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What Greenbuild is Bringing to Chicago

Next week, nearly 20,000 building professionals will gather at the new West Building in Chicago's McCormick Place to dig deep into the booming field of green buildings.

The 2007 Greenbuild Expo, created by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) in 2002, is the nation's -- if not the world's -- largest conference and exhibition dedicated solely to green building practices and products. The sixth annual conference makes its first appearance in Chicago; previous gatherings were held in Austin, Pittsburgh, Portland, Atlanta and Denver.

Chicago is a fitting location for a conference on green buildings: the city has made a major push in recent years to make itself as green as it can be. The city is home to at least 171 LEED-registered projects, including Millennium Park, the Chicago Center for Green Technology (which we covered on GreenerBuildings earlier this year), and Milliken's Merchandise Mart showroom.

The conference itself is a showcase for the latest thinking and innovations in green buildings, and has become the must-attend event in the industry.

"I have to smile when I think about the naysayers that thought we were overreaching in our aspirations for Greenbuild," said GreenerBuildings Editor at Large Christine Ervin, who was also the first president and CEO of the USGBC. "Let's just say that we had to cut off attendance at 4,500 at our launch in 2002 and that was just the beginning. This year in Chicago, the USGBC is expecting more than 18,000 participants. No doubt, some will feel that Greenbuild is getting too big, too mainstream in some respects. And no doubt, we'll see more regional shows emerge. But there will always be a role for one giant industry gathering -- and this is it."

The Word from the Podium

Greenbuild offers more than just exhibits and product showcases. The speakers at Greenbuild 2007 make up an impressive roster of political and industry leaders, thinkers and innovators.

Headlining the conference is former U.S. President Bill Clinton, who will be keynoting the opening plenary on Wednesday morning. Among his many accomplishments, earlier this year he announced that his foundation had created a $5 billion program to renovate buildings to improve their energy efficiency and resource use.

The C40 Large Buildings Retrofit program, as the initiative is known, brought together mayors of 40 of the world's biggest cities with five leading global financial institutions to fund an ambitious retrofit and improvement program to diminish the impact of buildings on the environment. Buildings have been estimated to make up 40 percent of total global greenhouse gas emissions, and in places like New York City, the electricity, oil and gas needed to run the Big Apple's buildings can create as much as 79 percent of all metropolitan emissions.

Another gathering of political leaders will take place at this year's Greenbuild conference. The closing plenary on Friday morning will be the Mayor's Roundtable on Sustainable Cities and Green Communities, which brings together some of the U.S. participants in Clinton's retrofit initiative. Chicago's mayor, Richard Daly, will join Martin Chávez from Albuquerque and Austin's Will Wynn to discuss how their sustainability programs are bringing immediate economic and environmental benefits to their communities.

But it wouldn't be a green buildings gathering without architects on the agenda, and Greenbuild 2007 brings together some very big names. Jaime Lerner, who was responsible for developing and then running the eco-city of Curitiba, Brazil, a city with environmentalism at the heart of its self-identity, according to a profile in the New York Times earlier this year, will be part of the conference's Master Speaker series, and will present his work on innovative planning solutions to social and environmental challenges.

Another master speaker this year is Thom Mayne, founder of Morphosis and the 2005 Pritzker Architecture Prize Laureate. Mayne will speak on Wednesday afternoon about how the architecture world can push concepts of design and sustainability beyond present limits and into the future.

The emergence of a bona fide green building industry emerge in recent years is a great achievement for the USGBC, said Joseph Romm, a Greenbuild master speaker and senior fellow at the Center for American Progress. Romm will speak to Greenbuild attendees about some of the latest climate change science, scale of the effort needed to solve the problem, and related impacts that building designers will need to take into account.

Romm, the former Acting Assistant Secretary of the U.S. Department of Energy's Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, told GreenerBuildings that climate change will play an increasing role in how architects design buildings.

Forest fires, for instance, can cause more destruction because new homes are increasingly built in interfaces between suburbs and wooded areas. Building design will have to address more persistent droughts, hotter temperatures, coastal flooding and intense rain events, Romm said.

"If you're going to build a building that lasts 50 or more years, you will have to design for those things," Romm said.

With Green Building Councils now in 11 countries, it's fitting that several international representatives will present at the conference. Maria Atkinson, the co-founder and founding CEO of the Green Building Council of Australia and Prem C. Jain, the recently elected chairman of the India Green Building Council, will both share their insights on green buildings around the world.

Awards, Announcements and Unveilings

Having present so many of the world's leaders and opinion-shapers on buildings and the environment present, Greenbuild 2007 will be a stage for businesses, NGOs and groups of all stripes to announce new products and new initiatives.

The marquee event for Greenbuild will be the official unveiling of the USGBC's LEED for Homes program. Having been in development and in the pilot phase since August 2005, the LEED for Homes program has already certified 336 houses, with at least 8,000 more waiting for certification. More than 500 builders across the country are enrolled in the program, according to a recent article in USA Today, which also gives an overview of what LEED homes look like in projects nationwide.

In what has become a much-anticipated annual feature of the Greenbuild conference, BuildingGreen, the publishers of the GreenSpec Manual and Environmental Building Ñews will announce its top 10 green building products of 2007 on Thursday. Last year's list included lumber salvaged from beneath man-made lakes; electronic, tint-on-demand glass for windows and skylights; water-conserving showerheads and irrigation controls; high-tech evaporative air conditioners and more.

The Forest Stewardship Council will present its 3rd annual award on Wednesday morning to a building project that has used an exceptional amount of FSC-certified wood, and the group will also showcase its first-ever display house that uses 100 percent FSC-certified wood products.

The Holcim Foundation for Sustainable Construction will also present at the conference, delivering its 2007/2008 Holcim Awards for Sustainable Construction to innovative and sustainable construction projects from around the world.

Among the many announcements companies will be sharing at Greenbuild, the USGBC will announce the results of a survey on green real estate the group conducted with the Building Owners and Managers Association and Real Estate Media on Wednesday afternoon. The USGBC will also unveil its National Green Building Research Agenda on Thursday morning, the results of months of developing and prioritizing the most areas the group will focus its efforts on in coming months.

Each of the thousands of attendees at Greenbuild are coming for different reasons and from different areas of expertise, but among the uniting factors are a passion for green buildings and a belief that designing sustainable homes, offices, factories and communities is the linchpin of efforts to survive climate change.

As for the Center for American Progress's Joseph Romm, he foresees a future where in a decade or two, climate change will dominate all public policy. "I would not be surprised if we have a very strong national building code some day," Romm said, and though it could take 10 years or 20, he believes it is inevitable. "It will happen during lifetimes of most people in the room."

Throughout that time, Christine Ervin expects the conference to endure, to grow, and to thrive. "Greenbuild is the pulse point of the green building industry," she said. "Very few events bring the palpable sense of excitement that you experience here. And just like the market it serves, Greenbuild just keeps reaching new heights."

The Greenbuild Expo runs Nov. 7-9 at the new West Building in Chicago's McCormick Place -- an appropriate location, considering it is, according to BD+C magazine, the country's largest LEED-NC certified building.

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