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2012 Sustainable Opportunities Summit: Mark Gasta on Moving People To Embrace Sustainability

January 5, 2012

Marka Gasta

You don’t get to be Chief People Officer without a keen understanding of what motivates us as human beings. Vail Resorts’ CPO, Mark Gasta, works to uncover our drivers as professionals and to create behavior change that not only benefits us as people, but supports the bottom line and sustainability as well. In our Q+A, Mark shares his expert insights on moving people to embrace sustainability with dramatic results.

GoGreen: A lot of talk around sustainability for business focuses on efficiency and systems. What about the people? Where does the human element factor in and how important is it in the grand scheme of things?
Mark Gasta: Businesses are a system, and all of these factors play together. So if we are thinking about the environmental system, or other pieces of the system, and not paying attention to the human aspects of it, ultimately it won’t be sustainable. The system will become imbalanced.

In order to create organizations that do both well and good, we have to ensure the entire system is taken into consideration and that all intersections are tended to. Then we can maintain our profit margins, while also accomplishing our mission as an organization in the community. None of the elements in the system are mutually exclusive. When we drive shareholder value, we not only give that value to them, but we can then reinvest in our employees, our guest experience, our communities and environments–all are inextricably linked.

GG: From the human resources perspective, is sustainability a selling point for recruiting talent and retention rates?

MG: It is an incredibly strong selling point, because people want to feel good about the organization they work for. People want to understand how their efforts can contribute to a larger purpose. It doesn’t matter if the employee is coming just because they love the sport (in our case) and want to be a part of that sport. The stronger that connection is, the more they want to share this sport with others and share nature with others.

Its been proven through research that when people spend time in nature, it makes them want to protect it more and has a positive impact on their own personal values. You can build out that value chain and connect people with those higher purposes—and it doesn’t matter really what that higher purpose is as long as it’s greater than just showing up and punching the clock.

From this perspective, sustainability first creates greater success for the organization, but also results in greater engagement and satisfaction for the people working there. Getting back to the recruiting piece of it, when someone is contemplating their life and dreaming up how are they going to make a difference, they want to be part of something bigger. Sustainability helps us show that we can easily draw out their potential to have a very positive impact in the areas they care about.

GG: You also work with students in higher education. Are you seeing a greater tendency from this next generation of employees to place a higher value on sustainability?
MG: Oh, without a doubt. It’s on the minds of many kids coming through school right now. And that’s very refreshing and exciting. I read an article about a recent Harvard Business School graduating MBA class that had over 50% of its members sign a pledge that they would never work for an organization that did harm and that they would only work for organizations that did good.

People are looking for something more in their career. In the past, it took a catastrophe or something negative to cause people to be reflective and ask, “how am I going to make a difference” or “am I going to look back on my life knowing that I lived the life of purpose?” Today, I think those values are being engrained in us earlier on. Maybe it’s parents, maybe it’s technology giving people a better world view—but whatever the cause, it’s a good thing.

GG: What are your thoughts on where the responsibility should lie for succeeding at sustainability? Should it be with a green team or the sustainability officers or the executive team?
MG: The primary responsibility should not lie with a sustainability officer or green team. Now, should those parties be the conduit of educating others and providing tools and resources to help people understand how to drive and support green efforts – absolutely. But the reason I say no is because my goal is to make sustainability obsolete. Sustainability should be woven into the fabric of the culture and just be part of the business planning process. We should do it not because it’s going to result in altruistic successes, but instead because it’s the right thing to do for the business.

The beautiful thing about sustainability is that the pure definition of it is “be around to live another day.” If you’re not around to live another day, from a business standpoint you’re going to fail. If you want your business to be successful in the long-term, you have to ensure you build it in a sustainable way—which means paying attention and finding the balance for all of those key stakeholders. That includes not taking more than you give, as it relates to the environment, and ensuring you are not doing harm. Both can come back to bite you through brand reputation or negative aspects of compliance. That is the minimum expectation. From there companies have a unique opportunity to competitively differentiate themselves by becoming sustainability leaders and actually enhancing their surroundings.

Because it’s the right thing to do from a business perspective, the ultimate responsibility lies with an organization’s leaders. When they fully understand sustainability, they will see it meshes with the philosophy that wise decisions are those that consider the long-term viability of a company over short-term gains—and that short-term thinking ultimately does not result in a lasting success.

GG: How accountable do you think employees should be towards achieving the overall success of those strategic decisions and those goals?
MG: I think of it a little differently. I don’t think about holding employees accountable, so much as figuring out how we can inspire them to the chase the possibilities, Most people don’t wake up saying, “I want to destroy the earth today” or “I want to do things wrong today.” The responsibility lies with the folks who are leading this charge. They need to drive education, communication, and empowerment. It’s about helping people see how can they make a bigger difference, what their role is and their potential for aligning with a higher purpose.

We also need to create access to those paths and show how our teams can do all of this within their particular role. Every single person has the ability to make a positive difference . So, it’s not about holding employees accountable, it’s about inspiring them to be a part of something greater – which they naturally already want to do, in my estimation.

