The AI Interview: Anyeley Hallová, Chair, United States Green Building Council

Discussing sustainable development in the midst of climate emergency, Mass Timber and more

Green Home Builder: Can you talk about the state of the green homebuilding in 2023?

Anyeley Hallová: The green building industry is seeing continued growth as the demand for green buildings and homes continues to grow. Industry professionals cite social and financial reasons for increasing their green building efforts with drivers including lowering operating costs and carbon emissions, reducing energy and water consumption, market demand, healthier buildings and achieving internal corporate commitments. 

Builders and developers have shifted their focus to strategies that specifically address reducing energy consumption and the building carbon footprint, some striving for net-zero/net-positive buildings as the top priority – all with the intent to minimize the ever-apparent impacts of climate change.

GHB: Can you tell us about the impact sustainable development can have on the United States?

AH: Buildings account for almost 40 percent of global energy-related CO2 and are routinely recognized in international reports as a key factor in tackling climate change. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the commercial and residential sector is responsible for nearly one third of greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S. Reducing the environmental impact of our buildings is both a health and climate imperative.

Green buildings, like those that are LEED certified, are a global solution for cities, communities and neighborhoods. Through sustainable design, construction and operations, green buildings are reducing carbon emissions, energy and waste. They are also conserving water, prioritizing safer materials and lowering our exposure to toxins.

GHB: Why is mass timber so important for sustainable development?

AH: The mass timber industry leverages the natural resource of wood to build a new economy in the U.S. that connects urban growth with rural economic development. Mass timber buildings, or buildings made from wood, are inherently more sustainable than comparable structural building materials due to their ability to sequester carbon and because they are made from a renewable resource.

Trees absorb carbon from the atmosphere as they grow and once they are converted into a mass timber product like Cross Laminated Timber (CLT), the wood continues to store that carbon in the buildings while they are in operation. In addition, because mass timber building components are typically prefabricated, their assembly on site can be faster and quieter than conventional construction and generate less waste. 

Along with being ‘Segregated by Design,’ we are in the midst of a climate emergency…. Building construction and operations account for 40 percent of the world’s carbon emissions.”

GHB: You recently moderated a Keynote panel at the 2023 International Mass Timber Conference. Can you talk about what you learned or any interesting takeaways?

AH: One of the key issues I focused on at the conference was the continuing racial disparity in the built environment. As a profession, real estate development in the U.S. is almost exclusively white. 

According to a recent New York Times article, less than 1 percent of real estate developers are Black or Latinx – even though these groups make up 23 percent of the U.S. Population. However, real estate developers are some of the leading voices in shaping our housing stock, commercial resources and retail centers.

This exclusion and underrepresentation of People of Color in the built environment has resulted in development patterns laced with implicit bias, and in many cases, outright racist practices. Additionally, when development is good, the benefits are usually reserved for only a select few, namely the wealthy. Along with being “Segregated by Design,” we are in the midst of a climate emergency. And what many people don’t realize — is that building construction and operations account for 40 percent of the world’s carbon emissions and that the climate crisis has a disproportionate impact on low-income and Black, Indigenous and Communities of Color. 

If we care about people and the planet, building professionals must launch a more resilient and equitable building industry.

GHB: What are some incentives for building green?

AH: One of the most effective and popular strategies to encourage green building is to incentivize the market through financial incentives. Financial incentives come in the form of tax credits or grants to developers who propose or build green buildings. These can take the form of expedited review processes, tax credits, and/or reduced fees.

The recently enacted Inflation Reduction Act – the largest federal investment in fighting climate change – also provides several new tax incentives for energy efficiency and clean energy investments over the next 10 years. The incentives fundamentally change the economics of designing, building and operating buildings in a way that makes going green a far more attractive proposition.

GHB: Can you speak to some of the benefits of building LEED certified?

AH: LEED projects are good for people, the planet and profit. From an environmental standpoint, LEED certified buildings are a global solution for cities, communities and neighborhoods. Through sustainable design, construction and operations, green buildings are reducing carbon emissions, energy and waste, conserving water, prioritizing safer materials and lowering our exposure to toxins. They are also more energy-efficient and help reduce pollution and improve outdoor air quality in major industrialized areas.

