An interview with Jim Newman by James Robie
In the commonwealth, we have a couple of both advantages and disadvantages that drive the market. One of the advantages we have is a very supportive regulatory environment that is moving all of the built environment towards greener, more environmentally sensitive outcomes. We also export architecture. There are more architects than can work on projects locally, so we are actually a net exporter of design — a big exporter. So things that happen here are exported to other places.
Some of the disadvantages are that even with a very supportive market, it’s a relatively conservative practice space. Engineering and architecture practice in the Massachusetts area is not super progressive in general. I think that what is happening with green building now is it is becoming ubiquitous within standard design. It is not the realm of leaders at this point, it is the realm of everybody, and so you see it in all of the regular engineering and architecture firms in the area who are at the least bit engaged. Green building has a lot more reach than in the past.
I think that, in the future, there will be two or three primary movers which emerge out of the general green building movement. One of these is a focus on health and healthy places. This is important to how people live and how people work, and how to improve health. Residential developers have figured this out, and they see value in creating more healthy developments.
The second mover is the net zero movement. I think that the industry, as well as consumers have finally gotten it into their heads that we can make our buildings close to net zero, and even net positive. What we are seeing now is that communities are engaging with the idea of net zero communities, housing developments are engaging with the idea of net zero housing at a large scale, and municipalities are legislating net zero towns. This will be transformative. It is going to take a while for it to take hold in the mainstream, but it is already taking hold for the leading practitioners.
The third mover is that the social structures that have underpinned how development is done are being called into question, which sharpens the game. The resilience movement is part of that. Equity efforts are part of that. I think there are a lot of forces that are pushing people who participate in, regulate, and consume the built environment to rethink what they are trying to do. So, I think there is a real opportunity for us, both as practitioners and as an organization to help move these issues forward. We have a lot of opportunities as a chapter, to really help move the market in ways that are pretty substantial.
James Robe is the outreach and communication manager at USGBC MA.
Jim Newman is a founding USGBC MA board member and the founder and principal at Linnean Solutions.