GG: Have you seen unintended consequences of a positive nature in other areas of your organization that have arisen from your sustainability efforts?
MG: Absolutely. It is all connected. I’ll go back to what we talked about earlier—that it’s all one system and you have to factor in all aspects of the system in order to create a sustainable organization. For example, as we work on employee engagement, many people may not immediately translate that as part of building a sustainable company. But taking care of the most foundational opportunities for employees allows them to become interested in things that create greater value-adds for the company overall.

When we do a regression analysis on our employee engagement scores, we see that the greatest driver in our company—the biggest difference we can make in further engaging our employees—is around sustainability. Our employees want to know how they can further influence our company’s work in the community and the environment, so we have been focusing on how to tie sustainability and employee engagement together.

As a result, we have never seen greater success as it relates to things like our guest satisfaction scores. This greater engagement we’ve fostered is resulting in higher guest satisfaction and it’s directly related to our efforts to help employees understand how our company makes a difference, and how they can personally contribute to our sustainability initiatives.

GG: What kind of organizational change is usually necessary to succeed at creating this very integrated system? What are the most common shifts needed or trends that you see?
MG: I think the greatest challenge for most of us is learning how to operate outside our silos. It’s easy to get stuck in them because that’s what we have control over. Thinking outside of those lines can be overwhelming. Be it a business unit or a department or a location – people are worried about themselves. They are not worried about everyone else.

Going back to the HR, many departments will plan their own strategy for the coming year, but how often do entire organizations bring the planning to a shared platform? Very few make that leap and even fewer take the more important step of looking across the full matrix to find points of integration and collaboration. But unless we look across all of those disparate agendas to ensure we have cross-coordinated our efforts in order to move forward together, we will always have the possibility that things will get out of balance. For example, you might have the greatest learning and development team in the world, but if your compensation and benefits programs are not competitive – you’re going to fail.

The key is to regularly look across the matrix and coordinate agendas at every level within the organization. If any aspect gets out of balance, you are going to stop moving forward and it is not a sustainable long-term solution.

GG: What would you say is the biggest barrier you’ve run up against in maintaining balance? How did you surpass it?
MG: Working outside silos is an on-going challenge. It’s hard and that ‘s why people don’t do it very often. It is easier for me to close my door and just worry about my work. If you take a collaborative approach, now I have to worry about everyone else’s work and how it fits together to create systems that are mutually supportive. Constant communication is required, as is a true commitment to a shared vision.

A very simple example: if my CEO came in right now and asked me to create a frontline bonus program for employees, I could close my door, pull up old documents of other frontline bonus programs created over time and come out in a few hours with a sixty page document that is a perfect frontline bonus program on paper. But would that be successful or would it fail?

It would fail, because I failed to ask a lot of questions that require looking outside of my own silo. What technologies are necessary to pay these bonuses and measure these successes? Are the measures I put within the program driving the right behaviors to lead to the right outcomes? Have we communicated to employees how they will be rewarded based on the desired behaviors and why that’s important to the overall success of the business? Have we trained leaders to help connect this rewards program with the outcomes we want? On and on and on—you can begin to see all the systemic interconnections in just that one example. Unless I work with all of those constituents—unless I coordinate across that matrix—the program won’t be successful.

GG: OK, lightning round (:30 or less!).

1. Best book you’ve read that’s not about sustainability, but totally applies to it?
MG: “How Then, Shall We Live” by Wayne Muller

2. What’s the worst great idea you’ve put in place and turned out to be a flop? How would you make it better the next time around?

MG: We have what we call “Street Teams” in our organization. Traditionally Street Teams are a group of people that go out before a band hits the city and do things like chalk the sidewalks and post posters all around to gain excitement around the bands coming in to town. We have established street teams at all of our resorts and the idea is that they are the voice of our employee population—they are owning and fostering a culture around the environment and engaging our workforce further. We are utilizing them for outward communication and to gather information. It is a great idea, but it’s really hard to implement, organize, and to keep it alive, plus figure out how to fully leverage it. So, I still believe that it is a great idea—but it is certainly not optimized and it is a constant struggle to keep going.

3. The number one concept you drill into your students’ and employee’s heads about sustainability?
MG: Find and live your passion. You want to be able look back on your life and feel fulfilled in it. That is defined differently for each of us, but in order to do that we have to understand ourselves—what we believe, what’s important to us, what are we good at, what we like and dislike, what gives us energy. Once you find those answers and live them daily, success will result personally and professionally.

4. What’s one piece of advice you would give to an organization just getting started on a sustainability strategy?
MG: Help your people understand the potential of sustainability—that it is not just altruistic, but it allows you to do the right thing and make smart business decisions.

5. One piece of advice you would give to an organization ready to take things up a notch?
MG: Similarly, when you help your team see the greater potential in sustainability, you will have the foundation set to reach new heights. Again, I think it is about education, empowerment and making sure you are speaking to the triggers of your audience.

