Collaborative Sustainability: How Jane Henley Leads Green Building

By PowerHouse Growers | Visionary

Today, many new buildings are approached as living, breathing entities that not only mitigate environmental damage, but repair and renew their surroundings to leave the environment in better shape than before they were constructed. Visionaries see the opportunities to improve upon what we’ve created – and continue to create – in our cities. One such leader, Jane Henley heads up the largest international organization for green building advocacy, regulation, support, and collaboration as the CEO of the World Green Building Council.


A voice for sustainable communities, Jane envisions “a world in which all people have the opportunity to live, work, and play in buildings that are efficient, healthy, and sustainable.” Since becoming CEO of the WorldGBC in 2010 Jane has used her platform to communicate the economic, social, and environmental benefits of green building. Her message is driving forward the necessary changes to building standards and values.

Jane herself first realized the importance of healthy cities through sustainable design when she was living in Norway in her early twenties. Not knowing before what sustainability was, she could see its importance and knew that the rest of the world could benefit from these practices. She hasn’t looked back since. Guiding her is her belief in the principle of Karma which has undoubtedly given her the ability to formulate sincere working relationships aligned by common vision, in large part due to being a woman in a traditionally male-lead industry. “In the green building movement, we recognise that ‘partnership is the new leadership’. Women have a talent for collaboration, and that we cannot make progress unless we all work together,” says Jane.

This collaborative approach has allowed Jane to overcome the challenges in trying to push forward the movement. “We listen to divergent views and learn from them. We recognize that we need the critics as much as the cheer squad if we are to transform the industry,” says Jane.

For those in the early stages of their sustainability careers, Jane advises to make connections first through your local green building council. Secondly, Jane suggests “follow the path less travelled: the future is in the hands of new ideas, and new ways of connecting and working together.” As for the advice she receives: “Advice implies there is a roadmap we should follow. I get inspiration from people doing amazing things around the world every day.”


Q&A With Jane Henley, CEO of the WorldGBC

Thank you to Jane Henley for taking the time to give us her perspective on some important questions about the current state and future of the green building industry. Her insight is helping people around the world make sustainable changes for a better future.

PHG: What is the future of the WorldGBC and how do they plan to stay ahead of the curve?

JH: “We currently have 100 green building councils representing 25,000 organizations working together to reduce the environmental impact of our buildings. We estimate that five per cent of the world’s building stock is now certified under a recognized green building rating system. However, five percent is not enough. In the next 30 years, we’ll double the size of our current built environment – and most of those building will be in developing nations. There has never been a better time to get this right.”

We have solid evidence that green buildings consume less energy and water, emit less greenhouse gases, deliver better quality assets on conventional budgets and generate higher returns on investment.

PHG: What is the future of sustainability?

JH: “As the green building movement has matured, we’ve gained a deeper understanding of how the ‘triple bottom line’ value of green buildings has shifted the emphasis from ‘planet’ to ‘people’ and ‘profit’. Consequently, the conversation is now geared around how green buildings deliver on social priorities such as employment, productivity and health, and on economic priorities such as return on investment and risk mitigation. Today, green building is increasingly seen as a business opportunity, with client and market demand, and brand recognition being the dominant forces.

We have solid evidence that green buildings consume less energy and water, emit less greenhouse gases, deliver better quality assets on conventional budgets and generate higher returns on investment. However, most business costs are not found in bricks and mortar. When energy costs account for just three per cent of your budget, a 50 per cent saving doesn’t make those around the boardroom take notice. However, when salary costs amount for around 80 per cent of any organization’s operating costs, finding ways to improve the productivity, health, and wellbeing of staff, and reduce sick leave and staff turnover gets the board’s attention.

While we know that 70 per cent of a building’s whole of life value comes from improved productivity and health benefits, we haven’t been able to ‘monetize’ this. We are currently working on a report that will ‘measure’ the previously unmeasurable. This new project aims to provide best practice guidance on the type of green building features – such as daylighting, ventilation and indoor office environments – that enhance productivity and performance. This report, which we hope to release later in 2014, will help industry, organizations, and governments make better investment decisions about their buildings.”

PHG: How do you “sell” green?

JH: “While sustainability is in everyone’s interests, when many people hear ‘green’, they think they are going to lose something – that they will have to stop driving their car, cancel the overseas trip, and live in the dark. Few people outside our industry actually understand what terms like ‘low carbon’ or ‘zero emissions’ actually mean. Selling sustainability is simple if we concentrate on what people gain – such as cleaner, fresher air, more productive, pleasant workplaces; healthier, more connected communities; and more money to spend on thing other than energy bills. We all want these things – and greener buildings and communities can help us get there.”

PHG: How you do you see agriculture fitting into urban planning & green buildings?

JH: “Firstly, we are beginning to see urban agriculture integrated into the fabric of buildings, with edible ‘green walls’ and vertical gardens providing food sources while also acting as shade and improving the thermal efficiency of buildings. Secondly, as we find better ways to improve the efficiency and liveability of our cities, we can safeguard farmland that may otherwise be vulnerable to development.”

We have solid evidence that the classroom environment can affect a child’s academic progress over a year by as much as 25 per cent. 

PHG: How can we best instill the importance of building green in children and schools?

JH: “We have solid evidence that the classroom environment can affect a child’s academic progress over a year by as much as 25 per cent. We believe that every child deserves the opportunity to attend a healthy, high-performance green school.

Through the WorldGBC’s Global Coalition for Green Schools, we are working on the ground in more than 50 countries to equip communities with the resources and support they need to transform their schools.

There are many inspiring projects underway – including the Green Apple Day of Service, that mobilizes thousands of communities around the world to participate in local school service projects, and the Global Twinning Initiative that matches two same grade-level classrooms from different countries to facilitate student conversations around sustainability. Our goal is to ensure every child learns in a green school within this generation.”

PHG: What do you feel is the most important foundation for future generations to build on?

JH: “We need to operate with a new set of values. We need to recognize that, as the world shrinks, we are increasingly interconnected. Businesses can no longer operate in isolation, but must think about the long-term impacts of decisions that affect people, communities, and the environment.  Businesses are beginning to think more about the legacies they’ll leave future generations. This will be the foundation for a new set of values that will transform our buildings, communities, and cities.”

Feature Image: GPT Group’s Green Star-rated headquarters in Sydney, Australia. Image via GPT Group.

About The Author

PowerHouse Growers
PowerHouse Growers teaches you how to sustainably integrate urban agriculture into your cities, businesses, and homes. We provide clear solutions and benefits for better health, increased productivity, and lower environmental impact. By connecting you with experts, we bring awareness to solutions that may not be top of mind.