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Greenbuild: Back on Track

[Editor's note: The original version of this article incorrectly identified the initiative in which Cynthia Roberson has participated. She has participated in the Green Phoenix effort, launched by the city of Phoenix to engage businesses and residents in sustainable activities. Green Phoenix is not affiliated with the USGBC Arizona chapter, the host chapter for Greenbuild 2009.]

There's been a good deal of grumbling about Greenbuild in the last couple of years and, truthfully, I've done my share: too big, too much trouble, too self-reverential.

But in Phoenix this year, I must say that Greenbuild has weathered its growing pains successfully, even for those in the nosebleed seats at the evening events.

A good deal of the improvement has been due to the effective use of technology. Those endless sign-in lines from years past are gone, thanks to automated terminals.

The new Phoenix convention center has been a happy choice for 2009, offering a clean, attractive setting that has been readily accessed by the city's newly-introduced light rail system. Pedi-cabs were in abundance, too, in the convention center area. Jason Holt of EcoCab gave me a fun "human-powered" spin.

It might not be egalitarian, but I applaud Greenbuild's decision to provide premium seating on a "pay-to-play" basis at the evening plenaries. I sat in the bleacher seats listening to Al Gore, but I was thrilled to be liberated from the cattle car conditions that characterized nights at Greenbuild in years past. The folks in premium seats on the floor of Chase Field looked to be having a good experience (white-toqued chefs were serving them), but so were my team and I. The beer and roasted peanuts were a classic bite of Americana, and the big screen view of Al Gore, Sheryl Crow and other notables was excellent.

All of this is impressive in that 2009 Greenbuild attendance reached at least 28,000. Keeping a crowd of this magnitude comfortable is no small achievement, and I'm impressed. Hats off to USGBC and Phoenix Convention officials for a great performance this year.

Greenbuild also provided an opportunity for Phoenix to garner local support for new green initiatives. Phoenix Mayor Phil Gordon has crafted a green vision for the city that includes green schools retrofits, and the establishment of eco-science ctrs. Rio Salado, until recently a dry riverbed, has been transformed into a wetlands, a park and an eco-learning center with the help of the Army Corps of Engineers.

My source on matters green in Phoenix was Cynthia Roberson, who has participated in the city's Green Phoenix activities through her involvement with Kids Place, which provides a safe place for at-risk Phoenix youth. (Kids Place is seeking funding for the development of a sustainable learning center.) The hosting of Greenbuild 2009 has helped the city's green vision to blossom, Cynthia says, and is bringing the area development community to an appreciation of energy-efficient and eco-friendly building. The next generation of development on Phoenix will be considerably greener, Cynthia predicts.

The heart of the green building movement, not always evident these days, surfaced movingly in Phoenix. A November 12 tribute celebrated the lives of Gail Lindsey and Greg Franta, two luminaries of the sustainable design movement who died -- both far too early -- in 2009. A memorial education fund has been established for Greg's daughters, and Gail's family has asked that her memory be honored at and through support of the Komen Foundation's Race for the Cure. As architect Bob Berkabile reminded us in his memorial remarks, true sustainability includes giving, loving and finding your path. It's a message that bears remembering: Real excellence in green building is more than a matter of credits and checklists.

Leanne Tobias is founder and managing principal of Malachite LLC, an advisory firm that specializes in the development, leasing, management, financing and certification of sustainable or green real estate on a global basis.

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