Mark Gasta is the Chief People Officer and a sustainability advocate at Vail Resorts Management Company. He is also a featured speaker at the 2012 Sustainable Opportunities Summit and share insights on driving sustainability via behavioral and organizational change with attendees, March 21 in Denver, Colorado. Learn more about the Summit at:


EcoDistricts ’11: Photos Are In!

November 10, 2011

Photos from the 2011 EcoDistricts Summit are in! We’re excited to share snapshots from the best moments of this year’s event. Many thanks to event photographer, Edis Jurcys Photography for capturing the spirit of a very invigorating and thought-provoking event!

Day 1

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Day 2

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EcoDistricts ’11 Scaling Innovation: Sarah Heinicke

October 26, 2011

The Lloyd District is one of Portland’s five Pilot EcoDistricts and is moving forward to build a green-minded, diverse and unique neighborhood with a strong identity and strong ties to sustainability with a business case baked in. District Sustainability Director, Sarah Heinicke, shares her vision and an update on how this neighborhood is tackling environmental and social issues, while seizing opportunities, all at the district scale.

EcoDistricts: Each of the Portland EcoDistrict Pilots are quite distinct in terms of neighborhood culture and circumstance. How does the Lloyd District differ from its counterparts in the program and what priorities have come out of that unique perspective?

Sarah Heinicke: The Lloyd Eco district is comprised of large superblocks, suburban-style office development and governmental uses. The board itself is comprised of leaders from those key stakeholder firms and institutions. Currently there is no representation from the relatively small residential population, or small businesses interests, though we intend to reach out to those communities.

These are the obvious differences when you think of Lloyd District compared to Foster Green, or South Waterfront. Those are material differences, but I think we have a lot more in common than not. The process of implementing these kind of transformative changes on this scale, the issue of board involvement, community advocacy, and the prospect of implementation in a bearish market are challenges all the districts face no matter what their mix.

We are just now initiating our project priorities discussion and although I don’t have a final list to share with you, I can tell you there is a lot of excitement to just get started on something. It’s my job to make sure the project mix is right—from big multi-year, multi-stakeholder efforts to smaller, simpler projects. Projects that are feasible, impactful, executable and have a funding mechanisms built in are the strong favorites. Another priority that has emerged is getting our governance structure in order sooner rather than later so that we know exactly where we stand and to approach the community for support, either in terms of mission or funding.

EcoD: You’ve been in your role for several months now. What kind of vision has your working group developed for the Lloyd EcoDistrict in that time? How is success defined now that you’ve become acquainted with the project, the stakeholders and their priorities?


EcoDistricts ’11 Scaling Innovation: Susan Anderson on the City’s Role in Developing EcoDistricts

October 21, 2011

Susan Anderson

The City of Portland has been a major driver behind the EcoDistricts approach to sustainable development—and the world is taking notice. City of Portland Bureau of Planning & Sustainability Director, Susan Anderson, lets us in on why the district scale works, its potential as a global standard of sustainable development and the key aspects for cities to get right.

EcoDistricts: What inspired the City of Portland to drive the development & adoption of a district-scale model for sustainable innovation—i.e., the EcoDistrict?

Susan Anderson: Essentially, EcoDistricts are small enough to act quickly but big enough to have a meaningful impact. They also offer the potential for collaboration at a multi-block scale, creating opportunities that aren’t possible either city-wide or on a building-by-building basis. Over the last 10 to 12 years Portland has seen incredible strides taken in building performance—we’re beginning to see net-zero energy buildings, for example. But we also know that a district-scale approach creates opportunities to link buildings and achieve performance together that is much better than each building can do individually. The whole district can be much more than the sum of its parts. Solutions like district energy, for example, become feasible.

Working at district scale also taps into a powerful identity—the neighborhood. In Portland, neighborhoods provide a strong organizing identity that connects and motivates residents and businesses. Creating an EcoDistrict can both benefit and contribute to neighborhood identity, and the community development that results can create a powerful positive feedback loop.

Just as we’ve seen success at the building scale, we see even more options for a district. At a community-wide level we make plans, policies, investments and run programs, often quite successfully. We also know how, in most cases, city-scale change happens slowly. EcoDistricts offer the promise of delivering projects on a much-accelerated timeline, and one that is driven by the businesses, residents, and property owners in a district, not by the city.

EcoD: Why do you think this model is working in Portland? Is it something unique about our city culture or do you believe the EcoDistrict model can work anywhere?


EcoDistricts Summit ’11: PoSI’s Naomi Cole on The Compelling Nature of District-Scale

October 18, 2011

The team at Portland Sustainability Institute are quickly becoming the global experts at district-scale innovation. Their EcoDistricts model drives sustainable development in cities through stakeholder mobilization, social and infrastructure improvements across a neighborhood, and integration of best practices into the broader citywide cultural fabric. Three weeks from hosting their third annual EcoDistricts Summit, Program Manager Naomi Cole, talks about the increased value found in working at the district scale and why cities around the world are looking to Portland for a roadmap to sustainable development.

EcoDistricts: How does the development strategy change when working at the district scale rather than on a single structure?