LEED also makes a lot of economic sense. It helps investors meet their environment, social and governance (ESG) goals by providing them with a robust and globally recognized green building framework to measure and manage their real estate performance. LEED helps reduce operational costs and helps investors implement management practices to prioritize building efficiency, decrease operational costs, and increase asset value.

LEED-certified buildings command the highest rents, while lease-up rates typically range from the going rate to 20 percent above average; vacancy rates for green buildings are an estimated 4% lower than non-green properties. Rents at LEED-certified U.S. office buildings have been about 4% higher than non certified buildings in recent years, according to a new report by CBRE.

LEED certification has also been shown to support its occupants by promoting physical health and well-being. LEED prioritizes improved indoor air quality through sustainable strategies focused on improving indoor air quality, banning smoking, reducing toxic exposure from materials, promoting physical activity through active design and encouraging healthy eating by supporting the production of local, sustainable foods.

GHB: What new projects or initiatives is the United States Green Building Council excited about?

AH: There are a lot of new and exciting things happening! This year, USGBC is celebrating its 30th 

anniversary. The organization has spent the past three decades working with green professionals across the building industry to minimize practices contributing to climate change, waste and pollution, land and resource degradation, poor occupant and community health and other challenges by maximizing the adoption and benefits of green buildings.

USGBC has been committed to transforming the way our buildings, cities and communities are designed, constructed and operated through LEED, our flagship program, because we believe that every person deserves a healthier, more sustainable life.

We are deep into our second generation, continuing to drive environmental sustainability, health and wellness across the built environment. As we look at the next iteration, LEED v5 will need to be a tool for transformation that also meets the most pressing concerns of today.

The next version of LEED will be a step in the process that supports the built environment’s alignment with the targets outlined in the Paris Agreement and addresses critical imperatives, including social equity, health, biodiversity and resilience.

Alongside our expert volunteers, we have developed a set of principles that are the result of deep and meaningful conversations with the LEED community and include: 

  • Scaling for the greatest impact
  • Decarbonizing the building industry swiftly to reflect the urgency of the climate crisis
  • Inspiring and recognizing adaptive and resilient built environments
  • Investing in human health and well-being
  • Creating environments in which diversity, equity and inclusivity thrive
  • Supporting flourishing ecosystems through regenerative development practices

GHB: Is there anything else you would like to add?

AH: My new venture, Adre, is a real estate development firm that has a mission to help create a prosperous life for people and groups that traditionally lack access to real estate ownership and investment opportunities. I envisioned my company as serving Black and other communities of color, with bold values of design excellence, environmental stewardship and development innovation (including Mass Timber), both in building construction and equitable outcomes.

Adre projects currently in pre-development include:

  • The Killingsworth Project, an earthquake-resilient creative office project which garnered one of six winning proposals in the Mass Timber Competition: Building to Net-Zero Carbon. The competition was sponsored by the U.S. Forest Service and the Softwood Lumber Board.
  • The Williams & Russell Project will provide affordable for-sale and rental housing, as well as a Black business hub. This project, which occupies a city block, will create opportunities for Portland’s Black community in various forms: through business enterprise, career development, art and expression and wealth creation through homeownership.
  • Parrott Creek Child & Family Services owns and operates a residential treatment facility meeting the needs of highly traumatized youth. Through a multi-phase expansion, Parrott Creek partnered with Adre to transform their campus from a series of ill-suited ad hoc buildings to a regional center of excellence where youth can stabilize their lives, develop skills and foster hope and success.

At Adre, we target LEED or Earth Advantage certification on our projects and drive toward net-zero energy when possible. The level of energy efficiency depends on the project’s scope of opportunity including sustainability focused funding.

We understand the difficulty of pushing catalytic mission-oriented projects forward in an exclusionary industry, but we hope that a new interest in ESG and social equity, will result in greater partners, lenders, impact investors and foundations willing to fund climate-justice and equity-centered real estate development projects.