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Greenbuild Focuses on Process Improvements and Business Case for Sustainability


Nearly 600 exhibitors touted their products on the show floor at Greenbuild.

Harvey Bernstein of MHC presents the results of the Green Smart Market report, a survey done for USGBC by Architectural Record publisher McGraw-Hill.

Andres Duany speaks to an enthusiastic crowd at Greenbuild.

After the awards ceremony at the Tabernacle on Thursday, a crowd gathered onstage to dance and sing with southern songstress Leela James.

The New York chapter of USGBC hosted a reception at Interface’s new showroom in Atlanta.
Images Courtesy Deborah Snoonian

Last week Greenbuild, the annual conference of the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), drew nearly 10,000 people and 600 exhibitors to the Georgia World Congress Center in Atlanta for three days of speeches, technical sessions, tours, and workshops. The event has grown in size nearly tenfold since 2002, quickly becoming the largest green building conference in the country. At the same time, the council's five-year old LEED rating system has become the most widely-used voluntary sustainability standard by government agencies and other owners.

The event began with a welcome and announcements from Rick Fedrizzi, USGBC's president and CEO. Following his talk, the plenary session featured keynote addresses by Interface CEO Ray Anderson, a leader in reducing waste and petroleum use in the carpet industry; Janine Benyus, a natural-systems consultant and author of Biomimicry: Innovation Inspired by Nature; and environmentalist Paul Hawken, author of the influential texts Natural Capitalism and The Ecology of Commerce. Each drew standing ovations.

One major announcement by USGBC was an overhaul of the submittal process for LEED certification. It is now a paperless process, with data submittal conducted entirely online. Additionally, project teams have the option to submit LEED data in two stages, during design and after construction, instead of just at the end of a project. The overhaul was intended to streamline LEED submissions and make the process less expensive to complete, says the council. Owners must still pay a fee to get projects certified, and LEED data will continue to be reviewed by independent third-party organizations to determine the final number of points given to each project.

This year has been marked by growth and many milestones for the council, said Fedrizzi during his plenary address. Technical guides for the two newest LEED rating systems, for commercial interiors and existing buildings, were released in 2005. The original LEED system for new construction was also updated, with changes to several credits. New rating systems for homes, core and shell buildings, and neighborhood developments are underway. Fedrizzi also stressed the importance of the 60-plus local chapters of USGBC, calling them "the front doors" for green design professionals. In addition, the council extended membership privileges to trade organizations for the first time this year. "Opening our doors to new members creates opportunities greatly increases our ability to effect market transformation," he said.

Throughout the event USGBC's leadership emphasized the business benefits of green building, summed up by a new slogan: "Build Green. Everyone profits." This may be a reaction to a recent trend in which owners and project teams use the LEED rating system as a design guide, but in the end do not spend the extra money to get a building certified. David Gottfried, co-founder of USGBC, said the organization's top challenge now is making the business case for LEED certification. "We've been reaching out to banks, lenders, and the owner community, because without them, we can't make progress," he said in an interview with Architectural Record. The council is convening its first day-long workshop for the financial community on December 5 in New York City.

During the conference, the council also hosted four design charrettes to set forth guidelines and principles for rebuilding the Gulf Coast in the wake of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. The discussion was inspired in part by a widely circulated, ten-point action plan written by Alex Wilson, founder of BuildingGreen and executive editor of Environmental Building News. Over 120 design professionals participated in the process. Bob Berkebile, FAIA, principal of BNIM architects of Kansas City, flew to New Orleans early Friday morning to present the planning charrettes' results at a rebuilding conference sponsored by the AIA and others.

Many applauded the council's intention to implement LEED for Neighborhood Developments (LEED-ND), which goes beyond the scale of individual buildings to address the environmental performance of communities. The standard will be released in draft form in 2007. The Congress for New Urbanism is participating in its development, among other groups. Andres Duany, who is considered by many to be the founder of the New Urbanism, heralded the achievements of LEED and the environmental movement, but added that its rhetoric needs to evolve. "The American model of environmentalism uses only the tools of nature to make its case for environmental protection," he said. "It also needs to embrace culture-the realities of human activity and interaction with nature-to be successful." His remarks drew laughs and applause. Duany is among those working on LEED-ND, which he says, "must intercept and understand" patterns of human habitation that lead to sprawl before they spread to cultures outside the U.S.

Attendees for Greenbuild ran the spectrum from architects and engineers to owners, contractors, building product manufacturers, and specialized consultants. In addition to technical sessions and speeches, the crowd enjoyed a welcome party hosted by the USGBC's Atlanta Chapter at the Georgia Rail Depot, as well as an awards ceremony and live music on Thursday evening at The Tabernacle.


Deborah Snoonian, P.E.