Ask the Expert: Sue Clark talks about working with LEED in Canada and Sweden, and why we are in the golden age of green building

Sue Clark, LEED AP BD+C, LEED Manager, Sweden Green Building Council (SGBC)

Sue Clark is a LEED AP BD+C with the Sweden Green Building Council (SGBC), where she serves as LEED Manager. She is also SGBC's Project Manager for BUILD UPON, a European Commission Horizon 2020 project targeting deep renovation of the existing building stock across Europe. She is Chair of USGBC's Pilot Credit Committee and a member of the LEED Steering Committee, and represents Sweden on the LEED International Roundtable.

Sue worked with the Canada Green Building Council from 2006 to 2012, leading one of CaGBC's LEED certification assessment teams and serving on volunteer groups including the Sites and Water TAG. As part of engineering consultancy Morrison Hershfield, Sue was involved on LEED projects across Canada from 2007 until 2012. After moving to Sweden in 2011, Sue brought her expertise to SGBC, where she coordinates the Council's LEED Committee, four LEED working groups and multiple taskforces to address issues of implementing and growing LEED in Sweden.  

1. Tell us about your career and how you came to be involved in the sustainability field.

From the time I started architecture school in 1999, I was interested in green and how sustainability might be integrated into buildings. I was hired as a student intern at Morrison Hershfield in 2004, just after LEED Canada 1.0 had been released, and worked on my first LEED project. In 2007, I returned to MH as their first dedicated green employee, when the growth curve of green building was really starting to arch upwards. I was able to get tremendous exposure during those early years, both on projects and by leading one of CaGBC's LEED certification teams.

The move to Sweden in 2011 was unplanned, but a good example of opportunity knocking. My husband's employer, Ericsson, offered him a long-term assignment at headquarters in Stockholm. I met the CEO of Sweden Green Building Council, Bengt Wånggren, at Greenbuild Toronto just two weeks before we moved. SGBC had only three staff, and no resources to support LEED, so I started as a volunteer. After six months, I became an employee and in the time since, I've had many opportunities to help build the LEED brand in Sweden, as well as working with USGBC and our counterparts on the LEED International Roundtable. At present, I'm chairing USGBC's Pilot Credit Committee and by extension sit on the LEED Steering Committee.

2. Your green building experience is certainly international, having worked in Canada, and now the Sweden GBC. What would you say are the biggest differences in terms of LEED and/or green building between them?

One difference between Canada and Sweden is the way that green building rating systems, including LEED, have grown within and influenced the market. In Sweden, dating from the 1970s and 80s, there were numerous efforts around, for example, energy efficiency and hazardous chemicals in building materials – aspects which are part of sustainable building, but which had not been consolidated into a single approach or system. This precondition created a fertile ground into which systems like LEED could take root, as the market was also looking for ways to quantify their sustainability efforts and to have them recognized. In Canada, the emergence of LEED was more contemporaneous with the broad-scale development of the green building industry: LEED was the means by which we thought about, designed, built and operated a green building, and it catalyzed the industry, particularly with its endorsement by agencies such as the federal government.

3. Are there any other particular projects that you've been involved in that stand out in your mind and why?

At the present time I am working on a European Commission project called BUILD UPON, which is focused on identifying the barriers to deep renovation and developing collective multi-national solutions to drive energy-efficient renovation of the continent's existing building stock. We are a consortium of 13 Green Building Councils across the European region, representing 13 unique markets, and it has been tremendously informative in terms of how to engage renovation on the scale needed to really address the challenges of climate change alongside our European GHG emissions targets. Of course, energy is only part of the sustainability picture, so we are also investigating corresponding social and economic impacts related to deep renovation, such as fuel poverty and energy independence. The project will continue through 2017, and there are certain to be a lot of lessons for markets both inside and outside the EU regarding how to effect massive change on a crucial environmental issue.

4. You were involved with LEED very early on. How have things changed since then? What do you think could still stand to improve?

Things have changed dramatically from the early days, of course. Most remarkable I think is the level of awareness of LEED both within and without the industry. On a project team, virtually all organizations from the owner to the subcontractors have at least familiarity, and likely also experience, with LEED. Even the layperson has heard about LEED and knows that this means a green building, a better building, whether they work in a LEED building, their child goes to a LEED-certified school, or they live in a neighbourhood of LEED Homes.

Of course we can always keep improving, and on a technical level, that's why we keep updating the rating system. But we also need to make greater inroads within the building sectors that have not yet fully embraced energy efficiency or sustainability, or whose efforts have been piecemeal. In the Swedish market, only 1.4% of the built area has been certified, and much of it commercial and public buildings, with not much penetration into the residential market. Improvement also means finding ways to reach out to these underrealized markets and finding ways to engage them in the sustainability dialogue. 

5. You are and have been involved in so many different committees, organizations and initiatives. What motivates you to keep getting involved in new areas?

I'm a farm kid from Brandon, Manitoba, and we have a saying: "Make hay while the sun shines." And the sun is shining: it's a great time to be involved in green building and sustainable urban development, and it feels like a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity career-wise. Many of us remember when the job title of "LEED Consultant" or "Sustainability Manager" didn't even exist; it wasn't that long ago! So for me, a volunteer committee or a new initiative offers a unique chance to learn more in an industry I'm passionate about. But it's also the desire to pay it forward. I've been quite fortunate in terms of my opportunities as well as the mentorship I've received along the way, and to be in a position to contribute and help out others is really the most gratifying part of my work.

6. Where do you see the future of green building headed in the near and more long-term future?

The trend we're seeing now is to embrace a broader view of sustainability, and to engage aspects that were previously outside the reach of the certification systems, such as social equity and resilience. I'm also hopeful that there will be better knowledge sharing, particularly on an international basis. We often think we need to reinvent the wheel when confronted with a challenge, but there are pockets of best practice all over the world from which we could learn, if only we knew where to look and who to ask.

Here is where organizations like Green Building Councils can facilitate a dialogue inside and across borders, and we are starting to see this happen. Sweden GBC is working with Canada GBC (and other organizations) on a new pilot credit for moisture-resistant design, which will build on LEED Canada's Durable Building credit as well as Sweden's moisture safety codes and guidelines.