The eighth annual conference of the U.S. Green Building Council -– Greenbuild –- has taken over Boston’s new Convention Center, bringing over 30,000 attendees to the South Boston waterfront. One of the most complicated things to do at this conference is to decide what to actually go to – during each time slot there are up 20 different sessions from which to choose. Tuesday was Member Forum and International Forum Day. The Conference proper began this morning with a keynote speech by Archbishop Desmond Tutu.
The USGBC Member Forum
The Member Forum Day is a tradition at Greenbuild. Employees of all member organizations are welcome to attend a plenary session and the USGBC business meeting free of charge. Last year, my first Greenbuild, I arrived too late to attend the Member Forum. This year’s plenary was first rate and got at the heart of the two key issues of our time –- the climate crisis and the economic crisis. The panel was moderated by Steve Curwood, executive producer and host of NPR’s “Living Earth” who asked a lot of challenging and insightful questions. The panel was composed of Ashok Gupta, air & energy program director and senior energy economist at the Natural Resources Defense Council; Mindy Lubber, president of Ceres (a coalition of investors and environmental leaders working to improve corporate environmental, social and governance practices) and Stockton Williams, senior vice president at Enterprise Community Partners.
Steve Curwood set the stage by asking the panelists to discuss how we impact climate change given the current debacle of the world economy. He rhetorically questioned whether we can pinpoint Hurricane Katrina as the bellwether event and harbinger of both climate change and the economic Armageddon. There is no doubt that the challenge is big, but to quote Ashok Gupta, “A crisis is a terrible thing to waste.” The session began with a four-minute video of President-elect Barack Obama (taped for the Governors’ conference last week) discussing his policies for climate change. Obama proclaimed that we need to build a green economy and we must be aggressive and relentless. We must reduce our carbon footprint by 20% prior to 2020 and 80% by 2050.
The solutions for both crises –- climate and economy -– seem to be interwoven and inseparable; we need to invest in education, innovation and recovery. Ashton Gupta declared boldly, “The solution for both crises lies in IMPROVING THE PERFORMANCE OF OUR EXISTING BUILDINGS. Only through retrofitting our existing building stock will we make an impact on greenhouse gas emissions.” It was comforting and exciting to hear someone other than a preservationist acknowledge and embrace our mantra.
Stockton Williams commented that low income communities are and will be disproportionately affected by the climate crisis, as was demonstrated with Katrina. The scientists are now saying that we have even less time than we thought to change our ways –- maybe as little as three years. While the optimism now is palpable, it will take more than Executive Orders and political will to change our ways –- we all have to strike balances with our behavior and actions.
Mindy Lubber suggested that our president-elect should immediately us an Executive Order to appoint a sustainability czar. And looked at all of us and said, “If 30,000 people can come to Greenbuild in the middle of the greatest economic crisis of our era, there is hope.”
All the panelists felt the current collapses -– economy, banking, auto industry -– have been 20-30 years in the making, driven by lack of good policies and strong regulation. Because of the fragile nature of our economy, we need to reshape it now. What we are seeing is that we are tied together.
Steve Curwood concluded the session by directing all of us to become part of the political will. “We are all here as true believers. We should leave Greenbuild and go to even just one person who is not (a true believer) and conduct an in-depth conversation with him/her about why this is the crisis of our civilization and discuss what we as individuals can do to change it.”
This panel set just the right tone for the opening of Greenbuild -– it was infused with boldness, hope, reality and shock. It made me a little bit scare but even more hopeful. If the Greenbuild conference can jump from 0 attendees 10 years ago to 30,000 today, even though as one panelist commented “A lot about “green” today is marketing and “greenwash”, it does seem that our capacity to change our actions and our world is rising to the top of all we do. Stay tuned for more.
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