S2E08: TDM in LEED Scoring

Jul 28, 2022

Andy Keeton

VP Global Strategy

Between the Lines S2E08: TDM in LEED Scoring

with Kurt Steiner


Why will TDM in LEED Scoring help save the planet?

On this week's episode of Between the Lines, we chat with Kurt Steiner.

Kurt is an Associate Director with the U.S. Green Building Council, where he develops standards for land use and transportation in the LEED green building rating system. He is an experienced transportation planner and green building specialist focused on practical strategies to advance sustainable mobility and decarbonization of the built environment. His previous experience as a transportation planning consultant in communities across New England incudes bus transit service planning, active transportation planning, and multimodal street design. He is a LEED AP and member of the American Institute of Certified Planners (AICP).

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Episode Transcript

[Voiceover] Commutifi presents BETWEEN THE LINES with Andy Keeton. Each week, we explore the challenging issues, Transportation Demand Management professional's face on their journey to transition commuters from driving alone to more sustainable shared and active commuting habits. Be sure to subscribe, to hear next week's episode and check out our exclusive commuter playlists on Spotify. This is Between the Lines with Andy Keeton.

[Andy Keeton] Hi everyone, and welcome aboard to this episode of BETWEEN THE LINES. Today, I am joined by Kurt Steiner. Kurt is an associate director with the US Green Building Council, where he develops standards for land use and transportation and the LEED Green Building Rating System. We're going to get into a lot more in just a second. He's an experienced transportation planner and green building specialist, focused on practical strategies to advance sustainable mobility and decarbonization of the built environment. And he's a LEED AP and member of the American Institute of Certified Planners. So, wealth of knowledge, as all of our guests are, and this is why we bring him on to have these interesting conversations. And today we're talking about TDM or Transportation Demand Management, and why TDM in LEED will help save the planet. But first Kurt, thank you for coming on the show.

[Kurt Steiner] Andy, it's great to be here. Thanks for having me. And, I can't wait to help explain to everybody what, yeah, what LEED has to even do with TDM and transportations.

[Andy Keeton] And, I'm really excited for this episode, because we've had these conversations ourselves one on one over the last year or more. And, it is interesting. There's a really good, you know, interaction between the two and, and they definitely intersect, but I don't think everyone is, yeah, aware of that. So, before we jump into LEED, which, you know, some people may recognize that term LEED, they may have seen the LEED certification and some green buildings around them. But before we jump into really what that is, I want to take a step back, think about buildings, real estate. And, yeah, that's kind of the key to this whole thing, we're talking of buildings. I want to know from you, a little bit about how buildings can maximize their impact on decarbonization and creating a more resilient, healthy, and equitable community. Kind of that's something we were talking about beforehand I liked how that was put. Can you just discuss that a little bit more and, and how buildings can actually play a role in this?

