that buildings can protect occupants during power outages and disruptions.

As has already been mentioned, entire rating systems have been created to assist

owners is assessing the resiliency of their projects.

The Bullitt Center in Seattle

What Can Resilience in Your Project Look Like?

 The USGBC profiled numerous successful profiles of resilience in green building here.  The profiles highlight the creative ways that LEED-certified buildings can adapt to meet the changing climate and weather conditions throughout the world. For example, one set of offices were renovated in San Juan, Puerto Rico in 2013 with resilience in mind. In the aftermath of Hurricane Maria in 2017, the office was able to return to a fully functional workspace within a few days thanks to solar lighting, back-up power generators, satellite internet, rainwater cisterns and more. When things are designed thoughtfully, it can help you to get back to work and life as usual as quickly as possible.

For sustainable infrastructure, the US Climate Resilience Toolkit is an excellent resource allowing you to search for case studies of resilient projects by region and type. Searching for “transportation projects”, one can see how the Maryland State Highway Administration is identifying which of its highways and bridges are vulnerable to climate related events.  A search for “extreme events” yields case studies such as how the Manchester-by-the-Sea waste water treatment plant is addressing operational resiliency in the face of potential flooding or how middle school students in St. Marys, Georgia, participated in a public outreach effort to increase their community’s flood resilience and earn the city a 25% reduction in their flood insurance premiums.

How Are Sustainability and Resilience Different?

While you might think the words, sustainability and resilience, are interchangeable, there are key differences between the two. For example, sustainability focuses on energy and water reduction, while resilience explores the need for multiple energy and water sources. Sustainability thinks about things like indoor environmental quality and locally sourced materials, while resilience places an emphasis on passive systems and designing in harmony with the project’s site and location. However, they have a lot in common, including energy independence, water independence, renewable resources, integrative design process, and community engagement and support. When considering resiliency for your next project, check out these resiliency rating systems.



Doo Consulting provides sustainability consulting services to Owners and project teams. They are accredited Envision Sustainability Professionals (ENV SP).

Chinese New Year: Year of the White Metal Rat

The Year of the White Metal Rat began on January 25, 2020. The rat is the first of the twelve Chinese zodiac signs. Rats are known to be quite clever so, as the story goes, the Jade Emperor had called all beasts to court to select twelve to be his guards. The earlier one went through the Heavenly Gate, the better rank one would have. The rat had hitched a ride on the back of the ox to get across a river. When they arrived at the Heavenly Gate, the rat jumped off of the ox and was the first to enter. So, the cycle began with rat first and the ox second and each of the other animals as they arrived. These twelve animals are the guards of the Heavenly Gate and appear in Chinese art as symbols of good luck. As the rat signals the start of a new astral cycle, it is considered a time of new beginnings and renewal. Now is a time one can turn one’s back on the past without regret.

Ingenious in finding solutions to difficult problems, the Metal Rat has a hard time accepting and learning from its failures. In Chinese culture, the metal element symbolizes autumn and a time of harvest. For those who have invested wisely in their projects, their business or themselves, 2020 should yield a positive return. Conversely, poor preparation will be revealed.

Globally, we shall see whether the characteristics of the ingenious rat will lead us to solutions to the many challenges before us politically, socially and environmentally or if inadequate preparation will deny us the opportunity of the moment.

Predictions for your personal fortunes in the year of the White Metal Rat may be found here.

Doo’s News:

2019 was a good year at Doo Consulting. Our markets are expanding westward with new projects in California and Nevada. With knowledge and experience with California Title 24 and Cal Green we are able to work wherever our clients and opportunity take us. Locally, we are working on a number of K-12 schools, university projects and multi-family residential buildings in DC and Maryland.

Doo Consulting proudly accepted the U.S. Green Building Council – National Capital Region’s (USGBCNCR) 2019 Innovative Project of the Year Award for New Construction/Commercial on behalf of the THEARC West project team. The award was presented to the Town Hall Education Arts and Recreation Campus West (THEARC West) at the USGBCNRC’s annual Midsummer Night’s Green event at the Mead Center for American Theater in Southwest DC. 

The THEARC West was constructed to serve the underserved. Through the nonprofit Building Bridges Across the River (BBAR) and a collaboration of partner organizations, this LEED Gold Certified®project, provides access to high quality education, health, cultural, recreation and social service programs to the Anacostia River community in Washington, DC. 

