When I was about 20 years old and a young engineering student at Stanford University in 1980, I used to sometimes skip my hardcore classes and walk over to the fountain in the central quad of the beautiful campus and read Siddhartha, by Hermann Hesse. I had difficulty understanding how all the mathematical formulas and equations would apply to my life, and found the problem sessions abstract. Instead, as a salve, I found the story of the young Brahman wandering through the desert and into remote villages as he searched for meaning and purpose more palpable.
I believe we’re here for a higher purpose. But I’ve found that it’s easy to quickly lose focus and no longer hear the calling. Pressures of designing, building and operating our buildings requires diligence to successfully navigate the outcome. Financial pressures, risks and schedule constraints often force the process. But to what result?
As an engineer, I came to appreciate and even love performance. Anything less than the highest is waste. For decades we lost sight of effectiveness and efficiency. As we built, we did more harm, abandoning the health of our natural systems and people. Not only did we create sick building syndrome, but contributed to the warming of the planet, deforestation and many other environmental problems.
The ultimate objective of designers is to create buildings that are not only aesthetically beautiful, but that minimise waste. This means being super energy, water, resource and waste efficient and healthy. It’s about maximising the health of the planet and for people (plus other living things). That should be the essence of what we make and how we spend time.
Helping to build Green Building Councils in countries to advance sustainable building is linked to a higher purpose. By working to advance building performance in all aspects, they’re elevating health. And the World Green Building Council has become a global movement, a UN for green building. The vision was that we could all work together to advance our own country and the world’s buildings towards sustainability and even regeneration.
For much of my early career I felt disconnected, as I pursued capitalistic gain. But after I helped found the US Green Building Council in 1993, I experienced a sense of belonging. Then after I began working on the concept of the WorldGBC in 1998, I realised that all of us hoped for the same improvements around the globe. In my early travels to Australia, Japan, China, India, Canada and Mexico to help form Green Building Councils, I felt a strong sense of comradery in a shared purpose. Even if we spoke different languages and grew up in diverse cultures, we had a common understanding and desire to elevate performance and the resulting health of what we were making. We also wanted to connect with each other and share innovations.
As we’ve witnessed, a greener path is also the most profitable in the longer term. When the North American economy was stumbling a decade ago, green building was not only stable, but growing. It’s also the path to creating jobs and minimising risk. Sustainability has made its way into the top executive suite and corporate strategy. In fact, failure to develop a plan that measures impact and performance in all products, services and systems is negligence.
Since helping to found USGBC and then WorldGBC, we’ve had incredible successes. I find it hard to fathom our growth and the related energy, water and waste savings. And now we’re finally addressing occupant health at a deeper level. But nevertheless, time is short and we’re heating up. It’s vital that we all redouble our efforts to accelerate sustainable building and health. Even more than ever, it’s up to us to seize the reins for innovation and progress.
Siddhartha’s life had many stages as he embraced the current experience. Almost four decades later I can see that helping to invent the concept of national Green Building Councils and WorldGBC was a pivotal stage in my life. For me, its creation merged those engineering equations with this young man’s search for meaning, purpose and legacy.
It has been a life dream to participate in building Green Building Councils in countries and coming together under the WorldGBC. The good work of this global movement not only inspires, but gives me HOPE. I can’t thank you all enough for your active participation.
David Gottfried is the CEO of Regen360, a co-founder of the US Green Building Council and the founder of World Green Building Council
The annual WorldGBC David Gottfried Global Green Building Entrepreneurship Award will be announced as part of WorldGBC Members’ Day in Jaipur, India, on 4 October.
Read more about WorldGBC’s history in Our Story.