The Green Scene*: Special Report from USGBC’s Greenbuild Chicago 2007

*Paul McGinniss, whose Upstate New York Green Real Estate Report is a regular feature here at gbNYC, was at Greenbuild last week and checks in with this special report about the happenings in Chicago. Over 20,000 people gathered in Chicago this past week for USGBC’s Greenbuild Expo 2007. I was lucky enough to be invited by [...]

*Paul McGinniss, whose Upstate New York Green Real Estate Report is a regular feature here at gbNYC, was at Greenbuild last week and checks in with this special report about the happenings in Chicago.

Over 20,000 people gathered in Chicago this past week for USGBC’s Greenbuild Expo 2007. I was lucky enough to be invited by ScheinMedia, publisher of New York House Magazine and MetroGreenBusiness.com. ScheinMedia sponsored a pre-conference LEED for Homes (“LEED-H”) Technical Review workshop, and New York House Editor Jim Andrews and I sat in on a four hour session outlining the new LEED-H program that will officially launch in late winter or early spring after the successful run of the current LEED-H Pilot Program.

Jay Hall, acting Director of LEED-H, said at the session that USGBC is planning a new LEED professional accreditation that will likely be called LEED-HP. LEED-HP will serve as a training and accreditation program for professionals involved with green one- to four-family residential projects. Hall also said that USGBC was looking at the possibility of establishing a green home certification program that would be tied to the HERS network, which currently performs the third-party verification qualifying homes for Energy Star. Essentially, this program would be an enhanced version of Energy Star- greener, leaner, and requiring a home to far surpass current Energy Star requirements in order to be LEED-certified. Rating professionals necessary for third-party verification would be culled from existing HERS raters and trained to analyze homes under the new guidelines established by USGBC. All of you residential builders and developers out there should certainly keep an eye out for this when it is announced in the next few months. (And, of course, we’ll be following these important efforts here at gbNYC).

As you probably know by now, President Clinton spoke at the opening plenary after opening remarks by USGBC founder and Chairman Rick Fedrizzi. Fedrizzi was incredibly forceful. By the time he introduced President Clinton, the audience was already super-primed to take the green building vision around the world. Clinton certainly pushed the audience over the edge and showed us that he and his foundation are truly at the vanguard of green building and climate change issues worldwide. He even thanked Al Gore several times for really making it a world issue. Clinton is also actively promoting renewable real estate. During his talk, he announced that he is working with GE Real Estate to green GE’s entire portfolio of real estate across the globe, in locations as diverse as China and Albany. This kind of commitment will make a huge impact, particularly as other property owners in lesser-developed countries throughout the world see how economically-advantageous green building truly is and demand to learn more about its implementation.

President Clinton also brought up the idea that not only can homes be zero net energy users but they can be energy positive- a notion I find quite refreshing because I have been in zero net energy homes and know firsthand that this concept is not so far out of reach. Why not shoot for energy positive homes? We don’t have to kick ourselves if we do not reach that level – but why not aspire for more than zero net living? Clinton mentioned how countries like Denmark and Sweden are getting almost half of their energy needs from renewable energy already and that the U.S. needs to get with the program and start using some of its “good old American know-how and we can do it attitude” to finally break the chain of our oil and coal dependency.

And now a mention of some companies and people I ran into at Greenbuild.

At one of the evening parties, Cynthia Kudren, Marketing Director of ScheinMedia, and I ran into Pamela Lippe from e4, and founder of Earth Day New York. We promised to talk about exciting new developments for the event, which happens every year in April.

Cynthia and I also ended up at a fantastic table at the big Greenbuild party at the Navy Pier. Among others, we met a great guy named Jay Ruskey from California who is developing a top-secret innovative green building product. Also at the table was Chris Nagle from Evapco in Westminster, Maryland, who acted as a kind of “table promoter.” Whenever someone walked by that looked like they needed to find a place to sit down or friendly people to talk with, Chris walked over to them or called them over and brought them into our group. By the end of the party when all the other tables were emptying out our table had doubled in size and we had so many people that the chairs were doubled up to fit the crowd in.

I met someone from the tourism office in Puerto Rico and never got her card (good person to call when I plan my trip to Puerto Rico) but luckily I got the card of her friend, green architect Luis Rodriguez from the Smith Group in Arizona. Elsewhere, I made a promise to meet with Cymone Speed and Kaitlin Regan from CODEGREEN, sustainable building consultants in New York City.

Luckily I ran into Megan McCarthy from the Portland (Oregon) Development Commission that brought the PDX Lounge project to Chicago for Greenbuild. PDX Lounge was a 20,000-square-foot installation and multimedia experience showcasing critical building blocks for a sustainable city. While I was talking to Megan at her booth I met her fellow Oregonian, the “Dude” Josh Bradley from 360interchange, eco solutions for a better world.

