Greenbuild 2013: Three signs green building is on the rise

Greenbuild 2013: Three signs green building is on the rise

LEED Dynamic Plaque

Last week, Greenbuild brought together an eclectic mix of green building industry stakeholders, high-profile politicians such as Hillary Clinton, sustainability luminaries, and even rock star Bon Jovi.

As the largest green building conference and expo in the world, Greenbuild focuses on topics that are generally a good indicator of where the green building industry is headed. Experts and master speakers provide inspiration, and education sessions demonstrate successes in the field that give attendees more practical content. Every year, new themes emerge. But this year, there were signs that the green building movement has arrived at an exciting new level.

Here are three takeaways that I found particularly encouraging this year:

1. Health matters more than ever

The demand for materials health and transparency is becoming increasingly more prevalent in the industry, and Greenbuild’s agenda this year reflected this. In addition to a full-day Materials and Human Health Summit, more than a handful of education sessions devoted to the topic, and the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) and UL Environment partnership announcement, USGBC CEO Rick Fedrizzi just announced that they are creating a new Center for Green Building and Human Health.

As I noted in our Greenbuild preview piece last week, LEED v4’s new Materials and Resources (MR) section is providing a big push in this area, and plenty of time was devoted to educating Greenbuild attendees on the ins and outs of what will be required as the industry starts to sharpen its focus here. Even the expo hall included exhibitors labeling their products with green building declarations in preparation for new MR credit requirements.

But perhaps the bigger push is from the private sector, led by Google’s efforts to push product transparency and prioritize employee health. To push the market one step further, Google provided USGBC with a $3 million grant for healthy building materials research last year. While this movement is causing increased tension within the building product manufacturing community, it’s a good sign that the industry is valuing human health, product transparency, and lifecycle impacts more than ever.

2. Focus on outcomes, not just strategies

During the plenary talk about LEED v4 and Performance, Scot Horst, senior vice president of LEED, described the new LEED as becoming more focused on outcomes so that building owners have a better understanding of how to manage their buildings to meet full performance potential.

While this seems like it should be common sense, here’s the context: Under previous LEED standards, projects certified under new construction standards were based on design strategies and energy models that weren’t verified post-occupancy. While there is a LEED standard for existing buildings based on actual performance, there was not a reliable way to bridge the gap between design and performance in all LEED certified projects.

To address this issue, Horst unveiled USGBC’s new LEED Dynamic Plaque, which is currently being piloted in USGBC’s LEED Platinum certified headquarters in Washington, D.C. It’s a Web-based performance dashboard that monitors the energy, water, waste, transportation and something called “human experience” data from the LEED building on a real-time basis, comparing the building with others that are similar locally and globally, then re-scoring the buildings every day.

So, if a new construction building becomes LEED certified after being built, then this dynamic plaque would monitor its actual performance after it was occupied. The plaque would then help the facilities manager track and optimize its performance over time – or risk getting a lower score.

Horst explained that USGBC’s headquarters building dropped from LEED Platinum to Gold after installing the dynamic plaque, which motivated them to address their performance quickly. Watch this video of Horst's talk for more detail.

3. Scalability and context are essential

In order to design, build, and operate in a world affected by climate change, the need for scalable solutions applied within local context is key.

And it seemed that many of this year’s Greenbuild discussions were all about scalability, from addressing portfolio management tools to leveraging the structure of large companies to solve global design challenges more effectively.

The necessity of scalable solutions was particularly powerful during the plenary speech by Ed Mazria, founder and CEO of Architecture 2030. Mazria began by reminding the audience of how much is at stake for humanity in the next 20 years of design choices.

“Getting to carbon neutral is a two-step process," he said. "Step one is design and planning for resiliency, sustainability and low carbon. We can design out 70-80 percent of the energy consumed by the built environment if we know the information and have the tools.” And the second step involves transitioning to renewable energy.

To address this design issue, Mazria announced the launch of a free online platform called the 2030 Palette to help accelerate the Architecture 2030 mission toward building more sustainable, low-carbon and adaptable built environments worldwide. The platform gives building design professionals the tools to take local action – from the regional scale down to the buildings and building elements – in an intuitive and accessible way. By giving planners and architects a giant toolkit for making smarter design choices and a platform to help each other, Mazria hopes to scale green building faster. 

Another example of how the movement is scaling is through its engagement with the international community. As Fedrizzi noted in his keynote last Thursday night, the World Green Building Council now numbers nearly 100 countries and growing.

During Greenbuild's International Summit last Tuesday, it was announced that Greenbuild for Europe and the Mediterranean region will launch in Verona, Italy in 2014. This is big news since it's the first time Greenbuild is going global.

"This new experience will serve as a platform for green building knowledge and shared expertise across continents, while scaling the breadth and reach of global market transformation," Fedrizzi said.

Top image of LEED Dynamic Plaque from Steve Bishop via YouTube