[Kurt Steiner] Yeah, absolutely. Right, those are, like, timely talking points there, right? It's just like you see it in public policy. You see it in, you know, corporate ESG reports these days, at least some combinations of those terms. So, sometimes, you know, while there's greater urgency around some issues, you know, amazingly, decarbonization is somehow more urgent than it was two years ago. But social equity among the, you know, other things, resilience, but in some ways these are just, you know, new ways of talking about some of the same ideas when it comes to the built environment. We've known for a long time that there are, you know, some ways of building where we build and how we build, and are going to have some outcomes and that there are smarter ways to do it, right? So, over the years, it's you know, this exploring specifically the land use and transportation connection has been, you know, I think a struggle for a lot of people. It happens at a scale, both in geospatial scale and in timescale, that just is really hard to grasp, you know, the connections and the chickens and eggs that just, you know, what has to change first. So, when it comes to buildings, we try to keep it simple. And, when we say that it matters where we build and how we build, that means focusing new development where that's necessary. Of course, one of the best strategies is to reuse our existing building stock. But, if you are building new, it should be located in, you know, regionally accessible, well-connected locations, right? And you know why? That's because people need to get to that building, or they need to leave that building and get everywhere else. So, it's just like the first opportunity we have to influence, you know, everyday life for all of us. And that's choosing where we build and how we build it. So, those outcomes, you know, I think we'll talk about it more, but, you know, thinking about the transportation, carbon emissions factor, we know that electrification, for example, of the transport sector is important. But, it can't possibly happen at a pace and a scale that we need it achieve, you know, the greenhouse gas emissions reductions, we need to. So, that means we have to also figure out how to reduce how much we're driving in the meantime, vehicle miles travel being, you know, the most typical way of traveling, you know, measuring that. So, the way to do that is to, you know, identify what those kinds of places to build are for you, you know, any, you know, use is going to help. Not add to sort of the regional vehicle miles travel. From a resilience perspective, I think, that's just a… it's there's a lot of, I think, good ways to talk about it, especially when it talks about mobility. I think many in your audience will know about climate risk assessment and now that's becoming more important at, you know, public level and for corporations. And, I love the insights into assessing physical risk, where for example, around, you know, rising sea levels or urge just flooding risks in general. And I think the first level assessment of that risk might be, is this building threatened by floodwaters? And the answer, you know, could be NO for some particular building. However, just because the water's not coming there, that also means like the occupants might not be able to get there because, you know, the transportation infrastructure has been, damaged or, you know, the communities, you know, residential areas are affected. So, that more holistic view of, thinking about resilience and about, you know, climate risk in particular is, I think just becoming clear to more people. So, yes, we can get at it when we think long and hard about where and what we're building.

[Andy Keeton] Yeah, I mean, it makes sense. The building itself is where people are being most times, and that's the first line of defense, if you will, against, you know, rising, emissions and, you know, equity and health and all of these things, you need to have, a good building that fits in that network.

[Kurt Steiner] You brought up equity too, its worth mentioning is that, it's an oldie, but a goodie, but the center for neighborhood Technology out of Chicago, CNT, has that really just clear housing plus transportation, you know, index that measures that combine cost of housing and transportation, which, right, offers a whole new lens on sort of regional affordability and things like that. So, you know, yes, where and how we build is also, I think, one of the best sorts of, like, housing strategies out there and affordability strategies. Because, how we look at it is that, the cost of housing can be such that people are pushed to very distant or disconnected areas, which is going to necessarily increase driving as opposed to a location. For example, transit oriented development that has really just, you know, outstanding access, you know, to local services, but also to the broader region. But the other piece is just reducing sort of that necessity of, maybe not car ownership overall, but owning multiple cars. You know, that is the second-highest household expense in so many instances after cost of housing and, you know, enabling a household to maybe have that one car instead of two, those are just, yeah, very impactful. I think, strategies to, you know, just reduce economic vulnerability, in these areas or, you know. So, lots to dig into there, too.

[Kurt Steiner] Yeah. I mean, what you're saying makes it pretty clear that buildings have a… They play a key role in reducing the negative impacts from all of these, you know, factors. So, you know, we've set the groundwork here that buildings are important. Now, let's get into that next piece, which is LEED. And like I said at the beginning, people may be familiar a bit with what LEED is or that it exists, but, you know, you surely are an expert on LEED. So, can you tell us a bit more about what LEED is?

