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The Networker: David Gottfried

Interview by William Hanley
May 2012

David Gottfried has hustle. As a cofounder of the United States Green Building Council and an author of LEED, he relentlessly promoted the organization and its rating system, taking it from a high-minded concept for true believers to a globally recognized standard. Along the way, he helped start the World Green Building Council and wrote two books. His latest project, the Regenerative Network, rates the ecological bona fides of building product manufacturers and connects the best with a consortium of industry professionals and venture capitalists.

USGBC cofounder David Gottfried's latest project brings together important players in the sustainable building industry.
Photo © Michael Dambrosia
USGBC cofounder David Gottfried's latest project brings together important players in the sustainable building industry.
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GreenSource: Why does the green building world need the Regenerative Network?

David Gottfried: In the tech industry, you have variations on Moore's law: Every year the product has to be twice as fast and half the cost. But the building industry hadn't really invested in research and development like high-tech had. There was a need for a new asset class that I call—and I think I invented the term—"green-build tech." I am in the Bay Area, where all the venture capitalists have their customary one-billion-dollar fund, and a few years ago they moved into clean technology—wind and solar and batteries and cars. Then all of a sudden they got interested in LED lights and windows and concrete that sequesters carbon. My lightbulb was going off. High-tech meets green building—that's green-build tech.

Once you noticed that lack of investment, what was the next step?

I created a new business called Regenerative Ventures to help green companies set goals and raise capital. Once I had a dozen manufacturers on board, all of them wanted to meet design and construction firms or clients to bring industry attention to their products. And I thought, why don't I bring all the companies together and invite Gensler or Hines or Wal-Mart to us? The start of the network was aggregating all these firms who were developing different types of advanced green products. I had a dozen to start. Then we looked at other categories of building products where we didn't have players. We didn't have carpet, so we brought in Interface, and so on.

How did you decide what companies to invite?

We invented the Regenerative Balance Sheet, a 250-line-item score card with 100 points allocated according to corporate culture, social performance, environmental impact, and transparent reporting—our quadruple bottom line. And then we started rating manufacturers. Interface won for carpet—they have one of our highest scores. From HVAC we picked Carrier. Water was Sloan. Everyone we play with is really progressive in corporate culture. They give back to the community. They produce corporate social responsibility reports. Our strategy was to get one firm in every vertical category in a building. Each one filled a slot, and now we have 41 companies and have moved into the software space with Global Carbon Systems out of Australia, who's doing carbon mapping and reporting.

What do members receive for their participation?

We've been getting them together to share best practices. We do green speed dating with architects, engineers, and contractors. They meet with manufacturers and build relationships. We bring in Re-Gen talks, 15 minutes of brilliance modeled after TED talks. One recent event had White House environmental executive Michelle Moore and Eleni Reed, the U.S. General Services Administration's chief greening officer. We're just trying to create a new paradigm of constructive technologies, cutting-edge knowledge, and thought leadership.

Do you plan to grow the network further?

The next step for the network is to go to China and start playing in that huge marketplace where they're building like crazy. We want to bring much higher technology levels to the billions and billions of square feet that they're going to build when you have 18 million people a year going to urban areas. We're also going to search for good Chinese technology. They're incredible in wind and solar hot water, which is not even in the game here.

I want to raise a hundred-million-dollar venture capital fund backed by Chinese developers. I'm going to come back to the U.S. and invest in technology to bring back to China. After that, we're going to India. In the end, I would like every year in green product development to be 200 percent better at half the cost.

In addition to rating companies, you recently published your second book, Greening My Life, in which you rate your personal sustainability on a 100-point scale. What was that process like?

It kind of puts me out there pretty naked. A lot of green building people think I'm nuts. And I agree. But green technology, LEED, green building councils, they're great, but where's the human element? Each chapter is about one of ten categories in my rating system. One is social performance. You get points for stewardship. You get points for learning. You get points for greening your employment, green investment, for a green home. Transparency isn't just the LEED points of your building or your eco-scorecard or your product; it's a personal declaration of transparency. So I started with myself.


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