Greenbuild bills itself as the world’s largest green building conference and expo, and it certainly was big this year in New Orleans—not only in attendance, but also in scope. Speakers at the conference clearly demonstrated that the green building industry is growing beyond the physical structure.
The US Green Building Council’s recent partnerships with several other rating and benchmarking systems, including the WELL Building Standard®, GRESB, the Sustainable Sites Initiative and PEER signifies that the organization is expanding its focus to encompass human health, financial performance and systems.
The Green Building Certification Institute (GBCI), which was originally formed to administer the LEED rating system, will become a one-stop-shop for independent oversight of sustainability certifications and professional credentials.
Indeed, human health and wellness was a hot topic at the conference, with a lot of discussion centering on the impact buildings have on their occupants – and how project owners can measure that impact.
In keeping with this theme, author and alternative medicine advocate Dr. Deepak Chopra led a packed house through a 12 minute guided meditation during his Master Series talk.
Dr. Deepak Chopra facilitating his Master Series talk
Another sign of the shift to a more holistic view was the excitement around the LEED Social Equity Pilot Credits, which won the USGBC Malcolm Lewis Volunteer IMPACT! Award and are now available in the pilot credit library. These credits encourage teams to address social inequalities in the built environment through strategies such as using materials from suppliers or manufacturers that ensure basic human rights for their workers.
It also became clear at this year’s event that the LEED Dynamic Plaque will be a game changer. Unveiled at Greenbuild 2013, the tool has undergone a year of refinements and we now know that it is more than a digital plaque, a dashboard, or even a certification program: it connects the best of LEED to real-time performance data that will allow the USGBC and the green building industry to increase their climate mitigation impact logarithmically.
At the closing plenary, USGBC President Roger Platt acknowledged that this incredible growth could not have happened without those who had been involved since the beginning. Tom Paladino, the CEO and founder of Paladino and Company, joined an extraordinary group of green building pioneers on stage to discuss the future of the sustainability industry.
Tom Paladino (on screen and fourth from left) at closing plenary
Tom was also one of five individuals honored at the annual USGBC Leadership Awards Luncheon. The Award recognizes outstanding individuals and organizations committed to advancing green building design, construction and operations.
I invited my colleagues who were in New Orleans to give their top takeaway of the conference. Here’s what some of them had to say:
Brad Pease, Director: Even after 11 years in attendance, I feel that Greenbuild continues to be the place where you can connect with thought leaders and identify how to stay abreast of the latest and greatest innovation trends. Whether this happens through USGBC roundtable discussions, a walk through the tradeshow floor, the USGBC leadership awards, or simply by attending the opening plenary, you really get a sense on how much change occurs year-on-year and how fast and far the industry can move.
Dieter Siperko, Senior Analyst: There seems to be a growing awareness of the link between personal health and equity and the health of the environment (just people learning the triple top line essentially). From a company owner’s perspective, it makes sense to focus on employee health as it reduces insurance cost and improves productivity. USGBC has clearly realized the opportunity this presents, which led to a major theme of personal well being throughout GB. From the WELL certification to the choice of speakers (Deepak Chopra).
Divya Natarajan, Associate Consultant: My big takeaway was that buildings are not just physical things but ecosystems in which people live. A common thread through sessions and my discussions with people was about how sustainability is all about enabling people to live well by engendering healthy behaviors in a harmonious environment. As practitioners of sustainability, it is important that we commit authentically to promoting social, economic and environmental equity in a way that compels people to become better versions of themselves.
Rachel Sowards, Director: Greenbuild this year seems to be about inclusion and evolution with the new rating systems, renewed focus on occupant experience and significant expansion of the Greenbuild community. This movement provides another opportunity for our industry to expand our reach and help our clients and colleagues add sustainability in a way that aligns to their core values. Industries like hospitality will have more options and opportunities to bring green into the guest experience, the bottom line and beyond.
Julia Raish, Manager: My takeaway was that the best buildings provide an optimum user experience – they are human-centered, provide diverse opportunities for interaction / work / collaboration and emotional response (that is, pleasurable to the senses). As such, we need to create spaces and places that have longevity in the future – or that people want to replicate – because of the experience that was created there (whether it’s healthy, biophilic, or other).
Megan Sparks, Consultant: My number one take away was learning how much acoustics and personal space can have an impact on worker productivity.
Stephanie Heliker, Senior Marketing Coordinator: Because the setting was New Orleans, I felt a lot of discussion revolved around both resiliency and social equity – creating community-based sustainability. While the city was being rebuilt, and rebuilt green, the mindset was beyond efficiency and reducing the carbon footprint, but largely about sustainable and equitable development within neighborhoods. The new built environment is providing communities (and often low-income communities) with the ability to thrive instead of just survive, especially in the wake of large weather events like Hurricane Katrina, and is setting examples for other cities, such as New York, as more climate change related events are sure to come.
Alicia Cushman, Senior Project Manager: It appears the industry is expanding into a more holistic but at the same time practical and applicable view of sustainability (for example, the WELL Building Standard). I have to say I like where it is going.
Thulasi Narayan, Manager: There is a great sense of renewed action in the sustainable community and a thirst to get going. The sustainability community has all these pent-up cutting edge ideas that they have been working on and thinking about when the economy was in bear-mode. Given the current state of the market, it appears owner aspirations, customer and investor demand for sustainability and market growth have all finally aligned. Combined with the abundance of enthusiasm and ideas, the sustainable community is rearing to act and implement. This trend was clearly visible in the sessions on stakeholder engagement, selling sustainability within your organization, the new products and services in the trade floor, and the personal stories that people told in the conference.
What was your favorite theme or takeaway from the conference? What learnings do you plan to apply now that you’re back in the office? Share in the comments below, or tweet us on Twitter at @paladinoandco.
Maggie Santolla is Director, Marketing & Communications, for Paladino and Company