This Issue

Q&A

GregShank_illustration
QandA-

Greg is a proven leader in managing complex design, construction, and operations projects with a focus on measuring performance and building team capacity. He has 18 years experience in environmental science and engineering and the building performance analysis. He is a principal with and president of Altura in Irvine, California.

Q.What are some of the big changes are you seeing in the market right now?
With buildings and real estate, we are seeing the financial markets begin to take a larger role in driving green building performance. Investors are seeking companies that can demonstrate better environmental sustainability metrics than their competitors. And the evaluation of these metrics is becoming more quantitative and sophisticated. As a result, there is a growing paradigm of not only being capable of reporting portfolio environmental performance and carbon emissions but also showing concrete evidence of how you are valuing environmental risk and what projects you are undertaking to position that portfolio for a changing climate.

Q.What are some new green building innovations?
New software ventures are looking to leverage data and the Internet into the green building market almost daily. There is enormous potential for bringing down the cost of a building’s ongoing energy management and customized benchmarking across portfolios, regions, and industry sectors. I am also excited about innovations surrounding occupant engagement in green buildings. In particular, I see some amazing design approaches and uses of technology to adapt to the more mobile workplaces with dynamic and flexible spaces replacing static floorplans.

Q.How and why did you get into green building and LEED?
I was working on a variety of environmental science and technology projects at Disney Imagineering when I got the opportunity to lead a green building initiative in 2000 and 2001 for the design of Hong Kong Disneyland. I found the U. S. Green Building Council (USGBC) and Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) while looking for resources on this project, and I became attracted to how LEED focuses on the environmental factors that go into planning, designing, and constructing our built environment. In 2002, this experience led me to join CTG Energetics and Malcolm Lewis, where I worked with a fantastic team consulting and volunteering with USGBC. Since then, I’ve had the opportunity to help develop the LEED rating system, serve as chair of the USGBC Orange County Chapter, and currently serve as chair of the LEED Steering Committee.

Q.What’s the coolest project you’re working on right now?
Altura is the executive commissioning agent on the new PNC Tower in Pittsburgh, which aims to be one of the greenest high-rise buildings in the world. The building has a mixed mode HVAC design, with an innovative passive ventilation mode activated by its active dual façade. We have deployed analytics software that will be continuously running functional tests on the building as it is completed.

Q.What has been your most challenging project?
It has to be MGM CityCenter in Las Vegas because of the trust needed among the design team that was moving lightning fast. The first time we explained to the dozens of design firms on the project that they needed to specify wood and composite products meeting strict chemical emissions standards, we were told it was impossible. But team members worked with manufacturers around the globe to help them through the chain of custody and/or emissions reporting process. It was only made possible by getting the whole team to trust that we would work hard to make sure everyone’s goals could be met.

Q.Who is your hero in the green building industry?
Malcolm Lewis—he touched so many people and did it with humility and genuine passion. It is his combination of technical skill, emotional intelligence, and humble intent that has served as a model for me. Perhaps the best way to explain it is that after we lost him suddenly to cancer more than two years ago, we have been inspired to continue his legacy every day and hope to pass on his spirit to future generations in the green building community.

Q.Where do you turn for inspiration?
I turn to some of my favorite places in the world to inspire my work life— like Lake Tahoe and the California Central Coast. These are beautiful yet fragile ecosystems that show how our built environment and natural environment need to be valued together and as one flow of resources and functions.

Q.What’s next for green building??
I expect and hope that higher education curricula will soon catch up to the skill sets that are being demanded by the green building industry. For example, the evolution of green building programs has stimulated a strong demand for commissioning of building mechanical and electrical systems, but too few university engineering programs teach the types of systems engineering and integrated energy analysis skills that create the foundation of a great commissioning engineer. In a sense, the green building community has an opportunity to support the establishment of a new integrated science education curriculum to ensure that the design and construction industry can evolve with future demands.