Greenbuild 2018 – A Week in Review

The whole A/G team is back from the week of Greenbuild 2018. The event was hosted in Chicago, Illinois this year and did not disappoint. There was snow, skyscrapers and lots of pizza!


Tuesday 11/13 -  International Summit

The International Summit consisted of a day of sessions that reminded us how sustainability and resiliency are not just a local issue but a global conversation that requires everyone has a seat at the table. During the opening plenary, two inspiring UN Youth Leaders discussed how they are making a direct impact to their communities on a local and global scale.

After witnessing the large BP oil spill back in 2010, Karan Jerath invented a device designed to help minimize the immediate effects of an oil spill for his high school science fair. The device works by separating oil, water, and gas as homogeneous mixtures allowing for them to be recycled immediately after a spill. He now attends University of Texas where he studies engineering. Nikki Fraser serves as the Youth representative from the British Columbia Native Women’s Associations and the National Youth Representative for the Native Women’s Association of Canada, advocating for the voice of Native women in the northern region. She works to not only create conversation between indigenous women about social and environmental justice, but she makes sure their voices are heard in conversations around the world. As UN Young Leaders for the Sustainable Development Goals both Karan and Nikki advocate for the 17 Sustainable Development Goals set and adopted by UN countries to end poverty, protect the planet, and ensure global prosperity. They left the crowd both inspired and in awe of how one individual with a passion, at any age, can incite change throughout a community and beyond.

The day ended with a combined closing plenary with all the summits of the day; International Summit, Communities and Affordable Housing Summit, and the WaterBuild Summit. USGBC took the chance to announce some of its new partnerships and collaborations. Read more about all these announcements at USGBC.

  • LEED for Transit – USGBC unveiled its new rating system designed to be used on transit stations worldwide.

  • LEED Zero – New rating system to address net zero carbon building operations and resources in green building projects

  • USGBC and Health Product Declaration Collaborative (HPDC) – Bringing further transparency to building products and material ingredients.

  • USGBC and BRE – Partnership to deliver global market solutions to help raise sustainability standards globally.

  • LEED v4.1 credits for BD+C and ID+C.

  • Living Standard – New platform created by USGBC to share stories of sustainability and innovation to incite collaborative impact. Check out more about it here.

Notable Sessions

  • From Global to Local – Creating a Zero Waste Infrastructure

  • Accelerating Climate Action with Verified Net Zero Carbon Building Operations

Wednesday 11/14 - Opening Plenary and Greenbuild Sessions

The opening plenary for Greenbuild hosted Amal Clooney as keynote speaker. As a human’s rights lawyer and professor at Columbia Law School, Amal spoke of various legal cases she has sat on and how human rights go hand-in-hand with sustainability. She helped to kick off the three-day conference by bringing the green building industry to a human scale and illustrated how fighting the impacts of climate change is fighting the inherent impacts to human rights and well-being. She spoke to one case in particular about Nadia Murad. Nadia was taken as a slave to serve ISIS militants in Sinjar of northern Iraq. After escaping and residing in Germany as a refugee in 2015, Nadia began a campaign to raise awareness of human trafficking. Since then she has been advocating for victims and the prosecution of ISIS, being awarded with the 2018 Nobel Peace Prize. Amal spoke of the case and how Nadia’s commitment to speak out against her captures has since saved countless women. Her story echoed the idea of how one person with a passion can make a great impact of change on a large scale.

Notable Sessions:

  • Building the First LEED Platinum City: Washington DC Case Study

  • LEED, Wellness, and Arc in Retail: A Starbucks Perspective

Thursday 11/15 – Women in Green Power Lunch and Greenbuild Sessions

Women in Green always ranks as one of the best sessions of Greenbuild, and this year was no exception. The theme for the luncheon was “Leading with Purpose” using iconic women in television to drive the conversation in representation and leadership, mentorship, workplace policies, and workplace culture.

