Overview of the USGBC’s Living Standard Research Report

Posted On: 
Apr 9, 2019
Overview of the USGBC’s Living Standard Research Report

In November 2018, at the Greenbuild International Conference, the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) announced their plans for creating a new living standard. The USGBC’s President and CEO, Mahesh Ramanujam, said in the announcement, “In the past, we have delivered on our promises of certifications, signifying high quality spaces in which we can live and work…Now, by harnessing the power of our partnerships with companies and organizations the world over, we will explore creating a new campaign—a Living Standard that indicates that an environment is healthy and safe for all who inhabit it—from buildings, to communities, to cities, to entire nations. Because a higher Living Standard is what every person on the planet deserves.”

Ramanujam then said in the recent release of the Living Standard that the campaign started as a research initiative with two main goals: to better understand the disconnect between the story of green building and the average American, and to learn whether telling a better story could provide the sense of urgency needed to improve every human being’s quality of life.

The Living Standard Campaign

This campaign was started because the USGBC believes they need to do more than what they’ve been doing for the last 25 years, which is working to prove that buildings are living entities that can positively affect climate-related risks if built correctly. The Standard Issue 001/U.S. Public Research Report they released this month is the first in a series from the Living Standard campaign which will focus on the power of storytelling for sustainability. Here is the overview of the standard, taken directly from the first report:

1. Public overwhelmingly agrees the environment is an urgent concern for humanity.

2. People want to live in healthy environment, but there are blockers for taking meaningful action.

3. For people to do more and create big, lasting change, conversations need to center around human terms, not just about humanity and global stakes.

4. The green building community can mobilize and inspire this change by connecting messaging to health outcomes for human beings, by continuing to prove that LEED has a role to play and can evolve to best meet public demands, and by suing inclusive words and phrasing. This last note is especially important for expanding the reach of the Living Standard campaign.

In order to meet these goals, the USGBC conducted research in five major cities on multiple different issues regarding climate change and sustainability and realized that the biggest priority is to lessen the gap between the big-picture concept of climate change that most people understand, and the perception of how that applies to or affects them on a personal level. They also focused on the relationship between people and the green building community.

How the Living Standard Campaign Applies the AEC Industry

According to the research report, there is a disconnect between perception and reality regarding the role of the building community in climate change. The report states on page 40, “To close both the time horizon gap for how concerning the environment is or will be and the distance between individuals and the problem, research suggests it is important to bring the problem into people’s day-to-day life by shining a light on the local environmental impacts if status quo of inaction continues. Consumers make an effort to be as green as they can. A 51% majority says they would be willing to spend more money on food, products, and rent if that meant living in an environment that set them up for a longer, healthier life. (Only 31%, by contrast, wouldn’t make that trade-off.) 65% of respondents don’t believe their environment is very healthy — and almost a third say they have direct, personal experience with bad health associated with poor environments or living situations, like asthma (18%), dirty drinking water (12%), asbestos (9%), and sick buildings (5%). Only 11% say green buildings. It is worth noting that the outcomes from green buildings, resource efficiency and water conservation, rank much higher and are quadruple and almost triple the relevance than green buildings respectively. This suggests we need to speak more about outcomes and impacts, rather than physical structures. People already give the green building community credit for their role in improving the planet. But planet doesn’t necessarily mean people. In fact, the results are very different when speaking about humans— as people are ambivalent about whether the green building community plays a large role in helping their communities. This is the problem we need to solve.” So how do we overcome the ambivalence about the impact of the green building community in the human story regarding climate change?

The Living Standard proposes a few ways to progress forward in this challenge:

1. Continue to emphasize the day to day benefits of green buildings—cleaner air and water, less toxin exposure, and energy savings, to name a few.

2. Be more concrete in how we talk about green building. Instead of emphasizing creating green jobs, or making changes now for the future, or long-term cost savings, or abstract terms like ‘happiness’ or ‘longevity’ or ‘overall health’, we need to get specific in our verbiage and offer tangible ways that green building is important.

3. Keep talking about LEED, not just to the AEC community, but to the community at large. It should be a selling point for a consumer that the office space they are renting or the home they are buying is LEED certified, not just a concept that only the AEC community discusses.

4. Discussion of how our personal decisions affect climate change needs to be a part of everyday conversation. We can keep this discussion alive by focusing on the healthy outcomes of green building and living; speak succinctly about how climate change affects future generations; and not shy away from pointing out the very personal stakes involved in the planetary climate catastrophe.

5. Change the verbiage used when talking about the issues. According to the research, “sustainability” had a more favorable response than “green movement”; “Mother Nature” was better received over “Planet Earth”; and while a lot of people were familiar with the term “LEED”, it was the terms “green buildings” that elicited a bigger response. Likewise, avoid industry terms, like “built environment”, and use laymen’s terms when speaking to non-industry people, to insure a better understanding.

What Step Comes Next for the Living Standard?

This first report is the first in a regular series that the USGBC plans to release over the course of 2019. Each report will have a specific issue and regional focus, and then during Greenbuild 2019 they will present the current data juxtaposed against 2018’s data and see if progress is being made. Apparently, there is already evidence showing that the USGBC’s online community is responding to the new Living Standard approach. Since launching it in November 2018, online interaction has been up in regard to content that includes Living Standard messaging.

What are your thoughts on the Living Standard? Do you think it’s possible that this can affect climate change as much as it’s intended to?

For more information or to discuss the topic of this blog, please contact Brad Blank