A Report from the Greenbuild Conference in Chicago – Part 1

Posted on: November 14th, 2007 by Barbara Campagna

November 7th-9th, 2007

In only 7 years, the US Green Building Conference’s Annual conference, Greenbuild, has grown to become one of the largest conferences in our field, with over 25,000 people attending this year. The irony of bringing so many people together from around the hemisphere to discuss how to limit our human role in climate change, is not lost on me, or most of the other attendees I would guess. I will happily stay in denial over how much extra carbon is inflicted on the world by such a huge gathering. How many miles of ice loss at the poles or Greenland could be traced to the gathering of this group? But what’s the alternative? Do we become hermits and never leave our homes? The answer to protection of our world can’t be that we lose all human contact because then why bother? What’s the most sustainable world? Well, probably one without us in it….

What is the actual Energy Performance of LEED Buildings?

A session that evaluated the Energy Performance of LEED certified buildings, managed by the USGBC Director of LEED Brendan Owen, confirmed that LEED buildings are in most cases better on the environment than non-LEED buildings, but the variability is significant according to climate and building type. The biggest energy hogs with the largest deviation from the proposed energy model developed during design, is found in hospitals, laboratories and other high-energy use building types. The problem seems to be that current energy modeling techniques are not adequate to effectively estimate what the actual energy use will be. While gold and platinum-rated commercial buildings are working 45% better than the energy model predicted, the high-energy use buildings are using twice as much energy as predicted. And the improvements by climate location are the least beneficial in hot and humid climates, like Puerto Rico. We can’t give up our air conditioning…and the energy models can’t seem to keep up with what the actual use and impact of a/c in the tropics and semi-tropics will be.

Politics, Cities & LEED

The final plenary session introduced the policies of 4 cities – Chicago, Austin, Albuquerque and Grand Rapids, Michigan. The mayors from each city reported on their initiatives and each one managed to show that the real changes in our country are happening at the local levels, despite the lack of sustainability policy from the federal government. The international community is listening to our mayors in the absence of federal leadership. While the federal government refuses to adopt the Kyoto Protocol, states and cities throughout America have.

Mayor Daley of Chicago discussed the fact that all new municipal projects over a certain size must achieve LEED silver or greater and commented, “There are no municipal boundaries when it comes to global warming”. There are over 3 million square feet of “green roofs” in Chicago including one at City Hall. Chicago has adopted the 2030 Challenge (as created by Architect Ed Mazria, and adopted initially by the AIA - all buildings should be carbon neutral by 2030). www.architecture2030.org

Albuquerque mayor, Mayor Martin Chavez, announced that they have “upped the ante” of the 2030 Challenge by pronouncing that they will also achieve “Waste Neutral” by 2030 and challenged the other mayors to join them. As he commented, “It’s kind of nice to be able to save the planet. It’s a good day’s work.”

Grand Rapids mayor, Mayor George Heartwell, joked about being the small guy on the panel but said what they’re doing in Grand Rapids with adopting a balanced triple bottom line (Equity of Environment, Social Capital and Economy) shows that synergy and energy can bring about results. If it can happen there with a part-time mayor, it can happen anywhere. Just last week five building projects (4 new and 1 rehab) achieved LEED certification.

Austin mayor, Will Winn (“yes that’s his real name”!) reminded everyone that Austin adopted the first green building program back in 1990, proving that early that you could marry architecture with energy. In Austin they’re working to achieve “zero energy homes” because isn’t equity in your house better than paying a utility for coal?

Mayor Chavez summed it up best when he called for a national moratorium on the construction of all new coal burning power plants.

A Revolution

USGBC President Rick Fedrizzi thanked all 25,000 participants and concluded that
“The question is not ‘Should we build green?’ anymore. There is no other way to build, no other way to live.” And USGBC Vice President Michelle Moore paraphrased Thomas Jefferson to close the conference: “Every generation needs a new revolution, and this one is ours.” Next year’s conference is in Boston, November 19th-21st, and its theme is “We are revolutionary green”. www.greenbuildexpo.org

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Barbara Campagna

Barbara A. Campagna, FAIA, LEED AP BD+C was formerly the Graham Gund Architect of the National Trust in the Stewardship of Historic Sites office. She is currently a sustainability consultant to the National Trust and can be reached at bcampagna@bcampagna.com.