Building Green

Employees at Building Green work in the library at their office on Birge Street in Brattleboro

Architects and designers who are focused on the sustainability of their projects have depended on one organization since 1985 to help guide their efforts.

BuildingGreen, which was founded by Alex Wilson in a timber-framed barn in Dummerston, Vermont, got its start as Environmental Building News. Along with Nadav Malin; Wilson’s wife, Jerelyn; and a crew of dedicated professionals EBN quickly became the go-to source of knowledge for architects and designers involved in the nascent green building movement. EBN was unique in its focus, and it quickly gained a subscriber base of more than 20,000, including students and professionals at more than 200 architectural firms and campuses.

Alex Wilson, now retired, founded the company, which is now located on Birge Street in Brattleboro, because he saw the need for a knowledge-based company that could translate technical information on energy efficiency and other environmental topics to the public and building professionals.

Sustainability has many definitions, but in architecture, it addresses the environmental and social impacts of design by using methods, materials and energy that minimize the impact of both construction and operation of a building on the environment and its neighbors in

the community.

“Our hallmark has been telling the real story about sustainable design and construction,” says Jerelyn Wilson during an interview in the offices of BuildingGreen. “We have become known as the ‘Consumer Reports’ of green

building information.”

Wilson, BuildingGreen’s CEO and outreach ambassador, says that there are a number of things that make BuildingGreen unique. One of the most important, she notes, is that BuildingGreen doesn’t accept advertising for any of its products.

“When manufacturers get involved in the discussion about sustainability, they want to sell their products,” she says. “What they have to say often is in support of purchasing their products.”

Because BuildingGreen doesn’t have to cater to advertisers, it can stay focused on its mission: “To bring about a healthier relationship between human society and the natural world by helping building professionals create and nurture high-performance, resilient and inspiring buildings

and communities.”

“Our subscriber base is not anybody with commercial interests,” notes Wilson. “It’s the people we are writing for — the architects, the engineers, the construction professionals. Our editorial team, for a major article, will interview maybe a dozen experts in the field. Then we sift through that information and put it all together.”

A CERTIFIED B-CORP

To further its mission, Wilson says, BuildingGreen recently attained certification as what is known as a “B Corp.” According to BCorporation.net, “B Corporations are businesses that meet the highest standards of verified social and environmental performance, public transparency and legal accountability to balance profit and purpose. B Corps are accelerating a global culture shift to redefine success in business and build a more inclusive and sustainable economy.”

“It brought strength to the way we operate,” says Wilson. “It affirmed things that are in our culture as a company naturally.”

Wilson says even BuildingGreen’s long-term customers have thought of the company as

a nonprofit.

“But when Alex started the company, he started it very intentionally not as a nonprofit,” she says. “He wanted to model a business that operates with more than just the intention of supporting its owners. It has always been mission-oriented. We are a for-profit company with a mission.”

Wilson, Malin and BuildingGreen’s 15 other employees take their mission seriously. On the third floor of a historical building in a complex of buildings that used to house the Estey Organ Company, they research emerging design processes and sustainable products and assemble the information for publication in Environmental Building News and The BuildingGreen Report.

But to assume that’s all the folks at BuildingGreen do would be a serious mistake.

In addition to its newsletter and online presence, BuildingGreen offers services such as technical writing for firms that need to update their processes and procedures to reflect new and emerging technology.

BuildingGreen also offers its expertise in the form of customized consulting services to professional firms, nonprofits, government agencies (such as the state of California and New York City to help them design resiliency plans), and others who need assistance in finding solutions to poorly performing buildings, deciding which green building innovations to adopt, and choosing healthy and sustainable materials.

BuildingGreen also helps manufacturers who want to improve their products and helps architecture teams who are looking to integrate their design process and improve the way they communicate their key principles.

“They’ll contact Nadav, who will pull together a team of people to work on a project,” says Wilson.

Malin, the president of BuildingGreen, is currently working with Princeton University, which is developing an updated master plan.

“We’re not architects or engineers,” notes Malin. “We’re not actually going to help them develop their master plan. But what I can do is offer my expertise in facilitating a collaborative, group process that brings together the right people at the right time to help support the process.”

BuildingGreen’s role is not to bring in the team to do the master plan, Malin says, but to work with them on how to work most efficiently with their teams and assess which teams are going to have a collaborative, inclusive process.

“It’s the integrative process that we are trying to help them figure out,” says Malin. “It’s not what the master plan should be. It’s how they should work with the firms they are hiring and to be more effective in getting the results that they need.”

GOOD GREEN BUILDING REQUIRES MANY VOICES

Working with and listening to people in the industry, BuildingGreen found it can be difficult to practice sustainable design if those businesses don’t have a good inclusive process.

“The default tends to be one voice is larger than the other, and then you have this sustainability overlay at the end,” says Malin. “But that was just adding cost. Creating an integrative, collaborative process is where you get the best outcomes in terms of sustainability. That makes it possible to do this within a budget without adding a lot of extra cost.”

To make this process possible, BuildingGreen relies on the peer network it has developed over the past 35 years.

“We don’t consider ourselves the experts,” says Wilson. “But we know who the experts are out in the field. We have been intent on building a network of professionals in the business industry, especially those interested in sustainability and those people who are pushing the edge.”

So while the people at BuildingGreen may not have all the answers, they know people in the industry that do.

The peer networks BuildingGreen built are rooted in the in-person gatherings it hosts to bring together all of the disparate voices involved in a project. These gatherings are often intended to get everyone in the same room, talking and brainstorming ways to best meet their

customers’ needs.

Wilson says the peer networks had the genesis in conversations the folks at BuildingGreen had with sustainability professionals who felt isolated but knew other people around the world had to be working under the same constraints.

“They came to BuildingGreen and said, ‘you must know a lot of people who are in this role,’” says Wilson. “They pulled us in, and we helped to develop this in-person retreat-like activity, which we call a ‘summit.’ We’ve been doing this for more than 10 years, and recently we’ve started the same peer network for people in the

construction industry.”

Wilson says this is a far cry from the start of BuildingGreen when it was focused on putting out a printed monthly newsletter. Still, it is totally in line with its mission to create a knowledge base that best serves design firms, their customers and society as a whole.

“There certainly is a lot of information about green building and building in general,” says Wilson. “But there’s nobody who does exactly what we do. Our lens has always been about sustainable design.”

BuildingGreen is also reaching the next generation of thought leaders in the building community.

“There are more than 130 colleges and universities that are members, which provided access to faculty and students,” says Wilson. “Our content is used to complement core

architecture textbooks.”

Along the way, BuildingGreen, with WSP Built Ecology, also designed a specialized website, LEEDuser.com, which guides individuals and teams pursuing LEED certification with expert advice on LEED credits. LEED stands for “Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design,” and is a worldwide voluntary green building rating system.

A big part of their job is listening to the currents of discussion online, at the person-to-person summits, and while visiting with professionals around the world.

“We need to do that in order to help set the agenda for their engagement,” says Malin. “But we also pull from those interactions when we’re thinking about content for our monthly report.”

Learn more about BuildingGreen at www.buildinggreen.com.

Robert Audette writes from Swanzey, New Hampshire.