December 8, 2020 Shruti Narkar

The Top 5 Green Building “Buzzwords” of 2020

2020 has been quite a year. The pandemic that altered nearly every facet of our lives, the wildfires burning across the western US, waves of social change rising around the globe, and a presidential election like no other. But we weathered through the uncertainty and found new ways of going about our daily lives—and so did the green building industry.

As we wrap up the year, we put together a list of the top five green building “buzzwords” of 2020. We hope that these buzzwords will give you a glimpse of key ideas that have shaped the green building landscape this year. 

Carbon

The first in our rundown of the top five green building buzzwords of 2020 is Carbon. From embodied carbon to net zero carbon, this year we heard much more about the numerous ways to talk about carbon emissions in the green building sphere. If you are curious about the endless variations of carbon terminology, my co-intern, Kate Zeile, breaks it down pretty well here.

Along with that, we also saw a growing interest in tools like the Embodied Carbon Construction Calculator, or EC3, which enables the building industry to easily access and view material carbon emissions data. And Tally, a Revit plug-in that can perform a Life Cycle Analysis (LCA) on-demand during the design process. These tools can supplement & improve the current Whole-Building LCA effort, which remains the gold standard for measuring embodied carbon.

Equity

“Green building and equity go hand-in-hand,” said Mahesh Ramanujam, President and CEO of USGBC, and we couldn’t agree more.

Conversations around social equity ask us to examine the role of the built environment in dealing with issues related to people, communities, and society as a whole. These conversations encourage us to ask ourselves a very important question—does our project truly reflect the desires and needs of those who will be living in it, working in it, or affected by it? 

Against the backdrop of the Black Lives Matter movement, Verdical Group publicly committed to anti-racism this year: acknowledging the lack of diversity in the green building industry and our responsibility to educate ourselves, we took immediate action to create change within our organization and to implement policies intended to ensure long-term, sustainable change. We also issued a call-to-action for others in our community to do the same, and compiled a list of companies in our industries who committed to doing the same on social media.

On a larger scale, rating systems like LEED explicitly promoted their Social Equity Pilot credits, which are designed to address the perspective of everyone who is touched or impacted by a building, including the community, project team, and supply chains. Our Verdical Group team is proud to be working with Kilroy Realty Corporation to lead the way by integrating the social equity pilot credit in our One Paseo Project.

Net Zero

“We need net zero everything, now.” — Drew Shula, founder & CEO of Verdical Group.

And by everything, we mean Net Zero Energy, Carbon, Water, Waste, Transit, and beyond. This year, we saw a growing push from rating systems, companies, and governments toward net zero targets. In its new report, Making Mission Possible – Delivering a Net-Zero Economy, the Energy Transitions Commission (ETC) says a prosperous net-zero emissions economy by mid-century is possible, and this is how it looks (source: Energy Transmissions Commission).

We at Verdical Group are thrilled to accelerate our path toward a more sustainable future through events like our annual Net Zero Conference as the energy and momentum around Net Zero continues to grow.

Climate Crisis

City skies across the world have been clearer during the COVID-19 pandemic, but is it likely to last? While the entire world grapples with the pandemic, the planet continues to heat up, the sea-levels continue to rise, the flames on our hillsides continue to become bigger, and floods continue to displace entire communities. Because even the greenest buildings may still be affected by natural disasters, we see a growing interest in shaping buildings to be resilient. At the Greenbuild Resilience Summit 2020 summit this year, it was interesting to see the RELi rating system emerging as the new leadership benchmark for resilient buildings and neighborhoods. 

The climate crisis is not a new buzzword in our industry, but it was on the forefront of discussions around the world this year. For instance, in the US presidential debates of 2020, we saw the climate crisis receiving unexpected attention for the first time as we watched both candidates express their starkly different views on the topic.

Occupant Health

One of the most important ways the COVID-19 pandemic shaped our industry is by putting occupant health and safety at the core of our green building journey. There has never been a more crucial time for building owners and operators to implement new health and safety measures as we prepare to eventually return to a new normal.

Building re-entry strategies like improving indoor air quality, outdoor programming, biophilic amenities,  touchless fixtures, and conspicuous signage were brought into the spotlight to mitigate the spread of the virus. 


We also saw a variety of helpful resources that were developed in response to the current pandemic, like USGBC’s LEED Safety First Pilot Credits, the Fitwel Viral Response Module, the AIA Re-occupancy Assessment Tool V3.0, and strategies from WELL v2 Building Standard. We are happy to share that Verdical Group provided LEED Project Management for the PCL Glendale District Office tenant improvement project, which was one of the first in the world to achieve the Safety First: Re-Enter Your Workspace LEED pilot credit.

Conclusion

As we get ready to dive into the holiday season, it is important to note that the global pandemic has brought us all closer than ever. It has also laid a common ground for the green building community as we adapt to the greatest challenges of our time. 

I hope that this list serves as a gentle reminder that mitigating the climate crisis is going to require us to reduce our carbon emissions and work toward a net zero future while addressing social equity and prioritizing occupant health. Alas, that’s how you tick off all five buzzwords in a line!