2019 NAIOPWA Change Makers for a Better Future [Event Recap]

banner with rooftop and text Change Makers

NAIOPWA’s Sustainable Development Committee held its fourth annual Change Makers event on June 27, 2019. The event brings together voices from a diverse group of local change-making organizations making social, environmental, and economic impacts, and establishing Seattle as a leader in sustainable development and beyond. The goal was to pool our collective wisdom, challenge assumptions, reach across boundaries, and explore what's possible when everyone pulls in the same direction.

The hosts for these transformational conversations were:

  • Angela Thomlinson, Market Development Director, Catalyst Workplace Activation
  • Myer Harrell, AIA, LEED AP BD+C, Homes, Principal and Director of Sustainability, Weber Thompson

Special guests were:

  • Heidi A. Roop, Lead Scientist for Science Communication, UW Climate Impact Group
  • Ric Cochrane, Account Executive, McKinstry
  • Loreana Marciante, Sr. Emerging Mobility Solution Engineer, HNTB
  • Katie Ross, Sr. Sustainability Program Manager - Real Estate & Facilities, Microsoft
  • Boting Zhang, Real Estate Strategies, City of Seattle Office of Planning and Community Development

Angela and Myer began by reminding us that the Sustainable Development Committee values collaboration and partnership, and the attendees’ shared sense of passion about sustainability. They outlined the plan for the evening. Each speaker posed a question to the attendees, who gathered in groups of three to five to discuss their thoughts. Each group summarized important points on Post-It notes.

Question 1 (Heidi Roop): What is the role of built environment professionals in considering the challenge of climate change? Three major themes arose from the discussion:

1. Realigning and prioritizing to meet important goals that impact climate change.

  • Raise awareness around a product’s embodied carbon
  • Change code to meet 2030 goals
  • Triple bottom line
  • Ecological overshoot, limited resources
  • AECD community defining sustainable research initiatives

2. The importance of education.

  • The built environment responsible for 39% of emissions
  • Educate clients and stakeholders through intention and approachable language—simplify the issue, reframe the conversation

3. Variety of solutions ranging from economic to social, governance and technology.

  • Eliminate split - incentivize, penalties, new economic system
  • Upgrading building efficiencies
  • Green infrastructure
  • Identify no-cost opportunities 
  • Best ways to eliminate waste in buildings
  • Access to services
  • Technology use including infrastructure and Internet of Things (IoT)
  • Depoliticize ways to use stuff, adding weighted values
  • Benchmarking
  • Life cycle analysis
  • Personal action
  • Gen Z understanding brand loyalty and the “why” behind it
  • Push clients towards doing the right things
  • Non-toxic materials

Question 2 (Loreana Marciante): What is the thing that makes you joyful about the built environment, and how can you bring this delight to a sustainable future?

The natural environment was a repeated theme when asked about joy along with ideas that enhance the sustainability of the built environment, including:

  • Bringing the outdoors in; open air
  • Natural light
  • Plants
  • Orienting views
  • Integration of art
  • Hygge
  • Clean, comfortable mass transit with wi-fi to encourage use
  • Finding common ground between developer/client needs and sustainable efforts
  • More visibility on sustainable benefits achieved in space design
  • The opportunity to help shape/design the entire community
  • Reuse building water; bring into landscape and create plaza environment for relaxing place to connect with nature
  • Adaptive reuse
  • Design safe buildings designed for extreme weather
  • Material choices
  • Importance of decisions based on life-cycle costs
  • Prefabrication, component design in built spaces
  • Heavy timber material changes: CLT & DLT

Question 3 (Ric Cochrane): What are the technologies that allow people to find delight in the built environment or to enable thriving?

