Charting the course for sustainable development: Lessons and insights from Greenbuild 2023

This year’s Greenbuild International Conference and Expo, hosted by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) in Washington, D.C., was filled with energy and a staunch commitment to the sustainable building movement. A week filled with spirit, collaboration and reflection, here are my key takeaways that have me looking towards the future and asking, “what’s next?”

LEED v5: The future of sustainable buildings

A notable update emerging from this year’s Greenbuild conference was the announcement of the launch of LEED v5 by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), a component of the next generation of the LEED rating system built on the Future of LEED principles.

LEED v5 for New Construction will be revealed in Q1 2024, and will address key issues of scale, decarbonization, wellbeing, resilience and biodiversity. Notably, LEED v5 presents the unique opportunity for the increased allocation of credits for embodied carbon, underscoring the pivotal role it plays in construction.

This update emphasizes the importance of holistic design and the construction process. Involving and engaging construction managers in the initial stages helps foster sustainable practices at the beginning and creates an end-to-end ecosystem for sustainable building.

Combating embodied carbon through standardized reporting, collaboration and innovation

As awareness and understanding of embodied carbon has developed in the built environment, there’s an increasing focus on monitoring transportation (A4) and construction (A5) emissions and integrating them into life cycle assessment models.

While it can be challenging, estimating these emissions in the early stages of project planning and design processes is vital to determining and achieving the full potential of reducing embodied carbon. This is where standardization, collaboration and innovation come into play.

Skanska recently took a significant step toward this, announcing the creation of the Associated General Contractors of America Task Force on Decarbonization and Carbon Reporting, in partnership with Clark, DPR, Ryan Companies and other organizations.

This taskforce is addressing one of the industry’s most significant hurdles in reducing carbon emissions and achieving net-zero: standardized carbon reporting. By collaborating with industry leaders, this task force will create a uniform industry guidebook and share best practices with both contractors and subcontractors, shaping the future of decarbonization and sustainability efforts within the construction industry.

Technology continues to be a key player in this mission, and the Embodied Carbon in Construction Calculator (EC3 Tool), a product co-created by Skanska with industry partners, has been an incredible asset in tackling embodied carbon.

By identifying low-carbon building material alternatives in preconstruction and helping teams measure and benchmark the carbon emissions resulted from the extraction, manufacture and transportation of building materials, the tool has made carbon reduction approachable and accessible.

When we foster long-lasting partnerships, invest in innovation and prioritize the scaling of solutions and education, we can together meet and even exceed our climate goals.

Measuring the impact of mass timber and biophilic design

Mass timber has certainly become a buzz word within commercial real estate and construction, and for good reason. Building with mass timber can reduce a structure’s carbon footprint substantially thanks to the biogenic carbon sequestration of responsibly sourced wood.


Skanska recently completed The Community Foundation of Middle Tennessee’s new headquarters—a 99 percent mass timber building in Nashville.


It’s a renewable resource that can be sourced locally from sustainably managed forests, reducing vehicle miles traveled. Mass timber can reduce the amount of concrete needed for the foundations of buildings and further help reduce the overall embodied carbon footprint of a building as it is nearly 40 percent lighter than concrete and steel.

The aesthetic nature of wood has also allows for unique architectural designs in building interiors and exteriors, and the biophilic elements have been noted to boost occupant mental health and well-being.

As the number of mass timber projects rise at an exceptional rate in the United States—WoodWork’s Innovation Network map accounts for nearly 1,860 multifamily, commercial and institutional projects in progress or completed as of June 2023—quality standards and reporting for both decarbonization and biophilic impact should be university adopted.

Technology such as drones and cameras can help track how biophilic design impacts the way individuals engage with built spaces, as well as quantify its contribution to the growth of greenery and flora. This information can help inform how mass timber and biophilic design can be optimized in the future.

The decade of infrastructure: marrying resiliency with sustainability

Emerging from the pandemic, it’s evident we have entered the decade of infrastructure, and with that comes a recognition of necessary improvements and funding.

Investment in high-quality infrastructure will not only serve the community now, but for decades to come. Effective communication with federal, state and local government agencies, collaboration with industry partners and stakeholders, and thoughtful policies that ensure stronger infrastructure should not be overlooked.

The incorporation of resilient materials and design must be prioritized as infrastructure improvements are made. These benefits can be two-fold, by providing structural support as extreme weather patterns and disruption become the norm, and by offering carbon offset capabilities as the built world tracks towards net-zero goals.

Bolstering New York City’s shoreline against the impending impacts of climate change, the East Midtown Greenway project will provide a pedestrian walkway and bike path situated on the East River that will enhance waterfront access and bolster open greenspace. It will be the next wave of New York City’s infrastructure.

Built to withstand the rising sea levels around Manhattan, engineered soil is being placed in Silva Cells along the base to collect stormwater, which will simultaneously support the growth of newly planted trees and greenery.

Multi-faceted projects such as the East Midtown Greenway are exemplary models for how resiliency and sustainability can create synergy to provide robust, enduring infrastructure.

Advocating for positive storytelling

While tangible initiatives and innovative strategies are a key to addressing climate change as an industry, collectively reframing how we discuss our progress should be just as intentional, as these are catalysts for future advancements.

Providing the space to reflect on and celebrate the headways the construction and development industry has made to date is key. “Advocacy is slow but can yield big results,” expressed Greenbuild keynote speaker and New York Times columnist Ezra Klein. Shaping Sustainable Places, a podcast about climate and the built environment, is one way that our teams are telling the positive stories occurring in the construction and development world.

Combating climate change and cultivating a greener future is not a one-and-done task, but an ongoing effort that requires all-hands-on deck. Trading cynicism for spirit will not only boost morale but lead to unified success.

Greenbuild only happens one week out of the year. "What's next" is the work that our sustainability team puts in every day of the year. From conducting research and providing consulting services for our clients to sharing our advocacy and expertise with the industry—it’s our unwavering commitment to be good and do better.