We sat down with Todd Sims, Director of Sustainability & Market Outreach at American Chemisty Council to chat about the state of sustainability in 2020 and where the industry headed in the future. He will also be speaking at Greenbuild International Conference & Expo Virtual this fall.

Check out our conversation with Todd below:

What is the biggest sustainability trend of 2020?

In a word, inclusiveness. A sustainable future requires a broad definition of sustainability – to include considerations of global pandemics, climate change and community resiliency, and social equity. It also requires a conscious effort to include as many diverse voices as possible to help solve the world’s most pressing issues to create a sustainable world and future. 

What is the biggest sustainability innovation so far in 2020?

The widespread institutional embrace of technology solutions to allow us to stay productive and connected during the COVID-19 pandemic will have long-term implications on sustainability. These innovations will allow us to re-imagine our relationship with the built environment in offices, transportation practices, and beyond.

How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected sustainability and/or green building?

In the immediate, COVID-19 has caused a re-imagining of our work environments given the need for widespread adoption of remote work. From return-to-work protocols to the amount of office space which may or may not be needed in the future, how companies and employees engage with the built environment on a daily basis has been significantly altered.

Rahm Emanuel famously quipped, “Never waste a good crisis.” While the sentiment could be seen as callous, the lesson is important. People are becoming more aware than ever about their direct relationship with the built environments around them. As we emerge from this pandemic, sustainable building professionals will have an opportunity to capitalize on this awareness to encourage greater demand for healthy, sustainable, and resilient buildings.

Why is corporate social responsibility becoming more and more important?

In a way, it is reminiscent of the sustainable building movement. What was once viewed as a ‘nice-to-have’ is quickly becoming viewed as a license to operate. Besides simply doing the right thing, businesses understand that in order to stay competitive they need to attract top talent; and emerging leaders are making decisions using different value sets. At ACC, our staff and members are committed to being a positive force for a more diverse, inclusive and equitable society, a principle that is reflected in our existing commitments to sustainability.

We have the ability to leverage our position within communities and the broader economy to create opportunities and enhance equality for underrepresented groups, including people of color and women.  

Why is social equity so important today?

Social equity has always been critically important, we just allowed our leaders to either willfully ignore it or to hide behind half-measures. Social equity is sustainability; and sustainability is social equity. There is no parsing of the issues. A future that doesn’t work to provide support and opportunities for all isn’t a sustainable one.

How can sustainability and green building professionals help create a more circular economy?

I worry that the conversations around the circular economy are falling victim to the same pitfalls of the early sustainable building movement – an overreliance on a single attribute or issue.

Of course, we need to make better utilization of recycled content in products; and we should make products more easily recyclable from the onset. But to stop there would be a massive failure of imagination and progress. We also need to challenge our current relationship with materials – how can we insert circularity at the beginning of the design process rather than the end; and how can we enhance investment in R&D innovations in green and sustainable chemistry.

What is your advice to fellow sustainability and/or green building professionals to make a positive impact in 2020?

Bring a friend! This issue is too big, too important, and too urgent to be confined to a narrow group of dedicated advocates. Not only do these issues require an enormous amount of brainpower to solve, but the movement itself would benefit greatly from fresh perspectives and approaches.

For too long the perception has been you are either a full-time sustainability expert or that your contributions may not have meaningful impact. Nothing could be further from the truth. Sustainability should be the norm, and we should to normalize it for people to include in their day-to-day functions.

Where do you see sustainability going 10 years from now?

There is a false perception that sustainability has a finish line; that we will have either ‘solved’ this in 10 years or we are all doomed. I think that flies in the face of sustainability as a principle. Of course, it is incredibly important for us to make significant progress in the next 10 years to mitigate the climate crisis. But what comes next? There will no doubt be a new set of issues that will demand our full attention.

At the closing of the 1787 Constitutional Convention, in response to a question about whether America had a monarchy or republic, Benjamin Franklin responded, “a Republic, if you can keep it.” So, in 10 years, we will have sustainability – if we can keep it.

Want to hear more from Todd? Attend Greenbuild Virtual starting September 10th through November 12th. The industry’s leading green building event now offers three virtual summits in lead up to International Conference & Expo virtual event.

Safe, secure, sustainable. Connections without geographic boundaries. Expanded education courses available in real time or any time. Interactive supplier sourcing and peer networking forums. This is Greenbuild’s next chapter. Join us – Sign up here!

Working from home has become the “new normal” for many businesses. As people return to offices, social distancing and healthier workplaces are imperative. Attracting and retaining the best employees is no longer just a function of corporate culture but also the environments in which they work. 

