Authored by Heather M. Stedron, June 5, 2019

Each year the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) holds one of the leading sustainable development conferences in the Midwest known as the IMPACT Conference. This year, USGBC partnered with Green Schools Conference & Expo and made the conference a 2-day event covering all realms of green design most specifically focused on educational projects. A handful of LHB professionals, including myself, had the opportunity to attend.

Day 1 – Green Schools Conference & Expo
The first day of the conference was very centralized on the Green Schools realm of design and representatives from a wide mix of professions attended including teachers, principals, district leaders, architects, engineers, and even students. Lecture topics ranged from curriculum framework for sustainable design to climate-friendly school food and included one of my favorite lectures of the day titled, “Reimagining your School Building as a Living Lab: A Story of 3 Innovative School Districts”.

Reimagining your School Building as a Living Lab lecture.

In this lecture, three school districts; Austin Independent School District, Sacramento City Unified School District, and New York City Department of Education,  presented their approach to problem-based sustainable design and how they increased student environmental literacy and sustainability of a district. As a designer, it was a great way to understand how existing schools use their current spaces and expand them to create new learning spaces in an existing environment. I took away new insights as to how a classroom space and educational building should be organized and programmed to support the growth of sustainability and support new curricula such as problem-based learning experiences.  Many school districts are now incorporating learning experiences that help students apply knowledge and skills to address relevant, real-world topics such as water, food, energy, waste, and transportation. This approach to learning enables students to make their own positive changes inside and outside the classroom.

Day 2 – IMPACT Conference
Day two of the conference was focused on LEED and WELL design, new and improved technology platforms for sustainability, and design-based strategies for professionals like ourselves. To kick off the day, two very impactful keynote speakers shared their stories on today’s environment and the impacts we are making as a society. Keynote speaker Zaria Forman is an artist that has spent her career documenting climate change with pastel drawings. Her drawings are so realistic they look like actual photographs taken from the sites. Zaria has traveled across the world on missions to collect images and share her experiences through her art.

Zaria Forman’s lecture on climate change.

David Bluestone, founder and partner of the public opinion research company ClearPath Strategies, presented his nationwide research on people’s views of the environment. His fact-based knowledge and data was a wake-up call after his research outcome indicated that, while most people have a concern about the health and environment of our world, many do very little to address these same environmental concerns in their own daily lives.

Knowledge Based Learning
Each and every lecture I attended had very meaningful and underlining statements about sustainable building design and our need to improve it. ”Empathetic by Design” gave insight on improving the quality of life for children and adults with autism, though the link between health, daylighting, and green building isn’t only beneficial for those with special needs. An example of this would be something as simple as providing ample exterior glazing that brings in daylight and provides views to nature to create a sense of connectivity to the surrounding community. Another is creating a floor plan that distinctly separates high-stimulus zones from low-stimulus zones with a transition between the two to allow students to recalibrate their senses as they move from one space to another.

“Making Healthy Places for People by Creating Environmental Sustainability” gave a new meaning to green design at a community scale and the effect it has on physical, mental, social, and environmental well-being.  A project completed in 2009 along the Minnehaha Creek Subwatershed restored the original sanitary sewer and ditch near the Methodist Hospital in St. Louis Park into a restored wetland vegetation grounds with an elevated boardwalk and canoe landing. The project not only enhanced the regional resources, but it increased public access, added educational signage throughout the site, and gave the neighborhood a recreational amenity to enjoy year round.

These are just a few of the incredible lectures I had the opportunity to see and learn from. Walking away from this conference as a first-time attendee, my greatest goal is to spread my knowledge and connect with the surrounding communities of our built environment to make an everlasting impact.

All images compliments of USGBC-MN Community Facebook Page @USGBCMN

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