Got smart

Sacramento branch of U.S. Green Building Council launched

My foe: Renner Johnston.

My foe: Renner Johnston.

Photo By Sena Christian

SN&R buys a building, wants to make it green and pays Sena: Eco-Warrior Princess to write a weekly column about it.

I’m not positive, but I’m pretty sure Renner Johnston was trying to insult me in front of a large group of people. Frankly, this took me by surprise. We’d previously had a cordial relationship, waving hello to each other at green-building events.

The unfortunate, friendship-ending remark in question occurred a few weeks back at the inaugural meeting of the Sacramento branch of the U.S. Green Building Council, a nonprofit organization based out of Washington, D.C., that operates the LEED-building rating program. LEED stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design. A group of about 50 people assembled in a conference room. Johnston, as the branch’s current chair, led the meeting. He’s a funny guy—for an architect—and I found myself laughing along with the rest of the group at his jokes.

But then out came the insult!

During Johnston’s introductions, he identified two types of environmentalists: “cheerleaders who jump up and down and then the smart people who actually figure out the numbers.” Oh boy, was I offended! I knew just who he was talking about when he said “cheerleaders.” Humph! It’s true; I was definitely the only non-smart person in the bunch of engineers, architects, developers, interior designers, building contractors and utility representatives sitting in the room. And, of course, the diversity and inclusiveness of the council is exactly why the USGBC is a unique and effective organization in the first place.

“The interesting thing about the council is it’s all about collaboration,” Johnston later explained to me. “Other groups tend to focus on one trade, but with green building, you need all the pieces of the pie working together. It starts from the owner’s concept and purchasing the site, and the design and how it’s insured to how it’s engineered and how you get the materials, and how the contractor does his job and how it’s operated once occupied. [The USGBC] represents all of these trades. It’s not just a bunch of architects sitting in a room.”

Until this past month, Sacramento was without a local USGBC branch. We have the Northern California chapter, which is based in San Francisco and serves about 4,000 members. We also had a committee, but green-building enthusiasts here wanted something more. A chapter would have been too much—all the tax requirements and nonprofit logistical stuff that causes people to lose momentum—so a branch is just right. The group will host a speaker series and hold monthly meetings, intended to provide a networking service and develop interest in sustainable design.

“If we build a green community, we’re going to get a lot more green buildings built here, and that’s our ultimate goal, whether they’re LEED-certified or another green shade,” Johnston told the group.

They’re getting some help in that arena. On July 17, the California Building Standards Commission adopted the first statewide green-building code in the United States, which will be phased in between 2009 and 2011.

“There’s a lot of enthusiasm,” Johnston said. “It’s exciting to see. I think we’re in the middle of a paradigm shift where suddenly everyone is talking about green. A few years ago, no one knew what LEED-certified meant.”

The local USGBC group wants to spread the word even more.

Currently, an interim government runs our branch, until formal elections are held in the fall. I, for one, will not be voting for Johnston if he decides to run. Not that I’m a member of the USGBC anyway. But if I were, I’d campaign heavily against him! That’s what he gets for insulting me in front of the group. Except, he did attend graduate school at the University of Oregon, and I’m a Ducks fan. So he has that going for him. He also helped start an annual eco-design conference on campus, which continues today. That’s pretty impressive. This was after he spent his childhood in Denver, then studied philosophy at Connecticut College before traveling to Germany and deciding to pursue architecture. Twelve years ago, he and his soon-to-be-wife moved to Sacramento. As an architect for Mogavero Notestine Associates, he designed the array for the hydrogen refueling station at the SMUD headquarters, and he’s working on mixed-use projects in south Sacramento and infill projects downtown. All right, now we’re talking! Right on, Johnston!

Oh geez, I sound like a cheerleader.