Green Development: An agent of change

Jonathan BurgessJonathan Burgess, a 2006 graduate of the Landscape Architecture (LAR) program, was recruited by a landscape architecture firm directly from his undergraduate studio in Rodman Hall. It was an epic start to a successful career.

Today, Burgess lives in Miami, Florida and works for The Spinnaker Group- a LEED (Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design) consulting company that provides green building and sustainable neighborhood assistance to real estate developers.

As the Vice President of Sustainability at Spinnaker, Burgess oversees a diverse team with expertise in everything from construction management and electrical engineering to landscape architecture and interior design.  Their projects are both national and international.

“We have completed over 80 LEED certified projects around the world,” said Burgess. “Currently we are building  multiple hotel and condo buildings in Miami and across the Caribbean, a Veterans Hospital in North Carolina, a big industrial office building in Kuwait, a Data Center in Costa Rica, and almost 200 other active projects worldwide.”

Although other consultants may walk away from completed developments, Burgess’ enthusiasm for green building doesn’t stop after construction. He instead takes a broader, more holistic approach to community design.

“I am working on what’s called LEED for Neighborhood Development; it’s one of my passions and specialties, aligning with my landscape architecture background,” said Burgess.

As a LEED for Neighborhood Development specialist, Burgess is able to focus on big picture, social issues such as opportunity access and neighborhood bonding that can shape the long-term sustainability of a space.

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“My first LEED for Neighborhood Development project was an affordable housing community in Fort Lauderdale,” said Burgess. “It was in an area of Fort Lauderdale that had suffered from blight and had been ignored by City officials for decades. The people there didn’t have any opportunities, and their housing stock was just horrible.”

For these reasons, Fort Lauderdale’s Housing Authority began redeveloping the area with LEED certified homes. Burgess was later called in when the City wanted to do a master plan of the whole neighborhood- to increase opportunities for transit, to balance housing and jobs in the area, to install urban agriculture spaces such as community gardens, and to create opportunities for walk-ability and better connections to basic services.

Burgess says the renewed neighborhood has had a lot of successes including the creation of an award-winning non-profit that sprouted from the rehabilitation of open garden spaces. Plus the development of an apprenticeship program that teaches the neighborhood’s at-risk youths to build sustainably harvested wood cabinets for local homes.

“Part of the challenge with successful redevelopment is re-empowering neighbors to help themselves and to find opportunities,” said Burgess. “So it’s these kinds of grassroots efforts that made that more of a neighborhood than how tall the buildings are.”

Even after achieving these green community successes, Burgess remains unsatisfied with the current state of the built environment. “Right now, we may be saving a little bit of energy or a little bit of water or improving air quality, but overall, the building’s impact on the planet and the people inside of it are still doing harm. I would like to do more good by creating buildings and communities that are restorative and regenerative in nature, that incorporate living systems for water, that produce net-zero waste, and that are net positive in energy production- they produce more energy than they consume.”

To accomplish this, Burgess advocates for the Living Building Challenge- a new program aimed at change agents who want to, in the words of Burgess, “have a return on environment more than just a return on investment.”

“We started a collaborative here in Florida,” said Burgess. “And the collaborative is meant to engage stakeholders and to train the next generation of designers about what’s next. It’s teaching ourselves as a community of design professionals how to do it [to achieve the Living Building Challenge], and it is meant to highlight local case studies that we can work on.”

As a non-profit, the collaborative conducts research and development for technologies and designs essential to the Living Building Challenge.

“It’s about challenging volunteers to help, mobilizing the design professionals and empowering them with the knowledge they need to design these buildings,” said Burgess.

End Note: For any students or individuals interested in sustainable or green building development, Burgess encourages you to get involved with your local US Green Building Council (USGBC) Chapter. According to Burgess, “The USCBC has really become the clearinghouse- the place for networking, improving education policies, advocating for change, and meeting those groups of people that are trying to work on coastal issues and sustainability.”