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It did more than that. It jump-started a national movement.
At first, Berkebile's environmental zeal didn't sit well with those at the top of his industry.
By the late 1980s, Berkebile was energized from discussions with experts around the country. He took trips to the Land Institute to meet with agriculture innovator Wes Jackson. He went to Colorado to meet with green philosopher Amory Lovins, who established the Rocky Mountain Institute. Bill Browning, a green-building expert, was at that meeting. "He [Berkebile] was asking questions about who's doing what in terms of architecture and the green movement at the time," Browning says. "And the answer was no one."
So Berkebile lobbied the American Institute of Architects, a national industry group with more than 83,000 members. He wanted the national board of directors to create a committee to study how buildings could be designed in more environmentally minded ways.
Vernon Reed, a Kansas City architect, served on the national AIA board at the time. In early 1989, Berkebile and Kirk Gastinger were leaders of the local AIA chapter and confronted Reed about their concerns. "Kirk and Bob simply announced they were going to take control of the national conference because they thought the AIA had its head in the sand and was not tuned in to what the real issues were," Reed says. "I tried to calm them down and said, 'We've got to take your energy and work within the system to do some good, so you don't come across as wild-eyed loose cannons.'"
So Berkebile and Gastinger penned a resolution that would establish and fund an environmental committee, the creation of an environmental resource guide for architects and a materials-testing laboratory. They called the measure "CPR: Critical Planet Rescue." Reed says some of the national board members thought the dramatic wording was childish, that the whole CPR concept was gimmickry. They declined to endorse the resolution.
Gastinger and Berkebile began lobbying fellow chapters across the country, rallying enough support to get the resolution through, even if the top brass wasn't behind it. In May 1989, Berkebile and Gastinger took a train to St. Louis to present their resolution on the floor of an AIA convention attended by several thousand architects from across the country. The measure struck a chord, and CPR passed unanimously.
That didn't mean much, though, because the AIA shifted the proposal to an underfunded committee. So Berkebile set out to get funding himself. He took a trip to Washington, D.C., to meet with Bill Reilly, the top administrator at the Environmental Protection Agency at the time. Reilly, who had read of Berkebile's efforts, agreed to give the AIA a $1 million grant for environmental research. "I took that commitment, walked down the street to AIA headquarters and said, 'I'd like you to reconsider. I'd like a real committee, and maybe this million dollars will help,'" Berkebile recalls.
Reed says Berkebile effectively reversed the direction of an organization that was scaling back its environmental research. The new group — the Committee on the Environment — was chaired by Berkebile for the first two years and published the first Environmental Resource Guide in 1992. "I'd go so far as to say the whole green-building movement came from that committee," Reed says.
Green building isn't as expensive or high-tech as it sounds, Berkebile explains. Currently, U.S. commercial buildings devour 70 percent of the nation's electricity, consume 30 percent of the nation's raw materials and spit out 30 percent of America's waste. Green design uses the sun to help heat and light buildings that are constructed with locally available resources and recycled materials. Green buildings also include natural systems, such as native grasses, to suck up runoff and cleanse it of pollutants without the help of a water-treatment plant.