Technology Is Transforming the Built Environment

austin_colorBy Austin Good | Sustainable Building Associate

It’s no secret technology has made great advancements over the past couple decades. It was only 8 years ago that Apple introduced the iPhone which kick-started the mobile computing revolution. Now, only a few years later, mobile technology is ubiquitous. Just as the rise of mobile computing occurred so quickly we are beginning to see technical advances make their way into the DNA of our built environment. Buildings and systems are being outfitted with sensors and computers allowing them to make their own calculated decisions based on the surrounding environment.
Smart-Home-graphic.jpgSmart buildings support sustainable behavior.

People are becoming more aware and more in control of the built environment through real time information about everything from energy use to bus schedules. The USGBC recently came out with their LEED Dynamic Plaque which shows building occupants updated information about a building’s energy and water use along with other metrics in an attractive easy to read display. Technology like this helps people see buildings as real time systems, with real time benefits and consequences associated with how the building is used. As real time building metrics develop, maybe these dynamic displays will show more than just a building’s environmental impact, they could also display metrics for another building down the street, entire block, or a city creating friendly competitions around reducing resource use. In the future, every home could be outfitted with dynamic information measurements, allowing homeowners to monitor their resource consumption in real time.

Smart buildings can diagnose and fix problems real-time.
Using smart building data to support good behavior is one piece of the puzzle, but another important one that this technology enables is the ability for our buildings and their systems to troubleshoot issues in real time, quickly solving problems and saving resources. A great example are the new thermostats like Nest that enable better control over a buildings heating and cooling. Not only are these thermostats easy to install in existing buildings, but because they are connected they are adaptable. Nest, a leader in the smart thermostat field, recently pushed out an automatic software update to existing Nest thermostats that included energy efficiency improvements. This software update enables these smart thermostats to more efficiently control a home’s temperature by taking into account more factors, like weather, how drafty your home is, and what your personal schedule is like. This software update, that happened overnight for thousands of users, increased home energy efficiency gains of between 3.8-6.5 percent. Imagine if every building was outfitted with a smart thermostat and all of our cities saw those gains overnight.

Smart buildings learn.
Because of integrated, connected software, smart building systems can continually evolve and learn, allowing them to be more efficient without waiting for consumer to adopt the next generation technology. Instead of having to wait to buy an entirely new car to gain efficiency, software updates can enable us to make gains using what we already have. Sure, there will still be need for physical improvements to technology, but software updates may enable us to use products and systems for longer, extending product cycles.
These examples only scratch the surface. In a time where we desperately need to reduce our resource use these advances are critical. 30 years ago, no one could have predicted the technological advancements that we have made. As we continue to develop a connected world it’s exciting to imagine what lies ahead in the next 30 years.



GB_2015_graphicIn November, four IBE staff attended the Greenbuild International Conference & Expo in Washington, DC. Read on to hear their “Best of Greenbuild” experiences and to tap into new resources—whether you attended the conference or not.



Healthy air in green buildings doubled cognitive function in Harvard study.

A recent study led by Harvard’s Center for Global Health & Environment shows conclusive evidence of the positive effect of healthy indoor environments on cognitive functions. Using a controlled, double-blind experiment, the team saw a 61% increase in cognitive function in green building conditions and a 101% increase in enhanced green building conditions. This level of certainty has never been reached due to the confounding variables present in buildings; hence, a controlled experiment was required. It’s exciting to know this effect to justify better ventilation for office buildings. And since 90% of business expenses are connected to people, not utilities, healthy building design is a critical focus.

What this means for the industry: We now have the science to definitively back up the need for healthy indoor air. Improved ventilation, filtration, and non-toxic materials should no longer be debated. Let’s move on to more important issues.

The Investor Confidence Project provides an underwriting certification for energy audits to ensure energy efficiency projects are investor-ready.

We know that existing building stock is ripe with energy efficiency opportunities that can yield significant returns. However, how can investors be confident that their funds will be spent wisely and well-managed? Financial executives are unlikely to be engineers, so they are unable to review process and assumptions to ensure an audit’s financial analytics are sound. As well, long-term savings are heavily dependent on those operating the building. Therefore, the Investor Confidence Project provides an underwriting certification that makes energy efficiency a more viable investment product.

What this means for the industry: There will continue to be more private capital available for energy retrofits. Building owners will quickly get on board since this usually requires zero capital investment and immediate positive cash flow. Many large investor groups are interested in entering this market (e.g., Deutsche Bank) because if performed correctly, this is s a low-risk investment with high environmental and social impact.