Jessica Grounds, the founder of Mine and Gap helped to lead the discussion using her experience working with industries and organizations to create the tools to harbor gender-inclusive environments. Instead of a panel this year, she facilitated questions that evoked conversation about the current gender equality at companies, how they can be better, and what steps can be made to achieve those goals. Women used the “soap box moment” to share these conversations. Daniele Horton, founder of Verdani Partners, ended the luncheon on the soap box explaining “we should not have to dress like men and act like men to be treated with the same respect as men,” and how a dialogue between women AND men is needed to make a cultural shift in the workplace.    

Notable Sessions:

  • Resilience Tales of Scale: Reli, the City and the Roof Top

  • Zero Waste Design in Food and Hospitality: Eataly Case Study

Following the amazing performance by Buddy Guy and the Celebration at the Fields Museum, A/G added another year of cohosting the Reviewers Party at the House of Blues Chicago!


Friday 11/16 Closing Plenary
The last and most notable session for Greenbuild 2018 was the Closing Plenary. It hosted various speakers including the Mayor of Chicago, Rahm Emanuel, who was presented with the LEED Platinum for Cities for Chicago by Mahesh Ramanujam and the rest of USGBC. The city of Chicago is already 40% towards its Paris Agreement goals and has plans to further reduce emissions and continue its drive to retrofit and build green buildings across the city. But the keynote speaker was by far the most memorable conversation (by popular opinion) for the Greenbuild conference this year. Carmen Yulín Cruz, Mayor of San Juan, Puerto Rico, came with a message that put all the sessions of Greenbuild into a vary tangible and real conversation. “You are in the business of saving lives. If you do your job, lives will be saved.” Over 3,000 people died in Puerto Rico following both hurricanes of Irma and Maria in 2017, due to a lack of power and access to clean water. Response from outside parties was limited causing the island state to remain in the dark and without basic necessities for an extended period of time. When help was brought, two simple items made a large impact on the community. The SolarPuff brought small rechargeable lights that could allow people to see in the dark for first time ay night, while also creating a system of communication with the different lighting features i.e. blinking for immediate assistance. The second was a water purifying system called Clarity by Kohler. Clarity allowed large groups in shelters and emergency centers access to clean water, something typically taken for granted. The mayor went on to say how “sometimes we feel like we have to do these grand gestures to help. This is about saving lives. It's not about politics. It's about having the ability to have a product to change people's lives and ensure that they change their’s too.” If these small items can make such a difference for the large communities effected in Puerto Rico, people attending Greenbuild can create profound changes with the work they do every day.      

Closing thoughts
The conversation in the green building sector has changed. We as ‘movers and shakers’ in the community are not trying to sustain what we already have, but instead preparing for the adaptability of the unavoidable changes that are going to come. Greenbuild 2018 attendees came in with hopes of learning new technologies and big ideas to apply to the green building industry, but left with this empowering idea of how one person with an idea and a passion can invoke change on a large scale. Excited to see what Greenbuild 2019 brings to the table…See you in Atlanta!

WELL Performance Testing

A/G’s Bobby Almeida attended the first WELL Performance Testing Agent workshop on at Greenbuild on November 12th and 13th in Chicago. The workshop was taught by GBCI and covered everything necessary to do performance testing in WELL v2, which A/G plans to offer as a service in the near future.

For those not familiar with WELL, it is the leading tool for advancing health and well-being in buildings globally. Some of the features in the WELL rating system require onsite testing to verify the attributes of the building or space. In WELL v2, only a Performance Testing Agent working for a Performance Testing Organization can perform these onsite tests.

Some of the onsite tests in WELL v2 include air tests for formaldehyde, VOCs, carbon monoxide, ozone, PM2.5 and PM10. All of these contaminants can cause serious health issues, which is why WELL requires testing to determine the concentrations of each. This is where the WELL building standard excels – it requires onsite testing to verify how healthy the building space actually is, with hard thresholds for passing or failing. If you live or work in a WELL certified space you know for sure that the air you breathe is unlikely to be detrimental to your health. To illustrate just how dangerous some of these contaminants are, a study published in 2014 in the British Medical Journal found that an increase of just 5 micrograms of PM2.5 per cubic meter was associated with a 13 percent increased risk of coronary events. A 2005 report from the World Health Organization estimated that in children under 5 years old PM2.5 is responsible for about 3% of mortality from cardiopulmonary disease, about 5% of mortality from cancer of the trachea, bronchus, and lungs, and about 1% of mortality from acute respiratory infections.

