GBU’s 2021 Sustainability Symposium

October 6th, 2021

Dear Readers, 

One beautiful Friday at the virtual Sustainability Symposium, William and I learned things. Lots o’ things. We learned concepts, best building practices, and financial motivations! Some of these things included: Transforming communities by retrofitting neglected homes to be energy efficient and healthy….the importance of material circularity for embodied carbon reduction…the necessity of ventilation in every home…and finding resilience in finance by aligning capital with incentives!!!! 

Whoop whoop! What a Friday that was….

To consolidate all of those things into one key “what I learned” takeaway is super hard if you think too much about it. So, I’m not going to think too much about it. Without an overabundance of overcomplicated thought, my key takeaway is simple: The language you use matters. Simple. Yet utterly significant to every single presentation I attended that day. 

If you want to convince a city council that retrofitting 6,000 dilapidating homes and buildings into super energy efficient and healthy structures in 4.5 years is not just a good, but a GREAT idea….then the language you use matters.1

If you want the inhabitants of energy efficient homes and buildings to use the systems appropriately, while also valuing and understanding the ethos of a home built for net-positive and zero operational and low embodied carbon living…then the language you use matters.2

If you want people to give a poop about the air they and their children breathe in their own home…then the language you use matters.3 

If you want financial institutions to see the value in investing in homes and buildings that are healthy for people and the planet….then the language you use matters.4

The symposium’s keynote speaker, Donnel Baird, had a great analogy for his experiences in language-adapting ventures at BlocPower: “The building industry is like ‘inside baseball.’” You need to change your dialect when you speak to people who don’t know anything about or even care about baseball.

While I personally don’t care about baseball, I do absolutley love this photo 🙂 

I completely related to this because I am one of those people who absolutely does not care about baseball. And before I met William and we started thinking about the home we wanted to raise our children in, I absolutely did not care about the building industry. 

The building industry is complicated. There is a lot of math. There are a lot of technicalities. And not too many things can be left to inspiration or interpretation or spontaneity, or my favorite: “eh, let’s just see what happens!” Overall, you have to read the directions. And I hate reading directions…

…Basically, you can’t build a good home in the same manner that I cook dinner…

So, when going to explain something that is very specific such as the building industry, which requires a conglomerate of professionals and is easily transformed by new knowledge, culture… and, well, politics…the language needs to adapt to the person listening to you. 

Lesson learned for William and I? Because we talk to a wide variety of individuals and groups about our beloved project, the language we use must change according to who is listening to us. Especially if we want people to be just as excited about our home as we are!

The range of listeners include….

~Those who see the necessity of Passive House to a better building future, but believe that Living Buildings are an unattainable (and unaffordable) ideal that slow the true progress to a greener world.

~Those who are utterly enthusiastic about Living Buildings, and see Passive Homes as just ‘not enough’ to forward a more holistically sustainable society.5 

~Those who know what Passive House and Living Building Challenge are, and believe that they are both expensive standards that are unattainable to the average homeowner, and a lot of work.

~Those who understand building science and value energy efficiency, but have no idea what Passive House or Living Building Challenge are. 

~Those who think we are literally crazy tree hugging loons and are listening to us either out of obligation…or amusement.

~Those who don’t understand a thing about building science, but they are curious and want to learn.

~Those who don’t understand a thing about building science, and are not curious in the slightest, but they love us…so they at least want to listen. 

None of these individuals are categorically ‘wrong.’ And none of these individuals are categorically ‘right.’ They all have their own thoughts and beliefs that are formulated based upon past experiences, surrounding environments, and internal motivations. As two people who want everyone and anyone listening to us to grasp the words that we say, we must acknowledge these factors ~ both the internal and the external. 

OVERALL, no matter how we adjust our language to those who are listening, we cannot, under any circumstance, talk AT people. We must talk WITH people. Us, and others with passions and morals they want to forward, cannot treat the person they are speaking with like they personally are a part of the problem. Treat them like they are a part of the solution. Because, THEY ARE. Even if they don’t know it yet. 


The end. 

Thanks for reading!


1. BlocPower is doing just that in a city in New York state. And they are looking to expand their efforts to Philadelphia!

2. Penn State University’s Rahman Azari, Professor of Architecture and Director of RE2 Lab, is leading research to quantity embodied carbon in Whole Building Life Cycle Analyses (WBLCA). Ilka Cassidy from Holzraum System LLC used the Tally program to measure embodied carbon and demonstrate the difference between material selections. Her presentation: “Spagehtti Carbon-Era” goes over that work.

3. MaGrann Associates’ Emma Raymont advocates for a truth that is all too often forgotten in our human urge to develop: Housing is the human habitat. The air we breathe while in the home, can be either harmful or helpful depending on how that habitat is built.

4. Fannie Mae is one financial institution who is beginning to finance “green” (specifically multifamily…) homes.

5. In reality though, Passive House design techniques make meeting the Energy Petal of the LBC actually possible. If you have a well-built envelope with efficient systems, you need less solar panels to meet the status of net positive. Some do use a poop ton of spray foam though…


  1. Many owners of older homes incorrectly argue that they do not need ventilation because they have cracks in the walls. They do not realize that air leaks deposit moisture in the walls.

    • Yes! Exactly. William and I come across that mentality so, so often. And, honestly, before I took the time to understand Passive House and its requirements for air tightness AND ventilation, I was of the same mindset! When William first proposed the idea of our home being a Passive House (which was over 2 years ago…it is so crazy to think how long ago these ideas first began…phew! Time flies!), I was like: “No. That doesn’t make sense. How are we supposed to breathe if it is so air tight?” And then I began to learn about the benefits of an air tight, well insulated home with a dedicated ventilation system. My mindset quickly changed to: “Wow. Why aren’t all buildings built like this??”

      Learning…one of the great gifts life continues to give us if we are humble enough to accept it 🙂

      As always, thanks again for being such an avid reader Frank! 🙂

  2. Love that you see and accept so many other perspectives. That is what the world is made up of and makes it so intriguing;)


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© 2020 Sustaining Tree

© 2020 Sustaining Tree