Question three brought up a variety of technology solutions that truly reflect the value of diversity of the audience collaboration:

  • Harnessing natural light & airflow to minimize electricity consumption through technology
  • Photochromic glass
  • Green roofs
  • Activate sustainable education of space
  • BIM - Smart buildings 
  • Manufacturing that limits waste
  • Modernization of basic products
  • Biomimicry
  • Tracking usage real time
  • Carbon credits
  • 3D printing
  • Electric car charging
  • Alternate energy generation
  • Heat recovery systems on an urban scale
  • Living walls
  • AI smart controls
  • Integration of technology to connect people to each other and outdoors
  • Wake and navigation apps
  • “Smart” environment that uses machine learning to know me and adjust to needs, occupant comfort
  • Ease of use and connectivity

Question 4 (Boting Zhang): How do we think better together through relationships that don’t exist yet?

Boting Zhang, who is involved with the Equitable Development Initiative, asked us to thank those of us who came before us and inspired us, and to think about those who will come after us. The themes for question four concerned collaboration and connection.

  • Connection to history of site
  • Bringing together groups who wouldn’t traditionally be involved
  • Scientists, respected elders 
  • Community intersection and communication for those that need the space
  • Events like Change Makers that create connections 
  • Connection to sense of place, pride with work
  • 20 years from now, plan to bring people together and have a workplace that fosters connection
  • You can’t innovate alone
  • Create 3rd spaces
  • Engage youth of all ethnic and socio-economic groups to bring in their input
  • Personalize engagement opportunities
  • Public hearings
  • Shared project goals
  • Not realizing the impact of productivity
  • Communication of bigger issues not just what showed up on Instagram
  • Design for Inclusion
  • More transparent review processes
  • More stakeholders at the table making decisions 
  • Defining values

Question 5 (Katie Ross): What type of tools do you need to make better data-driven decisions?

Katie’s question was driven by the fact that Microsoft is supporting/funding a new, open-source tool to find, use and incentivize lower-carbon building materials called EC3. Embodied Carbon (EC) is the carbon emitted in producing the concrete, steel, timber, and similar materials it is made from. Read more from Engineering News Record (ENR subscription required) and the Microsoft on the Issues blog.

Question 5 responses involved measurements and metrics:

  • “Oh $hit” moment on carbon
  • Can’t improve what you can’t measure
  • Fact driven public polices, collection and assessment
  • Mitigation of propriety argument for material transparency 
  • Data transparency from clients, less secrecy around data
  • Tools that show benefits of sustainability, diversity & equity
  • Engage youth to develop technologies that will create the systems of the future
  • Innovative ROI based on lifecycle
  • Having a way for consumers to judge companies and products based on their environmental impact
  • Empower LEED certification to include improvements beyond structure 
  • Supply chain, end of life, educate!
  • Can’t do it alone, cross functional collaboration
  • Building wide “nutrition label”
  • Smart tech - windows that tell you to wear sunscreen or that smoke levels are high
  • Digital twin technology
  • Occupant feedback to inform behavioral changes
  • Sensors data collection for adaptive change
  • C40 cities

After each discussion, participants were encouraged to elaborate on a highlight for the group. Melissa Tatro of Hermanson noted how important it is to find the right language depending on your audience. Some may balk at the term “climate change,” yet respond to concerns about “extreme weather.”

The format of small groups was particularly useful for discussion. It was clear that participants were passionate and had significant knowledge that could be put to use. Tim Zeilke of MG2, Sarah Fishman of Catalyst Workplace Activation, and Meghan Brookler of Infiniti Real Estate formed one of the small groups. They noted that one way to effect change is to educate clients on how easy it is to be sustainable; there are small changes that can make a big difference. On the other hand, an influencer, such as a policy maker who institutes green requirements, can be a powerful tool for big change. The discussion also touched on children and millennials, who are frightened about their future and determined to turn things around.

Angela and Myer ended with a challenge: at next year’s Change Makers event, they want to hear stories of how attendees worked together to bring about change.

This article was written by NAIOP Washington State and Sustainability Committee member Susan Kemp, Hart Crowser; and Angela Thomlinson, Market Development Director, Catalyst Workplace Activation.

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