Air and water quality and ventilation, building systems that encourage social distancing, and other solutions will continue to evolve. The willingness of many companies to allow employees to work remotely will ultimately have an impact on air quality, as commuters establish new at-home routines. 

“The CDC now wants us to highly increase building energy use through ventilating in off-hours, turning off demand-controlled ventilation, etc. Spaces will need to accommodate both collaborating and social distance.”

  • Neff, Kilroy Realty

“COVID-19 has reframed the way we think about building use and occupation comfort. The conversation also includes efficiency upgrades because many new HVAC systems allow for several accessories, like UV sanitizing lights.”

  • Agazio, Motili

“We’ll see automated technology that seamlessly integrates into our workspaces — like automated doorways and fixtures. A phased reduction in density will be evident via people and spaces.”

  • Ahmad, Sustainable Architect

“While we use floor design for aesthetics, branding, and wayfinding, it will also become more prominent in terms of safety — especially to provide visual cues to keep occupants connected but at a safe distance.”

  • Conway, Interface

“I believe that the circular economy will ebb and flow, based on needs and demands…the innovative mindset of the new entrepreneur will help accelerate the movement and steer it in a great direction.” 

  • George Bandy, Global Leader for CSR and Sustainability 

“I’ve become more cognizant of the need to design and build for the challenges of the next decades…not just today.”

  • Sims, American Chemistry Council

For more on this topic, download our new whitepaper, “Sustainability: Yesterday vs. Tomorrow.” You’ll learn the 7 must-know insights defining the future of our industry, post-COVID-19 transformation, powerful innovations, and how companies are becoming more socially responsible.

The term “future-proofing” first came into use in 2007. Originally applied to technology security, it was embraced rapidly by the sustainability community. Natural disasters and the damage to the planet caused by irresponsible human decision-making prompted the building industry to look at how the choices they make can result in irreparable damage to individuals, neighborhoods, and the planet. Today (and tomorrow) everyone involved in the design, development, and building process is held to a higher standard. 

We reached out to professionals who are changing the trajectory of green building and sustainability. This “green dream team” represents a broad and diverse cross-section of sustainability and business leaders, including architecture, manufacturing, design, consulting, and real estate.

They spoke to us about the post-COVID-19 transformation, how innovation will need powerful new solutions, and how companies and brands are expanding their knowledge and commitment to social responsibility.

Common themes that emerged about the future of sustainability from this group are:

  1. The need for true collaboration and sharing of best practices across industries
  2. Automation as a lever in creating solutions and in data reporting
  3. An expanded role of socially-responsible corporations in facilitating change and innovation
  4. Emphasis on health and well-being of individuals and communities in the post-COVID-19 environment
  5. The ongoing need to track and report the short- and long-term financial benefits of sustainable building

 Here are their powerful insights for the next decade. 

“Along with the continued move toward collaboration, I am excited to see the impact institutional investors can have on effecting change. I look forward to the changes future generations will dream up that are unimaginable today.” 

“There will be a huge focus on people and the impacts of all actions that affect people’s lives, quality, accessibility, equality, health, etc.….We will see a major shift in how all stakeholders approach corporate sustainability. In the long-term, there really needs to be a better plan for infrastructure in cities and overall public transportation.”

“In 10 years, I believe we will improve reporting and move the needle on social impact. There is no better time to redesign the new normal.”

Solar photovoltaic technology, battery storage, and the use of electric vehicles will be at the forefront of commercial energy storage. National energy codes and local state financial incentives will recognize and mandate the implementation of solar-ready infrastructure and electric vehicle charging infrastructure.”

“In three years, automated sustainability will take hold as the wave of IoT (Internet of Things) and 5G spread across the nation. I expect to see many smart devices that help homeowners and building operators monitor electricity, water use, and potentially trash and recycling volumes. Automation will pave the way towards inherent building sustainability. Within 10 years, I expect to see huge strides towards carbon neutrality nationwide. The major changes will be around energy use rates and grid mix transactions to renewables. I would also expect a higher responsibility of action placed on major manufacturers.”

  • Maria Agazio, Sustainability and Energy Efficiency Lead, Motili

“In the short-term, I think environmental sustainability will take a back seat to health and wellness in the built environment. I think we’ll see larger strides in the electrification of buildings, renewable energy, and energy efficiency as more new buildings move toward net zero goals and have carbon neutrality goals.”

“We’ll see materials advances – especially nanotechnology based advances in areas like insulation and super windows. 3D printing will be applied to affordable housing using sustainable materials and reducing construction times. AI tools will lead to the expansion of generative design and integrative design.”

  • Roger Duncan, Author, former Research Fellow at the Energy Institute at the University of Texas at Austin, and former General Manager of Austin Energy. Co-author with Michael E. Webber of the upcoming book, The Future of Buildings, Transportation and Power (August 2020)

“There will be an increasing focus on understanding physical climate risk, and disclosing that financial impact to investors.”

