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An Interview With John Bendon

GBH News

Read about how and why John got into green building, and his take on the past and future of green building, and the challenges and advantages of building green in Hawaii.

How did you get into green building?

John: I always knew that I wanted to do something for the environment and for Hawaii, having grown up here on Maui, and I had a passion for the outdoors and for the environment. I went to school in Boulder and got my undergraduate degree in Environmental Studies, but I realized that I didn’t want to be a scientist or stuck behind a microscope. But I was still interested in the ecology and the bigger picture. After college, I was working with some developers doing a senior housing community, and I saw just an incredible amount of waste. I just knew that there must be a better way of handling the construction.  I had already worked quite a bit in the construction industry on Maui when I was younger, I knew that there was going to be an increasing amount of construction happening, and I saw a definite opportunity arising.

I didn’t know much about green building until I took a class as part of the masters degree that I got in Real Estate and Construction Management from the University of Denver. I wrote a term paper on green building and a lightbulb went off- it was a big ‘aha’ moment. I could combine my background in construction with my passion for the environment. I researched more about it and became one of the first LEED accredited professionals in the state of Hawaii.

I moved back to Maui and got a job as the owner’s representative in the LEED project in a new building at the Montessori School of Maui. I ended up taking over the LEED process for the school and was able to get a Silver LEED certification for that project. As I learned more about the topics of green building, I realized how much more there was to know about it – then I learned about RESNET (Residential Energy Services Network) – which is basically the science of how buildings can perform more efficiently.

One Friday afternoon I found a weeklong class on the mainland that started on Monday, and booked the class and my tickets right then. I came back to Maui as the very first energy rater on the island, and one of only two in the state. At the same time, construction was about to start on a new LEED for homes project – which was a brand new rating system and the first home in the state was right here in Wailuku. It turned out that the class that I took was the exact training  that they required for that house and started on that project the next week after my class, just as they were thinking that they were going to have to fly someone in from the mainland.

I did a variety of different projects, from LEED for Homes projects, to energy auditing projects, then I realized that there was a big gap in Hawaii for training-  any training that I wanted to do I had to fly to the mainland. Then I got a call from Alex De Roode, the head of SLIM, the Sustainable Living Institute of Maui, who had just recieved a grant for trainings and asked if I wanted to be involved. It was a bit of a hard decision because I wasn’t sure If i wanted to let my proprietary knowledge out of the bag, but I realized that in order to help make Hawaii a better place, the sharing of this knowledge would be essential. So I said yes and ended up teaching these classes with SLIM, and that was the nexus that kicked off a whole series of trainings for the next several years all over the state, and even overseas, from half day to two week long classes. We trained over 2000 people in a two year period. We were the main energy efficiency trainers in the state. Then as those were wrapping up we started getting back into consulting, so we’ve been working with MEDB and the Hyatt project that just wrapped up and here we are now, with a whole list of potential projects for 2015, each bigger than the next!  (more details on these projects coming soon!)

What’s new with green building? What kind of trends or changes have you seen in the green building industry since you started? 

There’s a lot more availability of green products than there ever was – things are easier to get, they are cheaper to get, and there’s a lot more awareness than when we first started.

For example, when we were doing the Montessori project, it was really hard to find cabinets with no urea formaldehyde and now that’s the essentially the industry standard.  Its the same with paints – it used to be hard to find paints with low or NO VOCs and now most paints are available that way.

There’s also been a huge burst of solar energy, when I started out there were many solar companies just starting up, and now that the grid is closing up there’s more focus again on energy efficiency.

What do you think will be the next big advances in green building? 

One of the big changes is a focus on materials and having a better understanding of the life cycle costs, from sourcing to disposal.  There’s also been huge advances in technology, for instance LED lighting, which started as really expensive and not great quality, and now you can go to your local hardware store and get really reasonable LED lights that are really high quality, making it more accessible to everyone.  Also, we’ve seen more integration of smart home technology, with being able to monitor and adjust lighting and cooling and heating through your mobile devices.

Any advice for young people looking to get into green building? 

Start by finding anyone that you can intern with – although there are limited opportunities in Hawaii so this would probably be something that may have to be done on the mainland. There is a wide range of fields in green building, from green energy to materials to sourcing to sustainability consulting, so figure out where your passions are taking you – you can have a green twist to almost anything that you do!

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