Naomi Cole: It’s an entirely different strategy at a district scale. When working on a physical structure, the overall goal is pretty clear: a successful structure, like a new or retrofitted building, bioswale or energy system for example. When working at an EcoDistrict scale, there are potentially hundreds of projects and strategies to achieve the overall goal of environmental and social performance improvements.

At the district scale, we consider projects in the built environment as well as programs around people and behavior. And most importantly, the mechanisms for achieving these projects become much more complex because there are many more stakeholders than in a single structure. At a minimum, we have neighbors, developers, institutions, a city and utilities. Development at this scale requires a new process for making sustainable cities. We created EcoDistricts to provide a framework and approach for creating sustainable neighborhoods that includes new models of governance, assessment, project innovation, finance and policy.

EcoD: What is the most surprising unforeseen challenge you’ve encountered since working at the district scale and what solution or solutions have you discovered to address it?

NC: The process takes a long time. Stakeholder engagement and buy-in is, in many ways, the most critical step, and that process is dynamic and difficult to control. After we built our EcoDistricts framework we thought we’d be able to progress relatively efficiently in our pilot districts. But the process of engaging neighbors, formalizing partnerships, committing resources and building local capacity is very process heavy and takes time. Engagement has to be done right in order to get to the next steps of assessment and project implementation, which is where we all want to be.

EcoD: What is the single biggest driver of success for the development of an EcoDistrict? Why is it so important?

NC: There are two equally important drivers for success and they are addressed by our first two phases of EcoDistrict development: district organization and district assessment. The district organization process is what I described in the last question — engagement, vision, partnerships, capacity, and governance of stakeholders in an EcoDistrict. If this is done right, the next steps fall into place. The second, and equally critical, driver of success is an effective assessment process to prioritize projects. The biggest question once an EcoDistrict is organized is, “what are the right projects?” An integrated sustainability assessment across a neighborhood is critical for determining high impact projects, low-hanging fruit, and long-term ambitious investments. An effective assessment provides a roadmap for ongoing district sustainability improvements.

EcoD: Are EcoDistricts just a sum of their parts, in terms of benefits, or do the positive impacts grow exponentially when addressed as a collective unit?

NC: Definitely the latter. In fact, we often say, “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts” to describe the value proposition for EcoDistricts. The intention behind EcoDistricts is a more integrated approach to developing our cities. By thinking district-wide across multiple areas of performance, we see opportunities for investments to do many things at once. Adding bioswales to sidewalks, for example, provides a timely opportunity to lay infrastructure for district utilities, saving huge capital costs by tearing up streets only once. A neighborhood building retrofit program can save energy while also improving comfort, saving on utility bills, creating jobs and increasing property value. We focus on the district scale because it’s a compelling size — small enough to innovate quickly but big enough for meaningful results.

EcoD: What drew you to working at the district scale? Why is this concept so enticing to you personally?

NC: Neighborhoods are the building blocks of cities, so it’s the next scale (beyond buildings) that we have to tackle if we’re going to achieve the kind of ambitious city and regional sustainability goals adopted around the world. My background is in architecture, and I was drawn to architecture because the built environment provides an opportunity to create better places for people and nature. After working on buildings for a few years, I quickly realized that we could only accomplish so much within the walls of a structure. The next opportunity for the sustainability industry is neighborhoods because of the compelling scale.

Social networks enable change, buildings have the potential to share systems, and public spaces are ripe to create community and provide ecosystem services. I like the complexity of the neighborhood scale because we are challenged to consider a range of social, technical, financial and political issues that don’t come up at the building scale, but feel more manageable to address than at a citywide scale.

EcoD: If you could paint a picture of this nation’s cities in 20 years — how does the EcoDistrict fit in? What kind of progress and results do you hope to see over that time as a result of district scale innovation and development? Is there an end game or set of goals PoSI is working towards?

NC: EcoDistricts are a critical step towards eco cities. They aren’t an end in themselves but an important step on the path towards scaling up what works in urban sustainability innovation to address the myriad challenges faced by metropolitan areas. So many sustainability successes are still seen as boutique projects and not transferable. Our goal is not for every neighborhood to become its own independent EcoDistrict. Through EcoDistricts, we aim to innovate at the neighborhood scale to figure out what works and what doesn’t. Then we hope to ultimately make a particular practice, whether it’s neighborhood governance or assessment or finance, become the new norm for how cities operate.

EcoD: What do you think is so compelling about Portland’s EcoDistrict model? Why are cities around the world turning to the Rose City for guidance in developing their own district scale projects?

NC: I think the thing that’s compelling about our work is that we’ve created a framework – a “how to” approach – for getting to sustainable neighborhoods. Every city is looking for this. And while we know what we’ve got now isn’t perfect, it’s the best of what’s out there and it captures lessons learned and case studies from sustainable neighborhood projects around the world. While many cities work in specific neighborhoods with ambitious sustainability goals, we’ve taken a broad approach by developing a transferable framework that we hope can be adopted by cities around the world. In addition, as we respond to inquiries about EcoDistricts, we find that cities are equally interested in our expertise as they are in our leadership in creating learning networks and a place to share lessons learned in creating sustainable neighborhoods.

