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USGBC Alabama is at the forefront of environmentally-sensible development and sustainability in the state. We work at the national and regional levels to advocate for high performance healthy buildings, and deliver high-quality sustainable building education and networking opportunities.

Our volunteers range from community members participating in service projects to LEED professional credential holders.. Our members encourage and facilitate further growth of the green building market in Alabama to support economic development through green jobs and regional materials, cost-effective, energy-saving practices, sustainable management of our state’s abundant natural resources, and healthier communities for all Alabama residents. Our members meet on a regular basis in four regional branches, from North Alabama to the Gulf Coast.

In addition to serving as Alabama's resource and advocates for green building information and training, one of our primary volunteer initiatives is to improve the health and efficiency of learning environments. Our Green Apple Day of Service projects and other sustainability education programs support the Alabama State Department of Education's Green Ribbon Schools committee.



In Industry 2015-09-16 11:50

Infographic: USGBC’s Green Building Economic Impact Report

There is an industry in the United States that is creating more than 2 million jobs. To put it in perspective, that is more than the entire American motion picture, home video and television industry!

It may surprise you to learn…it's green construction!

In our new study conducted by Booz Allen Hamilton, we take a look at the impact green construction, and specifically LEED green buildings, are having on our national and state economies.

Take a look at our infographic to get a quick briefing on the report’s findings.

Download the free report today



In Advocacy and policy 2015-08-26 12:23

Reinventing America's post-industrial cities through green building

Over the course of two decades, Catherine Tumber has had a distinguished career as a researcher, journalist and university lecturer. She has a Ph.D. in U.S. social and cultural history, and has been a research associate for the MIT School of Architecture and Planning’s Community Innovator’s Lab prior to assuming her current role as a senior research associate for Northeastern University’s Dukakis Center for Urban and Regional Policy. Along the way she has also served as an editor for the Boston Phoenix and the Boston Review, and has written for The Nation, Democracy: A Journal of Ideas, Architectural Record, the Washington Post and Commonwealth Magazine.

Catherine’s focus has been squarely situated on the many crises facing America’s small and mid-size cities in recent years—the major theme behind her recent book Small, Gritty, and Green: The Promise of America’s Smaller Industrial Cities in a Low-Carbon World (MIT Press, 2012).

LEED has been able to establish itself as a major force of market transformation in America’s most rapidly growing metropolitan areas, and it currently sets that market rate in cities such as New York, Chicago, Houston, Los Angeles, Washington, D.C. and San Francisco, but market uptake in America’s many smaller, post-industrial communities such as Scranton, Pa. and Holyoke, Mass. has been far slower.

As USGBC looks for new ways to achieve its objective of bringing green buildings to all within this generation, we are looking for ways to help develop this market as the next frontier for a truly transformational industry. I sat down with Catherine for a short interview to get her thoughts on how the green building movement can be transformative for these communities and to identify the obstacles that are currently standing in the way.

Q&A with Catherine Tumber

CG: Your research takes a hard look at how social phenomenon such as de-industrialization, larger trends in ‘urban renewal’ and the emergence of the knowledge economy have wrecked havoc on the once dynamic economies of cities such as Holyoke, Fall River, Worcester, Syracuse and Scranton. Why do you think sustainability is the key to the economic revitalization of these communities?

CT: In the age of global warming, low-carbon energy and agricultural production will require land near densely settled cities, land that is not prone to skyrocketing real estate values as on the fringes of, say, New York or Chicago or LA. It will also require access to fresh water and riverways. And finally, the long global supply chains that have made outsourcing so easy during our era will become less tenable in the face of extreme weather and dwindling fossil fuel reserves, which means that manufacturing will have to become more concentrated and less separated from knowledge-based innovation and services. Smaller industrial cities in the United States have all three resources: soil-rich abundant farmland, fresh water and waterways, manufacturing infrastructure and engineering know-how, and—how to put this?—the productive culture to ground what I have called the “productive green economy.” We have become so accustomed to thinking that we can geographically separate “knowledge” and innovation from production, to techno-utopianism, to endless consumption-based disposability, and to the idea of “creative destruction” brought about by bloated capital markets, that it’s hard to imagine even making room for such a thing. We are so imbalanced! But we must, and we must plan for it.

CG: You are an outspoken advocate of reinventing these cities. There are a lot of policymakers and public intellectuals that seem to have lost interest in them after they began declining in the mid-20th century. Why is fostering an economic revival in these communities critical for our national economic health going forward?

CT: I wouldn’t say that the economic revival of smaller cities is critical to our national prosperity, but rather, that their poor condition reflects the short-term economic and political sensibilities of neoliberal market trends that have prevailed over the past 35 years. It’s a fine distinction, but an important one. If these cities were to flourish again, it would mean that we had decided to set off on a new course. The spatial inequality these cities represent is just another face of the economic inequality bred by the financialization of the economy, and the resulting concentration of wealth in large and global cities. And by the way, let’s be clear I’m talking about small and midsize cities, of anywhere from 50,000 to 500,000 population. These are cities, not small towns. Until recently, they have been excluded from the “urban conversation” and rendered invisible through conflation with “small town America.” I have even seen Indianapolis, a city of 800,000, referred to in the media as a small town!

CG: LEED is the world’s most popular green building rating system, existing in more than 150 countries and territories. It has come to set the competitive price scale for commercial and institutional real estate in major metropolitan areas across the U.S. in markets as diverse as New York, Chicago, Washington, D.C. and Houston. However, LEED is still emerging in the cities where you are most invested. Based on what you know about these areas, are there structural barriers preventing businesses and residents in these cities from investing in LEED, and what are some possible solutions to these issues?

