May 2, 2024 - From the 02, May, 2024 issue

Leading the Way: USGBC California's Vision for Sustainable Water Management

USGBC California (USGBC-CA) has embarked on a groundbreaking initiative, the 50 Liter Home Coalition pilot project, aimed at significantly reducing water usage in California residences. Ben Stapleton, Executive Director of USGBC-CA, discusses the organization's expansion to engage all of California, highlighting the opportunity to share impactful programming and advocate for green building practices statewide. Through collaborations with global coalitions and innovative pilot projects, USGBC-CA is leading the way in addressing the state's water crisis through holistic approaches to water management and building sustainability.

This event, the California Green Building Conference, promises to be a hub for discussions on workforce development, embodied carbon, circularity, and nature-based solutions. With keynote speakers including Kate Gordon and Obi Kaufmann, the conference aims to galvanize action towards sustainable building practices statewide. Join USGBC California on May 23rd at the Beehive by SoLa Impact in South LA to be part of this transformative conversation.

"By taking a holistic approach, it's really changed how homeowners approach their water use."

USGBC is at the forefront of industry discussions on how the built environment, when designed with intention, can enhance health, equity, resilience, and sustainability goals. TPR spoke with Ben Stapleton, Executive Director of the new USGBC California (USGBC-CA), about the organization’s 50 Liter Home Coalition pilot project centered on how California residents can drastically reduce their water use. Ben walks readers through how a whole-home approach to water management can change usage behaviors.

TPR: USGBC-LA has expanded to engage all of California. Can you talk about that opportunity and the challenges expansion poses for what is now USGBC-CA and for you?

Ben Stapleton:
We’ve grown USGBC-LA dramatically over the past five years. Our work focuses on direct community engagement and education. We are an independent 501(c)3 non-profit from the national organization that runs the LEED credential and certification. For us, the expansion was an opportunity to take a lot of the great programming and content that we have developed and share that with green building communities across the rest of California to create more impact. Many disadvantaged and under resourced communities lack the resources needed  to develop this type of content locally. We felt that we and green building leaders across the state  could make a huge impact by coming together on one platform.

The new USGBC California is made up of seven communities around California that we brought together under one organization. There are some great programs and events happening today and historically in the other communities as well from San Diego to the Bay Area and beyond. This combining of forces allows us to broaden our perspectives while granting us a louder voice for advocacy across California.

TPR: In addition to USGBC-CA conferences and events, and one coming up shortly, you'll also be leading a panel at VerdeXchange in mid-May. Could you share what is planned?

Well, I think we all know that the VerdeXchange conference is one of the best places to share innovations in sustainability with the potential for economic impacts and market insight..

We've been working with a global coalition led by Electrolux, IKEA, Kohler, and Procter & Gamble,to investigate how we can dramatically reduce residential water use by taking a holistic approach to the home. The group is called the 50 Liter Home Coalition, convened by the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD), and the World Economic Forum (WEF).  We are working with the Coalition to retrofit 32 homes with the latest and greatest technology with point-of-use metering for both hot and cold water as well as energy monitoring. We’re getting over 2 million data points a month on water use. It’s been fascinating as this data doesn't exist on time of use and point of use for water, especially for hot and cold.

We’re installing the best in market, leading appliances, fixtures and products from the partners. I'm really proud that we’re at over 20% water reduction so far and just getting started. And then late this summer we're going to install the latest and greatest, not quite-on-the-market yet, products. Think IoT, nudging devices, recirculating showers. Those will be installed in 16 of the homes and we’ll see how much further water use drops. The goal is to get to 50 liters per person per day, which is roughly 13 gallons of water use per person per day. In LA, that number is currently 100 liters on average.

We're also working with Rain Bird to investigate impact from irrigation and landscaping. This summer, we’ll be looking at if we can track water reductions through use of native landscaping.

VerdeXchange and the Planning Report have been covering water conservation for several years. We’ve published interviews, for example, with
Andy Lipkis about stormwater capture and Amber Richane about the Santa Monica 'living' City Hall Annex. While innovative, much of this work has been reviewed as ahead of its skis in terms of marketplace readiness. Describe how the 50 Liter Home Coalition has learned from past efforts to prime the residential building water market?

Ben Stapleton:
There’ve been good lessons learned thus far. The biggest takeaways for us to date are the impacts of having this be a whole-home approach. Most of the time when we look at water, we're making one piece updates. For example, we're replacing a fixture or we're doing a turf replacement. The feedback we're getting from the consumers is that by taking this holistic approach, it's really changed how they approach their water use. We're starting to experiment with nudging the homeowners, such as sending emails or texts if changes in water use are identified or if there’s a period during which we wish to drive usage down.

The use of products and appliances has also been a big takeaway. Procter & Gamble, one of our partners, has a dishwashing soap that you're not supposed to spray immediately with water. You let it set, and then you just use a little bit of water for rinsing. People have really enjoyed the product, and it has enabled them to materially reduce their water use while doing dishes. As we get to the latter parts of this pilot in the fall, we're going to begin developing training for plumbers and contractors on taking a whole home approach to reducing water use.

Since the statewide drought in California, there have been numerous incentive programs offered by water districts, sanitation districts, LADWP, etc.  Is there a new incentive program from any of the water agencies or sanitation districts that you anticipate will further advance your pilot?

Ben Stapleton:
The intent is for us to reassess how we do rebates in the water space. We released a white paper last year on the energy cost of water. As a society, we talk about the water-energy nexus, but we don’t talk enough about how to address the energy cost of water. The data shows that water conservation programs save as much energy as energy efficiency programs, but get dramatically less funding. We have less than $500 million in statewide water conservation funding. Comparatively, the number for energy is in the billions. The other thing is that we’re not seeing a bundled approach related to products and appliances. We provide appliance rebates, but we're not providing rebates for a bundled product and appliance approach. Another important consideration is that here in LA, 60% of our water use goes to irrigation. We need to showcase for people that we can save water using native plants and that this can support our local ecosystem and reduce heat impacts. Those things are important and can have long term impacts.

If you had an early opportunity to speak to Janisse Quiñones, the newly appointed CEO and General Manager of LA DWP, about her water conservation priorities, what would you advocate?

Ben Stapleton:
I would share that we need to think of water conservation differently. We’ve been bailed out over the last couple of years by heavy rainfall, but we know the drought will return. We need to be getting the plans and policies in place now so that we're ready. Additionally, there needs to be a shift in terms of a holistic approach related to how we approach water and energy. We have great models for community solar, distributed energy, demand response. How can we leverage those programs in the water space to address when we have a rain shortage or think creatively about proactively incentivizing how consumers interact with water?

Before concluding, USGBC California has an event, as already mentioned, coming up soon. Elaborate on this event; where it is; and how interested readers can be involved.

Ben Stapleton:
We’ve rebranded our 22nd annual conference as the California Green Building Conference. We're inviting green building leaders from across the State to join us in conversations on a number of topics, including workforce development. As a state, we’re short roughly 20,000 jobs to decarbonize our buildings. At the conference, we’ll also be deep diving into topics such as embodied carbon, circularity, and nature-based solutions. Kate Gordon, a former adviser to the Department of Energy Secretary Granholm, and Obi Kaufmann, author and artist who breaks down ecosystems and interactions between ecosystems in California, will both be keynote speakers. We're at a historic moment for our organization where we're unifying the whole State into one entity to address how we move forward with sustainability in buildings. Our goal is to bring together people from across the state who are making it happen to galvanize action.

The conference is on May 23rd in South LA at the Beehive by SoLa Impact.


© 2024 The Planning Report | David Abel, Publisher, ABL, Inc.