[Andy Keeton] Yeah. It's, thank you. It's… I've been around green buildings a long time, but of course, you know, I am a transportation planner kind of by my professional background. And, you know, sometimes I feel like the black sheep in here, right. It's… I'm not the one who's running the energy model to, you know, assess, you know, evaluate whether this is more of a, you know, what kind of window glazing is going to be the best strategy on this, in this climate zone or something. But, yeah, it's… LEED, first of all is, you know, it's… the acronym is, stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design for, you know, I think many people are, are really generally familiar with that. It is, been around for about 25 years first off, which is amazing. It is a voluntary, Green Building Rating System. That's really important to emphasize not everyone, you know, necessarily recognizes that. It is developed by, you know, the organization that I work with, the US Green Building Council, which is a nonprofit, NGO. And it's really a lot of things put together, which is incredible, the more you really dig into it, but it's a membership-based organization. So, it is intended as this convening for really, you know, the green building industry or community, but also just, yeah, the architecture, engineering, and construction industry, a bit large. And why that's important is that LEED is also a consensus-based standard. Meaning, It is, you know, through our, you know, governance and processes, it's really our membership and is the industry itself is able to develop and maintain the rating system. And, they get to decide, what is a green building. I think that's really important to underline that this is a reflection of what is leadership in the industry and not maybe some, you know, external vision of what that should be. So, that's really powerful. I think that helps, really under… you know, has helped LEED get to its… the place it is now, which is again, really surprisingly recognizable to the general public. I think folks people know, maybe, that a LEED designation on a building means that they're doing something right. It means that this is an energy efficient-building. It means it's a space that really prioritizes occupant comfort, it feels good to be in, it's a healthy space, and it's using environmentally sensitive materials. But beyond that, you know, or some combination of that, LEED is a pretty comprehensive framework for, just exactly that, defining what a green building is, and then giving industry a tool that they can assess themselves. And then USGBC is also part of that third-party verification, which helps, just maybe strengthen the claims that, an individual building's able to make. So, I'm getting a little bit into like the mechanics of how LEED works. But it's worth thinking about and defining, and that's maybe where I'll pivot into how transportation fits in or, or like what and why I'm here. I will say the site, the building site, I think has always for, since the original version of LEED 25 years ago or so, was, I think, it was always a place that recognized that people had to get there in some way or another, right. It has, I think, some version of a parking capacity or parking footprint, LEED credit has been around for a long time, but it has evolved. And, I think that is, like everything else, it's a reflection of where the market and industry has gone. I think, at a certain point, there was such a perception that a green building might be this, you know, in architecturally interesting, you know, highly, you know, resource efficient building and healthy place to be. But that it's set in the middle of a field or, you know, along the water's edge, and it's very, very remote. So, you know, I think sort of LEED early years, that kind of feedback was heard. And I think that it really caught hold in the industry. So, around LEED version four, there was an introduction of an entire new credit category as we call it within lead, that's a category might be something like energy and atmosphere. Indoor environmental quality is one. And the new category introduced in 2013 was location and transportation. So that was explicitly for the first time recognizing that a green building is all of the things that we've been talking about before, but it's also it means that it's a building that is well located and offers a variety of transportation options to its occupants. That's where I get to spend my time now is continuing to refine what that means in different places and for different kinds of buildings, and what it means for a new building versus maybe an existing building.

[Andy Keeton] That's a good and important piece to think about too, because you may walk past of building and or drive past of building and see that it's got this LEED certification plaque on it and you think that's cool. There's green energy maybe some way or uses solar I don't know.

[Kurt Steiner] Exactly.

[Andy Keeton] As cool windows.

[Kurt Steiner] It's one of the first things that's going to come up. It's, there's got to be solar panels up there and they very well might be. If it's a good location for it, but not every building is a good spot for it.

[Andy Keeton] Yeah. But I think it's really cool that you don't think, "Oh, that means it's well located." But in some way it sounds like it has to be at least decently located, like it can't be in the middle of nowhere where you have to drive there alone and that's the only way you can get there.

[Kurt Steiner] Yeah. This is a good little insight into the lead, I guess, scorecard but it is a small number of what we call prerequisites. That means there are some hard and fast things that Green Building must do or must have or cannot do. And then the rest of the LEED scorecard, the vast majority is made up of credits. Those are optional strategies that a project can use to accumulate points, and that's what I think a lot of people are familiar with is a LEED gold building, for example, and a LEED platinum building, the highest rated. And what that means is that a building has met all of those required criteria, but then also has accumulated enough points from different places to get to some of those higher levels. I will be clear that there are no current prerequisites in LEED as of today for either its location or its transportation options. That's one way to it, that's not a way to say that it is not important because the LEED scorecard is roughly it's a hundred points with some bonus points added on there for other strategies, but 16% of those are devoted to location or transportation. So there's, it's in effect it is something that projects are, are really compelled to give a hard look at and its values it with flexibility as opposed to with more of a rigid requirement.