Mudhar AlDurra has been promoted to Senior Project Manager and leads our efforts in the West. Mudhar holds a Bachelor of Civil Engineering from the Applied Science University in Amman, Jordan, and a Master of Sustainability Design and Management from National University in San Diego, California. Mudhar joined Doo Consulting in 2015 and has consistently contributed to streamlining our project process and working with our clients to improve overall project performance. His project experience includes The Belgard Apartments at 33 N Street in Washington, DC, McHenry Row Apartments in Baltimore, MD, and assistance on the EBOM certification of the stadium and warehouse at Oriole Park at Camden Yard. 

Doo Consulting continues to contribute to Sustainable Maryland assisting municipalities throughout the State address sustainability policy to meet desired goals. We are happy to present information at municipal and community sustainability workshops and assist in the Sustainable Maryland certification process. This work aids in the development of strategic plans addressing climate, resiliency, and conservation in Maryland’s cities and towns, engaging communities in action. 

Trends: Focusing on Climate Change

We believe that the overriding trend for 2020 will be Focusing on Climate Change. As we move into a new decade, attention will be turning to what we’ve accomplished in the last one and what we need to accomplish by 2030, a significant date according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) as well as many other organizations including those that inform our industry.

While we laud achievements toward greater environmental and social responsibility, both small and large, we also observe losses in environmental policy locally and nationally.

In Maryland, we are trying to protect verified green building standards for State funded construction. Given that the Maryland has long been a leader in sustainable design and construction, that we should have to do this at this particular moment in time is confounding. The Federal government has been rescinding environmental protections for clean water and air that open the door for greater emissions as well as increasing the risk to public health.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) says we have ten years to act to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees C. Let’s be clear about the timeline and warming targets. If we miss these targets, we do not fall off a cliff. However, the consequences become more severe. This is an economic as well as an environmental and social justice issue. People/Planet/Profit, the three legs of the sustainability stool are all impacted. 

As overall global warming increases, the risk of severe impacts also increases. Flooding AND heat related stresses will be occurring simultaneously around the world. Financial and insurance institutions understand this. Financial incentives have always been key to getting things done. According to the GreenBiz 2020 State of Green Business Report, 86% of U.S. companies now publish a sustainability report. U.S. and global companies recognize the current and future risks the climate crisis poses to their business assets, especially natural capital, and are engaging with suppliers to address the contributing behaviors and mechanisms throughout the supply chain.

…the need to curb global warming has spurred the creation of insurance policies that provide incentives to policyholders to contribute to these efforts. These include discounts on auto insurance policies for driving fewer miles and policies for green building construction.

     – from a November 2019 Insurance Information Institute article.

At Doo Consulting, we and many companies like ours, choose to focus on reducing the carbon contributions from the built environment which is estimated to contribute nearly 40% of global carbon emissions.

Architecture 2030 establishes a path to reduce GHG emissions from buildings. By 2030, the goal is for buildings to be designed and built to be net zero carbon. Starting in 2020, buildings are to be 80% more energy efficient as compared to a 2003 CBECS baseline. According to a recent AIA 2030 Commitment Report, the average weighted EUI reduction for 2018 is 46%. Every five years, the target energy savings increases by 10%; 90% in 2025 and 100% (net zero) in 2030.

Looking at the “upper extreme” the following graph shows that most buildings are able to meet the 2030 targets for 2020.

The International Code Council (ICC), the American Society of Heating Refrigeration and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE), the American Institute of Architects (AIA) and the US Green Building Council (USGBC) are all in lockstep on this with net-zero energy codes anticipated to be adopted in 2030. Already there is a net-zero energy appendix approved for the 2021 energy code. States, such as California, Massachusetts and Vermont and municipalities such as Ithaca, Seattle and Washington DC, have adopted zero energy performance targets in advance of the 2030 date.

What you can do.

Energy Models

One of the things architects can do is to is to incorporate energy modeling into their design process and to encourage clients to require models whether or not they are seeking a building certification. From AIA’s 2018 Report, energy models are shown to improve EUI reduction by an average of 25% when compared to non-modeled projects. The number of modeled projects has hovered around 50% since 2017 indicating a significant opportunity for improvement.

Energy models allow architects and engineers to advise clients on the anticipated energy costs and models are the only way to assess the impacts of design decisions on energy use and costs. 

