Despite the need to broaden the general green building conversation beyond the industry, the public does see some tangible benefits green buildings can have in their local communities. Part of USGBC’s study spent time explicitly asking about perceptions of green buildings. For instance, around two-thirds of respondents see a link between green buildings and cleaner air, less exposure to toxins and cleaner water in their communities. And, after being read a description of LEED, 59 percent believed it could play a role in helping people live longer and healthier lives. Given that almost one-third of respondents indicated they have direct, personal experience with bad health associated with poor environments or living situations, the tangible benefits should play a key role in any green building conversation.
“We know that green buildings are only part of the solution to lengthening and bettering the lives of every person on the planet. That’s why the heart of the green building community’s efforts must go beyond construction and efficiency,” Ramanujam adds. “We must expand the way we talk about sustainability and focus on human beings because the standard we are most committed to raising is that of quality of life itself.”
USGBC’s research provides the insight needed to understand how the green building conversation must evolve. The environment is an urgent concern for the public, but it has not yet led to corresponding levels of lasting, meaningful actions. Connecting to those still on the sidelines requires speaking about benefits of green buildings and communities in local, human terms, not just in terms of humanity and planetary stakes.
USGBC has identified key areas to talk about how green buildings can help, who they help and why they are necessary:
Promote healthy outcomes: Sustainable cities improve people’s lives by providing designed spaces and resources that help people live longer, healthier and happier lives.
- Design teams can create high-quality, healthy spaces through strategies, like using low-emitting materials, daylighting, visual and acoustic comfort, air quality monitoring and more.
- Explaining the benefits of these strategies and how decisions, like using toxin-free materials, can improve physical health and comfort by reducing symptoms of allergies and respiratory-related illnesses, helps elevate the importance of green buildings in the minds of consumers and clients.
Future generations: At the rate the planet is warming, catastrophe is almost certain, yet there is still hesitancy to act decisively today and not wait until tomorrow. This present-future dichotomy changes depending on age, with younger respondents more interested in taking action both now and in the future. Future generations deserve to live in a healthy, thriving environment and companies need to show definitive progress today.
- To inspire action, companies and individuals should seek out and promote stories and instances that demonstrate how their efforts are improving quality of life across communities.
- Communicating about sustainability should demonstrate how efforts are not only supporting the triple bottom line now, but how it’s helping prepare for the next generation.
- USGBC’s Living Standard campaign is actively promoting stories and inviting others to join the effort.
Planetary stakes: Communities are feeling the effects of climate change with more severe weather events, including floods, fires and storms. Prioritizing and communicating the impact of resilience efforts will fuel the desire to change.
- Sustainable buildings are the cornerstone of enhancing community resilience. Resilient design often includes the use of durable materials, thoughtful site selection, rainwater collection, demand response, grid islanding, energy efficiency and onsite renewable-energy generation.
- Talking about green building as a part of any city or area’s resilience plan can help residents understand how design can help communities prepare and plan for, absorb, recover from and more successfully adapt to adverse events.
USGBC’s research is part of the organization’s Living Standard initiative, which seeks to raise the quality of life for people around the world through research and storytelling. This report is the first of several, which are yet to come. “We believe that storytelling can lead to a more sustainable world,” Ramanujam adds. “This research shows us where we’re starting from and through storytelling we can get where we need to be.”
Companies are encouraged to share their LEED and green building stories.