Q&A with Pepper Smith

llustration by Melissa McGill

Pepper Smith joined Davis Energy Group in 2007, managing the residential sustainability consulting and programs group including LEED for Homes, Enterprise Communities, Green Point Rated, and other verification programs. Currently, she is the company’s director of sustainability. She is also the current chair of the GreenBuild Program Working Group and has sat on a number of national USGBC committees. Pepper also taught LERN online courses offered at colleges around the world and at UC Berkeley Extension in their Sustainable Building Certificate Program.

Q.How did you get involved in LEED for Homes Provider program?
I started working on LEED for Homes in 2005 as a production builder where we built one of the first LEED Homes in the country. When I came onboard with Davis Energy Group in 2007, they were already a LEED for Homes Provider (one of the original 12), and I manage that providership.

Q.How are you educating homebuilders on the value of LEED?
Every meeting we have with homebuilders, we discuss green building in general as we gauge where they are on the green building programs ladder. This helps us evaluate if the builder is ready for LEED for Homes or would be better served with a more entry level program. In California, we have our CalGreen building code, which makes it much easier for builders to pursue LEED for Homes as they have already met the majority of the prerequisites.

Q.Out of the eight categories, which is the easiest to achieve?
The easiest categories for a multifamily project to achieve are Locations & Linkages and Sustainable Sites. The easiest for single-family projects to achieve is between Energy and Materials & Resources.

Q.How critical is Integrated Design in the housing industry and the success of LEED?
Integrated Design would actually save builders a lot of money if they would just use it. The hurdle that keeps them from utilizing it properly is the upfront cost and time for consultants to get the best building for the budget and working out issues in design as opposed to in the field. When we worked for a production builder, we actually put this practice in play and we do save money on change orders, last-minute decisions that affected build schedules, and we are able to take advantage of the synergies that are available when building homes—which also saves money.

Q.How has your educational background both in marketing and law helped you in your work?
My marketing and business backgrounds have helped me create a profitable business, after a very big initial investment, in becoming a provider while offering great customer service to our clients and our Green Raters. My environmental law degree allowed me to look at land for developments in a much more holistic and environmentally friendly way.

Q.What is the future of the LEED for Homes Provider program?
The LEED for Homes Provider program is strong with 36 providers across the country. I see LEED for Homes growing with the marketing efforts the providers and Green Raters do in conjunction with USGBC.