FGBC Member Profile: Meet Integrative Sustainability Solutions’ Joe Snider

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Joe Snider is a licensed architect with master’s degrees in architecture and historic preservation, and founder of Integrative Sustainability Solutions, a sustainability consulting firm in Delray Beach, Fla. and Hillsborough, N.C. 
Integrative Sustainability Solutions recently certified CenterPoint’s Port Everglades International Logistics Center.
He is also co-founder/co-director of the international non-profit Stories Lived (www.StoriesLived.org) which seeks to connect humanity through the power of visual storytelling.

How did you personally become an advocate for green building and in particular FGBC?

In one of my first jobs out of college, I worked for a large environmental consulting firm doing technical editing and document coordination for large documents. I liked the idea of my job being positive for the environment, but I wanted to be doing more of the work, not just editing and coordinating the work of others. I grew up in a historic house and always had a love of buildings. Going to architecture school to study sustainable design was a way of combining both interests. In graduate school and in other places I lived, I was always active in promoting green building. When I moved to Florida, I learned of the work FGBC was doing and wanted to support their mission as well.

Since it seems everyone has their own definition of green, what, in your opinion, is the correct definition of green?

I actually don’t think there is one definition of green, or a correct one. I believe it is a spectrum, and that it is somewhat subjective. “Green” covers a wide range of topics, from site and location issues down to the caulk you use. The success of green building rating systems like FGBC’s programs in the past 20 years has been creating programs where people can pick and choose points according to their own values or weighting of issues. That flexibility, all under the umbrella of green, gives flexibility and allows for a range of green.

Port Everglades International Logistics Center was a huge project. Walk us through some of the project’s challenges or nuances?

While Port Everglades is definitely large, it is also relatively simple in that it is generally a large space under that roof. The challenge of a project like this when it comes to green building is the location. Many of the concepts we strive for in sustainability such as access to public transit, denser urban context, and walkability are not really possible on a huge distribution center designed primarily for trucks to drive in and out. PEILC is not located on a main transit line, and the site is so large, that it takes a while just to walk from the entrance out to the street. We looked to make up for those site and location challenges in other ways, such as through efficient lighting and lighting control systems.

What role do you see for the green buildings industry in facing challenges with respect to the global economy and natural resources?

Buildings play a huge role in our economy and resources. One of the first indicators I always hear on economic reports is new housing starts and construction starts. Whenever we want to boost the economy as far back to the Great Depression and even today’s discussion, we talk about infrastructure and building programs. But yes, that puts a huge strain on our resources. When I hear those economic indicator reports, I always wonder if there is some other way to shift the way we evaluate the economy, because it inherently is heavily resource dependent. Clearly the application of green building principles and focus on a circular economy for our buildings would reduce the strain on our natural resources.

What are some of the most effective ways to enhance awareness of the value in green buildings?

The most obvious way is to look at the financial value of calculating out energy, water, and other resource savings. However, I think there is something that may be more important, but is harder to quantify. Green buildings are usually just better buildings. Architect, engineers, and contractors don’t like to admit that because they assume all of their buildings are flawless. But I would submit that is not the case. The process of green building is as valuable as the product because it forces more integration, communication, and there is added oversight into the process. Things like extra review of product submittals and commissioning often catch items that are often overlooked. The act of really asking questions up front about what type of building this should be and that the Owner wants often leads to a better understanding of the overall goal. I may have deviated from the question a little in that I see that as an area for improvement, that could potentially be more effective in communicating the value of green buildings.

Why is it important for builders, contractors and owners to have a choice when certifying green?

I believe there is a spectrum of green, from light green to darker green. It is important to have a lot of choice so that those involved can select the level they desire. That variety can range from totally different building programs across different organizations, to different levels of certification within the same rating system. With so much going on in green building these days, there are many options. The more options there are, the more likely people will be to adopt some measure of green building. As I read once regarding zero waste, we don’t need a handful of people living true perfect zero waste lifestyles…we need a wide swath of people making incremental steps, and ultimately that makes more of a difference. It is the same with green building.

What have been some of you other most challenging or interesting FGBC projects?

I think one of the more interesting programs FGBC has is the Green Local Government program, which I worked on for St. Lucie County. I think this program can have significant impact on a community which is great. It really invites a local government to look at a wide range of its practices and develop policies. Another project we did was for a self-storage facility, which I think starts to break down some barriers. Often green building certifications are touted for office building, environmental centers, and other more high profile projects. Certifying a storage facility, that is frankly not that glamorous of a use, shows that certification is not only possibly for most building types, but also is important.