“In the near future, sustainability will be better focused on our independence and interconnectedness. Stakeholders are starting to align their contributions to the broader interrelated system to achieve better results. An excellent example is how utilities, solar companies, and builders all impact the sustainability and monthly cost of buildings — the largest segment of energy consumption globally…Sustainable energy doesn’t result unless these separate groups coordinate the results and support each other’s initiatives.” 

For more on this topic, download our new whitepaper, “Sustainability: Yesterday vs. Tomorrow.” You’ll learn the 7 must-know insights defining the future of our industry, post-COVID-19 transformation, powerful innovations, and how companies are becoming more socially responsible.

From serving in Iraq to working at the University of Texas Houston, there are a whole plethora of factors that have likely shaped the man he is today. However, Bandy Jr owes his foundation in sustainability to his grandparents, noting that the first environmentalist he met was his grandmother.

Bandy Jr highlights how attitudes to waste and environmental stewardship have radically changed in a matter of a generation or two. However, he has faith that we can restore and reinforce sustainable attitudes by reframing the issue and contextualising the solutions.

Generation Z are making decisions with their pocketbooks, he explains. They are more knowledgeable about sustainability and will raise the bar on expectations from companies. Although Bandy Jr is a stout optimist and has faith that today’s youth will fight to make a difference, he makes the point that change across the board can’t happen without diverse representation in positions of power and influence. Social inclusion on a large scale is necessary if this change is going to be sufficiently accelerated. This ties in with another key theme discussed, the social components of sustainability.

Despite a lot of the environmental and sustainability issues we are facing in the built environment are nothing more than unintentional consequences of good design at that point in time, the consequences remain. Further to that point, these consequences are not distributed evenly on a social level. Toxic plant sites and waste grounds almost always tend to be in low income areas. Bandy Jr says that we need to own the responsibility of what happens socially to humans as a result and not solely on the environment itself.

Watch the full interview here.

A conversation between Stephen A. Carter, Group CEO and Ben Wielgus, Head of Sustainability.

Originally published in the Informa 2019 Sustainability Report.

Ben: As an Informa colleague, I found it an exciting, busy and
fulfilling year, with all the many activities going on around the
Accelerated Integration Plan, including the launch of the Informa
Constitution. How would you describe the year?

Stephen: I saw 2019 as something of a tipping point. It was the
year we fulfilled the promises we made to our shareholders in
return for their confidence and support to further expand the
Group. We brought many teams and colleagues together into
one business, we made the enlarged Group more efficient, and
we just achieved another year of growth. That builds external
trust and internal confidence.

In that sense, in 2019 we demonstrated the strength of the
platform we have invested in over the last six or seven years.
This made it the perfect time to refresh and crystallise our Purpose
and Guiding Principles as a Company, in what you and I now call the
Informa Constitution. We defined who we are as a business today
and, as a result, who we will be has become clearer to ourselves
and our Shareholders.

Ben: The introduction of the Constitution, with a clear purpose
and set of guiding principles, felt like a significant development
in our culture to many of us.

Stephen: Yes. Describing how we go about doing business is
a powerful thing.

We have talked before about Informa being a people business,
a face-to-face business, and a human business. When I spend time
with the thousands of colleagues who provided input and ideas to
help develop our Constitution, I saw colleagues who in many ways
are very different from each other, working in different geographies
and different businesses. However, all have a set of shared values
and beliefs, which are now enshrined in our shared Constitution.
It is important, because it says so much to current and future
colleagues and to shareholders, partners and suppliers, about
the kind of people we are at Informa, and the kind of business
we want to be.

Ben: It certainly feels to me like there is a growing feeling
of connection, and ambition as well. Not least of which is in the
launch of our new FasterForward programme which sets us on
an ambitious path to support the shift to an ever more sustainable
way of doing things. How is this important to our culture?

Stephen: We have always said one of our long-term objectives
is that when colleagues move on from Informa, and they are
interviewing for another job, the hiring manager will say “you were
doing that at Informa, that’s impressive!” Of course, that will result
partly from Informa being a successful business – by being a good
place to work, by serving customers, and creating jobs.

Being a successful business also means being successful in creating
benefits for our customers, our communities and the wider
societies we operate in. We are now at a stage where we can set
some ambitious targets for our environmental, social and economic
impacts as a business, and I believe this focus on sustainability will
become an increasingly important component of our culture and
our commercial offering.

Ben: Many of us are excited about these plans. Why do you think
this is the right time for Informa?

