How we use photos to tell stories at USGBC

Share this :   | | | |
How we use photos to tell stories at USGBC

You’ve probably heard the old saying, “A picture is worth a thousand words.” While historians debate the origin of the phrase, the modern attribution is given to U.S. businessman Fred R. Barnard. He allegedly coined the slogan to promote the use of images for advertising on streetcars in the 1920s. Barnard was definitely on to something: Images conjure emotions, associations and memories. That’s why they’re such a great tool for conveying ideas to people and inspiring action.

As manager of our digital asset collection and staff photographer, I’m responsible for capturing, collecting and curating high-quality images. I’ve seen thousands of LEED project images stream in my 17 years here, and staff reach out to me daily with questions about available photos and permissions to use them.

Images considered “usable” for project profiles, articles and ads are high resolution, bright and well focused, featuring interiors, exteriors and sustainable strategies. Since pretty pictures of green building projects only tell part of our story, I’ve seen an important shift in the images we source. In recent years, it’s become all about people.

USGBC’s CEO Mahesh Ramanujam has shared that “our second generation at USGBC will focus on our relevant and reimagined vision: Healthy people in healthy places equals a healthy economy.” To realize this vision, we knew it would be essential to create imagery showing people living, working and playing in LEED projects.

Here are just a few examples of how we use photos to tell our story through digital campaigns, video, our magazine and our website.

The Living Standard campaign

Living Standard is all about connecting LEED, green buildings and all our products to people. Through this campaign, we aim to listen to our communities, share their stories and build a vision for a more sustainable future for all, making visible the tangible and positive impacts that green buildings and green communities have on our lives.

The campaign has a successful storytelling component. Sonja Trierweiler, Director, Living Standard and Digital Marketing, describes how their team was able to use innovative visual communications to inspire action: “Our Living Standard research found three messages that were most powerful in shifting our target groups toward saying they would ‘do more’ to create a healthier environment: promote healthy outcomes, future generations, and planetary stakes.”

Living Standard instagram post

Living Standard features images of human beings over images of plaques, structures or reports.

“This translates not only to effective written communications, but visual as well,” Trierweiler adds. “We found that more inclusive, positive imagery motivates people to take action over images that unnecessarily create cliques, like alienating or unfamiliar figures or political figures. Likewise, images that feature humans—over images of structures, reports, or plaques—and images that demonstrate local, tangible impacts help people make the connection between green buildings and their impact on their own lives. When you identify common humanity in someone else’s image, words, or story, you’re more likely to empathize with what’s being conveyed, look at a situation through someone else’s lens, ask questions of people with different experiences, and take action.”

The LEED v4.1 campaign

Our LEED v4.1 campaign was another great example of visual storytelling that featured people in typical daily scenarios, such as shopping, learning and working in a variety of project types. USGBC Art Director Amy Civetti says the campaign “focused on combining color, typography and photography to create a dynamic ad layout that walks the viewer through the story. We want viewers to feel connected and inspired by these projects and how they have used LEED to create better spaces for occupants, the community and the environment.”

Learn more about the LEED v4.1 advertising campaign.

LEED v4.1 retail ad

The LEED v4.1 ad campaign shows people in typical daily scenarios in LEED buildings.

Video stories

Video is another medium we use to tell stories about our members, sustainability and USGBC. Geetanjali Prasad, Associate Director of International Marketing, leads our video production team.

“Images are a powerful tool that we use in our videos to convey all kinds of emotions necessary to tell the story in the most appropriate way and to hit the right notes among our viewers,” explains Prasad. “Storytelling is a big part of what we do, to be able to connect to all kinds of people around the world, and telling it through bold and expressive images just makes our videos come alive without us being too technical or verbose in nature.”

Many of our projects are a combination of video footage interspersed with strong, editorial images. A recent video companion to a USGBC+ article highlighted Emerging Resilience Strategies in California. To see our full collection of videos, visit our YouTube channel.

USGBC+ magazine

USGBC+ magazine is another way we reach our audience. For the past five years, this publication has combined member stories, project profiles, industry updates, timely infographics, and leadership from the USGBC community. See our recent special issue compilation.

Discovery Elementary School

Discovery Elementary School, the first LEED Zero Energy school, was featured in USGBC+.

Photos play a vital role in the magazine’s impact. Alex Tzoumas, who lays out each issue design, emphasizes that “a photo is a powerful visual introduction that compels your audience to actually read those 1,000 words that make up your story. The more interesting the photo, the more interested the audience will be in your content. Which is why photography is an essential part of storytelling.”

Articles on

Illustrating the subject and mood of a piece is important when choosing the feature images and embedded photos for our articles on, published daily. Using templates created and sized by Civetti, Associate Director of Editorial Content Heather Benjamin and Marketing Associate Claire Dennis select photos to match each article.

“Photos are chosen for their visual appeal as well as appropriateness to the story,” explains Benjamin. “For a LEED project article, we want to choose a photo that expresses something unique about the project, and we want to include people in the picture. For professional education pieces, we pick photos that reflect the diversity of our community—while also showing the reality of the present moment, which is that many people are engaging with us remotely. Similar to social media, on the online articles platform, we have to always be mindful of what is happening in the world and ask how a particular image will be perceived.”

“When looking to include photos in our community content, I focus on the subject of each article and how I can reflect USGBC’s engagement through images,” says Dennis. “It’s great to be able to feature personal photos of volunteer work or local members when possible, to remind USGBC communities of our commitment to people and places.”

These are just a few examples of how we use photos at USGBC to tell our story and engage our audience. Using compelling images allows the readers to connect on a more personal level and see themselves as active participants in our mission.

Do you have a story to tell? We’d love to hear from you at the Living Standard campaign, or if you have recently certified a LEED project, share it with the community by submitting your profile to be featured on Plus, you can share your story on social media and tag us.

We hope that our stories energize, inspire and motivate you to help further the sustainability movement.

Get stock photo advice from our director of creative services