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Archive for April, 2018

Reduce Food Waste

USGBC’s Senior Policy Counsel shares why she is motivated to reduce food waste.

The earth that gives us all this food,
The Sun that makes it ripe and good.
Dearest Earth and dearest Sun,
we will not forget what you have done.


As spring brings blossoms and ever-present birdsong to the metro D.C. region, I’m reminded of Earth Day of this blessing that has stayed with me since my child’s preschool years. It is a deceptively simple act to pause, reflect on and appreciate what the Earth and sun give us, but it is harder to practice in the bustle of everyday life. Personally, I derive disproportionate joy from seeing my small patch of lettuce sprout and then grow, visibly it seems, every day.

To those of us who have it in abundance, food is one of life’s pleasures and an important element of socializing and community. To others, food is about survival, economic stress, and helplessness. If our eyes are open, we need not look far to find individuals facing risks from food scarcity, often right in our neighborhoods, schools and communities.

Reducing waste, reducing CO2

The United States leads the globe in the efficiency of food production and in food exports, but there’s much we still need to learn to fulfill the responsibility of abundance. A new study from the U.S. Department of Agriculture finds that U.S. consumers wasted about 150,000 tons of food per day—a quarter of the daily food available for consumption—representing the production from 30 million acres, or 7 percent of our cropland.

In this study, higher-quality diets were associated with greater amounts of food waste, especially fruits and vegetables, which are the most likely categories of food to be discarded. Even more is counted as wasted if we include products that don’t make it to market, such as those deemed unattractive because of bruising.

Wasted food has a significant toll on the climate from greenhouse gas contributions—both in the emissions from wasted energy and resources to grow, harvest and transport the unused food and in methane release from decomposition. Researchers have estimated food waste contributes 4.4 gigatons of carbon dioxide each year, nearly as much as emissions from road transportation.

Giving back to the Earth—and fellow humans

Climate impact alone provides strong motivation for many of us to reduce waste. But perhaps an even stronger motivation is our natural desire to give. Sharing our collective food abundance taps into our human impulse of generosity, which science shows contributes to individual happiness. Actions to help get food where it’s needed, and keep it out of landfills, are not just things we “should” do.

Opportunities to give, and to and reduce waste, are everywhere—at food banks, farmers’ markets, soup kitchens, community gardens and home compost stations. I’m excited by innovative models that are cropping up to match volunteer solutions with our human desire to help.

Also, new attention is being paid to the dual food waste/hunger challenge. For example, Baltimore-based Hungry Harvest sells “ugly” produce that would otherwise be thrown away and uses the proceeds to subsidize food access for those in need.Globally, Selina Juul has created a movement about stopping food waste.

Tangible ways to appreciate and share our abundance—to thank the earth and sun—are right in front of us, if our eyes are open. Earth Day, Earth Week and Earth Month are a terrific time to notice and take advantage of those chances to give back.

Cali Green Alignment

USGBC, creators of LEED, the green building rating system, announced significant streamlining for all LEED prerequisites and some credits for California projects that are pursuing certification under LEED v4. New projects built to California’s robust energy and green building codes (CALGreen) are pre-approved for significant streamlining of fundamental LEED requirements.

“LEED has always helped to raise the bar on code so that we can continue to push the market to reduce carbon emissions,” said Wes Sullens, USGBC director for codes technical development. “In the case of CALGreen, LEED is able to celebrate the leadership of California by recognizing its efforts and allowing projects to pursue both CALGreen and LEED. This streamlining effort recognizes those leaders in the green building space who constantly push the market to new heights. It also signals to the rest of the U.S. what’s possible when you add the weight of LEED to a robust building code, and that for those already operating at this level, certification is actually very attainable.”

With California leading the way, many cities, counties, and states are adopting green building strategies as mandatory requirements in local codes. USGBC has been working on the greening of building codes for more than a decade. Since 2014, USGBC has worked to align requirements between LEED and CALGreen, and although all projects must earn a minimum of 40 points to earn LEED certification, California’s green codes put project teams on a more direct certification path.