Stephen: It goes back to the business we have built over the last
six or seven years. Our investments and progressive improvements,
the talent we have brought in, the commercial success, all of those
things give us both the capability and the licence to go further
now. When we look at the initiatives and stories from around the
business, we see a growing ambition and willingness to lead
by example, The Informa Way. The vast majority of people in
Informa want to do the best thing for their customers and for
their communities.

Our Walk the World programme is something we are all
very proud of at Informa – but the innovation I see from many
of our colleagues, in how we produce our products and help our
customers achieve their goals, including addressing social and
environmental impacts – these are all key to how we will contribute
positively to change going forward.

I have always believed in business as a force for good.
At Informa, we are one of the world’s leading knowledge and
information providers which creates significant opportunities to
help our specialist markets address their own challenges, against
a backdrop of growing environmental and social pressures. Every
business needs to play its role and whilst, as a knowledge and
information company, our direct impact is limited this does not
remove the imperative and the opportunity to be a better and
more sustainable business.

Ben: Businesses of our scale are scrutinized not only for our direct
impact, but for our indirect impact too. And as you know, some of
our businesses rely on customers taking flights to attend events.
Are you concerned about the risk to our business if people decide
to cut back on flying?

Stephen: That is a great question. Those businesses in Informa
that create, manage, operate and curate major events, actually
reduce flights, save travel, and increase connectivity. That is the
power of our large-scale branded portfolio. It is the reach and ability
of a large scale to bring whole specialist communities together
in one place, at one time.

Our events also connect directly to the power of human ingenuity.
Our future, as a species, depends upon ideas rapidly spreading
across continents, and that is even more important when it comes

to challenges like climate change. Digital connectivity sustains
relationships, but in-person connections help ensure relationships
are trusted and effective and, therefore, new ideas are
adopted faster.

The platforms we create allow for highly efficient in-person
connections, helping our customers limit their own carbon
footprint. Surveys of our customer groups tell us that being able to
meet important contacts, access education, network and do deals
all in one place saves significant time and cost and helps cut back on
numerous other travel obligations that would otherwise be taken.
It is efficient for them, it is efficient for their business, and it is
effective for the wider environment.

As a convener, facilitator and connector, the role we play, the
thing we must keep sight of, is that we exist to help others. Many
specialist industries will provide the solutions, but every industry
will have to adapt. We exist to champion the people who will
create solutions, and to help industries make progress efficiently,
including our own.

Our valued Greenbuild community,

I’m excited to announce a new All-Virtual Format for the Greenbuild International Conference & Expo taking place November 10 – 12, 2020.

The event experience, originally scheduled to take place in San Diego, CA on November 4 – 7, 2020 will now unfold over several weeks with three digital summits – the Global Health & Wellness Summit, the Resilience Summit, and the Green Business Summit – preceding a three-day virtual capstone event taking place November 10 – 12, 2020.

The new 2020 format is a proactive approach to meet market needs and keep our industry connected. As many organizations are working to adjust travel plans, pivoting to the virtual format creates a safe, sustainable environment without geographic boundaries; one that prioritizes the health and safety of our customers.

The virtual experience will include all the key elements our customers expect from the live event:

  • Inspirational, future-focused keynotes from high-profile voices
  • Interactive and collaborative education sessions offered live and on-demand
  • Broadened education offerings with more advanced green building courses and sessions on hot topics like social equity, materials, net zero, health and wellness, resilience, corporate social responsibility, and more
  • A virtual platform to provide suppliers with more opportunities to generate leads, interact with buyers and share market insights before, during and after the live event
  • Variety of peer networking and industry recognition events

Details are being finalized and will be announced in the upcoming weeks. To stay up-to-date on the latest 2020 program updates, visit www.greenbuildexpo.com. For questions on how the virtual format will impact your participation in the event, feel free to contact me directly at Sherida.Sessa@informa.com.

When we reintroduce in-person events in the future, they will be driven by the voice of you, our customers and, as always, produced at the highest sustainability standards.

I’m excited for the journey ahead!

Thank you,

Sherida Sessa, Brand Director, Greenbuild International Conference & Expo

Fifty years ago on April 22, 1970, 20 million Americans took to the streets and parks, to celebrate the very first Earth Day! Today, streets and parks are empty as we practice social-distancing to prevent the spread of coronavirus. Despite the limited access to the great outdoors, there are still many ways to celebrate this year’s Earth Day.

The Red & Black created a list of ways you can celebrate the holiday at home:

Spend time outdoors

While several parks throughout the state and country are closed to prevent the spread of COVID-19, one of the best ways to celebrate Earth Day to get some fresh air. Try soaking up some vitamin D by stepping into your backyard, opening up your windows or strolling through your neighborhood. If you’re feeling especially adventurous, you can camp out in your backyard for some extra outdoor time.

