From left-right: Collin Cavote demonstrates the removable LED lighting on the Biome living wall system in the Expo; Keynote Jane Fonda shares her experiences as a climate activist; 2022 scholars gather at USGBC’s Expo booth; living walls encircle the Ohana Room atop the Salesforce tower in San Francisco.

Greenbuild 2022



Hello plant people and biophilic designers, and hello to 2023,

Last month I attended USGBC’s Greenbuild in San Francisco as one of the 50 scholars awarded an all-access pass to the seminars, tradeshow, and networking events.

For those unfamiliar with USGBC, (US Green Building Council), the organization’s purpose is to transform the way buildings and communities are designed, built, and operated to enable an environmentally and socially responsible, healthy, and prosperous environment that improves the quality of life. USGBC is accountable for creating and administering LEED, and Green Plants for Green Buildings is one of their authorized education providers.

While there were many presentations on conventional Greenbuild themes like net zero and carbon neutral, a major theme this year was how to create urban environments that are holistically sustainable at the community level with a focus on health and well-being.

Here are a couple of takeaways from my Greenbuild experience, followed by my thoughts on how interior landscapers might respond to what is evolving in the green building space.  There is a lot going on at Greenbuild and to keep this blog a reasonable length, I’ll spread the observations into two or three issues.

OBSERVATION: ESG (environmental, social, governance) is dominating built environment marketplace conversations.

Because of the financial implications for commercial real estate and municipalities, ESG could stand alone as a driver of transformation in the urban environment. The strategies for accomplishing ESG targets make it a natural partner for green building initiatives and Greenbuild devoted a full-day workshop to ESG topics.

Explaining her company’s take on the relationship between ESG and green building certification programs like LEED and Fitwel, Sara Neff, Lendlease, said “You can’t have an  ESG program and do all of the reporting unless there is something you’re reporting about. For Lendlease, we’re reporting about buildings and how green they are.”

Green building certification programs have long been defining, specifying, and measuring the building’s features that contribute to E (environmental) metrics. Now, what about the S?

The S in ESG

More recently some building certification programs include categories for building features that contribute to occupant health and wellness. This is where biophilic design elements are nested. Access to nature, daylighting, thermal comfort, etc. are included in the certification scorecards of the Living Building Challenge, WELL, and Fitwel among others.  These scores contribute to the S (social) metrics. Fitwel’s “Guide to Measuring S” can be downloaded here.

When I asked a speaker about his thoughts on the relationship of biophilic design to ESG, he said that no one in the banks or boardrooms wants to hear about this. Their focus, understandably, is on the larger, amalgamated numbers that can be applied across investment portfolios.


For the interior landscape industry, what is the helpful takeaway in this feedback?  The good news that the demand for building certification is growing via its relationship to ESG. How can interior landscapers and biophilic designers engage with this demand? As is frequently true, it starts with being curious and learning more.

Here’s one pathway:

  1. Become informed about which building certification programs have categories for health and wellness features that include access to nature. Learn where biophilic design elements appear on the various scorecards. GPGB’s continuing education course “Biophilic Design in Fitwel, WELL, and the Living Building Challenge” is a good start. If you are a GPGB Registered Trainer authorized to teach this course, begin presenting this material to the A+D firms in your area.
  2. Network and become informed about which companies are pursuing building certification. Attend meetings of your local USGBC and BOMA chapters. Get to know the WELL and Fitwel ambassadors in your area.

Keep Spreading the Word

Johanna Frank, President and CEO of the Center for Active Design, observed “the demand for healthy buildings is largely being driven at the individual level.”

This means that GPGB’s active social media campaign sharing news and research around the aesthetic, well-being, and economic benefits of nature in the built environment may be having impact at a grass roots level.

What can you do to accelerate the demand Ms. Frank is talking about? Share, retweet, and repost the articles GPGB posts on your own social media channels. Include links in your company’s newsletters and blogs. If you are an educator, share the channels with your students.

Best wishes for a happy 2023, filled with the growth and inspiration found at conferences like Greenbuild.

#StayPlanted and be a catalyst for wellness, 

Mary Golden
Advocacy Incubator       

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