In A/G’s home of California there have been numerous devastating fires in the past few years. In November 2018 there was a day where numerous schools in the San Francisco Bay Area were closed due to the poor air quality caused by forest fires. While most people were worried about the air quality and their health, those that live or work in a WELL certified space would have known that they were breathing cleaner air than they would in an average building. If every school was WELL certified, including the performance testing for air quality, maybe it would have been safer for the kids to have been at school learning instead of being forced to stay home.

In addition to air testing, WELL v2 includes testing for water, acoustics, thermal comfort, and light. Ironically, during the acoustical section of the workshop the meeting room next door decided to play a loud video clip, which disrupted the workshop. If the convention center had met the acoustical requirements of WELL certification then the workshop could have moved on without interruption. Everyone has at least one similar experience, but WELL projects that have tested for acoustics may just put an end to that kind of frustration.

Combining all of the testing results will yield a space that truly improves the health and well being of its occupants, from the air they breathe to the water they drink to the light used for work. A/G hopes to perform this testing in the near future and was happy for our staff to learn more in this intensive two-day workshop.

Rancho Los Amigos Ribbon Cutting Ceremony

Congratulations to Rancho Los Amigos! The hospital hosted its ribbon cutting ceremony on September 12th to welcome guests to the official opening of the Outpatient Building and new wing of the Jacqueline Perry Institute Building. The ceremony was hosted by County of Los Angeles Board of Supervisors’, Janice Hahn. A/G attended the event along with teams from the design and construction of the project, as well as the hospital’s patients and the dedicated staff. We are very excited for the buildings  expected LEED certification later this year.  

Rollback of Environmental Protections in the Trump Administration

Hannah McCurdy is a summer intern at A/G and is studying public policy at the University of Oregon in Eugene.

As the 2018 midterm elections approach, the Trump Administration is under increased scrutiny and criticism for alleged conspiracy with foreign governments, its inhumane immigration policies, and multi-billion dollar tax breaks to the upper one-percent of the United States. Another area that should be a concern for everyone regardless of political leanings is the Trump Administration’s rollback of environmental protections as they will have devastating impacts far beyond his term. From the beginning of his presidency, Mr. Trump’s environmental policy record favors businesses and corporations that are known to contribute to climate change.

In June of 2017, less than six months after his inauguration, Mr. Trump pulled the United States out of the Paris Agreement. By the following November, both Syria and Nicaragua signed onto the Paris Agreement, isolating the United States as the only country not signed on. At the center of the Paris Agreement is reducing global greenhouse gas emissions by 2025. Each country submitted individual goals of emission reduction. To meet these goals, President Obama enacted several environmental policies to reduce the U.S. carbon footprint in his 2016 Climate Action Plan. From the start of his term, Mr. Trump has dismantled carbon emissions protections and supported policies favoring the fossil fuel industry.

President Trump currently attempts to reverse automobile emissions standards set by the Obama Administration requiring automobile manufacturers to produce vehicles with an average of 50 miles per gallon by 2025, reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 6 billion tons over the lifetime of new vehicles and save 2 million gallons of oil per day. The proposal would halt Obama-era requirements at their 2020 goal of 35 miles per gallon, dramatically reducing the efficacy of the carbon emissions reduction. The federal standards established under Obama would match California’s. If the Trump Administration approves the proposal to loosen these regulations, it would create a national divide for automobile manufacturers. California and the thirteen other states who adopted their regulations will have higher standards, thus leaving automobile manufacturers faced with making two models of each car for sale. To mitigate this problem, the proposal also challenged California’s waiver to set their own carbon emissions standards, giving way to a likely legal battle between California and the Federal Government.

Since the 1960s, California’s unique combination of topography, climate, and population warranted waivers from the federal government to set its own vehicle emissions standards to manage the state’s ideal smog conditions. Since the Clean Air Act of 1973 granted the Federal Government power to set auto emission standards, California has been the only state waived of abiding by federal standards provided they meet federal requirements. Nine other states have adopted California’s stricter requirements. President Obama’s administration granted the current waiver to California in 2013. The Trump Administration’s EPA threatened to revoke the waiver, the first time this waiver would be revoked.

