The M Files

What Ironman Triathlon Taught Me about Green Building Certification

by on Jul.11, 2012, under Construction Services & Building Design, Energy Services, Ironman, Mechanical Contracting

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A rare photo of me on the race podium.

In a few days I’ll toe the starting line at the Ironman triathlon in Lake Placid, NY (Not literally; I’ll actually be bobbing in the water when the cannon sounds). I trained hard. The hay is in the barn, so to speak. My fitness engine is built and ready to be unleashed on the race course. I’m grateful to have finished my training in good health with very few setbacks.

But as strong as I feel right now, I know that the real test will start at 7:00 a.m. on race day. That’s when I’ll start making massive withdrawals from the fitness bank account I’ve been building since winter. On that day, I’ll ask my body to go beyond anything I asked of it through training.

The athletes who perform best on Ironman race day aren’t always the ones with the biggest fitness engines. Almost all competitors show up aerobically fit enough to finish. The athletes who truly fulfill their race day potential are the ones who understand how to make the transition from training to execution. Every year thousands of genetically gifted, extraordinarily fit athletes are humbled at Ironman events through poor execution.

Let me share an example.

There’s an excellent athlete in my hometown of the same age as I. The dude is fast. He crushes me in short events like 5K running races and sprint triathlons. If we were on the same high school track team, I’d barely be fit enough to be his equipment manager. If he’s a Greyhound, I’m a Rottweiler. But we’ve also lined up against each other at Ironman twice. Both times he’s gotten way out in front of me during the race, but I still managed to catch and pass him on the run. Our fitness metrics said that should never happen, but achieving race day potential demands mental and nutritional discipline and resolve beyond anything required through training. He hasn’t yet reached a high level of Ironman execution maturity. When he does, he’ll be on the podium where he belongs.

I’m not sharing this example to boast, but to reinforce a fact: That the accumulation of training points and fitness metrics does not make a high-performing Ironman. If that were the case, my competitor would already be accepting trophies and photo ops from the podium. Taking that essential step from training to execution excellence differentiates the contenders from pretenders on race day.

The same is true of the green building industry.

Anxious to make a marketing splash, we hand out awards, shake hands, and have feel-good celebrations based on how our self-declared green buildings ought to perform. Winners are judged before the starting gun sounds. Why is it so hard to collect actual operating data on green buildings after placed into operation? Often it’s because owners are fearful of admitting their theoretical green Greyhound operates as a middle-of-the-pack Rottweiler.

Thankfully, our industry is slowly catching on to the truth that building performance expectations do not automatically translate into high-performance realities. The USGBC gained credibility when they acknowledged the “green performance gap” several years ago. I’ve offered a three-step plan to increase the odds of attaining high performance on LEED-certified projects. But change comes slowly, and we continue to experience the same old problems.

What other collective steps can we take to advance the maturity of the green building industry? How will we take those difficult but necessary steps from high-performance training to execution?

Having accomplished both, I’m not sure which feat is more daunting: attempting to properly execute an Ironman triathlon, or convert a theoretical building model into high-performance reality. Dealing with the fragmented expertise and motivations inherent on a commercial building project team can resemble cat herding.

Advantage  Ironman.

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  • Conanthelibarian

    Good analogy, but not buying into the whole green concept I don’t expect optimun performance when the goal is artificial and at odds with true science. A lot of effort has been put into the concept of the superiority of barefoot running but the majority of winners win in their foot wear. The whole green movement goes beyond artful shelter to aesthetic imaginations that have more to with diversions than the focus needed to win a race!

  • Dan Kerr

    Thanks Patrick. Just like training plans can’t take the place of racing plans, checklists can’t take the place of sound operating plans. For too many the training plan or checklist is viewed as their execution plan rather than just a ticket to the starting line.

  • Patrick McCrann

    Advantage: your customers, undoubtedly. The gap between plan and performance is often larger than desired, but it’ll never close unless you
    Dive into measurement. I really like your focus and appreciate your kind words!!

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