Naomi Cole is the program manager for Portland Sustainability Institute (PoSI) and a featured speaker at the third annual 2011 EcoDistricts Summit, October 26-28 in Portland, Oregon. Learn more about PoSI and their EcoDistricts model at Find details on the 2011 EcoDistricts Summit and register at

EcoDistricts ’11: USGBC’s Scot Horst on LEED + Neighborhood Scale Sustainable Development

September 23, 2011

When U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED system was founded in 1994, the focus was on individual projects. But sustainable development has evolved since then, and today LEED encompasses singular projects and neighborhood development as well. Learn about how LEED is providing the common language and foundation for district scale development from U.S. Green Building Council Vice-President and EcoDistricts Summit featured speaker, Scot Horst.

EcoD: Can you put some context around LEED’s role in advancing the concept of an EcoDistrict? What kind of positive contributions can LEED buildings, or rather a group of LEED buildings, make towards the development of a district with sustainability at its core?
Scot Horst: The tendency within the environmental movement is to think there is competition between different programs or that various programs are stealing an amount of thinking from a very confined market and that they’re taking it from each other. But, in fact what we know is that if we are going to be successful, we need to leverage all of our different abilities and thinking between many varied programs and approaches. LEED does something very specific—that other programs have not been able to do—which is bringing to scale a level of understanding and a series of different environmental ideas that are very approachable. It helps people who haven’t done this work before figure out how to get into it and what they can do.

What we find is that people who have done LEED projects like to go further on the next one. They like to see if they can do more sustainable projects on their next building, which ultimately leads to a more integrated approach. That’s the point when we start seeing LEED Platinum buildings being pursued and really incredible things put into place. So it only makes sense that if you have an environment where a number of people that have consistently been thinking within this platform and have become well acquainted with all of the different concepts—which we call credits or Environmental Approaches & Ideas—that they start realizing how these concepts work together. You hit that point and it becomes very apparent how all the concepts work towards creating a community or a neighborhood that can be distinguished by the fact that it goes much further even than what our own credits system broaches.

LEED can help reach this result by plowing the ground—getting people interested, getting them involved, helping them understand that a shared language of ideas exists for them and that there are others who are trying to do similar things. Because, once you become a leader, you want to do much more and to expand the impact. That’s where EcoDistricts and sustainable neighborhoods really come to the foreground.

EcoD: How do we use this common language—the LEED system—to bring all of the different stakeholders to the table? Completing a single building has its own set of challenges, but to develop at a district scale makes things considerably more difficult. Does LEED have a role to play?
SH: Yes. What planners sometimes say is that LEED misses the mark because it’s just about a single building, but we know that if we don’t look at neighborhoods, we’ll never get where we need to be. What that perspective ignores is the fact that LEED is successful precisely because it touches the place where people make so many decisions. It gives a lot of people solid direction on all the small decisions that add up to a large thing called a building.

You’re right in that this is much more challenging working at the neighborhood scale, so I’ve been extremely impressed with what we’ve seen come out of the LEED Neighborhood Development (ND) program and the development of EcoDistricts, because you need a much broader set of stakeholder interest to be successful—many times in areas where people don’t have decision making power. That means you have to find ways to influence people who are the decision makers.


2011 EcoDistricts Summit: Skanska’s Beth Heider on Building For 100 Years

August 26, 2011

Skanska VP Beth Heider believes in building for the next 100 years—not just the next 10. It’s a strategic shift in thinking that challenges developers and builders to look at costs over time and consider the future—as much as the present—bottom line when making decisions that will affect occupants and owners, as well as city and neighborhood vitality. With energy prices currently soaring and expected to rise even higher, performance becomes a key component of both building valuation and operational costs over time. In our interview, Beth outlines how the LEED system, developed by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), continues to help us make more informed decisions going forward.

EcoDistricts Summit: How do you see EcoDistricts playing a role in the planning of sustainable cities going forward?
Beth Heider: From where I sit—using insights gained working for Skanska and with the USGBC—I would say we need to look beyond the drip lines of our high performance buildings and—in the lexicon of the Living Building Challenge—scale jump. We need to look at how buildings act in a synergistic way with other buildings around them and how they work within the infrastructure that lays the basis for a community.

If you look at the statistics, people are moving toward cities and more densely populated communities. I think we have a unique opportunity to take a look at what we’re doing in our communities from a sustainability perspective in a broader way. If we take advantage of that opportunity, it should have wide-ranging effects. It’s going to demand that we look at things in a new light and create political, legal, financial and design infrastructures that are different than those we have now.

As you know, LEED has a number of rating systems. LEED for Neighborhood Development (ND) addresses a collection of buildings and the infrastructure that ties them together at the district scale. Perhaps the greatest impact the LEED ND program will have is how it informs the other rating systems. For instance, the number of credits available for choosing a site wisely has increased in LEED 2009.