Start a home garden

The coronavirus outbreak has inspired a resurgence in “Victory Gardening,” according to CBS. Victory Gardening was a homefront craze during the World Wars, when Americans were encouraged to grow their own produce to supplement rations. Participating in the trend is a way to celebrate Earth Day. Order some seeds online and try sprouting them on your windowsill or in your backyard. If gardening isn’t your thing, support local plant nurseries by investing in some house plants. Some house plants like the spider plant, chrysanthemums or peace lilies, even have air cleaning properties.

Start composting

Composting might sound intimidating to beginners, but it is easier than you might think. Composting is easy to do at home by collecting kitchen scraps in a trash can or cardboard box. Sometimes knowing what to compost can be confusing, especially with products labeled “compostable” that only break down in industrial facilities. You can compost fruit and veggie scraps, coffee grounds and filters, tea bags, eggshells and some paper towels.

Try a nature-inspired DIY

Celebrate Earth Day by getting your creative juices flowing. Try making pinecone birdfeeders by smearing a pinecone or cardboard tube with peanut butter, rolling it in birdseed and stringing it outside with twine. If the bird feeders don’t interest you, but you still want to get crafty, you could turn to Pinterest for some upcycling inspiration. Upcycling is defined as to recycle in such a way that the resulting product is of a higher value than the original item. Upcycling projects can be a great way to think creatively and save unwanted objects from the landfill.

Cook a plant-based meal

Plant-based diets not only offer health benefits, but they are also more sustainable than diets loaded with meat and dairy. “The production of animal products generates the majority of food-related greenhouse gas emissions (72–78% of total agricultural emissions),” according to a study in “Nature.” By simply adding just a few plant-based meals to your week, you can lower your carbon footprint.

Watch a nature documentary

Most streaming services offer an abundance of nature documentaries and series. Netflix boasts a wide collection of nature series, and Hulu has some suspenseful shows like “River Monsters” and “Shark Week” features. “Planet Earth” is a classic nature series, but if you want something more adventurous, check out mountain climbing documentaries “Free Solo” or “Meru.” You can also watch free virtual National Park tours, where park rangers lead you through five breathtaking parks in 360-degree video.

This article was oringally published on LeadersIn.com, written by Leah Kinthaert

Statistica tells us that: “The green building market is anticipated to be among the fastest growing industries worldwide.

The number of LEED-certified projects in the United States rose from 296 certifications in 2006 up to over 67,200 in 2018.” Additionally the “share of single-family home builders that have dedicated more than 90% of their projects to green building in the United States” has grown from from 18% in 2015 to an anticipated 33% in 2022. While this sounds like a great number, we need to remember that 70% of the residential homes are not anticipated to be green 2-3 years from now. As of 2015, we know that 21.5% of commercial office sector projects were green.

Fast Company offers up an interesting phenomenon: “Existing buildings hoover up about 40% of energy consumed in the U.S. and emit about 29% of greenhouse gases.” Often articles about climate change or pollution feature steaming factories or power plants with dark grey clouds of smoke, but indeed our own homes are a big culprit of carbon emissions. To make matters worse, our homes are silently causing extreme damage to our ecosystems.  According to Science magazine, as many as 988 million birds die  – in the United States alone – from crashing into windows each year. The American Bird Conservancy explains the situation: “Although most people have seen or heard a bird hit a window, they often believe it is an unusual event. Add up all those deaths and the number is staggering.” This not only affects our local native birds, but also the millions of birds who cross our country on their migrations.

Luckily the folks in the green building industry are doing something about this, working with groups from environmentalists to architects to bring about awareness and change. In late 2011, LEED, the U.S. Green Building Council program began offering credits to “bird-friendly” designs. Builders want to have LEED credits, because as USGBC explains there are: “wide-ranging marketing benefits; and most importantly, the unbiased, transparent assurance that the project team cut no corners in the making or updating of your Class A green building.” The Greenbuild event site also tells us that: “Across North America, a consensus is growing, with bird-friendly requirements in over 20 jurisdictions and counting, from cities to states to provinces.” I attended the Greenbuild 2019 session: “LEED in Atlanta: Bird-friendly Design in a City in a Forest” to learn specifically what builders and others are doing in this part of the US to both research and change the existing designs that are devastating our bird populations.

Birds Don’t Speak Architecture

The first presenter was Christine Sheppard, Director, Glass Collisions Program at American Bird Conservancy. Sheppard has a deep understanding of avian biology and synthesizes information from different disciplines to shed light on why birds hit buildings and create solutions. As Curator of Ornithology at the Wildlife Conservation Society’s Bronx Zoo, she developed strategies to protect birds in the collection as well as wild birds on the grounds. Sheppard spent her presentation explaining why bird strikes happen and how to prevent them. Sheppard began: If we have 1 billion birds killed in the US, you may ask ‘why are we not seeing them?’… they disappear due to animals and other birds scavenging them, or buildings cleaners removing them before anyone can see them.”