Without a doubt, California will sue the Federal Government if they revoke the waiver. They would be joining other efforts across the nation attempting to hold the Federal Government accountable for negligent environmental actions. In 2015, 21 children and young adults brought forth a lawsuit against the Federal Government, claiming that the government infringed on their constitutional right to freedom, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness by failing to protect them from climate change in a case referred to as Juliana v. United States. The lawsuit alleges the government is jeopardizing children’s lives by neglecting to take serious, comprehensive actions to prevent climate change and global warming. Filed in Eugene, Oregon, the lawsuit falls under the District Court of Oregon, but plaintiffs come from across the country. On July 30th the Supreme Court denied the Trump Administration’s request to halt proceedings, allowing the case to go forward with the October 29th court date.

With each year, the earth grows hotter and effects of climate change continue to become more visible and devastating. Natural disasters, refugee crises, rising sea levels, unbearable heat, and dramatic air pollution continue to be pervasive. Immediate and aggressive global action is the only way to mitigate impending disasters from continuing. Regardless of whether or not the plaintiffs in Juliana v. United States are successful in their legal battle, it broadened the debate over climate change and seeks to hold legislators and leaders accountable for inaction, hopefully encouraging the next round of leadership to take climate change more seriously. With pressing human rights abuses and dramatic inequalities across race, gender, and socioeconomic statuses, it cannot be forgotten that the earth is under attack and the damage continues to be further beyond repair.  

Los Angeles Football Club’s Commitment to Environmental Sustainability

By Alex Paris, A/G Summer 2018 Intern

Recently Argento/Graham attended the LAFC professional soccer game against the Portland Timbers. Los Angeles was embroiled in a back and forth struggle that ended up 3-2 in favor of LAFC. It was my second ever Major League Soccer match and I was enamored by the energy in the stadium from the moment the players stepped onto the field until after the final whistle blew. The players and staff were completely committed to victory and their commitment to excellence is felt not only on the pitch but in the world of environmental sustainability too.

When the owners of the club decided to build a new stadium they committed to making it exceed California’s stringent building standards and achieve the rigorous LEED Silver certification. The Banc of California Stadium is one of four stadiums on the West Coast to be LEED certified. The project is integrated into the city with its bicycle connections and bicycle racks to connect with the Myfigueroa Project. It is also nearby the Metro with access to the Expo Line at the Expo Park/USC Station. LAFC’s convenient location also allows them to host a variety of events that helps to promote the park and teach residents of LA about the sustainability movement.

During Earth Day, the Los Angeles Football Club and Major League Soccer made the joint commitment to raise awareness about environmental sustainability by wearing 100% recycled uniforms for their games that day. Additionally, through each club’s own social media they spread information about how an individual could act with the environment’s best interests in mind. All participants were incentivized with the best practiced participant being awarded a 100% recycled uniform of their choice from the MLS. This positive reinforcement will hopefully help the winner to spread their commitment to environmental sustainability to friends and family and continue to spread throughout their community.

LAFC’s commitment to environmental sustainability is encouraging because of their influence in the city of Los Angeles. People who admire the players of the team will see their commitment to sustainable practices and emulate them in their own daily lives. As more sports teams adopt these sustainable practices then these implemented works will reach a greater number of people emulating them in the United States and will help make a positive change for the treatment of the environment in America.

Roddenberry Entertainment earns its first ENERGY STAR certification; Outperforms the LEED model and similar U.S. buildings on measure of energy efficiency

Roddenberry Entertainment Inc. in Los Angeles, CA has earned the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) ENERGY STAR® certification for superior energy performance. This first ENERGY STAR Certification reflects Roddenberry Entertainment’s continued commitment to excellence in energy efficiency and environmentally sustainable practices. The building is also certified Gold under the LEED for New Construction rating system.

Argento/Graham supported Roddenberry Entertainment through the certification process by benchmarking the building in ENERGY STAR’s portfolio manager.  The building received a high score of 93.

