Externship Location: U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC)

Before this externship at the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), I was not fully aware of how the designs of buildings can affect the health of our generation. Green buildings designed by Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design (LEED) maximize the effectiveness of buildings by minimizing the negative impacts on health and the environment. USGBC was established in 1993 and now is the international standard for green buildings and certifies many buildings every day.

I was able to research information on green careers that can help to support current and future LEED projects along with interviewing green building professionals about their careers

In my role as an Education Solutions extern, I shadowed and interviewed with over 10 employees. I was able to ask many questions relating to their career path and learn more about how the built environment affects health. My supervisor Kay Kane has also helped me meet many new people and prepare me for future projects. From the interviews I conducted, I gained insight on USGBC and LEED’s impact in general on health. During my externship, I was assigned many tasks that allowed me to support USGBC’s vision of sustainability. I was able to research information on green careers that can help to support current and future LEED projects along with interviewing green building professionals about their careers. I also created an activity for the Green Careers toolkit which serves as a tool for students looking for resources for green careers. I believe it is definitely important for others to learn more about how buildings affect health as many people stay indoors for most of their time.

The USGBC Headquarters in DC is LEED Platinum Certified. I was able to get a personal tour that provided insights into many of the green aspects of the building. Biophilia is the human tendency to connect with nature. It is proven to improve the mood of many and for this reason, the office has placed many plants around the building. Furthermore, the floor to ceiling glass provides a lot of natural light which keeps the staff connected to nature. The building has many amenities such as bicycle facilities and indoor fitness which allow employees to be fit and active throughout the day. This was my first time being in such a building and I now definitely understand all the important aspects that go into green buildings. As we spend most of their time indoors, it is important to be considerate of the resources we use to make our buildings and how the products can ultimately affect our health. One important aspect of USGBC is LEED. LEED is the certification given to green buildings and the newest version is LEED v4.1 which is still in progress. There are different LEED certifications for many buildings such as schools, hospitals, and retail. One can become LEED certified by earning 40 credits. 50 credits are necessary for silver, 60 credits for gold and 80 credits to become a platinum-certified building. The credits are in location & transportation, sustainable sites, water efficiency, energy& atmosphere, materials& resources, and indoor quality. These are the important aspects of a green building. Other credentials are available too such as SITES, TRUE, and WELL. USGBC has many partnerships with other companies such as Green Building Certification Inc. (GBCI) and the Green Health Partnership. USGBC is also an international non-profit and I was able to interview with the GBCI India team which was very fascinating. They provided valuable information about the specific health indicators in LEED such as air quality, physical comfort, mental health, water quality, toxicity, water quality, food, social well being, and fitness. I was also able to learn more about some current case studies such as the Health Scan that the Green Health Partnership is currently focusing on. The Green Health Partnership develops the tools for stakeholders in real estate to consider health from the built environment. This was very fascinating to me especially since Matthew Trowbridge, an MD and professor at the UVa Medical School was involved as the lead researcher. Through my interviews, I have learned that this field is very interdisciplinary and health professionals play an important role in designing/operating the built environment. Health can mean many things to different people. Many times, a professional that is not an expert in health will judge the health of the building leading to an inaccurate perception of the health standard for the occupants. From my externship, I have definitely become more aware of the buildings that I am in on a day to day basis. I hope to carry this invaluable information with me in the future and teach my peers about USGBC’s work. USGBC is committed to transforming the way buildings are designed and operated through LEED. I have certainly gained a lot of invaluable experience from this externship and I will continue to learn from the USGBC website from their educational resources. Hopefully, one day I will earn my LEED Green Associate as well!