[Andy Keeton] Sure. Now, that makes sense and I am actually talking to you today from a LEED certified, LEED platinum building. The apartment complex I live in here in Montreal is LEED platinum.

[Kurt Steiner] That's great to hear. I did not know that, and that is wow.

[Andy Keeton] Yeah, it's really cool. Actually, I just moved here a week and a half ago, two weeks ago and that was one of the things when we saw this building, we thought, oh, this is really cool. It feels like we try to live a sustainable lifestyle, but if you're living in a building that doesn't care as much, it goes back to that first thing we were talking about, you may live the most sustainable lifestyle you possibly could, but if all the buildings around you aren't sustainable, you have no control over that. I feel like it does make me feel like, okay, I'm really a part of the solution by giving them money and then they're using that for good things.

[Kurt Steiner] That's great news. I'm happy for you. I hope it is a great space to live in.

[Andy Keeton] That's great.

[Kurt Steiner] that's good.

[Andy Keeton] ] Yeah, it's really good and it is well located and I talk about this all the time on this podcast. I don't own a car personally because it's well located and I'm a 10-minute walk from the Metro Station, the subway here and there's bike share stations right outside and there's a car share station right outside as well. So there's all these options for me which I'm assuming now thinking about it went in part to their LEED Platinum certification - [Andy Keeton] There, you have it. That's great.

[Andy Keeton] Which is really cool. So we talked about LEE, I'm glad now that we have this collective understanding on what LEED, is our listeners, viewers understand how transportation plays a role in LEED. I want to once again take that step back to buildings being the core of LEED and of this conversation. We've talked throughout this episode about the importance in the LEED framework to have a well-connected building. But who really benefits from buildings that are regionally accessible and that are connected to this wide range of transportation choices. Certainly it makes sense that the occupant in some way benefits, but I want to know, where do those benefits go beyond that individual?

[Kurt Steiner] That's a really great question, and that is like a perfect, that's like one of the storytelling challenges that USBC or LEED is always trying to help highlight because it really, I think from a practical standpoint, it's important to know your audience when you are talking about the benefits of rebuilding. But it's also, I'll say it's not too hard to try to adapt that message to different audiences in the case of Green Buildings. The place to begin is the owner first of all right, if this is either a developer or some organization that's developing a new building or space it's a good place to begin. And the benefits to them are going to be really focused on some dollars and cents and some ideas about even if they are, let's say, if it's an owner-occupied space, they're going to be very interested in occupant health and some of the ways that Green Buildings, have been demonstrated to say reduce absenteeism and have healthier workforces, for example, those are all practical ways to talk about it. I'll just add in this current time we find ourselves, it's an important strategy for say employers who are interested in luring folks back to offices too, and it is certainly right as use or someone who is attracted to a green building or many people would be probably a little bit more interested in going into a really a nice, a high performing green building then they would more of a conventional or low performance building. That's maybe a place to begin occupants were saying, you have a lot to gain too, it's we spend so much of our time indoors and whether it's really our physical health, or just more of the mental wellbeing, it's pretty clear that you're going to have better outcomes on both in a green building that's access to and views to the outside natural lighting, natural ventilation where that's practical or possible in a whole host of others and safer and low emitting materials throughout the building. Whether all the way down from paint to adhesives to the furniture, that's all really important and things that you can be more confident about when you're in a LEED Building for sure, or in a Green Building. So that's somebody who's going to benefit. Then zooming out a little bit more to the community, that's a really good place to maybe 12, is that a LEED building is still has that perception that this is maybe an expensive building. And in that mindset there comes with it that fear that, a LEED Building that maybe goes up in a part of a town or city that is historically economically disinvested or disadvantaged in order. It could be this perception that it's a part of gentrification or an economic displacement of communities who already living there. And that's really interesting and I'll say LEED has taken that to heart and there are baked into our rating system for new construction ways that recognize really robust community involvement, but also ongoing community benefits for buildings which is something that we also seen in a more progressive cities these days. That's a start, there's another perspective we hear sometimes which is that, when we think about thinking back to affordability right in communities and one of the enduring challenges in so many of places at least here on the coasts in the U.S, for example, there is the sense of nimbyism is really playing that just like decisive role in what is able to get built and when, and how much of it and that's a really huge challenge. Whatever kind of development may be, what is intriguing are the anecdotes where this is a Green Building, as well as maybe increasing housing or the perception of crowding and how that gets perceived at the public meeting, and if that helps maybe if not change minds, but maybe blunt some of the reflexive nimbyism that can be end up just preventing increase in housing or increase of different tiers of that missing middle housing, for example, in a community. Lots of different ways to think about it, but it's important that we still continue to be both reflect on how LEED as a framework and as a rating system that encourages best practices and innovation can take those into heart about making sure that everybody benefits, but at the same time, thinking about how the development community, local governments can use LEED also as a tool to help achieve its ends when it comes to communities.

