To create a building you need to have people who are able to talk about green, and talk about the different pieces of what makes a green building, and to get other people to be on that same wavelength and to understand how these things fit together.

Architects, builders, engineers, interior designers, even real estate agents — these professionals are all likely candidates for being involved with a green building accreditation program. But sociologists? Not so much.

Just don't tell Assistant Professor of Sociology Beth M. Duckles that. || Ask the Experts: Beth Duckles on green building

As an organizational sociologist, Duckles wanted to understand one green building program's rapid rise to national prominence. The U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) is an independent, nonprofit organization formed to promote sustainable building practices, such as energy and water efficiency, the use of recycled and locally produced materials, healthy indoor air quality, and more. The council developed a rigorous certification program called LEED, for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, that awards green status to buildings that meet its criteria. LEED is not the only certification program in the country, but it is probably the best known and most widely used.

LEED's swift rise to prominence after its inception in 1998 intrigued Duckles. "I wanted to understand how they were able to so quickly get this voluntary standard out, how they were able to get it disseminated fairly quickly and fairly widely," she says.

As part of her study, Duckles studied for and passed the examination to become a LEED Accredited Professional, which demonstrates that she understands green building practices in general and the LEED certification system specifically.

"My idea was to try to get a sense for how they went about socializing people to be able to build green buildings," she says. "To create a building you need to have people who are able to talk about green, and talk about the different pieces of what makes a green building, and to get other people to be on that same wavelength and to understand how these things fit together."

Duckles also is interested in how policy affects the growth of green building, and vice versa. "There are a number of reasons why green building is unique as a social movement," she says. Whereas the civil rights movement, for instance, tried to change laws, the USGBC targeted the marketplace. "What I looked at is the bottom-up approach to that, essentially a market-based approach to social change instead of a top-down, policy-based approach," Duckles says.

In interviews with people involved in the green building movement, Duckles heard a common thread: college campuses are an excellent place to have an impact, partly because the buildings are owner-occupied. "We own them and we occupy them and we have fantastic facility management people here who really pay attention," she says.

Students, of course, are the other vital factor. "Having students engaged in that process is really powerful," she says, "because when they graduate and go to other places, they bring that kind of information and knowledge with them - the ability to ask those sorts of questions, to know the supply chains, to know the materials, to try to understand the life cycle of the products we use in buildings."

Updated April 22, 2010

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