This is the eighth part of "Seven Practices of Highly Effective Green Building Consultants," an nine-part series from green building consultant Jerry Yudelson.

Practice #7 of highly effective green building consultants: Sharpen the Saw.

The seventh practice in our blog post series of habits for highly successful and effective green building consultants is what author Stephen Covey called “sharpening the saw.” According to Covey, to sharpen the saw means to preserve and enhance the greatest asset you have—you. It means having a balanced program for self-renewal in the four areas of your life: physical, social/emotional, mental, and spiritual.

I’d like to focus the discussion here on the mental/intellectual aspects of sharpening the saw. The phrase originally comes from lumberjacks, who recognized that they needed to stop every hour or so and literally sharpen their saws when felling timber. Otherwise, the job could take twice as long when trying to cut wood with a dull saw.

With the world of green building changing so rapidly, how do you stay up to date on sustainable design practices, building operations, new green products, and more? I’ve been fortunate over the past seven years, in that writing a dozen books has forced me to interview more than 150 practitioners, review hundreds of green building projects, and attend and speak at more than 50 conferences around the world. I’ve then taken everything I’ve learned and aimed to put it into a coherent format for others to use.

Firms can copy this approach. One firm I know of takes six of its most promising young architects and gives them a six-week sabbatical to travel outside the U.S. and look at leading-edge architectural projects. The journeymen then report back to others at the firm about what they observed and what the firm can use in its own practice. I’m amazed—shocked, really—that  more architecture and engineering firms don’t use a similar approach with their early-to-mid-career ‘stars.’ On the contrary, just trying to get funds to have key employees attend conferences is a struggle in most firms. However, if not from conferences, from which sources should learning about green building arise?

If you are a green building consultant who wants to become or remain highly effective, here are a few suggestions:

  1. Go to the Greenbuild conference and expo every year. It’s the one place where you can find out the most in the shortest period of time about what’s new in the green building industry. I especially recommend that you make time for preconference and post-conference tours and workshops. Of course, you’ll have to put this into your annual budget, and it’s not cheap. But, at the end of the day, what are you selling except expertise? And, where will you gain that expertise?

  2. Read trade magazines and online newsletters, and follow experts via social media. There is a wealth of green building project experience in virtually every issue of every building industry trade magazine, as well as in most online newsletters. Make time to leaf through at least 15 to 20 magazines each month to broaden your expertise, as well as to stay up with trends and ideas that you can use on current projects. Get in the habit of reading three to five newsletters a day, whenever you can squeeze in the time. Follow leading thinkers on Twitter and other social media, to stay up with discussions in the broad worlds of green building, green products, energy efficiency and sustainable urbanism.

  3. Visit local and regional projects and attend local building industry group events. Local AIA, ASHRAE, ULI, NAIOP, BOMA, or USGBC chapters sponsor tours on a regular basis. Most have at least three to four tours a year of leading-edge venues. It’s also a great way to build your network and to get firsthand knowledge you can put to use in your projects.

  4. Take a “working vacation” at least once every year or two and visit some green building projects in other countries. Take a look at the list of LEED Platinum projects in other countries and make arrangements before you go to meet with green building professionals to visit those projects. In writing my latest book, "The World’s Greenest Buildings: Promise vs Performance in Sustainable Design," I was able to visit projects in several countries outside of the U.S., to learn how the green building design process worked differently and to find out which green technologies were most favored.

Jerry Yudelson, LEED Fellow, is principal at Yudelson Associates, Tucson, Arizona. This post originally appeared on While Hanley Wood entered into a strategic partnership with USGBC earlier this year regarding the ownership and management of the Greenbuild International Conference and Expo, the opinions expressed by Jerry Yudelson in this article, including the promotion of the conference, are his opinion alone and were written independently from Hanley Wood as part of the original publication of this series at