“Improving the energy efficiency of our nation’s buildings is critical to protecting our environment, “ said Jean Lupinacci, Chief of the ENERGY STAR Commercial & Industrial Branch. “From the boiler room to the board room, organizations are leading the way by making their buildings more efficient and earning EPA’s ENERGY STAR certification.”

ENERGY STAR certified buildings and plants are verified to perform in the top 25 percent of buildings nationwide, based on weather-normalized source energy use that takes into account occupancy, hours of operation, and other key metrics. ENERGY STAR is the only energy efficiency certification in the United States that is based on actual, verified energy performance Curious about actual, verified energy performance and predictive energy use, Argento/Graham analyzed the LEED model results alongside the actual energy data required to benchmark the building. The analysis showed interesting results: the predictive annual solar production and the actual production only differed by less than 10%, or 25,997 predicted kilowatt hours compared to the recorded of 24,850 kWh. The predicted use in electricity was very different. The predicted building use was 71,300 kWh while the actual was 42,424 kWh. This difference of -40.5% indicates that Roddenberry Entertainment uses significantly less power than its peers which may be attributed to occupant behavior or differences in actual operating schedules and number of occupants as compared to assumptions made while the project was in the design phase.

To date, tens of thousands of buildings and plants across all fifty states have earned the ENERGY STAR. For more information about ENERGY STAR for Buildings and Plants, visit

Argento/Graham is an official service provider for ENERGY STAR portfolio manager and is ready to help benchmark your building.

Experiential Education and LEED’s Growth in Higher Education

By Alex Paris, A/G Summer 2018 Intern

The University of Santa Barbara’s  Student Resources Building

The University of Santa Barbara’s Student Resources Building

At Gettysburg, I work for the Gettysburg Recreational Adventure Board (GRAB). The organization is focused on experiential education and uses the outdoors as a medium for teaching and imparting lessons on groups that go through our programs. I am excited to see that the US Green Building Council (USGBC) uses the same experiential teaching methods that I have been taught in GRAB and which I employ during trips and challenge courses that I run for Gettysburg.

Higher education has begun to place emphasis on new learning methods and on remodeling existing or building new environmentally sound buildings with the LEED certification. USGBC has wholeheartedly embraced this idea and created a learning curriculum that combines the teaching method of experiential education with a two semester course (LEED Lab) that prepares the student to take the LEED Accredited Professional and Green Associate exams at the end of the two terms. In addition, while learning the system, students can attempt to certify a building on their own campus. This methodology by schools benefits both USGBC and universities by providing USGBC with a new cohort that could work with LEED in their postgraduate field; and it gives the schools a new way of saving money through newly certified environmentally friendly buildings. Finally, the use of experiential education can create a more deeply committed student who worries about both, the environment and their schoolwork.

The USGBC is providing this two semester course that is spreading rapidly through the United States and the world. Since 2013, LEED Lab has spread to twenty-five institutions of higher education in multiple countries. An additional one hundred schools have expressed interest in the education course. At this point there are nearly eight thousand projects participating in LEED Labs. All of these projects provide students with an abundance of new skills to apply to post graduate work. It is the belief of USGBC that “by gaining practical experience in green building and earning their LEED GA and LEED AP credentials, LEED Lab students graduate with an advantage” (Buente). This advantage better prepares students for the Green Associate and Accredited Professional exams and certifications that follow through practical learning. The LEED Lab provides the students with the training and experience necessary to apply for and achieve a position in the sustainability field after graduation.

This experiential methodology in teaching the LEED Lab provides great benefits to USGBC. Experiential education can be expressed as a cycle. This cycle can be simplified into a group that does an activity then proceeds to have a discussion about the activity that revolves around “what happened, so why is that important, and now what happens?” After the discussion the activity is repeated again with slightly changed parameters. This method of teaching and review provides USGBC with an excellent way to review their LEED Lab program. The organization is able to document data and feedback from a global range of projects and locations. USGBC may then modify the new guidelines for the lab from this vast amount of information and can tailor particular projects to specific parameters or make changes to the new versions of LEED that come out.

