The B&D Interview: Taryn Holowka, SVP, Marketing, Communications & Advocacy, U.S. Green Building Council

SVP talks green building benefits

Builder and Developer: For the readers who may not be familiar, what is USGBC? What is its philosophy?

Taryn Holowka: USGBC is a non-profit organization that was established in 1993. At USGBC we’re committed to transforming how our buildings are designed, constructed and operated through LEED, the world’s most widely used green building system with more than 100,000 buildings participating today.

Our vision is that buildings and communities will regenerate and sustain the health and vitality of all life within a generation. Our mission is to transform the way buildings and communities are designed, built and operated, enabling an environmentally and socially responsible, healthy, and prosperous environment that improves the quality of life. We do this through our LEED green building program. 

“Doing well by doing good” is something that’s very important to USGBC — and this catchphrase is even more relevant today. We have a responsibility to design a healthier, more sustainable and resilient future. For USGBC and our members, that goal is at the heart of our work. Our members are leaders at the forefront of building sustainably through LEED. We don’t have to choose between sustainability, health and a thriving economy. The future will require all to thrive.

“Our vision is that buildings and communities will regenerate and sustain the health and vitality of all life within a generation.”

BD: Can you explain the LEED program and the benefits of being LEED certified?

TH: LEED provides a framework for healthy, efficient, carbon and cost-saving green buildings. LEED certification is a globally recognized symbol of sustainability achievement and leadership.

LEED certified buildings save money, improve efficiency, lower carbon emissions and create healthier places for people. They are a critical part of addressing climate change and meeting ESG goals, enhancing resilience, and supporting more equitable communities.

To achieve LEED certification, a project earns points by adhering to prerequisites and credits that address carbon, energy, water, waste, transportation, materials, health and indoor environmental quality. Projects go through a verification and review process by GBCI and are awarded points that correspond to a level of LEED certification: Certified (40-49 points), Silver (50-59 points), Gold (60-79 points) and Platinum (80+ points).

The goal of LEED is to create better buildings that:

  • Reduce contribution to global climate change
  • Enhance individual human health
  • Protect and restore water resources
  • Protect and enhance biodiversity and ecosystem services
  • Promote sustainable and regenerative material cycles
  • Enhance community quality of life

LEED is a holistic system that doesn’t simply focus on one element of a building such as energy, water or health, rather it looks at the big picture factoring in all of the critical elements that work together to create the best building possible. In fact, 35% of the credits in LEED are related to climate change, 20% of the credits directly impact human health, 15% of the credits impact water resources, 10% of the credits affect biodiversity, 10% of the credits relate to the green economy, 5% of the credits impact community and 5% of the credits impact natural resources. 

LEED has always been an important part of companies’ corporate social responsibility (CSR) efforts, and today, the value proposition for LEED is higher than ever, as green building strategies provide a foundation that supports people and businesses and helps us adapt during a crisis. Commitments to increase green building efforts continue to remain strong and a global priority, driven by extreme events and despite rising concerns like the pandemic and the climate crisis.

BD: Where do you see the future of green building?

TH: The future of green building is one that inspires meaningful climate action; prioritizes the health and wellness of all; and engages stakeholders around the world to be partners in the global transformation of our buildings, communities and cities.

The trajectory of LEED is to continue driving market changes that improve performance throughout the lifecycle of buildings, advance net zero impact on climate and resources, and enable building owners and city leaders to track and verify progress toward ambitious environmental, social and governance goals.

BD: Are there any specific green trends you are seeing among home buyers?

TH: An interesting thing that I saw recently was that there seems to be an increasing interest in climate change from home buyers. In fact, a Zillow analysis revealed that homes with eco-friendly features can sell faster than expected, indicating today’s buyers are seeking out sustainable homes. More specifically, the analysis found homes with electric vehicle charging stations and drought-resistant landscaping can sell more than nine days faster than similar homes, while features that offer protection from natural disasters can help sell a home for more money.

Some of the things we’re seeing at USGBC, in terms of green home trends is an increased awareness of how consumer behavior impacts that natural world as well as a desire for nurturing indoor and outdoor spaces. In the era of COVID-19, more consumers in the U.S. are choosing products with health in mind—particularly when it comes to their own homes, where they have the most buying power. In this economy, people are making more carefully considered and budgeted decisions to craft home environments that will enhance comfort. 

BD: What are some incentives for builders to go green?