There was also TJ from Innovateus Development, which distributes thin film solar products from Uni-Solar. I caught up with Puji Sherere from YOLO Colorhouse, the folks from the Syracuse Center of Excellence in New York, and fellow Hudson Valley New York architect Rick Alfandre who is submitting some of his work to the Best in Green Building Competition that I am helping to organize with New York House. Others included Robert Habian from Earthsmart, Michele Kosciolek from Duo Guard and part of the crew from Terrapin Bright Green.

When you’re at an expo like Greenbuild, it’s easy to forget that not everyone in the world is a green fanatic and passionate advocate for sustainability. There was an almost frenzied atmosphere to the whole event, a green buzz that emanated from the convention hall at the massive McCormick place, all the way throughout the entire city. It was easy to run into other Greenbuild attendees in Chicago like Laura Robitaille, a dynamic interior designer from Massachusetts whom I talked with for a half hour while waiting for a bus back downtown. Somehow, I felt connected to all these new people in some fundamental way, not unlike the feeling you get when going to Green Drinks NYC where 400 strangers gather for a drink and feel like old friends that have not seen each other in a long time and have so much exciting news to catch up on.

Interestingly, on the plane to Chicago I sat next to a talkative HVAC contractor from Denver who did not even know what the USGBC was. We talked at length about the changes in the HVAC business. Many refrigerants used in his business are now illegal to produce in the U.S. but are still available to buy through countries like South Africa which still produce them because they didn’t sign the Montreal Protocol (a 1987 international agreement dealing with substances that deplete the ozone layer). He also said that just before these certain ozone-depleting refrigerants were banned from being produced in the U.S., there was a gigantic push to produce large quantities of them and huge stockpiles are thus still available. This conversation “LEEDing” up to Greenbuild was a reality check. After the trip, it reminded me that despite the explosion of green, there are many people in the building industry that have yet to totally understand the resources available to build and renovate green. These folks shouldn’t be afraid to give up their old carbon-offsetting way of thinking and jump on board the clean green energy wave right now.

And speaking of Protocols, one other thing that President Clinton said was that the U.S. government needs to support the Kyoto Protocol now. It’s not that many of America’s cities, universities, and state leaders are not already supporting it by taking actions to curb greenhouse gas emissions on their own. But what is the American government waiting for? Let’s get on with it.

Regardless, the green citizens amongst us will continue to connect local and regional green movements with efforts at the national level.

I look forward to seeing everyone I met and more in Chicago at Greenbuild Boston in 2008!

*Paul McGinniss writes the Upstate New York Green Real Estate Report, a monthly column here at gbNYC.com. Paul is a partner at the New York Real Estate Group and an advocate of green and sustainable real estate development. Paul teaches a class at SUNY Ulster called “Green Home Building and Renovation,” and he and his business partner, Joseph Walker, teach a monthly class at the Learning Annex in New York City called “How to Invest in Upstate Real Estate,” which has a special section on Green Building and Renovation. Paul is also a partner in the media and public relations company Serendipity Associates, which is organizing New York House magazine’s Best in Green Building Competition. Paul is frequently asked to speak at conferences and corporate events about the green revolution, renewable energy, new green products, and the emerging LOHAS market. 

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2 Responses to The Green Scene*: Special Report from USGBC’s Greenbuild Chicago 2007

  1. Wayne Senville Thursday, November 15, 2007 at 4:21 am #

    As editor of a national journal for citizen planners — the Planning Commissioners Journal — I was stunned by the size and excitement of the Conference and how “mainstream” the greenbuild movement seems to have become (though I did find your comment about your flight companion interesting — as you put it, a good reality check).

    I did have mixed feelings about one of the sessions I attended. It was on the huge proposed Destiny “destination retail” project in Syracuse, New York. There were some tough questions asked, especially why a major green project like this — supported by the USGBC — didn’t have a mixed use component and seemed so “auto-centric.” I have two posts on Greenbuild at: http://www.pcj.typepad.com — would welcome your reaction, especially if you’re familiar with Destiny.

  2. Paul McGinniss Monday, January 28, 2008 at 8:30 pm #

    Hi Wayne
    Sorry about being so late to respond. Your message fell between the cracks!

    Yes, Green Build 2007 was stunning in a sense by the level excitement. Especially when people thought they could not get in to see President Clinton speak.

    And it seemed main stream, at least till I left and got a reality check. Despite the Greening of the world – outside of events like Green Build, which is sort of a “preaching to the choir” – there’s lots of work to do to convince people the value and affordability of green real estate.

    As to the Destiny USA project in Syracuse. Yes I am familiar with it as I live part time in upstate New York. In fact I mentioned it in the Upstate New York Green Real Estate Report end of 2007 Roundup I did for this web site.

    Your comments are well taken about Destiny USA and I also wonder why there is no mixed use aspect to the complex. And in general, balancing green with development is a tough one.

    I’ve never been a big fan of malls of any kind. But my prejudices aside, the one thing I have to say I like about Destiny USA is it proposes to be a zero net energy user and power itself from renewable resources. Renewable energy use is the most important part of green building, in my opinion, so at a minimum it will set an example in that regard if executed as stated.

    Thanks for the input. Keep ideas and questions coming.