Texas is home to world class sustainable buildings and communities. I bet you are not in one!

Why is it that proven sustainable betterment designs, technologies, policies, and processes, that already exist within our Texas buildings and communities, and if deployed universally would immediately solve all our equity, health, efficiency, sustainability, resilience, and productivity issues, are not being implemented? The answer is simple. The problem is complicated. Competing eco and value systems are fighting in a race to the bottom to produce minimum-code, lowest-first-cost solutions. 90% of all Texas building and community projects squeak by this non-enforced, minimum-code, lowest-first-cost threshold, and no one is held accountable for the unnecessary and avoidable social and environmental burdens that this low bar places on our communities. There is a way to standardize the evaluation of proven sustainable betterments with respect to their full social, environmental, and financial value to all stakeholders.

Let's examine the low hanging simple practice of implementing proven better energy and water efficient designs, technologies, policies, and processes. Even with today's myopic and frenzied focus on these issues, very little progress is being made. The efforts are important because successful implementation removes the significant burden of pollution and climate impacting carbon from our communities, but does not pencil out from a business case perspective. Therefore, it is a fight to implement on every project even though higher efficiencies are easily accomplished in projects by good project teams without additional capital expenditure. This better performance threshold is not mandated and/or enforced by most Texas municipalities. The minimum-code, lowest-first-cost mentality prevails. But what if the project had to account for the cost of the pollution and carbon burdens they were throwing onto the backs of the surrounding community? What if you could calculate the dollar cost of that burden and demand that that information be made available to all stakeholders for every project? What if projects were graded on how they addressed those additional burdens. The bottom line is someone always pays, and currently it is you and me through higher healthcare costs, climate catastrophes, shorter lives, less successful lives, etc. 39% of all greenhouse gases and pollution are directly caused by the production of the materials, construction, and operations of our buildings and communities. The built environment must be a major player in creating behaviors for a better future where everyone thrives.

The USGBC Best Practices Committee was formed in 2019 to address the fact that almost all deployed best practice designs, technologies, polices, and processes only occur in Class A office buildings, affluent school systems, and large urban municipal buildings. None of these sustainable betterments are “trickling down” to underserved communities or populations. The USGBC Texas Best Practices app was envisioned to bring equitable adoption of proven best practices to all demographics, communities and ecosystems through a common lens evaluation accessible to all stakeholders.

What the US Green Building Council (USGBC) Texas Best Practices app does

  1. The USGBC Texas Best Practices app gives users direct access to our USGBC Texas - Best Practice Champions, so that together they might fight and solve the social and environmental problems dumped in their laps by poor building designs, maintenance, operations, slow code adoption, and inconsistent code enforcement. USGBC Texas Best Practice Champions are USGBC Texas members who are consistently deploying above-minimum-code sustainable betterments throughout Texas. They have graciously volunteered to give of their time and talents to help other Texans emulate their superpowers.

  2. The USGBC Texas Best Practices app provides dollar cost benefit outcomes of modeled better and best standards of care, wrapped around the people, profit, planet data needed to understand the magnitude impact that best practices create within our buildings and communities.

  3. The USGBC Texas Best Practices app provides the business case justification for immediate deployment of voluntary above-minimum-code better and best designs, technologies, policies, and processes and provides the substantiation, professional connections and mentoring needed to ensure the places we live, learn, work, and play are healthy, safe, efficient, resilient, and prosperous.

  4. The USGBC Texas Best Practices app is the onramp to understanding how standardized evaluation processes, grounded in shared defendable methodologies, can move the built environment ecosystem toward more equitable, sustainable, resilient, healthy, efficient, and prosperous outcomes. Framed in dollar cost impacts the USGBC Texas Best Practices app lays transparent the intentions and capabilities of our built environment Creators (Developers, City Planners, Code Officials, Architects, Designers, Building Owners and Operators) through preconfigured modeled analysis examples using triple bottom line (people, profit, planet) cost benefit analysis visualizations.

  5. The USGBC Texas Best Practices app gives unfiltered access to the social, environmental, and financial cost benefits of deploying, and the unnecessary cost burdens of not deploying, known best practices to both building and community Creators and Inhabitants (Tenant Businesses, School Teachers, Students, Employees, you, and me). This information has been traditionally difficult to obtain in an economical and decision ready timely manner. When this information has been available, it has never been made transparent to building or community Inhabitants. This life and business altering data can now be used by motivated Creators who want to, and know how to, create a better built environment. This data is also now available directly to building and community Inhabitants such that they can hold Creators accountable for not fulfilling their ethical obligations of protecting our health and wellbeing (AIA Ethics Code E.S. 2.4 Environmental Equity and Justice: Members should promote fairness and safety in providing professional services and make reasonable efforts to advise their clients and employers of their obligations to the environment, including: access to clean air, water, sunlight and energy for all; sustainable production, extraction, transportation and consumption practices; a built environment that equitably supports human health and well-being and is resistant to climate change; and restoring degraded or depleted natural resources.)

  6. The USGBC Texas Best Practices app creates an organic growth income opportunity for USGBC Texas in support of its mission, "The U.S. Green Building Council Texas is a community-benefit (501c3) nonprofit committed to ensuring a better built environment for current and future generations of Texans. We are uniquely focused on uniting all stakeholders involved in the development, design, construction, operation and use of the built infrastructure to achieve equitable practices and policies that are economically, environmentally, and socially sustainable." The app encourages USGBC membership, in app advertisement, collaboration, partnership, education, and advocacy.

