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Non-Profit U.S. Green Building Council Celebrating its 20th Year in the SoCal

 

By Laurie Hanson

Helping locals and the world over build a more environmentally conscious tomorrow is the U.S. Green Building Council – Los Angeles Chapter (USGBC – LA) and three of its key members.

For Ben Stapleton, Jennifer Berthelot-Jelovic and Avideh Haghighi going “Green” is more than lip service, it is central to who they are and what they do.

With an extensive and relevant background, Executive Director Ben Stapleton joined USGBC-LA in 2019 to help those already involved or interested to understand and learn more about the Going Green movement.

“We have programs aimed at the green-committed and the green-curious, and we love to explain the what, the why and the how of a green-built environment, because there is no other option but to get involved and learn more,” Stapleton said.

 

 

 

BEN STAPLETON and his son helping out at a USGBC-LA supported community garden project in El Monte.

 

The USGBC-LA is celebrating its 20th year in the SoCal region and was born out of the national U.S. Green Building Council, which has been vital in greening and certifying buildings for almost 30 years.

“The building industry accounts for roughly 40 percent of our greenhouse emissions and yet also offers a tangible, centralized entry point for us to address issues around waste, health, and water,” Stapleton said. “I work in this industry because I believe buildings are a critical place for us to make changes that can have lasting ripple impacts across literally everything else, and that is change we hope to make.”

“The USGBC serves the public by providing a platform for engagement and collaboration, while also providing avenues for education for everyone, from children to industry professionals,” he added.

Serving the Los Angeles, San Bernardino, Riverside and Ventura counties, the USGBC-LA is primarily focused on addressing the climate crisis by creating a more sustainable Southern California for all. This is accomplished primarily through education (elementary school kids to adults), training (for janitors, architects, landscapers, CEOs, agencies, etc.) and workforce development…helping people enter and create a more powerful ‘green jobs’ workforce,” according to Stapleton.

“Once people learn something, they don’t unlearn it,” he said. “We hope to provide education and pathways for people to not only improve their lives where they live, work, and play, but also have a career-making lasting impact doing work in this space.”

The USGBC-LA is based within the La Kretz Innovation Campus in the Arts District of downtown Los Angeles, a location where Stapleton launched and managed the Los Angeles Cleantech Incubator (LACI), leading their operations, finance, and major program initiatives.

“[The} Campus is a really special place in L.A., as an epicenter for sustainability in the region and an iconic green building for the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP), hosting events with prominent leaders, and being home to a community of cutting-edge businesses and nonprofits,” Stapleton explained. “ It’s nice to still be part of this campus, now through USGBC-LA.”

“We have about 500 paid members, but our weekly newsletters – which includes our events, plus those of a number of our fellow organizations are received by about 30,000 people across SoCal, as well as around the world,” he added. “A lot of people watch what is going on in L.A. in sustainability. As it is said, ‘As California goes, so goes the rest of the world.’  And L.A is California’s biggest market.” Anyone can sign up for the free newsletter at www.usgbc-la.org.

Some of USGBC-LA’s most active and best-known members who encompass a range of top engineering, architecture, agencies, electronic vehicle charging, and sustainability consultants and property owners include Southern California Edison (SCE) and LADWP, cities from Santa Monica and West Hollywood to Long Beach, Riverside, Ventura, and Los Angeles.

The USGBC-LA is also equally involved in changing the world with fellow nonprofits such as Theodore Payne Foundation, Building Skills Partnership, LA Promise Fund.

They are also involved with other groups concerned with affordable housing, creating jobs (especially green jobs), urban landscaping, wildfire defense and educating students in schools about the basics of sustainability. Members of the USGBC-LA also emerging professionals to students and the public, all of whom want to know more, according to Stapleton.

Along with their annual two-day Green Building Conference & Expo which recently took place this spring, the organization also averages about 174 or more online programs each year and recently reinstated in-person programming.

“Anyone could attend either day, but the first was directed to our industry with more educational sessions focused on decarbonization, wildfire defense, embodied carbon, emergency preparedness, wellness innovations, EV charging equity and more,” he said. “The second day was directed to the public community with about 30 fellow nonprofit exhibitors addressing urban agriculture and landscape, career opportunities, green school education, building green, BIPOC representation in the industry, youth activism on our climate crisis, and more.”

