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  • Writer's pictureLuna Oiwa

Interview with Brad Guy: Part 3 of 3

Updated: Mar 13, 2021

Luna: Do you think that the LEED green building standard adequately addresses the topic of construction and demolition (C&D) waste?

Brad: I was involved in developing LEED v4 [1]. The C&D credits are still similar there [to past versions of LEED]. They did change the waste reduction credit, because of the data that I developed. Three thousand projects— the USGBC gave me access to their whole database and I extracted all the C&D credit data. I broke the data down by renovation vs. new construction, rating system, and everything else, to come up with an average of 15 pounds per square foot of C&D waste for new construction projects. This was three or four times more than they estimated originally, so they revised that credit.

There’s also the reduction credit, which is a new credit that we got done. I was just reading some emails from the guy who runs that part of LEED, and they are currently working on “design for flexibility.” They are very interested in credits for DfD or something along those lines. There is a “design for flexibility” credit for healthcare, and that addresses just that type of project.

There's also a “circular building products” pilot credit which is looking at materials. It’s great that anything LEED says becomes important, if you know what I mean, just because it’s LEED and LEED has been adopted so widely.


Luna: Right.

Brad: The problem with the C&D credit in LEED has been— well, I'm being too honest here— if you demolish a building and build a new construction on top, 90% of your total waste is simply the demolition project by mass. And it's all concrete. Real easy to recycle, so boy I got that credit and I don't even have to recycle anything from the new construction. And that’s unfortunate; we all kind of know that’s a loophole.

I mean you're making concrete recycling very popular, but concrete recycling is not targeting the highest carbon stuff. Think about all the other little doodads that there's not very much of, but that can be very energy-intensive or polluting. And you can't really use the concrete back in new concrete, so you’re not avoiding much concrete; you're just trying to reduce the volume in landfills.

My personal view is that [the US Green Building Council] should try to trend towards more of a lifecycle assessment approach. I think that's what should happen to C&D waste. If we started looking at it with a lifecycle assessment approach, LEED credits would be based on carbon reduction and be more outcome-based, as opposed to being about how many tons are reduced.

But I think it's great that 90% of projects get those [concrete recycling] credits; they've done a lot to raise awareness.

Luna: I'm just thinking it sounds like it'd be really hard to incentivize people to do the whole lifecycle analysis, because it's time-consuming and requires a lot of delving into things and talking to people. Wouldn’t projects simply end up avoiding that particular LEED credit?

Brad: Right, so that's why you need a tool. The EPA WARM model. They've already created that tool, and it takes like five minutes. It’s online and just fill-in-the-blanks. It's intended for municipal— so city and state— counting. You can track tonnage of waste for each material and how it’s managed, and they come up with numbers for carbon emissions. They even give you an average distance to the landfill, so you can account for transportation. The issue there is expanding the list of materials.

And none of it will be totally perfect; [the carbon emission calculations are based on] a national average. But with the online tool, I can print out a report, and I don't think it's too onerous.

Luna: Next question— are there any specific people that you draw inspiration from or look up to?

Brad: Well, so my story about mentorship was a guy from back when I started in North Carolina. An old guy with a beard down to here. A country guy. He was a Vietnam vet, he was proud of his rural past. He was super smart. He wrote a book, he taught English. Not the average guy in a pickup truck, you know what I mean? For whatever reason he had it in his blood to deconstruct things and reuse them. He had what I call a true conservative nature, which is when you don't waste anything, and you really appreciate stuff. His name was Pete Hendricks, and he had a rule: in 20 years, he deconstructed 20 buildings and built 20 buildings using the reclaimed materials. It’s like wow, okay that’s a long view [laughs]. It was kind of like his life’s work in a way.

But it really stuck with me. And it’s like, is that realistic? Are you going to make a living like that? No, not really. But it’s a great way to just... “I took apart 20 buildings, I built 20 buildings”... like “I perfectly balanced the equation and used every scrap I could from old buildings,” although you probably have to add a little bit generally.

And we even joke— I did a guide to deconstruction and I sat down and interviewed him, and he had like “Seven Samurai Principles.” It was just kind of funny because it’s kind of folksy wisdom. Principle Number One was, "not every building is as deconstructable as every other building, so start with choosing the right one." He had a lot of these sayings that stuck with me a lot. There are so many people in Europe that are doing a lot of good work, but I say Pete when I think of in-the-gut inspiration.

Luna: My last question is this— I know you've been interviewed a lot in the past about DfD, but what's one thing that you wish interviewers would ask you?

Brad: I would just say a bunch of platitudes basically. Well, number one the fact that you're interested in this, and you're a young person... How many people do I know that are your age and interested? I mean, you’re like one, you are a single person who's interested enough in this to call me up and want to talk to me. You're right, I've had a few interviews, just because somebody in some magazine heard this term and says, “let's do a story because it's the flavor of the week” or something. But having people interested enough like you are...

So, I guess not really a question asked to me, other than, “What would it take to do this?” Well, it takes more people like you. So if somebody asked me, “What do we need to do to make this happen more?”, I think I would just say “Talk to Luna, talk to someone like her, or her friends, or ask why she's interested in this, and listen to that. And take notice. Don't think of it as a flavor of the week.”

Yeah, I don't know what I'd like to put out. I mean I've already talked your ear off so I'm not sure what. I would just say thank you very much for your interest, and I hope that you can do more. I’d love to talk to you more about it. Obviously it's a complicated thing and there's a lot to solve, but I think the key is figuring out what to focus on, which I always have trouble with because there are a lot of moving parts here.

Why don’t I just ask you? What do you think is the first thing to try to do about this, to move it forward?

Luna: I also think a good first step would be to get more people thinking about this seriously. Part of the reason I'm writing my blog is to get people to think about it more even if they're not necessarily within the building industry. But I guess an extension of that is— I’m interested in design competitions like the Lifecycle Building Challenge [3], because I think that if we could get more people within the buildings industry to think about sustainability and embodied carbon, then they may be inspired to try and incorporate it into work they are already doing.

Thank you for taking the time to speak with me!


[1] Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED), developed by the US Green Building Council (USGBC), is arguably the most well-known green building standard in the US. LEED is upgraded every few years to newer versions, based on feedback from building industry professionals. In terms of framework, LEED is broken down into a number of “credits,” with specific criteria that a building project must meet to obtain LEED certification.

[3] The Lifecycle Building Challenge (not to be confused with the Living Building Challenge) is a DfD competition that Brad Guy helped organize with EPA funding, from 2007 to 2009.

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