Sheppard went on to explain exactly why clear glass windows are bad: “People learn about glass as a concept. Birds – even if you have decals on a window – will fly above or below.  Birds don’t speak architecture, they take what they see literally. Humans have depth perception. Birds don’t see the same thing with each eye. We see the world in front of us, birds see the world they are immersed in.”

Sheppard continued: “Birds see more colors, so lights can blind and disorient them. Lights at night also draw birds. Years ago we had dark cities with maybe one tower, there is so much light pollution now.” The whole pattern is insidious and sad, birds are drawn to cities by the light and then killed when they fly into the thousands of clear and mirrored windows in every city and suburb.

“The 2 by 4 rule, which is becoming the 2 by 2 rule,” explained Sheppard “is how you should protect birds.” Sheppard showed slides of various ways windows are treated, taking away the mirage of open space that birds see, and instead making it look to birds like they won’t make it if they try to fly through. Sheppard explained why such methods would work: “Birds have an accurate sense of body shape and size. Patterns, lines, dots, on glass will make it so that birds won’t fly through.” “We used to think, if we only turn off lights in our tall buildings” we can save the birds… “But that doesn’t work” Sheppard soberly noted. Ironically, “low rise buildings kill more birds than high rise, often in suburban habitats. Birds are most active in vegetative zone, at the height of treetops.” Additionally, “the more glass a building has, the more collisions happen.”

Think About Birds When You Design New Buildings

On a positive note, Sheppard told us that “New York City was poised to require that all new builds use bird friendly materials.” And urged the entire audience to “Think about it before you start your design” because “anything else is a retrofit.” Sheppard closed her talk with some case studies, such as the New York Times building that uses screens in front of the glass, the Intuit Headquarters, in Mountainview, CA which has bird collision requirements, where they reduced use of glass.  Sheppard also showed a slide of the Bronx Emergency Call Center. The bird friendly design they used there also helps with lighting, reducing heat costs and ensuring building security. So it was a win-win.

Next up was Adam Betuel, Conservation Director at the Atlanta Audubon Society. The first ever conservation director for the Atlanta Audubon Society with a focus on making the city a more bird-friendly place, Betuel started Project Safe Flight Atlanta and Lights Out Atlanta which provide extensive monitoring of bird casualties across the Atlanta area as well as partnerships with local organizations, government, and universities on bird-friendly construction and retrofits.

The goal of the Atlanta Audubon society, Betuel explained is to: “build places where birds and people thrive. Atlanta is ‘a city in a forest’ with over 200 species, the Chattahoochee River is a corridor for migrating birds. We fighting hard to slow down the mowing down of forest.“ Betuel related how in 2005 a study found birds hitting structures, but nothing was done with it. So “we created Project Safelight Atlanta, monitoring parts of our metro area.” The organization then went a step further, asking “How do we start partnering with architects.” “In the long term” Betuel said “they will be looking to legislation to take the lead NYC is setting.” (I looked up the NYC legislation, and unfortunately New York State Senate Bill S25 has been vetoed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo. But the New York City Council bill could still happen, it’s “laid over in council.”)

Ruby Throated Hummingbird is the Most Common Species Dying

Betuel described their progress of monitoring the birds using crowdsourcing: “Peak migration is during spring and fall. Using an app called collector, it sets a walking route we can drop a pin where we find a bird. We can then pin point hot spots (where places are most dangerous to birds). The report is called a D-Bird report, anyone can put data in.” The research in Atlanta alone so far has been heartbreaking. In just a short time they have seen 1600 dead birds of 110 species. Betuel explained: “We don’t see (most of) them, cleaning crews, scavengers pick them up. The species number unfortunately shows that a lot of birds not making it. Ruby throated hummingbird is the most common species dying.” Betuel explained how they also find a great deal of injured birds which they send to wildlife centers for care.

Their research has found that “Atlanta ranks 9th most dangerous city during spring and 4Th in fall.” Betuel then went into showing case studies, mostly of nature centers, are trying to reduce use of clear glass. One building used a simple vinyl film, while another had complete coverage of their glass with photos or a grey patch of film.” Other examples shown were something called ceramic fritt, meshes, and shades. In closing the speakers emphasized that birds have tremendous value, they are allies to humans as pollinators and seed distributors, they are critical to health ecosystems. Like the ‘canary in a coal mine’ they also provide rich data sets to help us understand climate change.