EcoD: The LEED platform has been a significant driver of both the construction and mainstreaming of more sustainable buildings. But so much of the day-to-day benefit after a building is “finished” comes from behavior change and interactions with a structure. How do we take the energy that LEED brings to a project and carry it out over the long term—so that we’re not just creating technically sustainable structures, but also using them efficiently? 
BH: One of the things we’ve learned in the green building movement is the importance of using a consistent lexicon—a consistent way to benchmark the energy and environmental performance of buildings. The LEED platform gives structure to the dialogue.

When we started to look at the performance of buildings—it differed from the modeled performance. The notable New Buildings Institute (NBI) study that was done a few years ago on LEED buildings revealed anomalies – something that you can only do when you have a basis of comparison.

EcoD: What did the results show or prove? 
BH: What we found is that there are three key things that influence the performance of buildings—and now I’m not talking about ecodistricts, but rather the individual buildings.

One is how the building was designed. Was it designed thoughtfully in the LEED lexicon? Were the points pursued part of an integrated strategy and appropriate to what the building was intended to do? How was the building designed toward environmental and energy performance?

The second thing is how a building is used by its occupants. That speaks directly to your question. It’s the same with cars. If you drive your Prius like it’s a Maserati—you’re not going to get great gas mileage. It works the same for buildings. Fortunately with your Prius, you have a video game built into the dashboard that provides constant feedback on how your actions affect the car’s performance. Toyota puts you in a position to understand the direct relationship between what you do and how that changes energy consumption—which means you’re in an informed position to make decisions. If you want to drive your Prius like a Maserati—fine, but there are consequences that have to do with energy performance and the connected cost of fuel.

The third component is how a building is maintained and operated. Again, using a car analogy, it’s no different than making sure your tires are inflated properly and your oil has been changed recently. If you have all of those things in play, your building—like your car—will function as optimally as possible.

All three elements play into the performance of a project, but the great contribution that LEED makes is a lexicon that allows us to have this dialogue. And that conversation has, in turn, informed how LEED has evolved. As we move forward, the Building Performance Partnership Program is in place to capture electric and utility costs (as of LEED 2009). This new data management platform allows us (USGBC) to link performance of buildings to the decisions that were made or attributes of a project. We can provide owners feedback about the relationship between the points they have elected to pursue versus how their building is performaning on an actual basis (rather than a modeled basis). And this is a huge step between connecting building performance with the design intent reflected in the LEED points system.

EcoD: Do you think there is potential for a tool that—similar to LEED—allows cities to measure their building performance on a municipal scale that would be publically available and encourage friendly competition?
BH: Having reasonable data that is consistent and well-gathered, and feeding into a common metric for municipalities is a good idea—though there are all kinds of challenges around how you verify that the information reported is correct and making sure there is adequate education so people are able to understand how to participate.

There is also the issue of voluntary participation—which is what the LEED program is—versus legislated participation—which you see in places like Europe—that mandates a building’s grade be posted on the building. I think there is a balance there that we have to get right in terms of ensuring broad participation but not creating a mandate that is invasive. We want people to participate in a way that is righteous and consistent.

One of the great things we’re seeing come together at USGBC is that ability to aggregate information. If you get a chance, go check out the GBIG (Green Building Information Gateway) tool, which is available as an app on your iPad or iPhone. It takes the information loaded into the USGBC platform for buildings in a growing number of cities, and lets you click on a building (as long as it’s under the LEED certification umbrella) and view what LEED points were pursued and its carbon index. That tells you where the building stands on its own accord, but also how it stacks up against other buildings around it.

The GBIG analysis lets you see the landscape and when you’re planning subsequent buildings you can then decide whether you’re comfortable with where your building measures up in the marketplace or whether you want to take a stronger market leadership position. You can see what that might entail by comparing your ideas to what has been done within the country or your region. This tool very quickly calculates that information so you know how to plan your next project. It helps propel the market forward and accelerates the ability of developers or owners to make informed decisions. This is the mission of the USGBC: Market transformation.

Emboldened by our own research and feedback from tools like GBIG, at Skanska, our Commercial Development group has decided that LEED Gold will be the floor for all our development projects worldwide. In some markets, we are exploring LEED Platinum and recently, a Living Building, because we’re able to clearly see where our buildings need to be now, but also ask where they need to be in the future, so that people will be interested in leasing them and buyers will be interested in acquiring the buildings.

EcoD: What’s the vision in how stakeholders will use the GBIG tool? Can it help drive district scale sustainable development? 
BH: Owners, tenants and developers need to see where they’re going next and what their portfolio will need to look like in the future. That goes for new and existing buildings. Informed owners, lessees, brokerage houses, banks and insurance providers now have the ability to make a decision about where they want to be 20 years down the road. They can see which buildings match up, not only with their commitment to the environment, but also from a risk profile perspective. Assuming foreign oil and energy prices continue to go up or should some kind of carbon metric be established, GBIG provides the market with crucial information.

