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Radical Confidence: Pushing Greener Buildings with VERGE

<p>Rob Watson offers further perspective on the VERGE program in Shanghai, an overview of two new studies on green building opportunities and a tip of the hat to &quot;Green Ideas, Green Actions&quot; aka GIGA.</p>

On Tuesday, I had the distinct honor and pleasure of hosting the VERGE event in Shanghai, which kicked off 12 hours of livecast programs produced by GreenBiz Group.

The event was held at the Shanghai Environment Energy Exchange and was co-organized by the UN sponsored program: South-South Global Assets and Technology Exchange. The venue was perfect because SEEE is located in a LEED-Platinum certified, former automobile parts factory that now houses the building energy efficiency and environment departments of the Shanghai municipal government, as well as green technology and knowledge firms, including my own EcoTech International.

Fifty professionals from a dozen countries joined me to talk about the convergence of energy, information, buildings and vehicles and transportation technology. The main takeaway I got from the energy segment led by Jonathan Woetzel of McKinsey is that global urbanization is going to be one of the prime driving forces for a converged energy solution, principally because of the powerful problem-solving synergy that happens when lots of people get together.

Mark Evans from JUCCCE echoed this notion in the information session talking about the power of open platform collaborative problem-solving, the Shanghai-based GIGA organization (see below) being a prime example.

The buildings component of the program was led by Michael O'Mara from IBM, who talked about the importance of breaking down silos in building information to identify what's most important to optimize building performance.

Rounding out the sessions by conversation "firestarters"  was Tom Gilligan from Butler Manufacturing, who spoke of trends in supply chain and logistics, which is a very model of the VERGE concept in action.

The second part of the Shanghai program focused on how convergence is playing out in the developing world and the short answer is: very rapidly, but not fast enough. Han Bo of SS-GATE spoke of the rapidly growing transfer of technology between developing countries and Edwin Huang of Suntech, China's largest solar manufacturer, showed how in the last decade photovoltaic costs have declined by 80 percent, while cell efficiency has increased by 50 percent. Xiaoping Zheng from the Chinese planning firm BAZO compared the exciting statistic of 200 percent growth in LEED projects last year in China with the fact that this represents only 4 percent of the large buildings going up in Shanghai.

The highlight for me came at the end, when four young (one was 17!) participants from China, the U.S. and India, voiced their optimism and good fortune to have been born during a time when sustainability and regeneration are mainstream, rather than fringe concepts. Radical Confidence, indeed!

Two new reports illustrate the availability of green building opportunities and the momentum of the green building movement.

The first is the 2011 Green Building Opportunity Index, a joint effort of Better Bricks and Cushman & Wakefield, which once again shows San Francisco leading the vanguard. Initiated in 2010, the GBOI examines 10 real estate markets and weighs them according to six variables ranging from office market conditions to "green culture." In addition to reviewing twice as many markets as last year, compilers of the index further refined their analysis methodology and inputs.

Overall, San Francisco scored 100 points, Midtown New York was second with over 88 points and Washington, DC, came in third. Portland, Ore., was the leader in the Central Business District office market condition category, which ranks the overall "health" of each CBD market. In the CBD Investment Potential criterion, San Francisco took top honors, while Washington, DC, led in the Green Adoption and Implementation and the Mandates and Incentives categories.

Not surprisingly, five California CBDs -- San Francisco, San Diego, Orange County, Oakland, and Los Angeles -- received top marks in the State Energy Initiative category, reflecting California's leadership in promoting green buildings statewide. Finally, it's easy being green in San Francisco and the three New York markets -- Midtown South, Midtown, and Downtown -- which received top honors in the Green Culture category.

The second study details the recently released results of the Global 2011 Energy Efficiency Indicator survey by Johnson Controls in partnership with the International Facility Management Association and Urban Land Institute. The EEI report very clearly shows an accelerating interest in green buildings, confirming findings of other surveys. (For example, the 2010 IFMA survey that showed a majority of facility managers intend to increase and expand their green programs.) This year's EEI survey found that there was a 15 percent increase in the number of managers who put energy efficiency at the top of their strategies.

Surprisingly (or perhaps not), energy efficiency was a much higher priority in China than in Europe or North America. The survey also shows evidence that the green certification movement is snowballing, with twice as many executives reporting certified green buildings in their portfolio than the previous year. Reflecting the information boom that is a key component of the VERGE concept, over 80 percent of the survey respondents indicated that they tracked energy on a weekly or monthly basis. However, in terms of acting on that data, only about 20 percent use it to take action on a weekly or monthly basis.

Finally, as a further indication of the power of convergence, executives whose companies pursue an integrated strategy on energy and emissions implement four times as many improvement measures as companies that approach the task piecemeal.

This week's Look-Grandpa-I-picked-up-the-$20-bill-you said-was-fake-but-it's-real! award goes to GIGA -- Green Ideas, Green Actions -- for demonstrating the power of crowd-sourced information and buildings to generate a fantastic online building materials education and performance database.

The GIGA database has two basic categories: "GIGA Listed" and "GIGA Rated." According to the GIGA website, GIGA listed materials have "potential as a green material, but are NOT rated and require further research to include rankings, comprehensive green data and statistics." GIGA Rated products, on the other hand, are evaluated across a range of information, such as sourcing, production, usage and renewal. Granted that not all of the criteria sought are provided. But the point of the database is to start with available information using RESET criteria -- which stands for Regenerative Ecological, Social, Economic Targets -- and professional judgment or objective information about the material's net impact, and then build the database over time. Given the importance of materials in moving the VERGE agenda forward, I think the subject would be a worthwhile addition to the agenda for VERGE12.

Webcast sessions from VERGE11 will be archived and available for three months. They can be viewed free with registration.

Image CC licensed by Flickr user Jakob Monstrasio.

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