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Fire, water, air, and earth are the basic elements that make up the universe, and these elements often parallel different sustainability approaches within the built environment.

As a Marketing + Communications Intern for Integral Group, I have been eagerly learning more about the built environment and how sustainability plays a central role in the firm’s work.

As I invest more time into in my journalism degree, I am expanding and deepening my knowledge of all industries. When I was asked to spend a day attending and tabling at GreenerBuilder, I jumped at the opportunity. I knew the conference would provide me the chance to network with professionals and learn more about the green building industry, as a whole.

As I attended a handful of sessions between working the expo booth and speaking with other exhibitors, I noticed a common elemental theme around conference.

Here’s my recap of some of the sessions and topics from GreenerBuilder 18:

Fire | Sonoma and Napa Fires

A panel of green builders, closely involved with the North Bay community affected by devastating fires in 2017, discussed their rebuilding efforts. Ann Edminister of Design AVEnues LLC, Robin Stephani of 8th Wave, and Bob Massaro of The Healthy Buildings Companies highlighted the ways they are utilizing resilience in the community as it recovers.

Ann’s focus has been on creating temporary housing in Oregon while family homes are rebuilt and brought back to life. Bob highlighted his efforts towards creating homes that are fire-proof and more difficult to destroy than the typical structures. Each panelist is committed to community resiliency and creating a built environment that is wildfire-resistant, especially in regions prone to natural disasters, like Napa and Sonoma.

Water | San Francisco’s Seawall

Elaine Forbes, Executive Director of the Port of San Francisco, gave an enticing talk about her plans for the future of the city’s seawall in order to address the rising sea levels, shifting infill, and potential earthquakes. She demonstrated the devastation a large earthquake would cause through graphics that included collapsed buildings, wharf failures, utility rupture, and a collapse of the piles and mud below the surface of the Embarcadero. Despite these possibilities, she has proposed four different plans that embody renovating the historic pier and rebuilding the seawall infrastructure. The biggest challenge Elaine faces with this long overdue waterfront project is finding partners to fund it to get it started.

Air | SFO’s Sustainability Plan

Erin Cooke, Sustainability Director of San Francisco International Airport, wowed the crowd with the bold goals and large numbers that the airport has set forth in order to achieve Net Zero Energy, Zero Carbon, and Zero Waste. With 55.8 million annual passengers, 13 million square feet of facilities, and 48 airlines, the airport has come up with a comprehensive plan to increase performance efficiency and reach their triple Net Zero goals. This aviation project is underway, and in addition to revamping the structures, the airport is piloting a sustainable fuel option for their aircrafts.

Earth | Diversity and Inclusion in Green Building

The Women in Green panel discussion was dedicated to the core values and heart and soul of the industry: diversity and inclusion. It included insights from Integral Group’s own Senior Principal Andrea Traber, and Perkins+Will’s Director of Global Diversity, Gabrielle Bullock. They both highlighted that creating diverse work environments in the sustainable building industry is essential to progress and growth. Success in diversity requires companies to prioritize inclusion and take action. Just as the earth fosters diversity, our industry thrives off a diversity of individuals sharing new ideas with each other.

Through the lens of four elements, a resilient world of green building and communities was revealed to me. I’m grateful for the opportunity to attend GreenerBuilder and expand my view of the sustainable built environment industry.


Written by Ana Poulsen.