If you think the green movement has lost steam, think again! Now in its twelfth year, near 30,000 attendees flocked to Philadelphia last month from 90 different countries for the U.S. Green Building Council's Greenbuild International Conference and Expo dedicated to green building. Whether you are a student, new to the industry, or an experienced practitioner, there was something there for you. Hundreds of sessions, discussion forums, and nearly 1,000 exhibitors representing green products and services were sure to wet your green appetite. Attendees left more inspired than ever to create healthier spaces to live, work and play. Let's look at a few highlights:
1. The USGBC doesn't stand still. Although it is tough to create the definition to define an entire industry, it is imaginably even tougher is to keep it going. Perhaps the most exciting thing about the conference is how invigorated even the most experienced green professional felt leaving. USGBC keeps expanding our understanding of what is really needed to move toward a sustainable future. LEED has gotten some criticism in recent years, but the first to define an entire industry can be expected to! A LEED silver building might be better than nothing, but we are now looking at net zero (for those green novices reading, this means a building with zero net energy consumption and zero carbon emissions annually). Keri Luly, green expert with Allsteel furniture mentioned, "I'm even hearing references to net positive -- Wow!!"
2. Transparency is key. From a product perspective, much effort in recent years has been to create systems that make it easy to compare one so called "green" product to another. This focus was evident throughout the exhibitor booths and sessions with much discussion focusing on EPD's and like documents intended to put a "nutrition label" on products so we better understand what is in them. Many architects and designers remain understandably confused with the plethora of product certifications out there and how to compare apples to oranges. "Greenwashing" is still rampant. In 2010, BIFMA rolled out the level rating system designed to make it easy to compare furniture products, which is still gaining momentum. This year UL Environment, one of the leading testing, certification and consulting providers announced a partnership with the USGBC to make EPD's more comparable. UL Environment also created an exciting tool called The Green Building Toolkit which was designed with downloadable tip sheets and a Sustainable Product Guide that helps you understand how to leverage products to earn the maximum amount of credits. While there was no shortage of companies eager to tell you their transparency story, there was an interesting undercurrent of transparency vs. resiliency. According to Giselle Walsh with MDC Wallcoverings, "Several sessions focused on recent intense storms and rebuilding after such disasters including materials which made sense to use in hindsight." Obviously better construction means more buildings standing after the storm. Many manufacturers are continuing to struggle with the availability of green ingredients in order to make their products both green and resilient.
3. No rock is being left unturned. I recently spoke with Holley Henderson, author of Becoming a Green Professional, consultant, and presenter at Greenbuild. While the green focus began in the corporate realm and has expanded to schools, healthcare and even homes, one session this year even focused on faith based communities and buildings. Per the USGBC website, "Through this campaign, we aim to connect faith-based organizations to resources, expertise and initiatives within USGBC's community as a practical response to the ideals of stewardship, care for creation and realization of human potential." Of 400,000 faith based buildings in the U.S., we could identify about 100 houses of worship in the LEED system. Only 31 of them are LEED Certified. Holley and the USGBC partnered together to create 5 case studies to illustrate not only the natural link between goals of faith based communities and green, but one example even shows how a LEED Platinum building aided in doubling the congregation! It is again inspiring to see not only how the definition for what is "green" is evolving, but even where and how we can apply these concepts.
Greenbuild 2014 will be held in New Orleans, Louisiana. Calls for proposals are already active! If you missed this year, click this link to start planning for 2014!