When you’re in a retracting market, sometimes you don’t want to think about the future, because the now is difficult enough to handle. But buildings last a long time, especially buildings constructed for institutional clients and in cities, which are designed to last 50 to 100 years or more.

We need to be thoughtful about where each buildings is going to be positioned in the future. Its value could easily erode if other buildings around it are performing at a much higher level. The cost of ownership or occupancy could be so high that people won’t want that energy hog over there when they can have this higher performing building over here. If you’re planning for 100 years you tend to make different decisions.

The ability to provide “buyer beware” information on our buildings will make it easier for people to make informed decisions. I think there is far more acuity in the market than we like to admit. The market is much savvier in regard to the connection between energy performance and long-term value now and growing more so every day. One of the reasons is that the LEED rating system has been around long enough that we are beginning to see performance over time. Banks can base building valuations on precedence rather than projections—which is huge. There is enough LEED stock on the market that we are beginning to see building valuations rewarding those who are doing the right thing from an energy and environmental standpoint. And that makes sustainable engineering/design a more scaleable and viable option for any development—including district scale development—then if you’re doing it just because it feels good or is consistent with a brand.

Beth Heider is Senior Vice President for Green Markets at Skanska and the Chair Elect of the US Green Building Council. She will be a featured speaker on the Leadership Panel at the 2011 EcoDistricts Summit, October 26-28 in Portland, Oregon. To learn more about the 2011 Summit or to register, visit: For 2011 Summit and Portland Sustainability Institute news and updates, follow @PDXInstitute on Twitter and Like on Facebook. 

2011 Green Sports Summit—A Better Way to Play

August 13, 2011

Last week our team was fortunate enough to be a part of the inaugural Green Sports Summit. Hosted by the newly founded Green Sports Alliance, the Summit was a three-day catalyst for the dialogue on greening the sports we love. They like to call it “a better way to play” and we couldn’t agree more. It’s an exciting time for a environmentally savvy sports fan!

We just got in some incredible photos from Opening Night from Dabe Alen Photography—who graciously captured the evening through his lens. What stands out to us? The vibrant energy present in everyone involved in this movement.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

More pics to come from days two and three. Stay tuned sports/Earth fans!

2011 Green Sports Alliance Summit: MLB’s Growing Sustainability Street Cred

July 19, 2011

MLB teams, such as the St. Louis Cardinals, are implementing sustainability programs and collaborating via the Green Sports Alliance.

The fields of Major League Baseball are a trademark shade of deep green—and increasingly, so are its team and venue operations. As one of the first professional sports leagues in North America to put a major emphasis on sustainability, MLB is blazing trails and creating best practices for sports organizations and venues worldwide to follow.

Listening to Commissioner Bud Selig speak on the connection between sports and environmental stewardship, it’s clear he and MLB get it:

“Baseball is a social institution with social responsibilities and caring for the environment is inextricably linked to all aspects of the game. Sound environmental practices make sense in every way and protect out natural resources for future generations of baseball fans.”

Teams have been implementing their own greening programs for many years, but recently the National Resource Defense Council and MLB moved to create a more centralized platform for league-wide adoption of sustainable best practices—the MLB Green Tracks program. Teams and venues were challenged to assess their current status on sustainability. They measured and then tracked several key targets in a centralized reporting system, including: energy use and efficiency, water use, recycling and diversion rates, and impact on community (carbon pollution, resource consumption, etc.). By making the information accessible to all within the league, MLB fostered friendly competition, with many teams working hard to “keep up with the Joneses.”

So what are you favorite teams and ballparks up to these days? Have a read through some of MLB’s most exciting and impactful sustainability initiatives:

  • The Seattle Mariners now divert over 80 percent of their waste! They have removed almost all trash cans at Safeco Field and replaced them with Compost and Recycling bins. The Mariners also switched to all compostable food containers within the park, and worked with their composting facility to generate “Safeco Field Compost” to give away to fans on Earth Day 2011.
  • The 2011 MLB All-Star Game festivities are in Phoenix this year, and together with the National Resource Defense Council, MLB and the Arizona Diamondbacks are really pulling out all the stops. Among other things, All-Star Game events will be offset with “Green-e Certified” renewable energy credits and fans will be provided with tips through out the week to live more sustainably. Even the red carpet is getting the green treatment—it will be made with 100 percent post-industrial recycled nylon yard.
  • The Diamondbacks also installed a cutting-edge solar shade covering 17,000+ sq. ft. of Chase Field’s plaza. It not only provides cover from the intense Arizona sun, but also generates solar power for the field’s facilities.
  • The St. Louis Cardinals host Green Week each year in order to educate Cardinals fans about the teams green initiatives and encourage them to take steps to be more sustainable in their daily lives as well. Green Week 2011 at Busch Stadium featured an electronics recycling drive and the offsetting of energy use with RECs (renewable energy credits) for the entire week’s games. The Cardinals also boast a 30 percent waste diversion rate and have lowered energy use over 15 percent in the past five years thanks to their ongoing “4 A Greener Game” program.
  • The Texas Rangers are irrigating their field with surrounding lake water and collecting grass clipping to spread as mulch or put alongside creeks to hold bare soil. They’ve also substantially increased game day recycling efforts by providing 120+ recycling bins around the ballpark and ensuring all trash collected from the stands after games is sorted for recyclable items.