Join the AIA 2030 Commitment and Report

If you are a member of the 2030 Commitment but are not yet reporting, take the next step to share your project data and understand the performance and impact of your portfolio. If you are not a member of the 2030 Commitment, join the firms who have committed to meeting the 2030 Challenge, report your project performance and build the movement toward a lower carbon future and greater client cost savings.

Support Responsible Businesses

There is no silver bullet strategy to reverse the damage from the profit-above-all mindset of global markets over the last one-hundred years. We as consumers, investors, and citizens should support sensible businesses that considers consequences for all stakeholders rather than solely shareholders to minimize future climate risks and ensure a healthy fulfilling existence around the globe. 

  • Ask your benefits manager or financial advisor how to support companies and funds with strong, integrated ESG reporting mechanisms and performance targets. 
  • Do your brand research prior to making purchases to encourage responsibility in material sourcing, manufacturing, distribution, and end-of-life product management. 
  • Share your concerns about the impact of business on quality of life on earth with corporate executives and legislators. 
National Bike to Work Week

Celebrate National Bike to Work Week!

May is National Bike Month, and the most exciting week in the celebration is National Bike to Work Week! This annual week culminates in Bike to Work Day on Friday, May 17th. Whether you’re riding your bike to work or school, or riding just to save money and time, the impact that you are making is powerful.

How Many Cyclists Commute to Work?

Throughout the country, more people are donning a helmet in the morning to bike to work than ever before. The number of trips made by bicycle doubled in the United States in the 8-year period from 2001-2009, and in bike-friendly communities, the number of workers commuting via bicycle increased 105% from 2000 to 2013. 

National Bike to Work Week Helps the World

40% of all trips in the United States are less than two miles, which makes bicycles a convenient and inexpensive way to get where you’re going without using fossil fuels. The transportation sector is currently responsible for over 70% of all United States petroleum use, and biking is a great way to radically lower that percentage. Increasing the mode share of all trips made by riding a bicycle or walking from just 12% to 15% would lead to fuel savings of a whopping 3.8 billion gallons a year and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 33 million tons! That would be the equivalent of taking 19 million traditional cars off the road and replacing them with hybrid vehicles. 

The Benefits of Commuting to Work on a Bike

Biking to work is an awesome way to sneak more exercise into your day. While the amount of exercise you get will vary based on how fast you go and the topography of the area, you can expect to burn as many calories as you would while jogging without the negative impact on your joints. 

Celebrating National Bike to Work Week by saving some money! In 2015, the average American household spent $1,962 on gasoline, which was the lowest amount since 2009! Once you add in the costs of maintenance, insurance, repairs and parking, the average cost of ownership for a standard sedan climbs to $9,000. A brand new commuter bike weighs in between $250-$1,500 and, at most, has an average cost of ownership for the first year of $1,950. Once you own the bike, the yearly cost could go down to $0. 

Join Us on National Bike to Work Day!

On Friday, May 17, 2019, the entire country will be celebrating National Bike to Work Day. If you are communting in the Washington, D.C. metro area, you can also participate in additional festivities hosted by Commuter Connections and the Washington Area Bicyclist Association by registering here. If you are commuting in Maryland, you can take part in dozens of activities throughout the state by registering here.


Do You Appreciate the Value of Natural Capital?

Earth Day is a perfect time to reflect on the beauty of the world around us, but it’s also an opportunity to reflect on the immense value of that world and our dependency on the ecosystem services that our planet provides. It’s important to remember that from the bees pollinating our food supply to the trees that keep us healthy, the world has plenty of natural capital to offer. Many consumers and businesses radically underestimate the tremendous value of natural capital. 

What Is Natural Capital?

Natural capital is the term used to describe the natural resources present throughout the globe including air, water, living organisms, soils, geology and more. While it’s easy to assign values to manmade things, it cannot be overemphasized how much “free” service our planet provides for us. A well-maintained river or forest provides the surrounding area with fish, water, energy, lumber and more. Additionally, natural environments, even small urban parks, provide for physical and mental well-being. Many natural resources are renewable but, with abuse and misuse, they can be spoiled and the services they provide can be compromised. Eventually, permanent damage can be done. 

In Baltimore, communities understand the impact of pollution on the health of its neighborhoods, the harbor and the Chesapeake Bay. Pollution affects the availability and safety of the local fish, crabs and oysters that we eat as well as compromising other recreational activities such as swimming and boating. The complexity of the Bay ecosystem is worth its own blog but that’s for another time.