How we built it

This USGBC Texas Best Practices app was created using modeled triple bottom line cost benefit outcomes of above-minimum-code better and best practices in both a typical Houston middle school and a typical Houston 10-story office building. McMac Cx (www.mcmaccx.com), a Houston Texas social enterprise funded and provided their advanced analytics "Impact Advocacy Tech" modeling to populate the app with appropriate data. An app developer was hired to create the initial android interface. The app's current configuration is modeling six (6) "Best Practices"

  1. Energy Efficiency,
  2. Water Efficiency,
  3. Outside Air Ventilation,
  4. Filtration,
  5. HVAC Controllability, and
  6. Daylighting Access

Digging deeper into the app allows the user to connect directly to USGBC Texas Best Practice Champions (free for USGBC Members, Texas school systems, and community facing organizations and non-profits).

Linked in-app narrated PowerPoint presentations are currently in production that allow app users to understand what better and best practices are, and how the triple bottom line cost benefit analysis methodologies are used to model social, environmental, and financial outcome benefits.

The following best practices are ready to be rolled out to the app:

  1. ESG Implementation
  2. Embedded Carbon
  3. Operational Carbon
  4. Lighting Controllability
  5. View Access
  6. Maintenance
  7. Renewable Energy
  8. Green Roof
  9. Pervious Surfaces
  10. Unmanaged Turf
  11. Trees & Shrubs
  12. Onsite Natural Retention
  13. Recreation Opportunity
  14. Educational Opportunity
  15. Biodiversity
  16. Community Connection
  17. Pollination
  18. Sustainability Financing

Challenges we ran into

Time, money, and defendable data were the biggest challenges. McMac Cx provided funding, like kind services, and modeled data using recognized global methodologies that allowed an app developer to finish Phase 1 of the app.

An unexpected challenge is that motivated building and community creators are hesitant to communicate this revelatory information to their clients. Although the app models a static school and office building's outcomes, architects have been fearful to move forward with the data on existing projects, as it exposes the lack of insight used to make previous decisions. In consultation with leading sustainably focused Creators we are helping them relate these static model results and inject the information at the right time in a project's trajectory and in a manner that does not embarrass them with their traditional clients. By arming them with the data and grounded justification, Creators can differentiate themselves in the marketplace and accomplish what they have been training to create professionally and wanting to create personally. If custom project specific triple bottom line cost benefit modeling and analysis is required users of the app can directly access the list of Best Practices Champions, evaluate their capabilities, and choose a professional that provides those specific services.

Building owners have been slow in figuring out how to sell the better or best practice outcomes in their projects because most of the additional benefit outcomes of better and best practices go directly to the Inhabitant (Social) or community (Environment), and not directly into the building owner's pockets as cash (lowest-first-cost, minimum-code mentality). Building owner's typically only go above this low self-interest threshold if Inhabitants demand it. The USGBC Texas Best Practices app is educating Inhabitants and they are beginning to understand how little their health, wellbeing, and prosperity have been considered in the past. They will be demanding more from their building and community Creators. As an organization USGBC Texas continues to work with all stakeholders to educate and create behavior change within building owner and municipal planner organizations.

Accomplishments that we're proud of

We have been very surprised and gratefully for how many USGBC Texas Members have stepped up and volunteered to become Best Practice Champions. The USGBC Texas Best Practices app has acted as a catalyst for Best Practice Champions to engage locally, bridging the gap between their professional skills and their altruistic passions. Few Creators get out of bed every day looking forward to designing, building, or operating lowest-first-cost, minimum code projects.

The creation of the USGBC Texas Best Practices Committee, identifying professionals as USGBC Texas Best Practice Champions, and now the launch of the USGBC Texas Best Practices app has given our members and our collaborative partners a clear opportunity and pathway to connect their professional capabilities with their altruistic passions. Too often building and community Creators are unable to connect their passions to their professions in current employment. One of the requirements to become a USGBC Texas Best Practices Champion is the identification, commitment, and direct connection, either through monetary donations, like-kind professional services, and/or hands on volunteer work, with a local community facing non-profit or other organizations that are attempting to solve the burdens previous Creators have placed on their shoulders. This has created many meaningful and constructive connections and conversations. It has elevated new and existing connections by creating a structured communication conduit through the USGBC Texas Best Practices app for behavior change.

What we learned

We have created an accessible first-of-its-kind tool that makes transparent the direct connection between Creator’s behaviors with respect to deployment or non-deployment of best practice's impacts on social, environmental, and financial cost benefit outcomes. However, we have a long way to go to see these types of sustainable betterments become common place in our buildings and communities.

To make adoption of these best practices a common reality USGBC Texas has created a strategic plan to make it happen. In broad strokes we will simultaneously advance implementation of best practices through our Best Practice Champions, the Best Practices app, and continued connections to the community through education, advocacy, and outreach.

What's next for USGBC Texas Best Practices App

Here is our plan moving forward:

  1. Continue to create content (In-app narrated PowerPoint videos, additional best practice releases, more advertisements).
  2. Roll out i-Phone and Windows versions of the app. We are currently soliciting grants and donation monies needed to finance the conversion of the app to these additional platforms ($50,000).
  3. Roll out our Best Practices social media campaign. We are about to launch a consistent weekly social media campaign that will spotlight one (1) Better / Best Practice currently accessible in the app, highlight one Best Practice video, highlight a Best Practice Champion’s superpower and their commitment to USGBC Texas members, schools systems, and community facing organizations, highlight a connected community facing organization’s mission and how USGBC Texas can/is helping, teaser for Better / Best Practices slated to be added to the app, member surveys, Best Practices newsletter, advertiser spotlight, etc. McMac Cx has committed to fund one (1) intern per semester to assist in this effort.
  4. Professional video and newsletter production. The goal is to make this app universally accessible and applicable for anyone. The app is currently free to use. Membership in USGBC Texas ($69.00/year) is required to access the Best Practice Champions (Schools Systems and Community facing organizations have free access). We envision at some point potentially charging for access to the app and the videos.

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