11/06/2014 11:41 am ET Updated Jan 03, 2015

Living, Breathing History and Morality Through Design at Greenbuild 2014

The U.S. Green Building Council recently concluded the 2014 Greenbuild International Conference & Expo, which took place Oct. 22-24 in New Orleans. The following is an excerpt from USGBC CEO Rick Fedrizzi's blog covering the event and details two of his personal highlights of the conference.

Living, Breathing History

While admittedly biased on the subject, as great as Greenbuild 2014 was, I'm not sure any aspect of this year's conference moved me any more than the magical moment in the closing plenary when new USGBC President Roger Platt introduced eight seminal figures in the green building movement - Bob Berkebile, David Gottfried, Scot Horst, Martha Jane Murray, Tom Paladino, Peter Templeton, Kath Williams and Alex Wilson. They came up on stage and stood, tableau style, stretching shoulder to shoulder across the stage. You can only imagine how I felt as each spoke very briefly about not just where we were as a movement 20 years ago, but where we are today, and most importantly, where we're going in the future.

Their comments were sometimes humorous (Kath reminding us that, indeed, laughter through the tears is the greatest emotion of all as she held up her attendee list from the very first big USGBC meeting in Big Sky, Montana, and told us, even as her eyes watered and voice quivered, that despite the thousands who claimed to have been in Big Sky in 1995, the actual number is 122). And they were sometimes visionary (Scot, everyone's favorite retired opera singer, talking about the world as a stage, and that our future is going to be about creating new content for new stages -- or "platforms" -- while holding up his iPhone and explaining how in the very near future LEED and other sustainability rating systems will be as much a part of daily life -- not to mention as mobile -- as any app on a smart phone). And some were deeply personal (my dear friend and co-founder David Gottfried baring his soul and detailing his own personal moment on the road to Damascus when, after being "struck blind," he finally saw clearly, choosing once and for all to commit himself to a green life).

For those of you who witnessed it, I'm sure you know what I mean. But if you didn't, I hope in reading this today you'll realize just how remarkably blessed we all are in the green building movement to not only be doing work that remains so vital to the future of mankind, but to be doing it at a time when those who laid the cornerstone of our movement are still around to help, teach, guide and inspire us.

Morality Through Design

If you're like me, one of the things you look forward to each week is reading (and often having one or two of your longstanding beliefs challenged by) New York Times columnist David Brooks, one of the most reasoned, measured and yet thought-provoking writers of our time. At the closing plenary Brooks gave an address that one might expect to hear while studying graduate level philosophy at Harvard or Stanford. It was a talk about our nation's shifting values, morals and sense of priorities, many of which differ greatly from generations past, and many of which are embodied and dwell deep within our children, thanks in large part to how and what we've taught them. If Greenbuild has always been about opening our minds, this was a moment in which we challenged our souls. And based on the many comments I've already received, it really seemed to strike a nerve with so many in the room. Among my favorite moments of insight (and as Brooks was talking I immediately related any or all of the following to sustainability, LEED, USGBC, my career, my family or perhaps even life itself):
  • He talked about "eulogy virtues" vs. "resume virtues," explaining that even though we know the former is more important, we focus the bulk of our time and effort on the latter.
  • Brooks said that 30 years ago 70% of Americans trusted their government to act in their best interests. Now the number is 23%.
  • If you're a regular reader of his, perhaps this one anecdote best sums up the duality of his writing. He told how the pilgrims and earliest settlers, all very God-fearing people, saw the abundance of this land and thought two things: they thought God's plan for us could be completed here and they thought they could get very rich in the process.
  • He said that for the first time in history we Americans have become consumed with fame, and that most of those polled listed fame as their third most desired goal in life, behind health and happiness.
  • He talked about how more individualistic and less communal we've become as a society, and how today more American homes have dogs than children.
  • Brooks reminded us what the Greeks always believed: that failure leads to the greatest success, which is learning.
  • He detailed the elements of character, as defined in a long-forgotten book, The Lonely Man of Faith, by Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik. Among those are a consistency of spirit, a grounded nature, and a solid core that is malleable and adaptable, if only by degree, as wisdom and experience grow.
  • But my favorite moment was his talking about that which is possible for a building and its architecture to communicate. Brooks said, for example, that his favorite building in the whole world is the Chartres Cathedral in France, and how when he first saw it he realized it was, indeed, possible to communicate morality though a building. I got chills when Mr. Brooks said that and realized that, yet again, Greenbuild offered us wisdom beyond measure.