20 years of USGBC: The thing about numbers | U.S. Green Building Council
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This article is part of a series of stories from USGBC's community celebrating 20 years of green building triumphs. Take a walk down memory lane with USGBC, as we reflect on favorite moments and share memories from the last 20 years. Share your own green building triumphs using #USGBC20.

There is a very important number showing up on the USGBC website often these days. Like many engineers, I’m fascinated with numbers. Why do Buses Come in Threes? points out how significant of a role numbers play in our lives and how patterns of numbers affect our behavior. Let’s look at the number 20, for example:

  • One of three numbers that begin the Gettysburg address (did you know a score is 20?)
  • That age where you’re no longer a teenager but not quite yet an adult
  • Two digits at the heart of the multi-billion dollar “Millennium Bug”
  • The uniform number of Barry Sanders
  • Country code used when dialing Egypt
  • The age of the USGBC (Happy Birthday!)

In 20 years, the USGBC has put up some amazing numbers too. I often think back to Greenbuild 2006 in Denver (the first Greenbuild for me) and remember the excitement as Rick Fedrizzi announced goals for the number of certified buildings and homes. I had traveled to Denver to learn from those who started the movement 13 years before and came away inspired, hungry to learn more. As a mentor taught me, that’s a big part of what it means to be a leader. Putting up numbers like 50,000+ commercial buildings, 34,000+ homes, and 1.7 million square feet daily all started with the first 1 of any item. Without leaders turning to the next person behind them and teaching, the next 1 is no easier than the first was.

In my timeline, I first heard about LEED about ten years after USGBC formed. For a young engineering student, this was incredible: a numeric rating system that can form the backbone of a discussion on one system versus another! That was a major step on my journey, ever guided by the gentle push of mentors saying “teach them” and others around me saying “teach us.” Nothing drove this point home more profoundly for me than a chance experience on a rare moment of spare time while I was in Atlanta for a project’s LEED visioning session. I was walking through the Atlanta Zoo and happened across a sign quoting Baba Dioum, African naturalist and poet: “In the end we will conserve only what we love, we will love only what we understand, and we will understand only what we are taught.”

There’s a responsibility that comes in following great leaders: the responsibility to continue working in the future to advance and nurture the vision. I am thankful for the opportunity to be part of the growth of the USGBC, the development of future versions of LEED, and on a daily basis in teaching others what it means to design, build, and operate sustainable buildings.

We form a bridge between those who were there at the start and those who have yet to join in working towards another very important number: zero. As in:

  • Net-zero energy
  • Zero emissions
  • Zero waste
  • Zero impact on the planet

In the United States, modern anniversary gift-giving philosophy would say we should give the USGBC something Platinum for a 20th Anniversary (no joke!). What if we gave the gift of showing others the path to zero instead?

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