Last July, USGBC substantially expanded streamlining the LEED v4 Building Design and Construction (BD+C) credits and prerequisites on projects built to California’s codes. To date, the project teams for more than 3 million square feet of space have taken advantage of that effort. Now, projects built to the 2016 California code can seek certification through additional streamlining of the LEED v4 Interior Design and Construction (ID+C) and rating system and that for homes. Additionally, commercial projects pursuing points toward certification using the Optimize Energy Performance credit now benefit from an update that reduces the need to run additional energy models if the project is building to, or exceeding, California’s code.

“The LEED streamlining announced today is welcome news for local governments in California, who are working hard to meet climate and sustainability goals,” said Deborah Weintraub, chief deputy city engineer at the Los Angeles Bureau of Engineering. “We think the duplication of work that is minimized by this recognition in LEED will reduce costs and allow us to focus our time and the public’s resources on pursuing higher levels of LEED. We applaud USGBC for taking this step to recognize California.”

In addition to being the first state in the nation to adopt a mandatory green building code, California is home to some of the first LEED buildings and consistently certifies the most projects in the U.S., year after year, per capita. In 2017, 475 projects achieved LEED certification in the state, representing more than 89.26 million total square feet of space.

Built for Health

On this week’s podcast, learn how the urban farming movement is changing the food landscape for the better.

Diet has a great impact on the quality of human life—hence, the expression “you are what you eat.” Our diets suffer for many reasons, including our desire to be satisfied quickly. Many of us, especially in urban areas, also struggle with finding access to fresh fruits and vegetables, the cornerstone of a healthy lifestyle.

With the advent of urban agriculture initiatives, that struggle is waning, and building owners, operators, and occupants have a significant role to play in bringing the farm to the table in cities and communities around the country.

On the newest episode of “Built for Health,” Dr. Michael Greger, a physician, author and professional speaker on public health issues, and Christopher Grallert, Partner, Advisor and Managing Director of Green City Growers, join host Flavia Grey for a discussion on nutrition and how the urban farming movement is changing the food landscape for the better.

Listen to “Built for Health: Nutrition and Food Production” for more on the connection between nutrition and health outcomes, strategies for onsite local food production and how edible landscapes can support your environmental goals.

Learn more about what our bodies need to be healthy and how buildings can help provide the means to cultivate an optimal diet. The episode is eligible for .5 CE hours on the Education @USGBC platform. Listen to the episode, and then take the quiz.




Recovery before Disaster Strikes


After the shock of a disaster has abated, the community begins to think about restoring normalcy. Bringing back school operation is a top priority since it allows faculty and staff to get back to work and brings students back to the city. But this can take time. After Hurricane Katrina, for example, it took several months for a few schools to return to operation and almost two years before there was enough building capacity to meet the demands of the families returning to New Orleans.

States have an opportunity to assist communities in their efforts to rebuild better than before. All federal disaster funds flow through states to local communities, and most local communities are unprepared because they do not manage these funding sources on a regular basis. States are well positioned to provide technical expertise to local leaders and to help manage recovery and envision what the future can hold for a community, including its school system.

State governments should support efforts at the local level not only to recover from a disaster but also to ensure community resilience after future events. Based on my experience in rebuilding the school system after Hurricane Katrina, here are a few recommendations for how states can assist.

1. Help local governments develop and adopt a master plan immediately.

One of the major obstacles to rebuilding in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina was the lack of a comprehensive rebuilding plan. School reconstruction had to wait until the city’s plan could be decided, thus delaying when students could safely return to school.

Many federal funding streams require the existence of a community-wide plan, developed with community input. This process can be lengthy and contentious. In New Orleans, it took two years to develop a plan for the city, then another year to develop a plan specifically for the schools, which had not had a master plan since the 1950s.

Prior to Katrina, the Recovery School District of Louisiana—a statewide school district of underperforming schools established in 2003—only operated a handful of schools in New Orleans. The Orleans Parish School Board operated a portfolio of buildings that had 50 percent more capacity than enrollment. If a master plan for optimizing these facilities, including new construction and major renovations, had been in place prior to the storm, the rebuilding process could have been initiated far more swiftly, and schools could have been a powerful anchoring force for community health and recovery.

