Q&A with Bryna Dunn

As the firm’s director of sustainability planning, Bryna is able to exclusively focus on advancing the implementation and effectiveness of sustainable and energy-saving design strategies. Admired for her passion to protect the natural environment while improving the built environment, she has become one of the region’s foremost experts on integrating green concepts into facility designs.

Q.How and why did you get into green building and LEED?
I have always been concerned, from a young age, about the disconnect between our built environment and our natural environment. I grew up in a military family and moved around a lot as a child, and so I saw a lot of different development patterns and rates of natural destruction. It took me until graduate school to realize that I wanted to work with the folks who design our built environment—these folks have such an amazing ability to see and shape the future. I wanted to be the part of that conversation that asked about the trees, and the water, and the energy demands, and the human health impacts. I decided the best way for me, with my background in biology and environmental science, to be part of that conversation was to work with the designers and the architects themselves. Lucky for me, as I embarked on my career as a lone biologist in an architecture firm, the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) was also embarking on their important journey with the launch of LEED v1.0. As it turns out, lots of people wanted in on this important conversation and it has been very rewarding to be a witness to the significant changes in the design and construction industry since the turn of the millennium.

Q.What has been your most challenging project?
Moseley Architects works predominantly in the public sector, designing education, local government, and detention/correctional facilities. Each of those markets has its own challenges, but the most challenging perhaps has been introducing “green” concepts to the detention/correction market. Jails and prisons, which operate 24/7/365, use a tremendous amount of resources—especially water and energy. They are also a building type that taxpayers, and therefore government authorities, are not terribly excited about throwing a lot of money at. At Moseley Architects, we have been fortunate to work with many clients in this market who are open to the conversation about how to save water, save energy, and improve the safety of the officers in these facilities through green design strategies, without breaking the bank. This effort, in the early years, was extremely challenging… but after being able to demonstrate with multiple projects that you can green a jail or prison in a fiscally responsible way, it perhaps has been among the most rewarding outcomes of my career.

Q.Which is your favorite LEED Credit? Which is your least favorite—and how would you fix it?
I don’t know that I have one favorite LEED credit, but I do know that I get really excited when one design solution is powerful enough to contribute to or earn multiple LEED credits simultaneously (and no, it’s not about the points… it’s about the fact that one decision can positively influence multiple aspects of green design!). For example, I love talking about design strategies like green roofs and cisterns because they address multiple issues surrounding sustainable sites, water efficiency, and energy performance all at the same time.

I think my least favorite credit, historically, was the Measurement and Verification credit of v2 and v3 fame, mainly because I am not sure anybody truly knew what was required in terms of compliance and documentation. I am a huge fan of the collection and analysis of building performance data (just ask my colleagues, who will readily tell you what a data junkie I am), but the way the requirements were presented in past versions of LEED was terribly confusing. I think the v4 prerequisite and credit language goes a long way to simplify the requirements for the building owner and design practitioner while still getting at the core objective, which is getting people to understand how buildings use energy.

Q.Where do you turn for inspiration?
I turn to the children in our world who are going to inherit an Earth that is in need of a lot of fixing. When I speak at local elementary schools, I am always amazed at the awareness and insight of this next generation. With questions and commentary about space junk, landfill life spans, energy security, and rainwater pollution coming from third and fourth graders, I am sometimes rendered speechless. When we host middle and high school students in our LEED Platinum office building to talk about environmental issues in building design, and they ask me how they can get a job like mine in a building like the one I work in, I know they share my concern and determination to improve the relationship between our built and natural environments. And when I get calls and emails from college students trying to determine their path in this world, wanting advice on how to get a job that will improve our collective environment, I know I am in the right field and working for the right company. These are the experiences that keep me going.

Q.What’s next for green building?
The immediate “next big thing” is net-zero buildings, starting with net-zero energy and spreading to net-zero water and net-zero waste. A few years ago, the mention of net-zero energy buildings was typically met with a quizzical look and a statement to the effect that nobody can afford that. But the mood seems to be changing, as does the market, and net-zero doesn’t seem to be crazy talk any more. LEED has successfully transformed the market enough over the last decade and a half that people are now ready to talk about concepts like how we get to net-zero on a much larger scale. I believe we are ready to embark on the next phase of our journey to becoming a sustainable world, and being able to talk about new concepts like net-zero and net-positive is an important step.