The annual Greenbuild International Conference and Expo has been hosted by the U.S. Green Building Council since 2002, drawing together professionals from across the green building industry. The event includes an expo showcasing the latest green building products, service, and technologies, while tours and workshops provide many opportunities to learn about best practices and connect with sustainability experts. Greenbuild 2017 was hosted in Boston, Massachusetts, carrying the theme “We are all in,” and attracting an estimated 20,000 people – largely comprised of real estate professionals, builders, architects, designers, developers, advocates, students and urban planners.
The multi-day conference kicked-off on Monday, November 6th with workshops, tours and an evening welcome event, and continued through Saturday, November 11th with half-day building tours. The main conference days on Thursday and Friday included plenary sessions with former President Bill Clinton and the brilliant astrophysicist and NYC Hayden Planetarium Director, Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson. While the expo floor provided a hands-on look at high-performance building materials and systems, including glass flooring, indoor air purification technologies, thermally modified lumber, mobile platforms for project management, daylighting systems, microgrid technologies for residential and commercial properties and energy-efficient lighting options, the main speakers delivered motivational presentations that not only asked the audience to model the future they wish to see, but also to wholeheartedly reflect on what it means to push for a more concerted effort behind the evolving green building industry.
President Clinton framed the opening speech with a note on impermanence, stating “there are no permanent victories and no permanent failures in human affairs.” Building on this idea, President Clinton posited that it takes cooperative action to drive positive change, and when met with challenge or failure, it is critical to recognize its temporary nature, to stay focused on goals, and persevere. He discussed the enduring question of how to confront the “other,” to be conscious that we have a choice to aim for a zero-sum game or positive-sum game. The Greenbuild theme of “all in” reverberated throughout the Clinton Foundation’s Founder and Chairman of the Board’s speech, in which he repeatedly referenced the importance of humans’ ability to cooperate and his belief that we can do more together than any of us can do on our own.
Dr. Tyson spoke of several aspects of light in urban environments from his cosmic perspective, discussing “tar beaches” (rooftops and solar reflectance), interactions between light and buildings – in which a setting sun can be perfectly framed by tall buildings in New York City looking down the east-west oriented 42nd street, and the value of a cultural awareness of the world that “can turn a sleepy country into an innovation nation.” He attributed the customary musings on “cities of tomorrow” of the 1960s to the era of space exploration, asserting that we as a culture were thinking this way “because we were going to the moon. We were accomplishing something that had never been done before… an activity we were all participating in.”
At the close of Greenbuild, many attendees walked away with a better understanding of the technologies and services driving green building market transformation, new contacts from across the world, and a renewed sense of purpose in the drive toward a more sustainable future. In a gross simplification, green building is a movement to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions, energy inefficiencies and resource extraction impacts associated with the design, construction and waste industries related to the built environment. The goal is to establish a market that is not only “green,” but economically viable and socially just. Though conference participants are not the individuals or groups who need convincing that current climate science is true and we have serious problems at hand that we must face, attendees are considered to be the drivers of establishing that societal acceptance and cultural awareness.
Once we achieve that, we can work on changing the way we think about our relationship with the world around us and how that will impact the planet’s current and future states. Without forums for collective learning and cooperative leadership like the Greenbuild conference, a critical mass for shifting the status quo might not be possible. While expensive to attend, financial support through scholarships and volunteer opportunities in exchange for free admission make the conference more accessible to those who may not otherwise be able to attend. All in all, the conference was deemed a success, with organizers and participants alike already talking about Greenbuild 2018 in Chicago, IL.
What do you think? What are the benefits of organizing large conferences like this? What skills are needed for agents of change? What role do you see green buildings playing in our cities as we look to the next ten, twenty, fifty or hundred years ahead? How effective is green construction and design in achieving a more sustainable future? Share your thoughts in the comments area below.
Credits: Images by Alyssa Curran and Creative Commons. Data linked to sources.