TH: There are some many incentives to go green. There are obviously the incentives that home buyers are looking for: 

  • Health: LEED homes are designed to maximize indoor fresh air and minimize exposure to airborne toxins and pollutants, making it healthier and more comfortable.
  • Savings: LEED homes use less energy and water, which means lower utility bills. On average, certified homes use 20 to 30 percent less energy than non-green homes, with some homes saving up to 60 percent.
  • Value: With proper planning, LEED homes can be built for the same cost as non-green homes. LEED homes can qualify for discounted homeowner’s insurance, tax breaks and other incentives. And in many markets, certified green homes are now selling quicker and for more money than comparable non-green homes.

And there are incentives that are offered at the federal, state and local level: 

  • Tax Credits: Many municipalities already offer tax credits as a means of advancing specific policy agendas. These same principles can be applied to homes or developments that achieve certain green building goals. 
  • Fee Reduction/Waiver: Some municipalities that charge fees for permit review or other permitting processes have begun offering reductions or waivers for developers following green building standards. Many times this incentive can be paired with a structural incentive such as expedited permitting. 
  • Grants: Unlike the other incentive programs discussed above grants will require a financial investment by the city. These programs can often be funded by one of the revenue generating strategies discussed earlier. Grants can be given to homeowners or developers to go towards certification or other costs associated with green building. 
  • Revolving Loan Funds: Typically these programs work by allocating a large fund to be used for low interest loans to those seeking to build or renovate to green building standards. These loans are then repaid to the fund at a rate lower than the operational cost savings from the improvements in order to lower the up‐front costs associated with some green building practices and encourage home owners and developers to build green. The fund is continuously replenished by the repayments so that it can be used for additional loans.

USGBC also has a partnership with IncentiFind, which helps developers, property owners and tenants find money for their real estate and home improvement projects. In the IncentiFind database, users will find tax incentives, grant programs, rebates, fee waivers, free assessments, bill credits and other types of incentives that promote a wide range of green measures, such as economic development, energy efficiency, water conservation, renewables, electric vehicles and historic reuse. The platform makes verifying eligibility and applying to incentives quick and easy, and it offers a single place to track your cost-saving incentives on every project.

BD: What are some building trends you predict will be standard in post-pandemic homes?

TH: I think that so many of the trends we saw during the pandemic are here to stay. First, because people are spending so much more time at home, they are looking to their spaces to be more than just a place to sleep. They are living, working, playing, entertaining and more and they need their spaces to work for them. I also think that the explosion on outdoor living is here to stay. Decks, patios, gardens, etc. have been very prioritized and I think they will continue to be. I also think that people are being more thoughtful when it comes to the materials they are bringing into their homes. They are asking questions like – what is this product made of, is it safe, what happens when I am done with it?

BD: Anything else we did not go over that you’d like to touch on?

TH: LEED helps create living spaces where people can thrive. LEED-certified homes are designed to provide clean indoor air and ample natural light and to use safe building materials to ensure our comfort and good health. They help us reduce our energy and water consumption, thereby lowering utility bills each month, among other financial benefits. Using the strategies outlined in LEED, homeowners are having a net-positive impact on their communities.

LEED homes are also designed, constructed and operated to be resilient in adverse conditions and are developed with proactive design planning for potential impacts of catastrophic weather.

For better homes, accountability makes a difference. Through a carefully managed, independent, third-party verification system, LEED-certification affirms the integrity of green building commitments by ensuring project teams are delivering on design plans and goals. Third-party validation helps guarantee that each project saves energy, water and other resources, reducing overall environmental impact. 

Let’s celebrate your extraordinary, innovative residential LEED projects, as well as those teams that created them. If you are an architect, home builder or developer, please nominate your favorite projects from the past year. The awards showcase your projects and shine deserved light on your accomplishments.

The nomination period for the 2022 LEED Homes Awards is April 26–May 20 at 11:59 p.m. PT. Nominate your LEED homes project.

Project categories

  • Outstanding Single Family Project: Recognizes a single family project for outstanding performance in the LEED rating system.
  • Outstanding Affordable Project: Recognizes an affordable residential LEED-certified project for outstanding performance in the LEED rating system and for particular innovation above and beyond the scope, requirements and prerequisites of LEED.
  • Outstanding Multifamily Project: Recognizes a multifamily housing project for outstanding performance in the LEED rating system.
  • Outstanding Developer: Recognizes a developer for outstanding commitment to the LEED rating system.
  • Project of the Year: Recognizes a LEED-certified project for outstanding performance in the LEED rating system and for particular innovation above and beyond the scope, requirements and prerequisites of LEED.

Also, if any readers are interested, USGBC is offering a few ways to engage this spring and summer:

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