Casino Journal interviews Michelle Moore, senior vice president of policy and public affairs, U.S. Green Building Council about the green movement and its presence in, and impact on, the gaming industry

Tell me a little about what your organization does.

The U.S. Green Building Council is a 501C-3 nonprofit, and our mission is market transformation. We envision a build environment that is sustainable and that is actually contributing to the health and wellbeing of society at large.

How did the council get started?

It was started in 1993. There were three founders: David Gottfried, who was a developer and the guy with the big idea; Rick Fedrizzi, who is also our CEO; and Mike Italiano, who is an environmental attorney here in D.C. In 1993, David wanted to build green buildings. He wanted to advocate for that within an industry-the building, design, construction business. This is the second-oldest industry on the earth, it’s the biggest, and it’s one of the most conservative too. But there were a lot of things happening in the industry at the time that gave the idea of green building a foothold. David is an incredible entrepreneurial thinker, just in terms of coming up with ways to get things done. And if you’re going to advocate green buildings, the first thing you have to do is determine what a green building is. So David, Rick and Mike set about to bring together a very broad-based membership organization that would work around a consensus process. So it was bringing everyone to the table under a big tent and getting them to agree and move forward. That process created what is now known as the LEED green building rating system.

Explain LEED for me.

LEED stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design. It’s a rating system with four successive levels of achievement-certified, silver, gold and platinum. It’s a progressive program, so it evolves on an annual basis as the market advances and we learn more about what it means to build green…we get research back showing how green buildings are performing. Our intent was to set the bar high, challenge the market leaders to reach it, and by doing so, to pull the entire industry along toward more sustainable practices. We basically use market forces like competition and quality-because ultimately green buildings are better buildings-as a way to advance this big idea, which is to advance a sustainable build environment.

How does one become LEED certified?

Buildings can be LEED certified…buildings and building projects. So there are LEED rating systems for every aspect of a build environment. For commercial buildings, it spans the complete lifecycle. There’s LEED for existing buildings, which is for high performance operations. And you’ve got some specialized rating systems for building types that have different needs, like LEED for healthcare, LEED for retail, LEED for K-12 schools and universities. These are different rating systems for different types of buildings and projects. There are rating systems for homes as well-single family home and low-rise multi-family. We also have a rating system in pilot for neighborhood development. There’s a project in Las Vegas for example that is a massive redevelopment effort of several downtown blocks. In that, you have all different kinds of building types and you’re dealing infrastructural issues. Every LEED rating system has a combination of prerequisites and credits. So the prerequisites are things you have to do. One, for instance is no smoking. You can’t have any indoor smoking in a LEED rated building. In addition to the prerequisites, you have a set of credits. Those credits are earned across six different categories, including energy and environment, which addresses energy efficiency; indoor environmental quality; materials and resources; water efficiency; sustainable sites…for instance, where is the building located, and is it taking advantage of its orientation visa vi the sun; and lastly innovation…we know we don’t know everything, and we give people credit for thinking up great ideas. Now you achieve different levels of certification based on the number of credits you achieve across those categories. The rating system evolves over time, so as the market advances and we learn more, then the rating system evolves along with that knowledge.

So the rating system is something that is decided through your membership...

Through a consensus process, correct. There are volunteer committees that are elected by our membership. They are diverse. We have very strict requirements for diversity on the committees. There’s building owners, architects, product manufacturers, etc. have to be represented. These consensus processes include multiple public comment periods, a member ballot and a pilot program. So we’re effectively road-testing the rating system before it’s introduced. The whole process can take anywhere between one and three years.

Does a business or construction or architecture firm have to be a member in order to get LEED certified?

No, it’s open.

How do you see the green process evolving in the gaming industry?

Well, we’ve certainly seen a huge surge of project registrations from within the gaming industry, and from within the hospitality industry at large. In the Nevada context, there’s no doubt that the tax credit that was implemented there that has been the topic of conversation recently has had a lot to do with putting green buildings on the agenda for the industry. But we’re confident that the companies that aggressively step forth and take a leadership position and pledge to build and operate green will learn that people are healthier and happier in green buildings. When you’re hosting people-they’re staying overnight or using your facilities for recreation-giving people a better indoor environment in which to do that is going to be really beneficial in building customer relationships. The bottom line savings in terms of energy efficiency and water are just tremendous. On average, a green building shaves 35 percent off energy consumption compared to a typical building. That’s a lot of operating dollars back in your pocket.

What kind of roadblocks are there out there for gaming companies or other companies in starting the greening process?

