The Greenbuild audience was abuzz about everything from the Ram trucks on the trade show floor to opening plenary remarks from Amal Clooney, and more than anything, we were ready for big announcements from Mahesh Ramunujam about green building and the LEED platform.

After we enjoyed an inspiring video about cities and natural places, Mahesh announced:

“In the past, we have delivered on our promises of certifications, signifying high quality spaces in which we can live and work. Now, by harnessing the power of our partnerships with companies and organizations the world over, we will explore creating a new campaign – a Living Standard that indicates that an environment is healthy and safe for all who inhabit it – from buildings to communities, to cities, to entire nations. Because a higher Living Standard is what every person on the planet deserves.”

I appreciated the message, but like many others, I had questions.

Is the Living Standard a new wellness rating system? Or, maybe a strategy for USGBC to compete with IWBI’s Living Building Challenge? Is there a Living Standard Living System scorecard?

Also other questions, like what is a huge Ram truck doing on the Greenbuild trade show floor?

Whether he intended to or not, Mahesh left us guessing and in the dark. It was clear that this was an important moment, as illustrated by the setup video and prime timeslot, but I couldn’t figure out what was important about it.

Fast forward to the Friday Closing Plenary.

The audience, wired and tired from three days of intense networking, learning, speaking, and celebrating, was a bit thinner but still attentive. Again, Mahesh took the stage and we readied ourselves for more details about this new Living Standard.

Mahesh told us to dream big and have big plans, and that we need to engage people in these plans. He reminded us to remember our own place in this movement, and to share our personal story on the Living Standard website.

He did not tell us what the Living Standard is. Or why the market needs it. Or what happens to the stories we presumably share on the Living Standard website. He didn’t tell us why USGBC created this standard, or even how many LEED points participants would receive for sharing stories on this new website.

The announcement, at the time, fell flat. But as the blur of conference week started to come into focus, I discovered there may be more to this message. Buried in the sessions was a reoccurring theme that kept popping up in seemingly disconnected moments.

I kept hearing that there needs to be a new approach. We need to make our work personal. We need to reframe how we pitch sustainable design features. We should use VR to help clients and building occupants understand what good design looks and feels like. We should reframe the way bonds are issued so that the investors are personally connected to the building that is generating their capital gains. We should connect the occupants to their local history and culture when selecting materials. We should ask occupants what they really think about the spaces they inhabit, and we should listen.

This drum beat about personal connections was top of mind when I returned to my work and then to Thanksgiving feasts. The official 2018 Greenbuild Expo theme may have been Human x Nature, but my takeaway became more Human-to-Human.

We the People are at the center of the green movement – not points, frameworks, and standards, or even the planet itself. The earth will continue to thrive regardless of our actions.

Jason McLennan, founder of the Living Building Challenge, asks us to think about any science fiction story that takes place in the future. Is that a future we want to live in? Why or why not?

The well-worn story of ecological shame, doom, and gloom is a path to the dystopian, machine-dominated, barren wasteland of our science fiction movies! We should be projecting a future that allows humans and the natural world to thrive, in abundance.

We at Paladino are very familiar with this Abundance approach. Ditch the scarcity mindset of doom and gloom and instead focus on illustrating neighborhoods, buildings, products, and systems that inspire people to develop a new built environment.


By collaborating and celebrating our inspiring ideas, visions, and pictures of a better future, we can influence one mind, one person, one decision at a time to improve our built environment into one that, in the words of Janine Benyus, creates conditions conducive to life.

Clarity has arrived.

To create an abundant and connected future, we must connect with each other at a human and personal level. Ask questions. Listen. Voice concern. Speak up for what we want. Share our stories.

Maybe even share them on

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