Day 1 highlights: Why the future of VERGE is in the cards

We kicked off the dialogue with Facebook's energy czar Bill Wiehl. Turns out Wiehl -- who is leading the company's data center strategy and more -- has more than just saving gigawatts on his mind. He's also thinking about how the social network can be used to encourage positive change among its billion members, given evidence that shows change can be motivated by the actions of family and friends.

"One role of social media is to surface that kind of largely invisible behavior and make it more of the behavioral norm," he said.

Brewster McCracken, of the demonstration Pecan St. Project in Austin, Tex., drew parallels between the expansion of the smart grid to the expansion of cable, broadband internet and mobile applications. In order to drive innovation, he said, third parties need access to new technology to drive innovation. That's what his project has done with the smart grid -- and it's showing the potential for the future.

And the potential for smart buildings' contributions to sustainability were highlighted via the case study of the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission (PUC) building, which has forged new ground by securing the permission to treat its own wastewater, using advanced wetland technology as a "Living Machine," harvesting its daylight and creating a self-healing building that is projected to last for 100 years.

PUC Project Director Shelby Campbell and building architect Michael Rossetto (of KMD Architects) shared not just the building's green achievements -- but also the challenges it took to make the vision a reality.

"If the leaders don’t do it, then it won’t become commonplace and these strategies won’t be tried and reach the marketplace," Campbell said. "Developers have to have cost certainty and certainty on returns. This building represents so much of what the future of buildings is going to be.”

Next page: A vigorous exchange