[Andy Keeton] ] Yeah, this makes a lot of sense that there's a lot of winners from Green Buildings, and this is something we also discuss in most of our episodes of this podcast is that a lot of these solutions that and maybe at one point it was really not cost effective but a lot of these solutions that you think of as elite, or expensive, or just only for people who care about the environment. They actually also have a positive impact on a lot of additional aspects of life and one of those being the bottom line of companies as well. It's good to hear as well that LEED fits into that framework, but I really like the idea of supporting the community as well. That's a critical piece of the puzzle for any type of really sustainable building outside of the environment sustainable for the community. I want to get into just a little where we getting to the end of our time here and I want to get into a little bit about where you see the future going with lead and particular around TDM, Transportation Demand Management and Transportation. As you said, it's only been a little bit of time that transportation and location has even been considered. So presumably this is going to continue to grow and evolve. Where do you think this is going to go?

[Kurt Steiner] The question I'm thinking about day in day out, and then I'm glad I have opportunities to talk to folks like you to help us maybe understand where the opportunities are and where LEED can maybe add its unique value, special sauce to this issue here. Even if we think for a second about how LEED works, the one that the plaque that many of us are familiar with is a designation for a new building. It's that moment in time of how is this building designed and how is it built. And honestly, that's where it stops. We know that those strategies that helped the project go back on track plack are going to lead to better outcomes. But we don't know exactly what the outcomes are. And I think that comes as no surprise. Well, I think in most of the sort of major parts of building operations, you know, energy performance is just briefly touched on, right? You could have very surprising performance, even in this… well-designed building. And it could be some simple reasons there, that are not going to come up until you get into that management, ongoing management, of the space. And that could be tied to there is something that wasn't commissioned properly during, you know, construction and needs to be addressed and calibrated. Or, often, it could be about some occupant behaviors that just were not maybe considerered during design. And those are something that, you know, you need to take a look at too. So, you could see where I'm going, and that's why Transportation Demand Management is going to be really important as LEED tries to maybe bridge that gap between designing and building really great places. But then, all of a sudden, how do we make sure that those buildings are performing as well as they can and going above and beyond? So, I think, in some ways, this is almost a place where location transportation can help inform how LEED is even, you know, approaching this overall, and that's because TDM is a highly specialized niche, as I think you and many of your listeners know. But it just makes so much sense, it's all about taking advantage of existing infrastructure to best use. And the way you do it is influencing human behavior. And that is the key. So, I'm excited by, maybe, I think you have probably two branches here. You've got the technological sort of, like, innovations that are happening. I mean, Commutifi is a great example, but it's not the only one, that is just giving us more insights and more tools that help us get people that nudge and maybe change the behaviors. And then the other is maybe, yeah, thinking from the even local government level, for example, right? We've talked a lot about some of the latest generations around the country of TDM ordinances, for example, and it's great to see two things there. One is a little bit more comprehensiveness in what strategies are recognized, whether that's conventional ones of, like, parking pricing and transit subsidies. But, now, if you look in a place like San Francisco, which has done some really interesting work lately, they can tell you, down to the VMT, they have an estimate of what you might expect to get from some of the strategies, like employee shuttles, and so on. So, anyway, it's great to see so much, I guess, creativity and, yeah, just maybe new approaches in the space. And I can speak for, yeah, LEED and folks around it, I think we're trying to understand how we can both harness that and leverage that from the building owner perspective, or the operator. And also, you know, I think we continue to be interested in how local governments can lean on LEED to help it accomplish some of its goals too, right? And you can look at both sides. So, it's going to be exciting. I think one of the ongoing struggles is… "TDM" is just so… A term. And I know it's not the first time anybody is hearing that, but it's got a branding problem, and I think we need to fix it. So, next episode. I look forward to the answer.

