PITTSFIELD – Green building standards were developed in the 1990s in response to climate change, and their presence made the makeup of new buildings almost as important as their construction.
Charley Stevenson is the owner / director of Integrated Eco Strategy at North Adams, a company that helps clients build structures that achieve the Living Building Challenge certification, the world’s most comprehensive green building standard, a process that goes beyond as the more familiar LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design Standards) for building design set by the US Green Building Council.
In 2017, IES released software called Red2Green, a healthy building material selection tool that meets the requirements of the Living Building Challenge.
The company also recently helped Harvard University achieve Materials Petal certification as part of the Living Building Challenge for its new eight-story science and engineering complex in Boston, the largest Living Building Challenge project ever built.
We recently spoke with Stevenson about how he got involved in this work, the services the IES provides, what makes the Living Building Challenge so strict, and why the green building standards were adopted. in the first place.
Q Why did you choose to work in sustainable development as a career?
A I came to williams [College] and planned to be a double major in Philosophy / Mathematics. Second year I met the woman [Kate Brill] who is now my wife. She was an environmental hub. It occurred to me that if I were an environmental hub I would spend more time with her (Stevenson graduated from Williams in 1993, with a degree in philosophy and environmental studies). It worked well.
Q You then earned a master’s degree in natural science at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, known for its engineering program. How did you get into building design if you are not an engineer?
A We don’t do any design. We are not architects. We are not engineers. We help projects think holistically about the performance of buildings, and over time that has really reduced to focus on the materials that buildings are constructed from.
There is always an architect; there is always an engineer. We help them choose the best materials for the job they do. My degree from RPI is in the use of technology for mathematics. I sometimes say that my job today is 40 percent diplomacy, 30 percent education, and 30 percent technical knowledge. This kind of math training / education continues to serve me well.
Q What is the difference between LEED and Living Building Challenge standards, and how does the IES work with them?
A LEED is the predominant certified program, and its standards recognize projects that go beyond [building] code of a certain percentage. If you are aiming for the highest level of LEED certification, platinum, a building is not really sustainable. He would still use fossil fuels. He would still use chemicals of known concern that could be avoided.
In response to this, an architect named Jason McLennan devised the next step, which he called “living certification,” which would take all of these equipment attributes to logical and sustainable extremes. … It has a fraction of the marketing share that LEED does, but it’s a living and growing market, and it’s really the market that we serve.
For the first six or seven years of IES, we mostly worked on LEED with a bit of living building mixed in. … The part where we really developed our expertise is in the selection of materials.
Q How are you doing that?
A A typical construction project, like the projects we did at Williams College, ends up using between 600 and 1,000 materials, ranging from drywall and primer to tiles and windows. For each of these products, we contact a manufacturer to find out what the chemical ingredients are so that we can understand what chemicals are being brought to the site and installed that would impact occupants.
In 2011 we worked on the Williams Environmental Center, and in 2013 and 2014 we constructed two buildings in Amherst – one at Hampshire College and another for the Hitchcock Center for the Environment.
We realized that we were doing a lot of research and storing this information on a spreadsheet. It was neither effective [nor] full. So for internal purposes, we started developing a database to track all the research we were doing so that we could easily access it for the next project that we did. We called this Red2Green.
Q Explain to me the process you use to determine the best materials for each project.
A We work with architects. They are responsible for the structure and finishes of a room.
The first question is: what do they need? How simple can their material palette be? They will determine the appearance and performance of the space, and we will determine what the flooring will be, what will be on the walls. They will determine the appearance and performance of the space and we will understand from them what types of products they are considering.
It can be something as boring as acoustic ceiling tiles or as exciting as reclaimed wood flooring. We think of these guys as having better and worse options. … It’s really a series of a thousand decisions to ask what is the best project to meet the needs of the project.
Q How does a building constructed to green building standards compare to a building that is not?
A Harvard has done a number of studies which show that people have greater critical thinking skills when they are not in the presence of harmful chemicals or high levels of carbon dioxide. Typical building contaminants hamper human thinking. So we come up with the idea that a lot of these contaminants can be avoided in construction so that they have no effect on the occupants because they just aren’t there.
Q If you didn’t do this, what do you think you would be doing for a living?
A Oh darn. If you had asked me five years ago if I would like to do business development, speak at conferences and sell software, I would have answered, “No way”. But, I would be sad if I didn’t do this job. The whole team comes here, and it’s our job to make the world a better place every day. It’s hard to argue with that.