2011 Greenbuild - Checking in from Toronto Part II


As a way to summarize and recap the final two days of Greenbuild and the conference overall, I've outlined a number of recurring ideas and themes that appeared in a number of speeches, discussions, talks and conversations throughout the conference.

- Cradle-to-gate: as in that part of the Life Cycle of a material or product that occurs from the point of its extraction as a raw material to the point where it arrives in a building site, including any manufacturing or processing. This concept was discussed in a number of instances and mentioned by architects, engineers and product manufacturers as way to think about confronting the problem of natural resource depletion and developing more sustainable ways to source and create better building materials.

- Invisible-to-visible: the idea that making those typically unseen and hidden aspects of occupants' relationship with their buildings more visible, particularly regarding energy use. By making users more aware of the real-time status of a building's energy consumption, they can make better, more informed decisions about energy use.

- Real cost (pricing signal): This was a particularly hot topic and point of discussion; from Thomas Friedman's keynote speech to the "Green Building in the Global Green Economy" panel discussion to the Education Session I attended on material stewardship. This is the idea that markets must begin to reflect the actual cost of less sustainable, more deleterious practices by considering their long term issues, environmental impacts and the geopolitical instability that they often create. Many people made the case that this will be key if more sustainable and ethically considered building products and practices are going to compete with their less sustainable and more traditional ones.

- Net zero: as in the overall amount that a building's water or energy consumption has on the "the grid" or municipally supplied water or power. This is a precondition for the Living Building Challenge and, based on a panel discussion of LEED 2012, appears to be a long term goal for LEED.

- Performance: Perhaps no other key word or concept appeared more frequently. Sustainable rating systems, LEED, in particular, appear to have internalized the oft-cited argument that they are more predictive rather than performance-based, and in many cases found to certify projects that are no more energy efficient or consumptive than traditional projects upon later inspection.

- Metrics: Related to the issue above; performance. There were discussion around developing more absolute performance-based benchmarks to measure efficiency, consumption, quality, and etc.

In summary, the range of issues and topics dealt with at Greenbuild 2011 and the perspectives from which they were presented were impressive and inspiring. The lecturers, presenters and speakers represented all facets of the building industry. What was more encouraging was that a number of the criticisms of the sustainable building industry were addressed and discussed with a intellectual rigor and seriousness that left one hopeful about future of the sustainable building movement.

Posted by Anthony Harris