Blog Post

An Embarrassment of Riches: Products and Materials at Greenbuild 2017

A new focus on embodied carbon and LEED v4 are driving designers to dive deep into what we choose for our buildings

BuildingGreen on the expo floor at Greenbuild 2014

If the number of events on this topic is any indication, 2017 will go down as the year that Greenbuild became all about products. Why? Here’s my take on it:

  • LEED 2009 is (finally) mostly behind us, and people are starting to get excited (and serious) about figuring out LEED v4, and its alphabet soup of Materials & Resources credits.
  • In recent months climate change has reared its ugly head in the U.S. in a way that has caught the public’s attention for the first time since Superstorm Sandy in 2012. In the green building world, we’ve now acknowledged that it’s not only carbon emissions from operations that matter, but also “embodied” carbon (or “embedded”, if you prefer)—emissions from making the stuff we build with. 
  • The current administration is living up to its campaign promises of removing regulations and limiting their enforcement. That means the feds are abdicating their role in protecting the public from chemical hazards, many of which are found in building materials. Thanks to the last few years of focus on transparency in materials, we now have a pretty good idea of what those hazards are, and where they can be found.

This year Greenbuild has a handful of great education sessions lined up on these topics. Here are few noteworthy ones, beginning with ours:

  • BuildingGreen’s annual selection of the Top-10 coolest and most innovative products for 2018, will be revealed by Products Specialist Brent Ehrlich and BuildingGreen Founder Alex Wilson on Thursday at 1:00 in session D07. This is a new session format that will start in a lecture hall (257AB) and then move onto the expo floor.
  • A “special set” session on Harmonized Market Transformation (E05, Thursday at 3:00) will feature the latest on materials transparency.
  • An International Summit session at 2:00 on Tuesday—The Time Value of Carbon (IS07)—will lay out the case for paying attention to embodied carbon in materials.
  • An all-star team will guide you through the principles and tools available in session C07 “Material Transparency – Positive Revelations” on Thursday at 8:00am (if you come to this one, send a colleague to my “Living Up to Your Marketing Claims” session or to Tristan Roberts’ “Design Process Hackathon”—they’re all at the same time!)
  • And then there’s the action-packed all-day workshop on Tuesday: “Built Positive: Exploring Buildings as Material Banks” with an opening keynote by Bill McDonough and a wrap up on how LEED and the Circular Economy intersect by Wes Sullens and me. This one had been sold out, but they just added more space so there’s still room to join!

The formal Greenbuild program is just the beginning. The number of related events throughout Greenbuild is mind-boggling, including some invitation-only gatherings and many more that are open:

  • As usual, we have a packed schedule of meet-ups at BuildingGreen/ LEEDuser booth #932. I’ll be there at 2:00 on Thursday to talk about materials transparency tools and harmonization.
  • The Mindful Materials Collaborative has a handful of events promoting the launch of their online database as an industry hub of product transparency data.
  • The Health Product Declaration Collaborative’s annual member meeting is Tuesday from 5:00 to 7:00 at Perkins+Will’s Boston office.
  • The Carbon Leadership Forum’s Embodied Carbon Network has an all-day workshop on Tuesday. 

What have I missed? Which of these events are you going to, and why?

Published November 2, 2017

Malin, N. (2017, November 2). An Embarrassment of Riches: Products and Materials at Greenbuild 2017. Retrieved from

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