Through USGBC’s experiential learning cycle they are able to apply new ways of thinking to improve their LEED Lab. This lab creates a new group of post-undergraduate students who are able to leave school and immediately take the LEED AP and GA exams. This new influx of people in the industry provides a greater wealth of talent to improve work and a wider audience to expand the LEED program to an even higher level of participation in higher education and through the rest of the world.

Environmentalism and World Religions

By Alex Paris, A/G Summer 2018 Intern

Being an intern at Argento/Graham I have a slightly different field of study than previous people in my position. I am a religious studies major at Gettysburg College. So, taking this position has provided me a very different but interesting lens for viewing how the world and religion interact. In this blog post I attempt to provide an analysis that explores the relationship that three major world religions have with the environment.

Environmental sustainability has become an issue of ever-growing importance in the United States in the past fifty years. As companies and laws spring up across the nation to assist with the staving off of a global environmental disaster it is intriguing to observe what various religions present in the United States say on the matter of environmental stewardship. The Christian’s Bible may differ from the tradition of Islam, and both of those may differ from the practice of Buddhists. Therefore, an analysis of these various religious traditions and how their followers practice their teachings of environmental stewardship provides an insight into the care an adherent of a particular faith may pay to their natural surroundings.

Christianity’s basis for environmental sustainability and stewardship is based upon many of the commands of God that have to do with humanity’s dominion over earth and God’s commands for the correct way of life. God’s first action and direction for man was that he had them placed in the Garden of Eden to care for it (Genesis 2:15). Man’s purpose is not only to make use of Eden and the earth after humanity is cast out of the garden but also to take care of it and make sure that it is inhabitable and prosperous. In Leviticus, Moses receives instructions from God on how he and the Israelites should live. Again, the land God promised to the Israelites comes with the caveat that the land is redeemed to a state suitable for them (Leviticus 25:23-24). God provides here the responsibility to conserve the land and to care for it. Not only does God expect the adherent to take careful custody of the land but also that you should be thankful for the blessing being given to you (Dueteronomy 8:7-9). This relationship between God and Mankind is a prescriptive one. Humanity is charged to take care of the land and to be thankful for the blessings they have been given.

Fast forward from the Old Testament to present day and the warnings of environmental disaster are now coming from Pope Francis who warns of imminent destruction because of our lack of care for Creation. The Pope reminds us of our “Sister Earth” and that she “now cries out to us because of the harm we have inflicted on her by our irresponsible use and abuse of the goods which which God has endowed her” (Pope Francis, 2). This environmental stewardship for the earth is impressed upon humanity by Pope Francis who charges each of us with that “we [may] come together to take charge of this home which has been entrusted to us, knowing that all the good which exists here will be taken up into the heavenly feast. … May our struggles and our concern for this planet never take away the joy of our hope” (Pope Francis, 244). Pope Francis’ closing comments reminds us of a Christian’s responsibility to the stewardship of the earth and to remember the joy of doing the act at the same time.

The religion of Islam is much the same as Christianity in that its view of environmentalism is prescribed by Allah to serve the adherent as a correct way of life and treating Allah’s creation. The Prophet Muhammad is quoted as saying “Preserve the earth because it is your mother.” The Prophet is Allah’s direct messenger on earth so his word is indescribably important to a Muslim. The Prophet Muhammad was considered the perfect Muslim and because of this his acts and interpretations of the Qur’an are used by Muslims as a guide for their own lives.

Muhammad’s life was informed by his communications and revelations from Allah and from his interpretations he began to receive information that applied to responsibility for the environment. Allah informs Muhammad of the world and to “eat of [earth’s] fruits when it yields and gives its due on the day of its harvest. And be not excessive. Indeed, He does not like those who commit excess” (Qur’an 6:141). While Allah wants humanity to make use of the fruits of the earth and he does not want the use to be excessive. Again, Allah tells to Muslims that there should be no change in creation (Qu’ran 30:30).. These two previous points in the Qur’an provide evidence of a religious responsibility to the earth and its well-being. When Allah sees that his creation is violated he describes that “corruption has appreared throughout the land and sea by what the hands of people have earned so He may let them taste part of [the consequence of] what they have done that perhaps they will return [to righteousness]” (Qur’an 30:41). This punishment is meant to correct intolerable behavior by Muslims who have gone astray from the correct path. Once the astray adherents have been returned, Allah again commands to not corrupt the earth again (Qur’an 5:57). This earthly restructuring is purposed by Allah to reaffirm the importance of following His commands not only as as they relate to Him but also to creation and keeping it pristine for future generations.

