Sustainability Policies: From A to "ZC," The Long View

By John Zinner

I became involved in solar energy while studying for my masters in urban planning. It was the Fall of 1976. During that semester Jimmy Carter was elected president preaching energy conservation and Amory Lovins published his groundbreaking article in which he was the first to argue that it is cheaper for utilities to invest in energy efficiency than new generation capacity (he's been proven right over and over again). After spending seven years as City of Los Angeles Energy Coordinator on the staff of Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley and then working as an independent environmental consultant with both public and private clients, I began looking for a way to tie together the many “siloed” issues, including water supply, stormwater management, solid waste and air quality. I felt that a unifying vision was needed to string these varied environmental concerns into a coherent and integrated whole. In 1990 I found that others were thinking the same thing, calling it "sustainability," and I joined this burgeoning community that recognized that any solution to the environment must be comprehensive in order to truly effect positive and lasting change. Two years later, the 1992 UN Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro adopted “sustainable development” as defined by the Brundtland Commission: "Development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs." This encompasses what is now known as the triple bottom line of social, economic, and environmental sustainability.

Only a year later this definition was adopted by USGBC’s founders as they began to assemble the building blocks of the LEED rating system with the goal of transforming the development industry. The transformation USGBC set in motion has succeeded beyond anyone’s wildest dreams and it's been a privilege to contribute. Recall that when the first commercial version of LEED (v2.0) was released in 2000, it was thought that only one version would ever be needed. Now look at where we are! 

"The transformation USGBC set in motion has succeeded beyond anyone’s wildest dreams"

In fact, LEED and sustainability have become so widely used as building and operating standards that a common question within our field is — “What is the half-life of a LEED consultant?” With many codes incorporating key elements of LEED, might we be soon out of a job? I suppose we find ourselves actively working toward that goal and after all of these years I’m so heartened to see sustainability really sticking.
One projection is that the recent moves toward federal environmental deregulation will be only a blip. The US is alone among nations in this trend, and key market movers such as developers and transnational corporations know that the current administration will come and go while the international movement to address climate change is irreversible. The future of sustainability still has a long way to go, and will have winners and losers, as happens during all major economic transformations, but the direction is clear and unstoppable. 

Enjoy Earth Day