Sustainable Communities in the Fourth Economy

Integrated-Economic-DevelopmentEconomic development has traditionally been a tool for relatively well-off communities to improve their lot by attracting new jobs and increasing their tax base. Relatively well-off, that is, compared to low-income communities of color, and in particular, urban communities. For them, community development has been the primarily tool, working primarily through real estate development and social service programs. However, it turns out that real estate and social service programs have not sufficiently improved the lot of many of the poorest neighborhoods. In fact, one in six Americans now lives in poverty, the highest in half a century. Furthermore, it turns out that all communities, regardless of class or color, need more than just jobs. Therefore, at Fourth Economy, we are interested in continually pushing for a more integrated approach to community and economic development. Continue reading “Sustainable Communities in the Fourth Economy”

Cities Coming to Life

Living Buildings as Regional Hubs for Sustainable Redevelopment

Imagine buildings that are able to produce all of the energy they need using renewable sources such as wind or solar, that capture and treat all of the water needed for building occupants and systems, eliminating the need for water or sewage treatment infrastructure. Mounting evidence suggests that buildings of the future must look like this to secure a sustainable future. The Living Building Challenge (LBC) is leading the charge by requiring these attributes of projects that are seeking its prominent certification. And as cities and towns transition to green building and sustainable living, we look to Living Buildings for inspiration. Continue reading “Cities Coming to Life”

A Recap of Greenbuild 2011


Revival, crusade, stories, messages, marketing, learning, connections, friendships … no matter what your purpose or perspective, the U.S. Green Building Council’s Greenbuild International Conference and Expo again seemed to hit many marks for those of us who made the journey to Toronto, Canada this year. Greenbuild’s first time outside the U.S. (finally), lived up to its international title. With a growing base of international attendees there was an even bigger opportunity to share knowledge and experiences beyond the usual U.S. borders!

Best part for me about Toronto was I could walk everywhere! No cabs fares and great weather the entire week. Some difference from Boston in 2008 when I was USGBC board chair where just going a few blocks would turn anyone into an ice cube! Speaking of ice cubes, my favorite (and the last) speaker of the event, Robert Swan, polar explorer and environmental leader who has walked unsupported to both the North and South Poles. If you missed it to head to the airport early, his message is worth visiting at

I have been to all 10 Greenbuild conferences, hosted the second in Pittsburgh and each year there is something new or unique. There is nothing really quite like it. I was not disappointed in the education sessions – big turn outs for green building products this year with expanded focus and interest in Environmental Health Declarations (HPD) and human health issues in general. This year, I was also pleased to see that the idea for more advanced, research based session occurred for the first time – thanks team! Greenbuild even had a bit of Shakespeare with metaphors between “The Tempest” and LEED – thought I never quite figured that one out.

Beyond the programs is the opportunity to re-connect and collect HUGS from my colleagues and friends which is what it is really about – one big “HugFest”. Without the relationships and networks that have been created through chapters, committees and grassroot actions, the green building movement and transformation would not be what it is today. It really is all about the people not the buildings. This is an important point that many still miss. So while many may complain (including myself at times) about this speaker or that program or setting or intentions or spin, if you get past all of that and look around you realize there is no professional group that comes together in this manner with such diversity of professions and topics to form one in person community for a week every year. Finally, I have to say that Greenbuild is like anything else – it is what you make of it. This year, what I really enjoyed was not the big concert and parties, rather the small dinners with friends just talking and sharing ideas and laughs.

There is one thing that stays the same every year, the sensation of being both exhausted and energized at the end. I am always so inspired by all the great work and passion that surrounds Greenbuild. If you missed it plan on coming to San Francisco next year!

Rebecca L. Flora , President, RLF Collaborative, LLC
Rebecca has worked in the field of sustainability for nearly 30 years. She led the Pittsburgh’s early leadership in green building through her role as executive director for the Green Building Alliance. She served on the board of USGBC for 7 years and most recently served as SVP of Education and Research at USGBC.