Here’s what happened at Greenbuild 2015

Mike Hower

When asked why he trekked to Washington, D.C. to give the keynote at the U.S. Green Building Council’s Greenbuild 2015, director James Cameron told GreenBiz it’s because the event is filled with professionals who are “doing well by doing good.”

“You’ve got a room of 10 or 12 thousand people who work in industry and business and architecture with a conscience,” he said. “They understand the issues and they’re trying to be solution-oriented. I think what you’ve got here is people who are leading by example by making money and doing good at the same time.”

While it might seem strange that a filmmaker best known for directing "The Terminator," "Titanic" and "Avatar" would headline at an event crawling with architects, engineers and other building nerds, Cameron also happens to be a staunch environmentalist. Although these days he tends to focus on food sustainability, he also works with several NGOs advocating on climate change, energy policy and a long list of other issues.

“If we don’t get business and industry behind these issues, we’re not going to be able to solve them, or not be able to solve them in time,” he said. “There are other things that need to be done: raising public awareness, increasing public commitment to the kind of changes that need to happen.”

As a media person, Cameron said his job is about raising public awareness about climate change and other sustainability issues through education. This can either be done through entertainment — such as the Avatar films — or through documentaries like Years of Living Dangerously, which conveys how climate change already is affecting human lives at a personal level.

"When people ask me if I’m optimistic, I say ‘no,’ but I’m hopeful," Cameron said. "There’s a difference. Hope is an emotion; optimism is a logical analysis of the likely outcome. The likely outcome doesn’t look good, but I’m hopeful that humans are resourceful, and if it pushed hard enough, then we’ll come roaring out of the corner with some pretty ingenious solutions."

And while you should be less hopeful that Cameron will be making summer blockbusters anytime soon about the adventures of Arnold Schwarzenegger fighting climate change via the built environment, green buildings are playing an increasingly more significant role in the transition to a low-carbon economy.

Green buildings multiply worldwide

Green building construction continues to double every three years, according to the World Green Building Trends 2016 report by Dodge Data & Analytics with funding from United Technologies, which was released at Greenbuild.

Some of the leading drivers of this growth are client demands, environmental regulations and an enhanced awareness of the occupant and tenant benefits of green buildings, the report said. Healthier neighborhoods, higher return on investment and employee recruitment increasing also contribute to the proliferation of green buildings.

“Green building is about reducing energy waste and water use; it’s about creating jobs and sparking economic growth; it’s also about protecting the health of our children for the future,” said Julián Castro, secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, during the conference. “Green building is also not a slogan, it really is a solution.”

Social motivators for green buildings include encouraging sustainable business practices, supporting the domestic economy, creating a sense of community and increasing worker productivity, the report said. From an environmental perspective, reducing energy consumption and reducing water consumption topped the list as important.

But the report also found several barriers to green building development, such as higher perceived costs. These barriers vary by geography — in the developing countries of the global South, a lack of public awareness and political support is a key barrier, while in the U.K., the perception that green is for high-end projects only was cited as a major hurdle.

Tomorrow’s energy-efficient homes have arrived

By 2016, nearly one-third of new single-family homes in the U.S. will be energy and natural resource efficient, designed to reduce overall impact on human health and the environment, according to a report by McGraw Hill Construction, released at Greenbuild.

 

Many consumers are going a step further and striving for net-zero energy homes that use renewable energy solutions, like solar power systems, to offset all or most of their energy consumption. The number of net-zero energy residential and commercial buildings doubled between 2012 and 2014, according to the New Buildings Institute.

This trend is expected to continue as solar becomes more accessible and affordable — granted accessibility and equity issues remain. Since 2006, the price to install solar has fallen by more than 70 percent, and innovative technologies are making solar panels increasingly more efficient, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association.

Introducing: a new program operator consortium

At Greenbuild, four major green building stakeholder organizations — ASTM International, ICC Evaluation Service, NSF International and Sustainable Minds — launched the first program operator consortium in the industry.

The consortium will serve as an expert resource and advocate for creating product category rules, reviewing life cycle assessment reports and verifying and publishing environmental product declarations.

According to a statement announcing the consortium’s formation, members will pool resources; leverage existing relationships; jointly conduct outreach, marketing, education and communications; and promote the overall use of PCRs, LCAs and EPDs in the marketplace.

Given the proliferation of program operators, complex reporting requirements and increased demand for these services, the consortium is intended to create uniformity that will significantly reduce market confusion.

Manufacturers, design professionals and others involved in green construction will begin to see co-branded, verified EPDs from the consortium members. It will provide value to decision-makers when specifying materials and products while helping manufacturers gain greater visibility for their product transparency work, the consortium said in a statement.

Green buildings generate greenbacks

During a politically charged opening address to the Greenbuild audience, a fiery Rick Fedrizzi, CEO and founding chairman of USGBC, lamented ongoing Republican efforts to frame climate change action as economically deleterious.

Fedrizzi fired back with a hail of green building stats derived from a recent USGBC study from Booz Allen Hamilton.

By 2018, green construction will account for more than 3.3 million U.S. jobs, he said, more than a third of the U.S. construction sector. And those jobs will generate $190 billion U.S. dollars in labor earnings alone.

By 2020, the entire new construction market is expected to be worth $10.3 trillion dollars, and close to 40 percent of that new construction will be green — almost $3.8 trillion dollars.

“The truth is, there is a powerful, conservative pro-business case for conservation and action on climate change, and nobody understands this business case better than the people in this room,” Fedrizzi said.

“The green building industry has shown the world that sustainability is profitable, and that profitability is sustainable.”

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