Pushing Materials Transparency: Tips for Tackling LEEDv4’s Game-Changing Materials + Resources Credits

Before delving into LEEDv4’s Building Product Disclosure & Optimization (BPDO) credits consider these three product rules—shared by material experts Jennifer Atlee, Anne Harney, Paula Melton, and Kirsten Ritchie—that struck a chord with me:

  1. Compare with care: The intention of the BPDO credits is to encourage transparency. The more consumers ask for Environmental Product Declarations (EPD), Health Product Declarations (HPD), and Corporate Sustainability Reports (CSR), the more commonplace these will become. There’s still work to be done to standardize the information and methodology used in these reports. Until then, compare products with care and understand that just knowing the information is half the battle…for now.
  1. Let someone else do the work: There are numerous resources available to project teams to understand which products and organizations have EPDs, HPDs, and CSRs. Before getting lost in a rabbit hole, check out this Materials Mind Map for a comprehensive list of resources.
  1. Perfection is the enemy: More information brings more choices. This is great for the materials transparency movement, but can be overwhelming when trying to decide which material to use. Should you choose the carpet with low global warming potential but manufactured in China, or the one that’s local but contains toxic substances? There might not be a one-product-has-it-all option, so do your research and make the best informed decision for that particular project.

What this means for the industry: Achieving LEED BPDO credits may be difficult for now since the concepts are new to many product manufacturers and suppliers. However, the more the green building community shares its methods, challenges, and resources for achieving these credits, the faster we’ll see market adoption and the easier it will become to achieve these credits. It’s time to roll up our sleeves and work together to bring transparency to materials!

Josie_colorJOSIE PLAUT

Creating Living, Regenerative Environments Workshop Sold Out

Brian Dunbar and I, along with Stacy McMahan of Koch Hazard Architects and Max Zahniser of Praxis Building Solutions, presented LENSES to a sold-out room of 200 building professionals during a special 2-hour session. LENSES (Living Environments in Natural, Social, and Economic Systems) is a structured process for regenerative development. During the session, participants interacted with the concepts and process of the LENSES framework through hands-on activities. From the sold-out attendance, number of questions, and input from participants who approached us afterward to share how they could integrate LENSES into their work, this session was a strong confirmation that this is just the beginning of market adoption of this fairly new regenerative development framework. Learn more about LENSES.

DamNation: A study in the shift from conquering nature to recognizing nature within us

I was fortunate to see Greenbuild’s showing of the documentary “DamNation.” This film offers an inspiring look at the movement to remove dams from rivers, restore salmon and other fish populations, and bring back ecological health, all while honoring native peoples. I highly recommend having a watch yourself. Learn more here.


brian_colorBRIAN DUNBAR

The Best of 14 Greenbuilds

Having attended all but one Greenbuild, I’m struck by many recent reflections. Here are a few.

CSU and IBE are always well-represented by students and staff at this international conference that annually attracts 20,000 to 25,000 planning, design, construction, and facilities professionals. IBE has coordinated receptions and lunches at many Greenbuilds to bring students, alumni, and partners together. This year, Roberto Mesa, former IBE intern and CSU grad student, brought three Costa Rican colleagues to join us. Because of the teacher in me, I always ask the assembled group to quickly share their “Best of Greenbuild”—either a great session or a big “a-ha.” From this year’s shares, we learned of ground-breaking community engagement in Pittsburgh, new water conservation strategies, the next evolution of LEED, health research breakthroughs in school design, and new building innovations. Those who have been part of a previous lunch always plan time to join the next year’s gathering because it’s a great way to put a seal on another inspiring Greenbuild.

Another reflection takes me back to the first Greenbuild in Austin in 2002. One of the keynotes was a confident young architect from South Africa, Chrisna de Plessis, who proclaimed that sustainable building does not go far enough. While I appreciated her brash sentiments, I couldn’t have imagined that nine years later, she would contact IBE and ask to study our LENSES framework. Chrisna and University of Melbourne’s Dominique Hes integrated LENSES into their co-authored 2015 book, Designing for Hope, which focuses on the promise of regenerative design and development. The book encourages the use of LENSES and showcases our work on the Children’s Discovery Village at the Cheyenne Botanic Gardens. We often credit Chrisna with inspiring many of us at IBE, so to be included in her positive, forward-looking book is a great boomerang, as they would say down under!