The Give and Take of Natural Capital

One of the many reasons why Earth Day is so vital is to bring awareness to the give and take nature of natural capital. With financial capital, when you overspend, you accumulate debt. If that debt is left unchecked, it could result in bankruptcy. With natural capital, when you take too much away from the natural environment, you also accumulate a debt that needs to be repaid (allowing aquifers time to replenish, replanting forests, etc.). If we constantly withdraw from the value of natural capital without putting anything back in, there is a risk of local, regional, national or even global environmental devastation. 

The Value of Natural Capital 

How does the value of natural capital translate to financial terms? While nature is priceless, it is not valueless. Numerous studies have attempted to quantify the value of natural capital. In 2013, The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity (TEEB) for Business Coalition published a landmark report that estimated the world’s current production and processing sectors are responsible for environmental externalities valued at $7.3 trillion every year. In other words, industry is not covering the cost of their emissions, water use, land use, pollution and other natural resource impacts that their operations incur.  Another study in the Journal of Global Environmental Change estimated the total value of the globe’s ecosystem services to be over twice the global aggregate Gross Domestic Product–$124.8 trillion annually. 

Natural Capital in Practice

Comprehending the value of natural capital requires understanding the services that nature provides and how we benefit from them. For example, what if we had to pollinate all of our food producing plants manually? Placing a financial value on ecosystem services is a critical tool for policymakers, stakeholders and decision makers to appreciate the vital role of nature in business and the economy. While many ecosystem services continue to be taken for granted, corporations are increasingly taking responsibility for their environmental and social impacts. Earth Day allows us all a chance to reflect on our use of finite resources and how appreciating their value enables better decision-making. 

Sustainable Development Goals

All About Sustainable Development Goals

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are outlined in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development adopted by United Nationals Member States in 2015. The 17 goals were drafted and refined in global partnership, and they recognize that the end of poverty and other deprivations must occur alongside strategies to improve health and education, encourage economic growth, and reduce inequality. 

What Are Sustainable Development Goals?

The SDGs were adopted by leaders of 193 countries. Today there is a growing need for private sector businesses, municipalities, and NGOs of every size to act to advance progress toward these goals to transform the world and create a better tomorrow. Each goal contains specific timebound targets and associated metrics that guide organizations through their implementation. The goals include eliminating poverty and hunger; ensuring access to clean water and sanitation, clean, reliable, and affordable energy, decent work and economic growth; reducing inequality and increasing peace, justice, and strong institutions; establishing responsible consumption and production practices, sustainable cities and communities, resilient infrastructure and sustainable industrialization by fostering innovation; and urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts and conserve natural resources worldwide. 

How Big Business Utilizes SDGs

The response to the SDGs from municipalities, non-profit NGOs, universities, and the private sector has been encouraging. Currently, there are over 9,500 business participants in the UN’s mission to achieve and exceed the SDGs. Over 66 million employees currently work in those companies, which shows the commitment that many big businesses have made to global health. As part of the Goals, ten principles were outlined in the UN Global Compact to promote corporate sustainability. The Ten Principles are designed to give businesses a practical framework that can be used regardless of size, complexity, or location. 

As part of the UN initiative, many high profile companies have invested in The SDGs including:

  • General Mills giving meals and food to food banks in vulnerable communities (Zero Hunger)
  • Siemens encouraging communities to invest in sustainable and green economic solutions (Sustainable Cities and Communities)
  • Nike utilizing recycled materials in its gear (Responsible Consumption and Production)
  • Discovery Channel supporting clean oceans and reducing plastic in the water (Life Below Water)

The Value of SDGs to Small Businesses 

Unfortunately, some small businesses see the involvement of big businesses in the SDGs and assume it means a great deal of money and other resources are needed to participate. While big business participation in sustainable development goals is excellent, small businesses have a critical role in supporting their local and global economies and communities. Many small businesses need to approach The Goals in a different manner, but that doesn’t mean they can’t make significant contributions to addressing the global environmental and social crises we face.

Sustainable development goals present an excellent business opportunity for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). According to a study from the Business and Sustainable Development Commission, sustainable business models are projected to open up economic opportunities worth $12 trillion by 2030. By aligning their focus with The Sustainable Development Goals, small and mid-sized businesses could create an international boom of productivity and investments in sustainable infrastructure. 

