We sat down with Todd Sims, Director of Sustainability & Market Outreach at American Chemistry 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!

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