This article was orginally published on LeadersIn.com, written by Leah Kinthaert

Each year the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network collects data to assess where countries stand on progress toward the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

One would expect a wealthy country like the United States to be doing well in the ranking, but in fact: “the United States ranks 35th out of 162 countries in terms of sustainable development…. well below the Nordic countries that top this year’s index – Denmark, Sweden and Finland – and among the worst across OECD countries with a total score of 74.5%.” The UK, where this site LeadersIn is based, we are happy to say ranks 13th. I point out these statistics to show assumptions, assumptions that wealthy countries should indeed be winning when it comes to sustainability.

To hear that communities such as those in war torn countries –  where people are at bare minimum trying to avoid being bombed, persecuted by their government or starve to death – are tirelessly working towards sustainability is both surprising and inspiring. At Greenbuild 2019, “Green Building and Sustainability in Troubled Societies” we heard from sustainability leaders working with Palestinians in Israel and Kurds in Iraq; their messages galvanized attendees with their hope and determination in the face of struggle.

Sustainability in Iraq Doesn’t Exist

Bahar Armaghani, Director, Sustainability and the Built Environment, UF Green Building Learning Collaborative and Lecturer at University of Florida began the discussion quoting Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” Armaghani gave some history on the Kurdish region in Iraq. The problems for the Kurdish people “started with Saddam Hussein and have gone from bad to worse. This region has oil, natural gas, sulphur, phosphate. There are 35 million Kurds, it is the largest ethnicity in the world without a country, with 12 million in Turkey, 6 million in Iran, about 5 to 6 million in Iraq, and less than 2 million in Syria.”

Armaghani continued: “Sustainability in Iraq doesn’t exist, they have so many other issues, it’s on the back burner. Sustainability in the Kurdistan region is more advanced than rest of country. In the 80s Saddam Hussein killed 5,000 Kurds and injured 10,000 in a chemical attack, he then killed 180,000 Kurds.”

“In this region 70% live in urban areas. They are migrating from villages to cities, and it’s a major environmental issue, planning, transport, air quality. They have land and water in Kurdistan but they are unable to stay in their homes because of violence.”

“There’s always a new day” said Armaghani. “When Saddam Hussein was overthrown in 2003 you saw the resilience of the people, especially in the Kurdistan region, they got autonomy.”

That Little Seed We Planted

Armaghani explained how she ended up working in Iraq: “They said noone wants to go to that region (Iraq  – to train on LEED), I said ‘I’ll go!’ We mixed sustainability with job creation economic development, establishing the Jordan green building council. I did the same project with the Republic of Georgia, building codes. We provide incentives, education and awareness. I also work with the Iraqi young leaders exchange program (IYLEP). The students I taught have gone on to become leaders in their community.”

“But then in 2014 Isis happened” recalled Armaghani. “That little seed we planted, I said to myself, this may be the end. ISIS destroyed the city of Mosul, burning 8,000 rare books and manuscripts. They were in defeated 2017. The people were incredibly resilient, in Spring 2018, with the re-introduction of LEED and green buildings. They held an international conference. It was the most rewarding thing to see people from this devastated city eager to learn about sustainability to rebuild their city.” Armaghani talked about all of the organizations she worked with and partnered with in Kurdistan including the University of Salahaddin, University of Kurdistan Hewler, Nawroz University, Duhok Polytechnic and the University of Duhok. She helped establish and is the Director of the director of the Sister City program Gainesville/Duhok.

Armaghani gave some details about her work with these universities, and their outcomes: “I work with the Center for Resilience and Sustainability at the University of Nawroz. We find solid data and integrate with solutions and policies. I established a sustainability exploration program with the University of Florida where students can learn about sustainability hands on. Plus it creates a linkage between students.”  Armaghani ended her talk with a quote from Margaret Mead: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world. Indeed it is the only thing that ever has.”

A Bridge of Peace

Jennifer Sheffield, Head of LEED Consulting at GBWAWA based in Givatayim, Tel Aviv, Israel was the second and final speaker. Sheffield focused on her work with advising Sakhnin Municipality, an Arab city in Israel, on responsible development and the UN SDGs. Sheffield described her sustainability journey and gave the audience some background on who lives in Sakhnin and the surrounding communities.

Sheffield: “I am a Mexican American, working on green building (in the Middle East). I wanted to do a masters in conflict resolution, at the time didn’t know how it had anything to do with LEED but I convinced my boss. My role is to interpret the role of identity, culture, stakeholder input and community engagement in development activities.”

“20% of citizens of Israel are of Palestinian descent, it’s a separate group” Sheffield explained. “They are full, complete citizens of Israel, but they are almost completely segregated.” Sheffield gave us some history of the Sakhnin area to put her current work in context. “On Land Day 1976 the Israeli state government appropriated lands from Palestinian famers. During the protest 6 Israeli Arabs died. On October 2000, the Camp David talks were not successful. This led to the deaths of 12 local citizens.”