CT: Well, smaller industrial cities have not attracted much private investment, period. They have not been called “weak-market cities” for nothing. Unlike megacities that have thrived in the global economy, they need extra policy assists on the state level and imaginative planning and patience on the local level. Because sprawl and urban highway building have had a disproportionately disastrous effect on smaller urban form, state and local land-use planning should eliminate policies that advance such programs in small cities, and replace them with metro-regional smart growth policies. Also, because of their underdevelopment, most of these cities have an abundance of older residential, commercial, and public architecture. To preserve their character, the green building movement would have to integrate its ambitions with this legacy architecture, something that various municipal Green Code efforts have pulled off well. I recently published an essay on how these layers of policy have worked especially well (with one glaring exception) in Buffalo, New York.

CG: There are many good paying "green building" jobs in manufacturing, construction and building operation and maintenance. These jobs cannot be outsourced, and there is a very low barrier to entry in comparison to other fields that require extensive levels of secondary education. In other words, these are precisely the kinds of jobs that are most needed in these cities. How could we use smart policies and social investment schemes to train emerging professionals and the long-term unemployed in these communities to use LEED to enter the green economy?

CT: That’s going to require a cultural shift, as well as institutional change. Over the decades of knowledge-economy hokum and a ramped-up consumer culture, we have undervalued manual skill and working knowledge. This is reflected in the gutting of vocational education curriculum and the exclusion of such knowledge among high-finance-based corporate management. These programs should be restored, and the workers they turn out should be paid livable wages. Also, there was a big push to train the underemployed to weatherize buildings, install solar panels, and so on, with ARRA funds. But the funding went mainly to nonprofits that work with these communities (mainly in affordable housing), and they didn’t have the capacity to manage the sudden huge influx of money, and so many of these programs failed. Plus, the funding was temporary. We need more permanent funding and institutional arrangements. And, of course, we need a national carbon tax to incentivize green energy, agriculture, and urban settlement patterns—including green buildings. 

CG: USGBC promotes many forms of sustainable infrastructure development in addition to LEED such as localized, micro-grids with rating systems like PEER that could change the way the energy system works, as well as larger investments in public transportation. How could these types of changes impact the economic outlook of these cities?

CT: I would say that these cities are not only suited to micro-grids (since they have opportunity to reinvent themselves at this precise moment) but also to municipalization of utilities, as in Holyoke, MA, which was able to attract a high-performance computing center as a result of its low energy costs. Water infrastructure is also badly in need of expensive restructuring in these older cities, since they were built without dual sewage and runoff systems—which is a disaster in Great Lakes cities, where algae blooms are threatening their fresh water bounty. As for transportation, these cities are unusually car-dependent because their rail public transit was ripped out early and completely. For most of them, re- installing rail might not be fiscally feasible at this time, but it would be wise and more appropriate to construct more viable bus transit in these places. I explore these issues in greater depth in a 2013 report for the Gateway Cities Innovation Institute that I co-authored, and which may be of interest here.  

Learn more about Small, Gritty, and Green

In Industry 2015-08-25 11:41

Resilience: Surviving and thriving in the face of change

Thinking about disasters is a hard sell. But whether we think about them or not, we pay for them. According to the 2015 UNISDR Global Assessment Report, expected annual global losses are estimated to reach $314 billion in the built environment alone.  All indicators suggest that the frequency and intensity of disasters will increase, meaning that this cost will go up. Disruptions—natural, human-caused, or a combination of the two—are inevitable.

In this new reality, organizations that are able to manage risk will be better prepared to withstand disruptions and to capitalize on opportunities as they arise. Building owners are well positioned to take a leadership role and to benefit by going beyond preparedness to resilience.

Green building strategies can play a role in risk mitigation, but by themselves, they do not position organizations to respond to a dynamic environment. By building on sustainability efforts and tools, however, it is possible to prepare for disasters in ways that make organizations stronger today and that pay off whether disaster strikes or not. This is what Judith Rodin, President of the Rockefeller Foundation, calls the “resilience dividend,”—the return on investment that organizations (both public and private) can achieve by investing in resilience strategies.

Resilience can be defined as the capacity of individuals, organizations and communities to adapt and thrive in the face of stressors and shocks. Shocks are the big events that keep emergency managers awake at night—major storms, earthquakes, tsunamis and other headline-grabbers. The stressors are what make us vulnerable to those shocks—crumbling infrastructure, degraded environments, public health issues, chronic unemployment, poverty.

The ability to weather the proverbial (and literal) storms will require new levels of creativity. The resources simply don’t exist to solve one problem at a time. The threats we face are interrelated, and the solutions must be as well. Systemic approaches are our best hope.

Many studies of disasters reveal how addressing underlying vulnerabilities can limit the impact of events and speed the recovery. The places, people and organizations that fare best are not necessarily those that are the strongest per se—strength without flexibility creates rigidity. Instead, resilience lies in the multiple points of connection—between people and communities; between sources of critical resources like energy, water and food and their destinations; across modes of transportation and communication; across segments of society.

Resilience is not an end state—it is a practice. Those points of connection are not created overnight. They require on-going maintenance and development. Local governments are gearing up to tackle many of the issues, but their efforts cannot do everything. Every sector of society has a part to play.

Building and property owners are well-positioned to take a leadership role at a finer grain in the built environment. Buildings serve as a nexus of the physical environment and human interaction. The way buildings are designed, managed and operated matters on a daily basis as well as during disruptions.

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