[Andy Keeton] Maybe, yeah, maybe we'll have some episode on how to brand TDM. I agree, it's… For being such an interesting kind of idea, it is a very technical terminology that does kind of stand on its own way, in a way.

[Kurt Steiner] It's a good problem to have. If there's a great foundation, and it's just a branding problem, we can fix that, right?

[Andy Keeton] True, true. So, we're onto our last question. And we'll keep it quick. And this is what we ask all of our guests, at the end. So, we've been talking a lot about LEED, we've been taling a lot about how TDM plays a role in LEED. Tell us why TDM and LEED together will help save the planet.

[Kurt Steiner] Wow. It's a good one. And, yeah. It's going to take everyone, and one of my favorite things about working with LEED, around LEED, and with USGBC, is the opportunity to just interact at all these different levels with different stakeholders. And, at its best, LEED is that kind of common ground where a government official, a developer, a resident like you, a tenant, are all kind of speaking, can be speaking the same language, and using some common definitions there. That's part of the reason, right? LEED is the most widely used green building rating system in the world. You know, it's used in 180 countries, as well as in this policy in the US. In some cases really incentivized well-versed users. So that approach, that kind of big tent approach, and trying to be really sensitive to what these parts of the market want and what they need, I think is something that I'm really excited to try to bring to this idea of transportation demand management, or mobility management, or transportation options, whatever we want to call it. I think getting more people excited about the great ideas that are underlying this, that giving people access to more just choices, is a good idea. And I'm excited that, yeah, I think LEED can be part of telling that story.

[Andy Keeton] Yeah, I agree. 100%. I think LEED is probably something that not all of our audience really knew a lot about before this episode. Hopefully, now they're really starting to think how this can play a role as well. How buildings play a role in transportation future. Kurt, thanks again for being on, and for coming and talking to us all about this. I'm really excited to continue working with you and see where LEED goes, and how it brings transportation in. And, yeah, we'll figure out how to rebrand TDM, we can do that together.

[Kurt Steiner] Okay. That's… Hope we follow up on that. Thanks, Andy. This was a pleasure. Really, really exciting. And it flew by.

[Andy Keeton] It did, it did. And thanks again to all of our listeners and viewers for tuning in. If you haven't yet, make sure you subscribe to our email list, which you can do at betweenthelines.io. And that way you get just an update when a new episode comes out, you can continue on with that conversation, learn a little bit more beyond the episode. And give us a like, a follow, a rating, wherever you listen to podcasts, or check us out on YouTube as well. I, you know, there's not much to see right now in this new green building that I'm living in, but I'm going to start decorating it behind me, so give me any tips of what I should put up, and you can see the room grow with the show. So, thanks again for tuning in, and we will see you again next time. Kurt, it's a pleasure.

- [Kurt Steiner] Thanks. So long.

[Andy Keeton] Alright, see you, everyone.

[Voiceover] Thanks for joining us on this week's episode of "Between the Lines with Andy Keeton." Be sure to subscribe to hear next week's episode. And check out our exclusive commuter playlists on Spotify.

Better commuting starts here.

Better commuting starts here.

Better commuting starts here.