In the midst of all this, an organization called TAEQ was started in the 1990s “to serve as a bridge of peace between people to people and between people and the environment. It consisted of 6 Arab towns in Israel, it was a regional environmental unit.” Their motto is “To live in the land in peace, one must first live in peace with the land.”

They decided to build a community center. Before they did that Sheffield related how they asked the question: “How might identity and culture affect the design of the environmental center in this region of divided societies? They spoke to the community, leaders, elders, youth and local artists in the 2000s. The end result honored their ancestors and their culture. They used all local materials and the building featured Mulgufs wind towers and Mashrabiya window coverings. Ancient designs that are actually energy efficient.”

Sustainability is More Than Green Building

“TAEQ wanted to take it a step further and reach outside of Sakhnin to Misgav which is an Israeli region” said Sheffield. But these two are still angry with each other. Sheffield continued: “The dispute is a microcosm of a larger conflict. They entered into a 2-year mediation process. When another war in Gaza broke out, they still met in secret to build a relationship and trust that would allow them to discuss possible scenarios. Sakhnin has 30K people 2.4K acres while Misgav has 21K people and 47K acres.”

In 2016 they came to a memorandum of understanding to work on sustainability initiatives that ranged from biking and walking trails to educational programs. They acknowledge too that sustainability is more than just green building, but includes social justice women’s empowerment, peace, justice and strong institutions.”

At the end of their talks the audience was able to ask questions. Connections were made on the spot in the room that afternoon, when a woman with family in the Caribbean said she wanted to bring sustainability to her home country but didn’t know how to start. Jennifer Sheffield offered her business card to the woman, with this statement: “How to start? Go there, meet people, find champions. then from there build your base. People see your face. Once you establish some champions on the ground will get you moving. Here’s my card, I will help you.”

Over the last few weeks in the United States, the coronavirus has transformed the everyday lives of Americans drastically. In fact, the positive environmental effects of this “new normal” lifestyle changes of staying inside, working from home, and using less vehicles, are already showing from space.

In China, where millions were quarantined to help stop the spread of the disease, satellite photos show pollution disappearing as work came to a standstill. And, in Italy, a massive quarantine is underway. Meanwhile, in the U.S., as the amount of coronavirus cases grow, companies are asking employees to work from home, canceling conferences, and closing schools. The changes have been fast, driven by widespread recognition that this is a public health emergency.

The response raises a unique question, according to a recent article by Fast Company: What would it look like if the world responded to the climate crisis with a similar sense of urgency? In countries around the globe, governments and citizens have been quick to change daily habits, however, this behavior has not happened for the climate crisis.

“We’ve seen that governments can act, and people can change their behavior, in a very short amount of time,” May Boeve, executive director of the climate advocacy group 350.org told Fast Company. “And that’s exactly what the climate movement has been asking governments and people to do for years in the face of a different kind of threat—the climate crisis—and we don’t see commensurate action. On the one hand, it shows that it’s possible to do this, and it’s possible for this kind of mobilization of resources to take place in a short amount of time. In that sense, that’s encouraging. But we were never in doubt of that aspect.”

In both situations, the scientific community is warning us. Climate change is already killing people in heat waves and other disasters; it’s worsening food and water shortages and it will displace hundreds of millions of people. The same pollutants that contribute to climate change also cause air pollution that kills millions of people each year. And, diseases like malaria and dengue fever are likely to spread as mosquitoes move into new regions. Like with coronavirus, people living in areas with the fewest resources are being impacted most by climate change.

The reality is that if the world was responding to climate change in the way it is responding to the coronavirus things would look a lot different. “We would see a lot of different things happening all at the same time,” said Boeve. “It’s cheap enough and available, but the regulatory systems that would enable people everywhere to get clean energy would require massive government investment. We would see these kinds of emergency packages that would get people off of the fossil fuel grid and onto a clean grid right away.”

After wildfires and floods, relief packages would acknowledge the role of climate. In cities, development rules would change to require low-carbon construction. Farms would shift to regenerative agriculture. Just as the airline industry is struggling because of the coronavirus, some industries would see real impacts.

“It’s a whole bunch of different things, which could all happen quite quickly, because we do actually know what needs to happen,” she said. “And that’s the amazing thing. But the shift in which, and this is what’s so interesting about what’s unfolding with a public health emergency is that I think there’s a trust in the public health community to say, these are the measures we need you to put in place right now. They’re ready to go and policymakers are acting. And the same thing is true with climate change. We’ve got those policies, they’ve been drafted. They’ve been waiting to be enacted.”