The biggest one is still just misperception. This is true regardless of what industry you’re in. There’s just still a lot of people out there who think to be green, it’s going to cost you a pound of flesh and you’re never going to get it back. That misperception that green inherently cost more or is something that is a philanthropic act that doesn’t necessarily connect directly with bottom line benefits, it prevents some folks from going forward and taking that step.

Can existing properties become LEED certified?

Yes, they can, and I think from a whole market perspective, that’s where the greatest opportunity is-for energy savings and the whole economy scale, and for any organization that has a large portfolio of properties. There are a whole lot of buildings out there from an energy efficiency perspective that are just dogs. Addressing the existing stock, which makes up 90 percent of the build environment in any given year is a huge opportunity. The LEED for existing buildings rating system for high-performance operations is out there specifically for that application. There are some really innovative market programs to help to green existing properties. One is performance contracting and this is something that has gotten a lot of headlines lately related to the Clinton Climate Initiative Program that launched last year, focused on municipal properties. It basically uses future energy savings to finance capital improvements that are focused on energy efficiency.

A lot of operators say, "I want to be green, but I don't know where to start." What's your advice?

There are a couple of things. Just in terms of getting educated, something that is a little bit qualitatively different about the green building overall-people are very willing to share their stories. Not only what’s worked, but what hasn’t. Sometimes you do take a wrong turn. From people who are involved directly in real estate management and facilities practices getting involved in their local USGBC chapter, particularly if it is a geographic location, which the gaming industry is pretty significant part of the economy of the built environment, they’re going to have colleagues there-people that have worked on projects in the gaming industry, people who have experience, who would be able to get them started and get them oriented.

Your organization provides a lot of education as well...

We do. There’s tons of education and the local chapter level is a great place to get it. If you’re just getting started, you may not be ready to invest in the full-day workshop or in a three-day conference. The chapters provide one- and two-hour educational courses that can get you oriented. From the building perspective, we have a new site we just launched called www.greenbuild365.org. We have free downloadable video there of all of our master speaker sessions from this year’s Green Build International Conference and Expo. You can hear from some of the greatest minds in the green building community, and on an international scale. Then, in terms of getting a really big dose and a broad perspective on what can be done with green buildings, we do offer the Green Build Conference and Expo every year. It’s in November and this year, we’re in Boston, the 18th through the 21st. It’s three days of an incredible exhibit hall and more than 150 educational sessions-everything from 101 stuff to hearing from bankers about financing green building, green building tours…you name it.

You mentioned earlier the tax incentives in Nevada, and I know other locales like Chicago have done similar things. Do you envision more companies/projects going green if there were more such incentives?

I think the future in which buildings that aren’t green aren’t competitive isn’t far away. I’ve heard more than one person compare the green building revolution with what happened with air conditioning systems 50 or 60 years ago. Then, you had a couple of leading-edge developers in New York City who invested in air conditioning for their buildings. Everybody thought they were crazy for investing that kind of money. But within 10 years, if your building didn’t have air conditioning, you couldn’t lease it. With green building, we’re seeing more momentum, especially among developers, just because you get such tremendous energy savings and water savings off the buildings, and there’s just growing market demand for having a green building versus a traditional structure. I think we’ll see more and more governments adopting green building and putting incentives in place. Certainly there’s more and more talk about the federal level, but the more meaningful ones are at the state and local levels at this point. But at the same time, once this becomes the way things get built, you won’t have incentives to lean on.

Are there people or companies left out there that just consider this movement silly or not worthwhile?

If you think about green buildings as a new technology, and you look at where we are in terms of the technology adoption curve, in the commercial marketplace we’re well into the innovators and have begun working with the mainstream. This past year for instance, we’ve seen a huge surge in educational programs. Green Build in Denver in 2006, we had 13,400 people. (Last) year in Chicago, we had 22,435. There’s still a challenge, particularly if you’ve never built green before, you have a little bit of a learning curve. Right now, a trend we see in the market is that there is more interest in green building than there are professionals that are really experienced in it.

What's your take on projects like CityCenter in Las Vegas and other projects throughout the gaming industry that are involved in green building?

Honestly, the thing that stands out more about what’s been happening in terms of the gaming industry and the hospitality industry over all is that there is just such a surge of interest. We see that in terms of project registrations. And we’re having a lot of great conversations with some of the larger hotel chains. We’ve been in deep dialogue with some of the casino people for quite a long time. There are folks who head up our LEED team on a technical development front that are actually flying out to Nevada once every couple of months just answering questions and helping people who are new to green building understand how to approach it…how to use LEED as a tool-not just as a tax credit, because that’s not what it’s about ultimately-to maximize their operations.