Buddhism differs from the two previous religions drastically in the manner of motivation for environmentalism and how it is approached. Buddhism is focused not through a god or other entity who commands a proper way of living but is instead channeled through a collection of teachers who build upon previous lectures to create the Buddhism that we know today. This Buddhism is focused upon thought and the mind. Therefore, the Buddhist is not focused on the physical manifestation of pollution or waste but is instead removing those impure thoughts that lead to the result of the pollution and waste.

The Dalai Lama comments thoroughly on the importance of relying on outside forces to fix the environment. The Spiritual Leader of Tibet comments that “the environment does not need fixing. It is our behaviour in relation to it that needs to change” (The Natural World). Another famous Buddhist, Thich Naht Hanh also writes on people and their relationship to the environment. He says that “the situation the earth is in today has been created by unmindful production and unmindful consumption. We consume to forget our worries and our anxieties. Tranquilising ourselves with overconsumption is not the way” (Confino). These two spiritual leaders import the importance of the environment. Buddhism’s teachings of the Middle Path and the Five Mindfulness trainings do not specifically teach about the environment but instead lead to a way of living in harmony with the environment. Thich Nhat Hanh reminds us that the five mindfulness trainings are the path we should follow in this era of global crisis because they are a major part of the practice of protecting ourselves, and protecting the planet. Buddhism’s understanding of protecting the environment is formed from an internal sense of duty and personal responsibility for the self.

These three religions provide two different ways that the environmental protection is delivered to the individual adherent. Christians, Muslims, and Buddhists all have parts of their population that care about the environment but might not know their theological evidence that supports environmentalism. Giving this knowledge to the believer who already cares about the environment would doubly strengthen their commitment to sustainability. The greater effect of spreading this theological knowledge to those who do not care about the environment but are strong adherents to their faith. This new section of people would greatly increase the population in support of a sustainable way of life and bring a religious fervor that would inspire numerous others to the cause of environmentalism.

Solving Global Waste Challenges Begins with Daily Choices

The following is a guest blog from Lucas Allen of All About Waste, an A/G Sustainability Consultant. This article was originally posted with USGBC-LA.


The Athens Services Material Recovery Facility (MRF) in Sun Valley, is one of the highest-tech facilities in the industry, and receives 100% of its materials from Los Angeles. If you didn’t get a chance to go on the USGBC-LA tour, there’s a video tour here that offers a cool peek at the technology they use!

The facility is impressive to say the least, utilizing a balance of people and machines to sort through large amounts of waste, for multiple shifts each day. The facility is equipped with an Optic Sorting machine that can distinguish materials by measuring the wavelength of light as it passes through, and then uses air bursts to separate the material from the rest. The new Max-AI robotic sorting arm, aiming to become more common in the industry, pulls materials out more than twice as fast as humans. There’s also a video of Max in action here.

Recycling in 2018

What happens to materials after they come into the Athens MRF? They are sorted into more than 22 different commodities, each with different destinations. Recyclable materials are often sold off to recycling facilities, many of which are located in China. Commodities like plastic bottles and mixed paper are often shipped overseas on cargo ships that would otherwise be empty, because China has been accepting tons of raw material to fuel their manufacturing boom. It has also been cost effective for people/companies that sort materials, as it’s cheaper to send material from the Port of LA to Shanghai than it is to go from the Athens MRF to the Port.

Everything changed recently when China said they would no longer accept “foreign waste,” and banned the importation of more than 24 kinds of solid waste. The flow of recyclable materials on a global scale has fundamentally changed and people in countries all over the world, including the US, need to find alternatives quickly. For many countries, this ban has already led to backlogs of increasingly large piles of garbage with nowhere to send them. A possible, major consequence of this change in the recycling market could be people resorting to incineration or landfill dumping of materials that would have otherwise been recycled.

