Greenbuild Closes with Advice to Focus on Future of Sustainability

Greenbuild Closes with Advice to Focus on Future of Sustainability

Greenbuild 2011 wrapped up with a packed roster of speakers who urged advocates of sustainability and the green building movement not to lose sight of the future while grappling with the challenges of today.

"Don't forget your dream," said polar explorer and environmental advocate Robert Swan, who was the surprise closer in a program Friday that included building efficiency and sustainability expert John Picard and a video-taped message from New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who was among the green building leaders honored during the conference.

The event in Toronto was the tenth annual Greenbuild International Conference and Expo of the U.S. Green Building Council. Though the convention draws an international crowd as its name implies -- this year's estimated 23,000 attendees came from 108 countries -- Greenbulld 2011 was the first to be held outside the United States.

The choice of the location, like many of the discussion sessions during the conference, underscored this year's Greenbuild theme, "Next," the idea of pushing beyond boundaries to work toward a greener future.

At the start of the conference, USGBC CEO Rick Fedrizzi and keynote speaker Thomas Friedman spoke of confronting today's realities -- including lingering economic hard times, political polarization and increasingly strident climate-change deniers -- in order to move forward.

The closing day speakers, who each pushed beyond perceived limits in their own sustainability efforts, offered their vision of what lies ahead and ideas on how to get there.

"We've been told for some time now that there's sweeping change coming, and it's not always the change we want to see," said Picard, credited as a major influence in the greening of the White House during the Clinton administration.  "We're upset today and many of us feel that it's beyond our control, but I'm here to tell you it's not. If there's one thing that centers me, if there's one thing that I know is true, [it's] that I know anything is possible. What I see next is simply the advent, the next arrival, of a generation of new tools, not just smart tools, but genius tools. Not just apps but more like whole atmospheres of apps."

Described as "lightning in a bottle," Picard flashed through a series of what-comes-next scenarios. His subjects ranged from his new startup Soft Power, to the idea of "the fifth fuel" -- "the mining of all the disconnected, unutilized and unseen energy" in the built environment. He also reeled off a list of "next companies." Most of them are "fledglings" that should be nurtured so they can become "flagships," said Picard.

The firms to watch, he said, include:

enLighted, a firm that makes lighting controls systems. The company closed a $14-million-round of funding from Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, Draper Fisher Jurvetson and Intel Capital last week.

Soladigm, the maker of energy efficient dynamic glass that automatically tints to help buildings cool and reduce glare. The firm was among the first to receive an award in the GE Ecomagination Challenge.

Indie Energy, which launched its Indie Energy Network -- an app store for green building energy management -- just days ahead of Greenbuild. The selection includes an app called Sim Tracker that meshes with LEED Online to help building owners get a handle on their property's energy performance.

Cypress Envirosystems, a subsidiary of Cypress Semiconductor, whose wireless thermostat and gauge readers offer retrofit solutions for commercial and industrial buildings that are easily installed and cost 60 to 80 percent less than other products.

Lunera, a digital lighting firm whose LED luminaires, are compatible with several building control systems.

Grundfos and its Water Technology Center, which the longtime pump manufacturing firm, opened last month in California's Central Valley, one of the more thirsty farm regions of the state.

Enmetric Systems Inc., which makes a device that looks like a power strip and helps users manage plug-load.

SCIenergy [Picard is on its advisory board], which is the result of Scientific Conservation Inc.'s recent acquisition of Servidyne Inc. and the melding of the two firms under the name of Scientific Conservation's energy performance management platform.

Hara, the sustainability solutions firm whose clients include Akamai, eBay, News Corp., Hasbro, Intuit and Safeway.

Picard also paid tribute to the late Ray Anderson, who helped reshape the world of business, and Steve Jobs, who helped reshape the world. "Steve Jobs, he was the man, and -- bless him, rest in peace Steve -- he changed the world," Picard said. "People like Ray and people like Steve -- the power of good that they presented will continue forever."

In a program of inspirational speakers, perhaps the most powerful was Swan, who combined wry observations with self-deprecating humor to enliven the final minutes of the conference.

Swan told of how his boyhood dreams of visiting the South Pole and how a promise much later to Jacques Cousteau, who helped fund Swan's first expedition, led a man who had never before been camping to become the first person to walk to both poles -- and to fulfill a pledge that only thing he would leave in the Antarctic would be his footprints.

Swan kept the promise, even though it meant finding the means to haul away the ship that carried him and his fellow trekkers to Antarctica and then sank before they could return home.

The journey left Swan with an abiding commitment to help Antarctica, and more recently to champion renewable energy.

Musing on the gibes of his teenage son, who likes to say that with a click of a mouse, he can summon up more information than Swan ever knew and forgot, the explorer said, "It's not the lack of information that's the problem today. It's the lack of inspiration that's the problem. What we need is sustainable inspiration."

Urging the audience to hold fast to its vision for sustainability, he told his listeners to "commit, believe and invest" in their dream despite the obstacles they face.

Because, he said, "the greatest threat to our planet is the belief that someone else will save it."

Photo CC licensed by Flickr user atomicjeep