2020 year in review: Living Standard

Sonja Trierweiler
February 5, 2021

GBCI’s distinct objective has always been to advance both USGBC’s mission and LEED. And with the announcement of USGBC’s new vision last year, the organization made it clear that it stands on four pillars: sustainability, health and wellness, resilience, and equity. USGBC’s Living Standard campaign bolsters those values, and they are at the core of everything we do. But I’d also like to offer another value that I personally am committing to in my own life and for Living Standard in 2021: vulnerability.

Mahesh Ramanujam often quotes Dr. Brené Brown, who champions the power of vulnerability, in his speeches: Specifically, when she says that stories are just data with a soul. And that’s the message we work to get across with Living Standard—that industry jargon and hard statistics don’t resonate well with those outside of the sustainability marketplace. Our research found that only 11% of the general U.S. population makes the connection of “green building” to “strongly relating to the environment.”

Data with a soul, or stories, are what we’re striving to bring to the forefront of the sustainability conversation through Living Standard. Like the story of Aishwarya Balaji, a North Carolina high school student who earned her LEED Green Associate credential in middle school and recently was a Greenbuild scholarship recipient. Or Paul Pabst, who is passionate about making products that help people, particularly through PEER. Or Samhita M: Because LEED practices are so thoroughly incorporated in her school, it has become part of the culture so students and building occupants know what the campus gives them, and they then transfer that knowledge to their homes. And then there’s Cheryl Hoffman, who talks about the value a LEED professional credential adds for her employees. She says in her story, “Whether it’s LEED Green Associate or getting their LEED AP...I know they’ve put the work in, they’ve put the education in, they’ve put the commitment in.”

Living Standard’s ongoing collection of stories seeks to lead by example. They show how we can tell our stories so that we can bring others in—not only those outside of the sustainability marketplace so that they can understand what we do and how it benefits them; but we're also ensuring that we’re sharing stories from all kinds of professionals, so that everyone feels like they belong in and succeed in this industry.

In addition to Brené’s storytelling insight, for me, her teachings on vulnerability also have a lot of takeaways for what we’re doing with Living Standard. At the virtual Greenbuild in November 2020, we announced the expansion of the campaign to serve as a grassroots digital organizing tool. This means we’re not operating as a one-way megaphone, but rather facilitating conversations: We serve as a platform to share best practices and case studies, to learn from one another’s mistakes and successes, and, ultimately, to roll up our sleeves. Because as Bill Gates notes, as awful as the pandemic is, climate change could be worse.

So, I’m getting vulnerable and I’m asking this community to tell me and Living Standard what you need, and what’s working, and what isn’t. After the pandemic forever altered our ways of life, like everyone else, we had to shift our strategy. The bright spot for us is that now, this campaign has evolved into a beautiful, exciting, grassroots version of itself that will serve as the foundation for 2021 and onward.

Shifting from a global rollout to virtual engagement

Pre-COVID-19, we were still able to continue on our path of ramping up the campaign’s in-person activations. In February, we helped facilitate a storytelling workshop at Austin Energy Green Building. At the end of 2019, we launched Living Standard in China, and at the beginning of 2020, we launched in India. Though we intended to continue a global rollout, our plans were cut short right after Greenbuild India when the pandemic took hold. So, like the rest of the world, we had to shift our strategy.

While we have continued to share stories from India and are soon to release India research in the next couple of weeks, we had to find a new way to expand our global reach. In 2018, well before the onset of the pandemic, we dove into our research-backed approach focusing on the humans occupying buildings, rather than buildings themselves—and humans’ health within those buildings. Of course, our approach is not only more relevant than ever, but it also seamlessly supports the timely, health-centric vision USGBC put into place last year.

Resilience through creativity in the face of unprecedented change

We doubled down on the new vision, and supported the new strategy with supplemental storytelling globally, including a Sustainability Snapshot series that let us reach new audiences, and other creative ways of repackaging our stories that resonate beyond our owned channels. We also sent emails from not just our campaign voice, but from leaders in the space, growing our email list by 56%.

We celebrated leadership while bringing the new generation of green building leaders into the fold—for example, we partnered with the Center for Green Schools to hold a student storytelling scholarship competition. And we also pivoted our storytelling techniques by capturing and producing video stories from Zoom calls. We leveraged our bank of stories submitted through the Living Standard website in a number of different formats: our Sustainability Snapshots, longform written pieces, videos, USGBC+ magazine, speeches, articles and op-eds.

We worked with program leaders across GBCI to ensure we were providing helpful resources and stories during this tumultuous time. TRUE’s Celeste McMickle shared her expertise on ways to hone a zero-waste lifestyle despite lockdown restrictions, and SITES’ Danielle Pieranunzi detailed the inherent benefits of biophilic design for when we’re unable to leave our homes for days, weeks, or months at a time.

Our message is resonating. We gained new followers in new regions around the globe and saw increased engagement across the board on our social channels. As an advocate for the campaign described, learnings from Living Standard were “important for us as we continue to craft green building education for our community, administer our rating and move forward to fulfill our mission. Several of the lessons learned are guiding our development of virtual offerings and outreach.”

Digital organizing in 2021 and beyond

So, this year, we’re becoming more vulnerable and are relying on you for your input. With this campaign expansion, we are completely in service to you and your sustainability goals, and humbly ask you to use Living Standard as a tool to engage with your own communities. That’s why we’re asking for feedback and upping our email communications to keep you abreast of new developments and new ways to get involved. It takes vulnerability to share your stories, so why wouldn’t we commit to doing the same?

We’re using livingstandard.org as the hub for all of our organizing resources and information. Since the announcement of this expansion, we started this process by overhauling the website’s language and reorganizing its structure to be more direct and action-oriented.

I encourage you to check out the website, and please let us know what you’d like to see next, what you think of our new direction and how we can best support you as this year unfolds.