For the past year I have been trying to figure out what the tagline for this year’s Greenbuild “We Are Revolutionary Green” meant. Today I found out. This year is the 15th anniversary of the U.S. Green Building Council and year eight of the Greenbuild Conference. David Gottfried (via film) and Rick Fedrizzi (in person), two of the three co-founders of USGBC, reflected on the “seismic shift in priorities” that the past 15 years represent – in our world culture as well as the organization. Each speaker in the opening plenary stressed how the green building movement is not really about buildings – it’s about people, people taking control of our world, our actions and yes, our buildings.
Boston's Mayor Thomas Menino performed his duty of welcoming the 10,000 (yes, you read that right, 10,000) people in the Hall. But then he spent the next five minutes talking about Boston’s leadership among U.S. Cities in sustainability and declared, “Green building is about more than policy, it’s about people.” In Boston, 74% of the greenhouse gas emissions come from buildings (that’s about 30% more than the national average!). Their green building zoning is helping to create a new green work force, with new skills for these new “green jobs.”
“We are changing people’s minds about what really matters”
Rick Fedrizzi (CEO & President, USGBC) presented the best speech I have ever seen him give, and one of the best I’ve seen anyone give recently. As one of my colleagues commented when I mentioned this, “He didn’t strike me as the type to give inspirational speeches.” Exactly, that’s what made it even more special. I’ll admit it, I was weeping silently when he finished his 20 minutes with “We are the people we have been waiting for.” The underlying theme throughout the past two days has been the monumental change in administration that we all voted into being on November 4th.
“We Need to Recognize Our Revolution”
Certainly the highlight of the conference was the keynote speech by the Most Revered Archbishop Desmond Tutu. The Archbishop, a man of diminutive physical stature, has a smile and an energy even bigger than the group of young children singing and dancing on the stage - the African Children’s Choir. Recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1984, Tutu retired in 1996 but has probably been even more active since. He was so thrilled by us, calling us “fantastic” and the “craziest country he knows.” Here we are, as he said, a country where we’ve murdered blacks by tying them to the back of our trucks and now two weeks ago we elected a “young, handsome black man” as our President. His excitement about our election and about President-elect Obama was palpable. He had us all laughing and crying. He made us stand and applaud ourselves for turning around the moral climate of our country and being the ones who have brought the green movement to the forefront. He told us how his wife wept uncontrollably when Obama was pronounced President and that the “entire world is rapturous by what we did on November 4th.” But then he told us the stories of tribal warfare in Nigeria – wars caused by the diminishing water and vegetation. He told us about the poverty in every corner of Africa and said that he too has a dream, and “that is that children everywhere will know they are members of one family. We will not win wars against terror as long as there are conditions in the world to make people desperate.”
The rest of my day was filled with very technical sessions that I needed for my daily work and I will report on those in my next posting. I will gush a little more though and say that the day started with the inspiration and aspiration of Rick Fedrizzi and the Most Revered Archbishop Desmond Tutu, but then ended on a high note too. I got to meet one of the rock stars of the Sustainability World - Van Jones, author of "The Green Collar Economy". I was 7th in line to get my book signed and after I did I noticed that the line wrapped around the convention center. That's one of the delights of the Greenbuild conference - getting to share your inner geek with 30,000 other like geeks!
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