Story by Robert Mattler
Host and platinum sponsor, Wayne State University (WSU), along with the United States Green Building Council (USGBC) Detroit Region, held an all-day conference at WSU’s Student Center on October 24th to discuss the present state of sustainability in Motown. The day was filled with Keynote speakers, a panel discussion and presentations that highlighted some of the recent key advances in building a more resilient and sustainable community for all.
Darryl Pierson, WSU Sustainability Officer, welcomed attendees to the Student Center on WSU’s campus. Mr. Pierson spoke of the university’s sustainability vision and provided an overview of the multi-disciplinary approach the university has taken to implementing its five-year sustainability plan. The plan stretches the university’s sustainability efforts in academics, research, operations, and campus life. Most importantly, this plan aligns with the overall university strategic plan. The university is a living, breathing example of an institution on a more sustainable path for the future.
With more than 20 breakout sessions and several keynote deliveries, it’s safe to say attendees had a plethora of choices to focus on enriching their own personal experiences as it relates to sustainability in the present environment. Oren Braindvain related his experiences with Develop Detroit’s “Green and Equitable Development Platform”, working to integrate sustainability into affordable and mixed income housing development in the city. Justin Constine, from Trane, spoke on the new reality of connected buildings and how unlocking building data can be turned into improved building performance and a smaller energy footprint.
Those interested in learning about a sustainable eco-village turned out to listen to Shamayim “Mama Shu” Harris speak about Avalon Village in Highland Park. This community activist and CEO of Avalon Village has worked tirelessly to create green infrastructure in one of the most blighted areas in Michigan, if not the entire country. The project’s success has been highlighted locally, state-wide and nationally and serves as a testament to the power and vision of our best local community resources, each other.
A national movement, 2030 Districts, now has a 2030 District right here in Detroit. Connie Lilley is their Executive Director and spoke about the program’s initial success. 2030’s intention is to reduce energy and water consumption in buildings and greenhouse gas emissions from transportation by 50% by the year 2030. So far, building owners representing more than 19 million square feet have voluntarily signed up to learn how to best reduce their carbon footprint. The program is free for any building owner or manager to commit to the local district’s goal. There are 20 other districts across North America, including Districts in Grand Rapids and Ann Arbor. Michigan is the only state with three distinct 2030 District chapters.
The stories of collaboration between the Michigan Science Center and the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History regarding sustainability were fascinating. Funding from the Erb Foundation and Detroit Water & Sewerage Department allowed the museums to join forces to initiate the first green stormwater pilot project and learn how to become more sustainable with energy and water. A discussion of possible collaboration with the Detroit Institute of Arts (DIA) on a more robust sustainability project in 2019 is an exciting opportunity for more community engagement and learning between our cultural institutions.
MANY STEPS REMAIN ON THE LONG JOURNEY TO LIVING SUSTAINABLY IN METRO DETROIT:
While the entire day was truly inspirational, most understand the work on a more sustainable ecosystem in metro Detroit lays in front of us and not behind. We only need to recall some of the information presented by Keynote Speaker Doug Farr, author of Sustainable Nation: Urban Design Patterns for the Future. Mr. Farr’s PowerPoint slide revealing 97% of the land mass of Florida being covered with water by 2050 was shocking. Or Detroit having the climate of modern day Amarillo, Texas by the end of this century was difficult to fathom. Finally, Doug’s comment that in order to dramatically slow the negative impacts of climate change we all must work to reduce carbon emissions by 80% within one generation is a stark reminder of how little time remains to change direction. Our lack of consensus or any political will to do anything at the federal level makes the conversation downright “chilling.” Somehow we must all answer the bell on these difficult issues before it’s too late.
The USGBC Detroit Region deserves great credit for planning and implementing such an impactful event for the audience, vendors and speakers alike. Here’s to raising more awareness and heeding the call to all that the efforts to become more sustainable both on a micro and macro level MUST become “one voice” in order to create a better place for our generation and for those that follow. To take a lesson from Carla Walker-Miller’s closing remarks, we are charged to bring our knowledge and expertise to those who really need it: the citizens of Detroit.
Robert Mattler, JD LLM LEED AP BD&C, is a sustainable financing specialist, consulting with developers, redevelopers and building owners on financing upgrades to all asset classes of non-residential real estate for resiliency and sustainability. A former Board Member of USGBC Detroit Chapter, currently an Ambassador for Detroit’s 2030 District and a member of the Leadership Council of Ann Arbor’s 2030 District, Robert employs Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) financing and other financial structures allowing building owners to lower operating costs, and increase building value without changing the owners’ goals of maximizing investment returns. Robert can be reached at email@example.com or 248-762-4370 (cell).
The U.S. Green Building Council transforms buildings into more efficient and healthy places to live, learn, work, and play. In the DETROIT REGION, a passionate group of volunteers, staff, and USGBC members are working every day to advance our shared mission of green buildings for all within this generation.