2. Establish minimum standards for greener, more resilient school buildings.

A 2015 national independent poll commissioned by USGBC found that 92 percent of Americans believe that the quality of public school buildings should be improved. To do this, we need standards that align policy with contemporary expectations for healthy, green and resilient school buildings. Federal disaster funding, too, requires building standards as part of project formulation.

However, many small rural and large urban districts do not have the time, resources or expertise available to evaluate or establish standards that prioritize community health and resiliency. Among other benefits, standards that include measures to enhance resilience, such as USGBC’s resilience-focused tools, can prepare buildings to serve as emergency shelters during future events. Here again, states can help by providing guidance and resources well in advance of any urgent need.

3. Provide technical assistance and advocacy.

Except for limited funds provided by the U.S. Department of Education, there are very few opportunities for school districts to manage federal grants. States can act as collectors of local knowledge and offer training to local officials on developing successful applications for funding. Specifically, states can help by

  • Conducting a thorough review of state procurement laws, comparing requirements outlined by the funding source with the options available to municipalities and state agencies. When barriers are discovered, states should negotiate a solution on behalf of the applicants, rather than requiring applicants to manage this on their own.
  • Frequently convening a cross-section of applicants to identify common problems and to facilitate sharing of best practices.
  • Creating a list of the common barriers to recovery across the portfolio of applicants. This could advance state-level policy and serve as a model for other states.

4. Assist with cash flow.

Many municipalities and local subdivisions are strapped for cash, limiting their flexibility to quickly invest in critical infrastructures, such as schools, in a timely manner. States should have a process to advance or loan money, as well as one to hasten reimbursement of expenses. Since most federal disaster grants are reimbursements, states should consider a revolving loan process for eligible work, to help municipalities that don’t have the cash flow to get started.

When states support municipalities in rebuilding local infrastructure, local efforts are amplified. For schools, this support is especially critical, because they serve as cornerstones of their communities. With states and municipalities working together, schools cannot just return to normalcy but can emerge more resilient than ever before.

Advocacy Day

The event featured policy briefings and discussions on water, energy, air, land, transportation, and health.

Feature image photo credit: Climate + Energy Project.

On March 15, USGBC Central Plains participated in an environmental education and advocacy day, titled “WEALTH Day,” at the Kansas State Capitol in Topeka. The event was hosted by the Climate + Energy Project. The nonprofit organization’s goal is to “dramatically reduce greenhouse gas emissions in America’s Heartland through the ambitious deployment of energy efficiency and renewable energy, in policy and practice.”

The event featured policy briefings and topical discussions on the six subjects suggested by the WEALTH acronym: Water, Energy, Air, Land, Transportation, and Health.

Participating on behalf of USGBC Central Plains were Jennifer Gunby, USGBC State and Local Advocacy Manager; Julie Peterson, USGBC Director of Community for Central Plains; and Josh Thede of Henderson Engineers, USGBC Central Plains Emerging Professionals Chair–2018, and City of Mission, Kansas–Sustainability Commission.

USGBC is monitoring two particular energy efficiency bills and met with Gov. Jeff Colyer’s staff on expanding the benefits of energy efficiency and green buildings in Kansas.

  • KS SB347—Utilities and demand-side programs: Changes how benefits of energy efficiency programs are calculated by replacing the state’s current tests with one based on the National Standard Practice Manual.
  • KS SB 322—Utilities and the net metering act: Would revert state law to 2009 regulations that protect Kansas residential distributed generation (DG) from demand charges. This would apply only to investor-owned utilities’ residential solar customers.

LEED Certification

The U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) is a non profit organization that certifies sustainable businesses, homes, hospitals, schools, and neighborhoods. USGBC is dedicated to expanding green building practices and education, and its LEED® (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Green Building Rating System™.

Chemline, Inc. is a member of The U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) and has the potential to provide LEED points.