Q&A: David Gottfried

In 2010, David Gottfried founded his latest membership organization, the Regenerative Network; a business consortium that brings together leading green building product manufacturers and service providers and connects them to real estate portfolio owners, architects, engineers, and contractors. The mission of this invitation-only organization, he says, is to elevate the triple-bottom-line profitability of members and affiliates through fostering deep business relationships and accelerating the adoption of sustainable products and services. The Network limits membership to one organization in each green building category, in order establish a non-competitive environment and foster sharing within the group.

The Network’s launch was preceded by several other organizational initiatives. In 1993, David founded the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) and the LEED green building rating system, which led to his founding of the World Green Building Council in 2002 (now with GBCs forming in 85 countries). On the heels of the USGBC came two more companies: Regenerative Ventures and its green building consulting arm, both founded in 1995, where David partners with entrepreneurs and management teams, guiding them to establish and achieve sustainable building goals.

Gottfried is also an author. His newest book, Greening My Life, describes his personal green rating system for a life, and his and his family’s attempts to live well in the fullest sense of the word. After attending a Regenerative Network event (the architecture firm for which I serve as director of communications, William McDonough + Partners, is a Network Affiliate), I had a chance to talk with David about his latest activities.

Kira Gould: As a player in the market transformation we’ve witnessed in the building industry, you must have a keen sense of the opportunities ahead. What emerging trends do you think have real potential?

David Gottfried: I’m fascinated by direct current (DC) power, and there are several related trends that have potential. DC is what solar creates before you convert it to AC. You don’t need an electrician to play with DC power, because it’s low voltage. That’s powerful in terms of data, capability, cost effectiveness, and more. I love the idea of closing the loop from solar to power without having to distribute to the grid. LED lights also run on DC power – which creates incredible energy efficiency and lighting control opportunities.

I think that the potential of lithium ion batteries for buildings could be great. I’m also intrigued by software that can manage peak power and demand response in a variety of interesting ways, as well as commissioning our existing buildings on a continuous basis through intelligent analytics. The software field is exploding with dozens of companies working on intelligent applications for buildings, carbon management, commissioning, analytics, product specification and procurement and more.

KG: I worry that the AEC industry is stubbornly and studiously very bad at learning from failure, which is critical to progress for any endeavor or movement, and certainly important to the evolution of architecture toward truly healthy, energy positive, buildings and communities. Where is progress occurring on this front?

DG: Data collection and data learning are essential. We have to quicken the pace on reporting and linking the data to feedback and improvement loops. I’m happy to see LEED engaging this issue more. The USGBC’s Building Performance Partnership, which engages owners of LEED buildings in this effort, could help advance performance efficiencies and comparative base casing. Building electrical plug loads are really interesting. Cloud computing for green building data and the resulting AI and control that’s kicking in to do something with this—that’s pretty interesting, too. And we’ve arrived at a time that water analytics are really important. We take water for granted and so many states and countries have a crisis. It’s time that water be elevated to the level of energy as a global imperative.

KG: You recently published a personal memoir. Greening My Life touches on your relationships, challenges, and the renovation of your highest rated green LEED Platinum home in Berkeley. What lessons do you think you have learned that can be instructive for others?

DG: We are only truly experts on ourselves, to some extent. I didn’t want to say what others should do, but I wanted to share a bit about my journey and associated struggles. What good are green buildings if you don’t have a green life, or know what that is? How does green building fit in with green lives? Green buildings will not save us. Green lives might. The notion of a green life is a deeper premise that may have more lasting promise. In my memoir I was asking these questions and exploring paths to some answers, and I thought that some of that would have value to others. We have to get inside of ourselves more deeply. We have to learn to communicate more openly with each other about human relations and our relation to the earth. I’m no model, but I’m working on it. I believe that we each are the atoms of change and that greening starts at home – inside each of us.

KG: Your book talks about a green “rating system” for a life. To some readers, this seems a bit reductive, and even a bit overly quantitative. Why rate your life? Can this metric really speak to values and principles?

DG: I’m an engineer. If you can’t measure it or rate it, it’s hard to know where to go and how to improve or transform. It’s certainly subjective, of course, but if you don’t ask the question, you can’t navigate. And you might not know when you are slipping. What is the scale for contentment? And what do you value? What’s enough? Does it matter how you make your money? I came up with 10 categories for a total 100-point scale. I’ve been rating myself for 10 years now, and of course you have to weigh the various categories differently at different times in your life – one’s cultural quotient may dip if their toddler is underfoot, for example. Is my system appropriate for everyone? No way! Should everyone ask questions and set their own navigational systems? Absolutely!

Kira Gould, Assoc. AIA, LEED AP, is a writer and director of communications for William McDonough + Partners. She is co-author of Women in Green: Voices of Sustainable Design. Follow her on Twitter.

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