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USGBC's Brenden McEneaney: The Top 5 Trends Affecting Sustainability

San Francisco is a hotbed for sustainability and cutting-edge green building practices. To discuss what's next, we caught up with USGBC Northern California director Brenden McEneaney, who will be one of our speakers at Bisnow's San Francisco Sustainability: Green Building Revolution event March 24 at Hotel Kabuki.


Brenden's position puts him at the forefront of new trends driving innovation (that's him speaking at a building health workshop at Clif Bar's HQ, also shown below). Here he shares his top 5 trends affecting sustainability (as well as some educational programs to help address them).

1) Health


Companies are realizing sustainability goes beyond external environmental impact, Brenden tells us. USGBC is seeing more firms incorporate health and wellness into their building designs because of the positive effects on their most valuable asset—employees.

Interior access to green space and water, reducing toxics in building materials, lighting systems that support circadian rhythms—these things all improve cognitive function and top-tier companies are asking for them now, he says. (Sound also affects well-being. Check out Designing with Our Ears: A Talk With Julian Treasure.)

2) LEEDv4


The LEED rating system has been a transformative influence on the built environment and now building codes like CalGreen raise the floor on environmental performance for buildings, Brenden tells us. In response, the leadership standard has to evolve and set a higher bar.

LEED version 4 fully launches later this year, and while much of it will be familiar there are some substantial changes, particularly in the materials credits. In the Bay Area market where LEED certification is expected of Class-A space, this new version will have an immediate impact on the market. Fortunately, we’ve got a top-notch design community up to the challenge, he says. (Here's a LEEDv4 exam prep class.)

3) Water


The drought has everyone’s attention, and USGBC is focused on the building sector’s contribution to a solution, Brenden tells us. There’s still a lot of improvement to make on efficient plumbing fixtures and landscape water conservation, but the cutting edge is looking at on-site water reuse.

San Francisco has requirements for large new buildings. Los Angeles just announced new guidelines for systems. Major downtown firms have asked about installing their own water treatment and reuse systems, he says. One of the strongest recorded El Nino events has barely dented the drought, so smart companies will have a solution for this risk going forward. (USGBC hosts its annual Water Conservation Showcase, shown above, March 22.)

4) Zero Net Energy


California has set ambitious goals for Zero Net Energy (ZNE) buildings—residential by 2020 and commercial by 2030. Right now we know how to do ZNE for small-scale buildings, but we haven’t yet solved for high-rise buildings and for the scale of development that the state is likely to see, he tells us. 2020 is right around the corner.

If your firm hasn’t yet built a ZNE building, Brenden says you would be wise to get one under your belt as a competitive advantage over the firms that will be scrambling when the policy becomes mandatory. (Want to visit a ZNE building? The GreenerBuilder conference will be at the NECA/IBEW’s Zero Net Energy Center in San Leandro, above.)

5) Affordability

San Francisco skyline
credit: By Supercarwaar

As more people flock to the jobs, culture and weather of California’s major cities, affordability is reaching crisis levels for residents and businesses alike. Housing supply, construction costs, affordable housing policy—all these factors are at the heart of the issue, but it’s clear that affordability is fast becoming a sustainability issue, Brenden tells us.

He says the vision is healthy, sustainable places to live, work and learn for all members of the community. Clearly strong leadership will be needed across many complex sectors to achieve this goal in the Bay Area.

To hear more from Brenden and our other illustrious speakers on what will drive sustainability in the years to come, join us at Bisnow's San Francisco Sustainability: Green Building Revolution event March 24 at Hotel Kabuki. Sign up here!

Related Topics: USGBC, Brenden McEneaney