So next time you’re in the mood for a family friendly, and likely eco-friendly, summer activity, consider supporting MLB’s sustainability efforts by taking in a game at your nearest ballpark (via public transit where possible!) and taking advantage of their green initiatives.

Fans in Portland, Oregon and the surrounding area can also learn more about the success and potential of sustainability programs at professional sports organizations at the Green Sports Alliance Summit Opening Program and Reception, August 1, 2011 at Gerding Theater. This event is open to the public and features speakers from the Portland Trail Blazers (NBA), Seattle Mariners (MLB), St. Louis Cardinals (MLB), Nike, NBA and more.

Registration for the Green Sports Alliance Summit Opening Program is required. Cost to attend is $35/$20 for students with a valid ID. For more information, please visit the event website.

EcoDistricts Summit 2011: Brian Geller on District Scale Sustainable Development and Seattle 2030 District Goals

June 28, 2011

There’s only so much impact a single green building can make on its own. The solution, if we still want to reach ambitious goals on energy efficiency, waste reduction and carbon neutrality? Start looking at things from a district or neighborhood perspective. The EcoDistricts concept does just that. By addressing these challenges at a higher level—in city planning and regional development—impacts grow exponentially compared to ad hoc development of sustainable buildings and infrastructure. Brian Geller, Founder and Executive Director of the Seattle 2030 District, explains the benefits and advantages to this approach and outlines his vision for the cities of the future.

Social Enterprises: There seems to be a lot of momentum in cities, especially those in the Pacific Northwest, around district scale development initiatives. What is it that makes these kind of programs so attractive for city planners?
Brian Geller: District planning is becoming more popular because it’s a logical scale for resource planning. The green building industry has made huge strides in the last decade, and many of the possibilities designers see involve reaching outside of a project boundary to neighboring properties.

SE: Do you think this kind of “friendly” arms race in sustainable development between Portland, Seattle and Vancouver B.C. will drive adoption in cities outside our region? Like LA? Atlanta? Boston?
BG: I think it will, though different cities currently have different strategies for planning and organizing district-scale environmental movements. I imagine, over time, that some replicable models will emerge, bringing together the most successful elements of efforts in different cities.

SE: How does all the work during the planning stages translate into a public benefit? How do sustainable districts benefit the people of a community?
BG: District-scale planning is wonderful because working towards a few simple performance metrics improves a community in many ways. Reductions in building energy use, water use, and vehicle miles traveled sounds very abstract, but the results—healthier buildings with healthier and more active occupant, safer and more walkable communities and healthier waterways—these are characteristics urban planners have been striving to bring to the people living in cities for decades.

SE: What are the biggest challenges in working with so many moving parts, people and organizations? Is it managing relationships or managing logistics? And how have you worked through them?
BG: Managing relationships with other organizations is a challenge. Many organizations overlap each other, with similar missions. No one wants to create confusion in the marketplace, but no one wants to stifle new ideas either. It’s a delicate balance that requires regular and open communication. We also don’t have a template to work from, so we have to figure out a lot as we go.

SE: What drew you to working at the district scale? What is the “passion point” for you personally?
BG: My personal passion point is tapping into the energy and vitality that makes cities special places to live. According to the Brookings Institute, this country is about to experience its greatest demographic shift in a century, due in large part to more people living in urban areas, where quality of life has the potential to be very high if we collaborate to find solutions. This once in a multiple-lifetime opportunity is ours to seize, or squander.

SE: Tell us about the Seattle 2030 District. What are the goals and vision for this undertaking?
BG: The goals come from the 2030 Challenge for Planning. We want to reduce the energy use, water use, and CO2 from vehicle miles travelled 50 percent by 2030, with even more aggressive goals (carbon neutrality by 2030) for new buildings.

The vision is to create a model of simple goal setting and community engagement that other cities can follow, even though specific local implementations and strategies will vary from one place to the next. Our pursuit of the existing building goals is unique in that they are aggregated. We know some buildings will go farther than others, but believe that by working together, as a community, we can achieve these aggressive goals and make Seattle so much better in the process.

SE: What kind of advice can you offer city planners and administrators who are looking into district scale sustainability and development? What key aspects should they consider? What common mistakes should they steer clear of?
BG: Focus on relationships, on how people in different departments, or different entities within a city, actually work together. This is not a technical problem we have to solve, but a very human one, and  new ways of interacting and cooperating are needed in order to be successful.

Brian Geller is the Founder and Executive Director of the Seattle 2030 District, a public/private partnership working to address Seattle’s 2030 Challenge goals from a district approach. Brian will also be speaking October 26-28 at the 2011 EcoDistricts Summit in Portland, Oregon on the District Scale Initiatives panel. For more information on the 2011 EcoDistricts Summit, or to register, please visit: Follow news and updates on Twitter (@pdxinstitute) and Facebook.