How Doo Consulting Utilizes SDGs into CSR Reports 

Within every small business CSR report that Doo Consulting assembles, report results and recommendations are aligned with the relevant SDGs to which they contribute. This allows small business leaders to easily see how their actions impact global progress toward improving the lives of people and the health of the Earth. SMEs have a substantial role in transforming our global future and we acknowledge our role in educating and equipping small businesses with information on the greater impacts and potential benefits of considering the Sustainable Development Goals in their business strategy. We can all enjoy a better future if we all work together to create one. 


The State of LEED: Is Being “LEED-like” Enough?

Some owners and project teams believe that being “LEED-like” is the same as achieving LEED certification, but that isn’t the case. Frequently we receive requests from clients who want to create a “LEED-like” building. This is where the project team follows a LEED checklist and declares their project equivalent to a level of LEED certification without actually registering or certifying the project. While you might think “LEED-like” buildings are more cost-effective and lead to the same result, that is seldom the case. 

LEED-like Isn’t the Same as LEED Certified

Someone recently said, “When there is a scoreboard and a referee, the game is played differently.” This can apply to many things in life but in relationship to LEED, or any other compliance requirement, this is absolutely true. “LEED-like” buildings are not the same as LEED-certified buildings. If a project team is going through the same design effort to create a non-certified-LEED-compliant building, all consultants are expending the same energy they would if the project was certified. In the end, the costs saved are the project registration fees, certification fees and some of the documentation costs. For large projects, registration and certification fees can amount to tens of thousands of dollars, but as a percent of project costs, it is small; $.05 – $.063 per square foot where the project costs are hundreds of dollars per square foot. For these few cents, one gets a strong motivator for sustainable design excellence. 

Knowing that documentation is required and will be reviewed encourages project team members to dot their i’s and cross their t’s. Having achieved LEED certification, recognition of that fact is something that can be substantiated and promoted. As an investor, buyer or simply a building tenant, what can or should one assume when an owner says that a building is “LEED-equivalent”? For LEED certified projects one knows that documentation has been submitted and reviewed to validate the building’s credential. Documentation is also available to the building facilities team to monitor building operations, guide enhanced or recommissioning activities, and guide future renovations of the project. 

LEED Is Imperfect

Some critics of LEED and proponents of “LEED-like” buildings choose to highlight perceived flaws in the system as a justification of creating their own green building process. One thing we hear repeatedly is the fact that a bike rack and a 2% energy reduction have the same point value (LEEDv3). The implication is that a point can be bought with the installation of a shower stall and a locker. Critics note that these things should not be considered equivalent and suggest that LEED is too easily “gamed”. The LEED standard is not perfect, but it is well considered and nuanced. One can make a strong argument for the environmental benefits of bicycle usage if people actually do it. Owners and architects are equally guilty for spending money and resources on points that produce no economic or environmental benefit, if that is what they are doing. It is certainly not sustainable to install a shower stall to be used as a closet. To some extent, the system can be manipulated by clever building designers and owners, but the intention and point distribution of the rating system has been established by committees of subject-matter experts doing the best they can to create meaningful criteria to define what a “green building” is. 

LEED Certification Still Remains Relevant 

LEED is a tool and, like any tool, it can be used masterfully by a craftsman or used by an amateur with predictably less refined results. Well-designed LEED buildings created by experienced project teams deliver on the promises of the rating system—resource conservation, lower operational costs, restorative site development, healthier indoor environments, and lower carbon emissions. LEED remains an important certification standard for owners, builders and designers. In light of the recent reports from the International Panel on Climate Change and the National Climate Assessment report to Congress and the President, the demand for high-performance, healthy buildings has never been greater. 

Certification matters and LEED continues to be the dominant green building certification program in the US and beyond. LEED project registrations in the US were up 14% in 2018 over 2017*. One can expect that certifications will remain important measures of green building performance as we continue to pursue more environmentally benign and healthier buildings while meeting the challenges of climate change.

*Source: Green Building Information Gateway, www.gbig.org

Is LEED Still Relevant?

This is the final blog in a four-part series on the LEED rating system. All four parts of this series can be found on our website, www.DooConsulting.net. Doo Consulting provides consulting services for LEED and many other green and healthy building rating systems. 


The State of LEED: LEED, IgCC, and the IECC.

While Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) has remained the leading green building certification system for decades, competing certification systems are challenging the pre-eminence of LEED. In our last blog, we highlighted some of the new challengers to LEED. Today, we compare LEED to its code cousins, the International Green Conservation Code (IgCC) and the International Energy Conservation Code (IECC)

One of the primary challenges for LEED today is the perception that many local building codes are catching up to or exceeding the energy requirements of this building rating system. As energy conservation is one of the primary benefits of the LEED process, this has become an issue. Green building certifications like LEED feel like “one more thing” for owners to contend with when they are placed on top of already-strict local codes. Locally, Maryland and Washington, DC routinely adopt current versions of the building codes, including the International Energy Conservation Code (IECC). Additionally, both jurisdictions have adopted the International Green Construction Code (IgCC), as have other local jurisdictions. 

The IgCC is an overlay code and acts similarly to LEED in addressing site, water, energy, materials and indoor environmental quality without the fees associated with LEED registration and certification review. Currently, many States use the 2015 code set and some are about to adopt the 2018 codes. The requirements of the 2015 IECC exceed the energy prerequisite requirements under LEED v4, contributing to a perception that LEED is falling behind. While USGBC is likely to make an adjustment to the energy credit requirement when adoption of the 2018 code set begins to occur, a disparity is likely to remain.

One argument we hear for not certifying a project under LEED is that, since the building code exceeds the LEED energy prerequisite, LEED is unnecessary. While codes that exceed LEED minimum is true in some regions, it isn’t the case everywhere in the United States (see map). Some jurisdictions throughout the United States reference older building and energy codes, some as far back as 2006. The current LEED energy prerequisite for New Construction, Version 4 is a 5% energy use reduction over ASHRAE 90.1-2010. The current Energy Conservation Code 2015 references ASHRAE 90.1-2013 which can demand greater energy efficiency than the LEED prerequisite for some building types. As mentioned above, state and local jurisdictions are about to upgrade to the IECC 2018, which pushes code-compliant energy performance requirements even higher for locations where these codes are adopted. 

Through the LEED rating system the US Green Building Council (USGBC) aims to provide an entry point for green building design and construction nationally and internationally. We have mentioned that not all locations have adopted the current version of the energy code and international codes vary widely as well. In locations with lower energy standards, LEED energy prerequisites are still above code requirements but not so much as to deter participation in pursuing a green building certification. Also, no one is keeping anyone from exceeding minimum energy requirements, which is the beauty of LEED. LEED rewards exceptional energy performance with additional points; up to 18 for 50% energy reduction in new buildings. 

Commercial Buildings

In most cases, high energy scores can lead to a Gold certification. Exceptional energy performance provides the same result whether the project is pursuing a certification or not however, LEED provides an incentive through its assignment of points for increasing levels of energy performance. Higher energy scores may also lead to a higher final certification level. Anyone who has worked on a LEED project can attest to owners and team members asking, “What will it take to get the next energy point?” or “What will it take to get to the next LEED level?”

It cannot be stressed enough that energy is not the only measure of a green building, and in this regard, LEED shines. Having established the five major categories of site, water, energy, materials, and indoor environmental quality, LEED creates a balanced assessment of a project’s environmental and health impacts. While the IgCC address these categories as well, the ability of local jurisdictions to modify the code when they adopt it provides varying definitions of green building according to each of those jurisdictions. Review and enforcement of the code by each jurisdiction varies widely further muddying the measure of a code compliant green building. LEED is a standard set of credits and requirements. Yes, we have heard and have participated in complaints over the inconsistencies between review teams. Though onerous, these can be dealt with through a defined process of appeals. Though not perfect, LEED remains the most consistent measure of a green building and the US Green Building Council is constantly seeking to improve the standard and the administration of that standard.

Is LEED Still Relevant?

This is Part-Two in a four-part series on LEED. In our next blog in this series, we’ll be discussing some common mis-perceptions of the LEED rating system.   

Alternative Certifications

The State of LEED: The Rise of Alternative Certifications and Codes

Since 1993, Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) has served as the premier green building certification system. In the decades since its creation, other certifications have risen; some to challenge LEED’s dominance, others to compliment LEED’s success. What is the role of LEED as we look ahead?

The Popularity of Alternative Certifications

As environmental concerns have become more of a priority for many state and local governments, many jurisdictions continue to support green building standards in their communities. Some have chosen to adopt alternative green building standards while retaining LEED as an alternate compliance path. The International Green Construction Code (IgCC), an overlay to the Building Code designed to create buildings with a smaller environmental footprint, is currently the standard in many states including Maryland, Rhode Island, Wyoming and 11 others. Green Globes continues to gain acceptance and BREEAM, a rating system originating in Britain, is emerging in the US. For residential projects, ICC700 and Enterprise Green Communities join LEED for Homes as compliant green building approaches. The good news is that green building is alive and well and that LEED is a part of the compliance equation. In the US, LEED remains the preeminent green building standard in the market.

