The Great Balancing Act: A Candid look at the Business Case for Decarbonization, Material Health and Circularity – Greenbuild 2020 Session Review

ChuckLohreArchives, Greenbuild

As the green building movement has matured, and an awareness of the urgent problems at hand – climate crisis, material toxicity, resource depletion, systemic racism, and now pandemic – has expanded, the list of sustainability attributes that clients are requesting has grown to seemingly unmanageable lengths. How can the green building community prioritize, balance, and consolidate market demands for meaningful and measurable positive impact?

Bringing together Kingspan, Google, and the Sustainable Purchasing Leadership Council, this session will unpack the issue of complexity and mission creep through a focus on decarbonization, circularity, and healthy materials – three of the most in-demand environmental sustainability frameworks. We can agree that the goal is to develop building materials that marry structural function and integrity, resource efficiency, health/wellness, and potential for recovery and reuse. Yet, as recent R&D highlights, it is implausible that these attributes can always be fully aligned and optimized in the same ways for every product/building type. Through case study and conversation, our intention is to share current best practices and tools for evaluating relevance, impact, and complexity in order to balance and align (or layer) multiple attributes in business decision making, design, and specification at both product and building scales.

We will help the audience discover connections they may not have understood or pursued between these sustainability frameworks. We will provide examples for how owners/specifiers/manufacturers communicate these materiality and impact choices clearly and compellingly. And, of course, we will discuss how each of our organizations motivate and engage in research to better understand how attributes can better align and complement each other toward a more holistic result.


Explain the power and impact owners have in driving the market forward with the proper focus and targeted communication with the supply chain.

Discuss the progress made in relation to material health, embodied carbon and circularity while highlighting the potential for conflicts among these attributes (and some tools that can help avoid these conflicts).

Summarize challenges and timelines for manufacturers working with suppliers to adopt best practices (based upon the commitments many are publicly disclosing).

Analyze and understand the full ROI looking beyond first cost to the midterm and long term impacts of taking no action.



Brent Trenga
Director of Sustainability
Brent has truly run the construction industry gamut serving in various roles including Architect, Developer and even project owner, allowing him to fully understand the sustainability ecosystem. As Building Technology Director for Kingspan North America, Brent is committed to reducing the environmental impact of business operations, products and services through continuous improvement and environmental transparency.

Since 2015 Brent has led Kingspan North America’s material health and transparency program while driving a culture of Healthier Building, Healthier Planet, Healthier People across Kingspan’s global footprint.

Brent also leads Kingspan’s Planet Passionate program looking after the America’s, supports strategic planning for the business development group and provides insight on current and future sustainability initiatives keeping Kingspan at the forefront of our industry.

Sarah O’Brien
Director of SpecialIinitiatives and Stakeholder Engagement
Sustainable Purchasing Leadership Council
Sarah O’Brien is Director of Special Projects and Stakeholder Engagement for the Sustainable Purchasing Leadership Council (SPLC). Ms O’Brien’s career has focused for 20 years on sustainable purchasing and supply chain issues, working with healthcare, government, and enterprise purchasers and suppliers, with a special focus on the procurement of more sustainable electronics.

Ms O’Brien joined the SPLC in October 2018, serving as Director of Programs and Interim CEO through 2019. Prior to joining SPLC, she was Director of the Clean Electronics Production Network (CEPN), a multi-stakeholder collaboration on elimination of worker exposure to toxic chemicals in the electronics supply chain. A purchaser member of the original multi-stakeholder team that developed and launched the EPEAT sustainable procurement tool for electronics, Ms O’Brien spent a decade spearheading global purchaser and manufacturer engagement with the EPEAT system for the Green Electronics Council.

In the early 2000s, Ms. O’Brien developed and managed the Environmentally Preferable Purchasing program of the nonprofit Hospitals for a Healthy Environment (now renamed Practice Greenhealth) and served as a Senior Outreach Associate for INFORM’s PBT-free purchasing program, working with states across the country to reduce their procurement of products containing mercury and other persistent toxics. Ms O’Brien holds a BA from Yale University and a Masters degree in anthropology from Temple University, and is a former Board member of the National Pollution Prevention Roundtable.

Robin Bass
Sustainability Programs Team Lead
REW Real Estate & Workplace Services, Google
Robin Bass leads sustainability programs for the built environment at Google. Her team is charged with delivering against three priorities for Google’s global real estate portfolio: Accelerate Carbon Free Buildings & Mobility, Advance Circular Systems and Cultivate Healthy Spaces & Places. Prior to working at Google, Robin was an architect in San Francisco. Her new passion is bringing social equity, diversity and inclusion to the forefront of her work.

By Chuck Lohre, Editor Green Cincinnati Education Advocacy

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