“We also were thrilled to have the Boyle Heights Arts Conservatory community radio station KQBH 101.5 present providing music, along with a live music performance by AY Young who powers his concerts with 100 percent renewable energy,” Stapleton added.

Benefiting from her education, involvement and membership with the USGBC-LA is Founder and CEO Jennifer Berthelot-Jelovic of A SustainAble Production (ASAP) located in Sherman Oaks. She has been a member since 2008 and was on the Board of Directors for 6 ½ years holding positions of Secretary and Vice President. She started ASAP in 2012.

“When I first joined the USGBC-LA, I could not have been more grateful to join a community of experts, innovators, mentors, colleagues, and most importantly, friends,” she said. “I met so many incredible people who truly wanted to see me succeed in sustainability and wellness. They were supportive and took me in, giving me an organization to call home.”

“I have learned a lot from the USGBC-LA, especially while being on the Board of Directors for so long,” Berthelot-Jelovic added. “This Chapter has taught me how to have a vision, stay the course, and create a community. They have taught me the importance of relationships, partnerships and giving back.”

“I met extraordinary mentors who took me under their wing to teach me and guide me in my new career,” she explained. “My competitors and colleagues have become some of my lifelong friends.”

Her company ASAP is a woman-owned, full-service global expert and leader in bringing sustainability and wellness to building environments and organizations at scale as a consulting firm.

They advocate for creating healthy places for people and the planet through education, innovation, and an intersectional environmentalism approach to sustainability that includes regenerative, resilient, equitable, and healthy spaces, organizations, and communities, according to Berthelot-Jelovic.

“I started [out] in Social Work and have a masters [degree] focused on non-profit management,” she said. “I was burnt out and ended up working in the Entertainment and Music Industry.”

“While working in Entertainment, my boss decided he wanted to build a LEED Platinum/Net Positive Airplane Hangar at the Burbank Airport in 2006, and this became my responsibility,” Berthelot-Jelovic said. “After completing Hangar 25, the world’s greenest aviation facility in 2008, my boss opened a construction company. I spent 4 years at the construction company getting it up and running, learning every aspect of being a general contractor, while being the Director of Sustainability overseeing all of the Company’s LEED & WELL projects.” (LEED and WELL are types of building certifications.)

“I have taken what I learned throughout my social work journey and have woven it into the fabric of ASAP’s DNA,” she explained. “This is why at ASAP, we are one global community, united by our commitment to improve the health of people and the planet holistically. Guided by integrity, empathy, and passion, we use the power of our deep expertise and relationships to create a future that promotes equity, sustainability, and well-being for all people, around the world.”

With her firm’s background spanning social work, psychology, architecture, construction, environmental science and design, project management, and wellness education, Berthelot-Jelovic’s team is well suited to help their clients tackle the biggest societal challenges people face today.

“ASAP’s foundation as a company is rooted in the values of social work [with] the conviction of taking care of others, especially our most vulnerable populations,” she explained. “[It] is not only our civic duty, but one of our highest callings.”

What drew Berthelot-Jelovic to USGBC-LA was their numerous opportunities to give back. As a member of their Green Schools Committee, she has helped local schools in several ways including teaching, speaking, and supporting sustainability competitions for students.

“I think that one of the populations we [ASAP] have most enjoyed helping is [with] youth,” Berthelot-Jelovic added. “[In] our commitment to future generations, [we] built 17 raised garden beds at a local school. [Our commitment] had us volunteer to create a free store at a school where students needed these resources. We worked with students in sustainability competitions to help them understand what is possible.”

“USGBC-LA is so diverse in opportunities that anyone can find their place and feel welcome,” she said.

Outside the local area, ASAP has teamed up with an international non-profit organization called buildOn whose mission is to break the cycle of poverty, illiteracy, and low expectations through service and education. To date, buildOn has constructed more than 1,800 schools in eight of the most economically poorest countries on the planet.

“I started my journey with buildOn in early 2017 by saying ‘yes’ to my first trek to Nepal with the buildOn team ‘Build it Forward’ at the end of 2017,” Berthelot-Jelovic said. “The team lived with families in a remote village while building a school with them. I said, ‘yes’ again and traveled to Malawi, Africa on my second trek with the team in the summer of 2018 to build a second school and latrines.”