Like the previous 13 for me, this Greenbuild did not disappoint. I look forward to growing and re-connecting with IBE’s growing family again at Greenbuild 2016!



slider-07Thanks to IBE’s community of supporters, we’ve had a banner year. Together, we’ve worked passionately to build positive changes in the building industry, our communities, and the world. Join us as a partner to build upon our top accomplishments of 2015:

  1. Driving stakeholder value through sustainability in real estate investment. Harrison Street Real Estate Capital (HSRE) was awarded the GRESB (Global Real Estate Sustainability Benchmark) Green Star after IBE’s assistance for two years. IBE has developed and HSRE’s corporate sustainability program and guided initiatives that garner social, environmental, and positive economic impact for its investors.
  2. Studying the effects of school buildings on health and performance. EPA awarded CSU $1M to study the effects of school buildings on health and performance. Led by IBE, this research project is engaging the Sociology, Epidemiology, and Resource Economics departments. After this 4 year, longitudinal study a report summarizing the results will be published and will provide a decision making tool for school district capital improvements.
  3. ecodistrict

    The EcoDistricts Framework

    Developing a new focus on urban resiliency. Through seed funding from CSU’s Vice President for Research, IBE has created a steering committee to investigate triple-helix solutions for Fort Collins sustainability. With a goal to raise over $1M over the next three years, this team is using EcoDistricts, a national framework, to maximize project synergies and impact and help Fort Collins reach carbon neutrality.

  4. Helping design teams reach better decisions faster. 
    In July, IBE published “The Social Network of Integrative Design.” This white paper offers a social science-based approach to forming and facilitating effective, efficient design teams.
  5. Facilitating third party certification to drive higher building

    To date, IBE has managed 35 LEED certif9ac39-greenglobes-165ications. We’re currently managing the certification in LEED and Green Globes of another nine projects.
  6. Mentoring tomorrow’s leaders. This year, IBE’s mentorship program hosted 15 students (representing eight CSU schools and colleges), bringing our tally of total mentees to more than 65. One alum, Evan Hughes, wrote us this summer to say, “I interviewed with Tishman and got hired as a Project Engineer, which almost certainly wouldn’t have been possible without IBE. Without a job in New York I probably would have starved or been eaten by rats, so I basically owe IBE, Josie, and Brian my life. IBE was absolutely one of the most valuable parts of my time in grad school.”

Help us build on these six accomplishments in 2016: Become a partner of IBE by making a tax-deductible donation  today. Thanks for your support!


colin_colorBy: Colin Day | Urban Lab Coordinator

The City of Fort Collins recently adopted Climate Action Plan (CAP) goals to reduce carbon emissions by 80% by 2030 and attain carbon neutrality by 2050. As cities go, these are ambitious goals that only Sacramento, CA, has stepped up to match (and surpass) with a newly adopted plan. To meet the proposed time frame, Fort Collins must adopt a mix of highly innovative and large-scale programs that decrease carbon emissions across all sectors. IBE is assisting with the city’s goals by leading development of a variety of research-based approaches to district-scale sustainability projects.


To spearhead this effort, IBE has adopted a framework called EcoDistricts, which is supported by a national organization of the same name. EcoDistricts offers a “new model of urban regeneration and community development rooted in a relentless commitment to authentic collaboration and social, economic, and ecological innovation.” Fort Collins was selected as just one of 11 cities to participate in the 2015 EcoDistricts Incubator, an invitation-only, three-day, project-based workshop. With seed funding from CSU’s Office of the Vice President of Research early this year, applying the EcoDistricts model to Fort Collins became a reality. Working with university researchers, industry partners, and the City, IBE is leveraging the EcoDistrict imperatives of equity, resilience, and climate change to maximize the City’s CAP goals.

IBE’s Urban Lab (which focuses on placemakers and vibrant urban settings) and the Built Environment Working Group (part of the CanDo coalition for public health focusing on the health outcomes of design) have helped bring focus to the EcoDistricts Initiative. But the team isn’t stopping there; it’s initiating new district-scale projects to improve building efficiency, resource use, air and water quality, social capital and wellness, and economic returns. One example is a new, collaborative project with CSU’s Energy Institute and Sociology, Psychology, and Construction Management Departments to research the efficacy of DC power systems through studying micro-grid systems, and both real and perceived barriers to deployment.

IBE has convened teams from all eight colleges at CSU to identify gaps and opportunities for research on district-scale impacts to climate change. New research will lead to collaborative projects that test innovative strategies. Successful approaches will demand leveraging new technologies by cultivating industry, university, and city collaboration; programming natural systems and vibrant urban settings into our city; and documenting environmental and social patterns.

Through continued capacity building, IBE will partner with public, private, and institutional teams to develop district-scale solutions, supporting metrics that quantify impact and contribute to the larger global dialogue on designing, building, and operating thriving neighborhoods. Given that IBE and CSU will be co-sponsoring the inaugural EcoDistricts Research Summit in Denver next year, this is only the beginning to how Fort Collins will serve as a national model for other cities.