The Emergence of Alternative Certification Standards

With the success of LEED, organizations have sought to expand the checklist of building qualities that affect occupants and their communities. In the process, new rating systems have emerged. For example, RELiis a building standard focused on designing resilient buildings that can avoid or more easily recover from environmental calamities inherent in a changing climate. Events over the past 20 years in the United States, including Hurricane Isabel, Hurricane Katrina, prolonged droughts, wildfires ravaging California and flooding in Ellicott City locally, have all shown the increased importance of resiliency planning. 

WELL and Fitwel are standards for buildings that focus on occupant health and well-being. The criteria are different but complementary to the LEED requirements for site, water, energy, materials and indoor environmental quality. The requirements of these rating systems build on the healthy building aspects of LEED to further enhance occupant health and wellbeing. Encouraging people to use the stairs instead of the elevators, providing access to healthy foods, eliminating material contaminants, providing quality views and energy-efficient lighting are among the various topics addressed under these standards. While there are some new elements introduced, much of what is included are deeper dives into the credits existing within the various LEED rating systems. 

How Many Systems Is Too Many Systems?

There are currently nearly a dozen alternative certification systems for buildings, more if you count the ratings for individual building types within each system. This does not include certifications available for products, sites, infrastructure and other non-building pieces and parts of our built environment. With so many codes, certifications and standards available, it is understandable that there is confusion over which is best for a given project. Many owners are re-evaluating the best way to build responsibly. At Doo Consulting, we believe there are still advantages to LEED certification which we will discuss in our upcoming LEED blogs.

Is LEED Still Relevant?

This is the first in a four-part series on the state of the LEED rating system as viewed by Doo Consulting. In our next blog in this series, we’ll be delving into the relationship between LEED, the International Green Construction Code (IgCC), and the International Energy Conservation Code (IECC).


50×30? C40? 1,000 in 2040? The Initiatives Shaping Our Future

With so many exciting initiatives taking place on a global level to reduce carbon emissions and slow the effects of global warming, it’s easy to get things confused. Beyond statewide missions like 50×30 to go green, the commitment to use 50% renewables by the year 2030, there are many bold commitments being made on a city level. C40 cities are those who are paving the way towards a healthier and more sustainable future.

C40 101

C40 is a formal network of over 90 of the world’s biggest and greatest cities who are united in a commitment to addressing climate change in a meaningful fashion. The cities involved include:

  • Cape Town, South Africa
  • Beijing, China
  • Jakarta, Indonesia
  • Toyko, Japan
  • Sydney, Australia
  • Berlin, Germany
  • Madrid, Spain
  • Milan, Italy
  • Buenos Aires, Argentina
  • Lima, Peru
  • Los Angeles, United States
  • New York City, United States
  • Vancouver, Canada

Cities are often hubs of innovation and change, and every city in the C40 network is aiming to create a sustainable future from the top down. The impressive roster of cities includes locales that make up 25% of the global GDP and 1 in 12 people worldwide. Collectively, the cities have completed over 10,000 actions to combat the spread of climate change. With impressive results like those, it’s clear why more cities are looking to get on board.

The Goals

While 10,000 actions have currently been completed, the member cities must complete at least 14,000 by 2020 to determine whether or not cities can meet the Paris Agreement benchmarks on time. Each member city is placed in a network where they can find opportunities to work on mutually-beneficial projects with other cities. Thanks to the well-developed networks, cities can also learn techniques that worked elsewhere and get ideas for implementation. Through data-driven collaboration, all C40 cities are dedicated to sustainability.

Green Building is Leading the Way

The C40 cities are all utilizing different Green Building techniques and ideas to make greener and healthier cities. Out of the cities participating, almost 75% are implementing incentives for businesses to invest in green buildings. 61% have municipal green building policies in place, and 73% have green school policies in place. Half are also currently implementing sustainable community policies. Please visit the C40 website to see if your city is a member. If it is, see what they are doing and support their efforts. If you are a developer, architect, engineer or contractor, there are great resources here. Planning, design and constructing the built environment play a big role in addressing the climate challenge.  If your city is not a member, encourage them to join! The shared resources and the city-to-city networking are invaluable.