The ASAP team, our families, clients, and partners will be traveling to Malawi in the summer of 2022 to build our first school as a company and team,” she added. “ASAP is built on a foundation of Equity, Sustainability and Wellness. Our partnership with buildOn supports our [ASAP Gives Back] goals and

commitments in so many ways. Our team will be fundraising to build a school in Malawi and pay for an adult literacy program. We will travel to Malawi as a team to work with the local community to build [it], while living in their homes, learning their language, and becoming a part of their community.”

Early in Berthelot-Jelovic’s sustainability career, understanding what “Going Green” truly meant was not easy for her. She said there was “greenwashing and confusion” about what was truly sustainable, and asked herself, “Where should we focus our efforts?”

“Sustainability encompasses so many areas and topics and that can be really overwhelming when you are just starting your career,” she explained. “When you are as passionate as I am about sustainability, you can find yourself trying to know everything.”

“The USGBC-LA provided me a way to focus my efforts in a concentrated and impactful manner, while having the ability to be involved in so many areas of sustainability at the same time,” Berthelot-Jelovic said. “The Chapter helped me to learn about true sustainability and how to be an advocate for the transformation we so desperately need in our built environment, organizations, and communities.”

“If I had to guesstimate based on the numbers we know from our (ASAP) projects and portfolios, as well as from our give back commitments, [we’ve helped] somewhere between 750,000 to a million people,” she added. “Though most of these people were not aware of it, they benefitted indirectly from my time with USGBC-LA.”

“Our clients and the people we serve are constantly benefitting from my involvement with the USGBC-LA Chapter for all of these years,” Berthelot-Jelovic said.

Another member who has benefitted from the USGBC-LA is Avideh Haghighi, the founder and creator of ZERO.HOUZ in Long Beach. She has been on USGBC-LA’s Board of Directors for one year now and a member for a few years. As a licensed architect specializing in sustainable design for the last 10 years, she earned her bachelor’s degree from Woodbury University and is currently lead sustainable design at ZGF Architects, a firm leader in the nation.

 

AVIDEH HAGHIGHI stands in front of her Long Beach home named after her company and called ZERO.HOUZ.

 

 

“ZERO.HOUZ is my new venture to electrify existing single-family homes,” she said. “I embarked on this journey a year ago. [It] is my new venture [and] was born out of my own journey to switch my Long Beach home from gas to all-electric. [It] has become a platform for me to engage with homeowners, local communities, and professionals (realtors, builders, etc.) about the importance of zero emissions homes.”

A year ago, Haghighi purchased the 99-year-old bungalow in Long Beach that was originally built for oil workers during the 1920s oil boom. As irony would have it, she had a vision to transform it into the most sustainable clean energy home though it sat sitting atop oil fields.

“Through sharing my retrofit journey on social media platforms (Instagram and Facebook – @zero.houz), I have been able to engage and inspire other homeowners to do the same,” she explained. “ZERO.HOUZ

was recently featured on Spectrum1 News channel highlighting some of the reasons homeowners should consider going all-electric.”

“When I embarked on this project, USGBC-LA staff and network were immensely helpful in connecting me with resources, whether [it was with] homeowners who pursued their own green home journey or professionals who could advise and help move the project forward,” Haghighi said. “I was also invited to host a booth at the annual My Green Building Conference and Expo as a way to engage the local community.”

“Recently, USGBC-LA launched a ‘Green Homes’ committee, a platform for bringing together industry professionals whose mission is to make homes greener,” she added. “This committee is already attracting a lot of diverse professionals, from realtors to architects and builders. USGBC-LA also has a Net Zero Accelerator program that fosters innovation in green building technologies. These innovations will play a key role in making every home a green home.”

To simply inspire everyone to make the transition to healthier, all-electric homes, Haghighi simply says,

“Your next Dream House is electric.”

And as for what USGBC-LA Executive Director Ben Stapleton says about the future, “We are working hard through our Green Affordable Housing Program to provide education and resources for residents in low-income communities while also working with entrepreneurs and startups in this sector to help accelerate solutions to market that can help us achieve a net positive future.”

“We are working to broaden and diversify the green building movement and believe that everyone should have a seat at the table to address some of our past inequities,” he added. “We envision a more sustainable region for all, but that really starts with people.”

For more information

about the USGBC-LA

and to learn about the what, the why and the how

of the Going Green sustainability movement, please visit online at www.usgbc-la.org.

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