The GHB Interview: Gail Vittori Board Chair, Green Business Certification Inc. and Co-Director of Center for Maximum Potential Building Systems

Gail Vittori delves into GBCI’s role in the built environment and predicts expansions in green building certifications

GREEN HOME BUILDER: As Chair of GBCI, can you tell us a little about your history with homebuilding and how that intertwined with your dedication to sustainability?

GAIL VITTORI: In the late ‘70s, soon after moving to Austin, I was introduced to the work of Center for Maximum Potential Building Systems (The Center). The first project I was involved with was an “energy crisis” in a small South Texas town that had its gas cut off, leaving most of the residents without hot water. The Center initiated a community-based effort to manufacture and install low-cost solar water heaters on residents’ homes. The following year, as an Energy Research Specialist for the City of Austin, I oversaw an assessment of Austin’s federally funded residential weatherization program, documenting that nationally- based assumptions about housing conditions grossly miscalculated how to allocate funds to achieve effective results, and that qualitative measures of human comfort were an essential, yet missing metric of the program’s success.

In the early ‘80s I coordinated a program that transferred surplus building materials from Austin to residents of colonias in Texas’ Rio Grande Valley, and developed a training program in self-help repairs and weatherization. In 1989, I devised the conceptual framework for what became the Austin Green Building Program, mapping out an integrated approach to measure and manage energy-water-waste-materials flows.

In the mid-2000s, I developed a lifecycle- based assessment of materials for the Washington, DC Housing Authority, along with a materials library to support health-based decisions about materials used for ongoing renovation and rehabilitation. These early experiences underscored the power of collaborative initiatives, and the importance of aligning policies and practice around human health and community resilience.

GHB: Can you tell us what GBCI has accomplished so far this year, and what you still hope to accomplish for the remaining year?

GV: Since 2008, GBCI has become the premier organization independently recognizing excellence in green business industry performance and practice globally. We provide third party verification for certification and credentialing through a rigorous process to ensure standards, such as LEED and other green business frameworks, are being met.

One of the hallmarks of LEED, in particular, is “continuous improvement” and with the introduction of LEED v4.1, it’s raising the bar and encouraging project teams to operate beyond the status quo. From improving energy performance to emphasizing human health, we expect to see more project teams use LEED v4.1 to improve performance. We’re excited about LEED v4.1 and the leadership it will inspire.

GHB: About how many homebuilders do you estimate seek a LEED certification? Have you seen that number increase?

GV: The number of homebuilders seeking LEED certification continues to grow. There are already more than 1.6 million registered and certified residential units globally. As builders and buyers become more familiar with the environmental and health benefits associated with green homes, we expect to see certification activity continue to increase. Each year the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) recognizes innovative projects, architects, developers and homebuilders who are leading the residential green building market. These LEED Homes Award recipients demonstrate some of the most effective sustainability methods currently being used.

GHB: As the California standards continue to progress, do you think the nation will follow its… LEED? What advice can you offer homebuilders seeking a LEED certification?

GV: California has been a long-time leader in green building and was the first state to adopt a mandatory green building code. In 2018, they ranked ninth among the Top 10 States for LEED, a list they are routinely a part of. Last April, the state’s robust energy and green building code, CALGreen, was aligned with LEED, giving projects a seamless way to pursue both CALGreen and LEED. California’s green building work is certainly something other states can emulate. For homebuilders interested in the LEED the best thing to do is to make sure they’re signed up to receive the latest updates on the rating system by going to new.usgbc.org and to check their helpful resources like the scorecard, rating system and reference guide.

GHB: Why is it so essential that we move more towards sustainable practices?

GV: Every day we make decisions that influence our health, climate, communities, environment, economy, happiness, and much more. Our decisions define our future. While there are troubling trends associated with health, climate, and the environment, we also know the enormous influence that changes in our everyday practices can have to reverse these trends and advance positive market.