But is it possible that China’s decision could be the push the world needs to improve local and domestic recycling operations?



It was certainly impressive how much time, effort, and money Athens has put into the technological advancement of the MRF. Without it, the sorting process would be far more inefficient. But what does that say about people’s habits when it comes to waste? When we take a look at an example such as the village Kamikatsu in Japan, which diverts 80% of its waste from the landfill and has 34 categories of waste separation, we need to ask ourselves what we could be doing better. The Kamikatsu example is idealistic and very different in application when it comes to a city the size of LA, but what is really impressive is the buy-in and involvement of the people in the village. They know where to put their waste; it’s part of their routine, and they recognize the environmental need to be diligent about waste management.

Los Angeles already has ambitious goals to reduce its waste footprint, setting out to divert 90% of our waste from landfills by 2025. The Zero-Waste movement is gaining traction quickly on a national scale, where events like this year’s Super Bowl made a huge push to divert more than 90% of their waste. This is just the beginning, an example of what is possible with a focused effort and an activist team of people working on it. But we could be better about our buy-in and involvement. Whether it’s volunteering at beach cleanups, being diligent about reusable items, or helping somebody else be better about diverting their waste, we all have our own place in this conversation. Reflect on your waste impact and think of ways you could improve. Of the thousands of thoughts we have every day, we can certainly spare a few of them to think about ways to reduce our waste and decide where it should go.

Products made from Recycled Materials

Sorting waste efficiently is important, but it’s also one step in a life cycle that could go one of two ways after the sorting process. Either the material’s life is over and it’s never used again, or the material is recycled/reused and its life cycle continues. Closing the life cycle loop will be of ever-increasing importance in terms of future sustainability. However, if we are recycling materials and remaking them into products that are sold again, we need to support these products. Without demand, the people and companies producing them will struggle to compete with manufacturers that use virgin material.

Whether it’s purchases for you and your family, your company, or for somebody else, consider looking into options that are made from recycled materials. For all kinds of products, there are similar and competitive alternatives that are manufactured from recycled materials and are more environmentally friendly than the mainstream. Even if you are part of a manufacturing company, recycled materials may offer an equally, or even more viable solution, while also supporting the closed loop approach to material life cycles.

Some important waste takeaways from the Athens Tour

  • Styrofoam:
    • Avoid it whenever possible! It will end up straight in the landfill. It tends to break apart during the sorting process, is usually contaminated, and doesn’t get sorted out because there are higher priorities.
  • Black/Dark Plastics:
    • They don’t get sorted out by the optical sorting machine because it can’t shine light through and read the wavelength, so opt for clear or white plastics instead! The best option however, is to use reusable containers, cups, and silverware instead of the plastic disposables.
  • Food Waste:
    • Don’t throw it into the blue or black bins! Do your best to be efficient with food, consider donating leftovers to food collection/donation services (like some options listed here:, and put food waste into a composting waste stream or the green bin.
  • Communicate with your waste hauler:
    • Waste management can be complex because it varies from region to region based on the hauler, sorting, and processing capabilities of your area. Reach out to your hauler and find out what they accept and what they don’t! Whether at home or at work, learning more about this can help increase efficiencies on both sides. If your company is making changes to products or product purchases, such as what kind of cups they use for events for example, communicate with your hauler to make sure they can accommodate the change.

Huge thanks to the people at Athens Services for the lessons and for leading the tour.  Also shout out to USGBC-LA for organizing the event and working to give waste management more exposure amongst professionals in the green building industry.

Let’s all stay focused on improving our own waste habits and keep working with others around us towards a Zero Waste future!

Additional Information

  • For more information about Athens and the services they provide, check out their website:

  • For more information on LA’s Zero Waste goals and the plan, check out this website:
  • For more information on Zero-Waste solutions, the TRUE Zero-Waste certification, or anything else about waste, check out our website at!

Lucas Allen is a LEED Green Associate for All About Waste, a sustainability consulting firm that specializes in Zero-Waste solutions and strives to help others towards a Zero-Waste future.