Blog Post

How Green is Greenbuild?

Here in the office, we've been gearing up for Greenbuild, the 6th annual trade show of the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC). We're there every year—stop in and see us at booth 849. Fully half of our staff will be attending. I'll be snooping around; tune in here for the next best thing to being there. There will be over 850 exhibitor booths on the expo floor, and more than 100 educational sessions ranging from design to commissioning. There will be tours of local green buildings, LEED workshops, dozens of independent networking events (from working breakfasts to thumping late-night parties), post-conference seminars, even a film festival. Former president Bill Clinton is giving the keynote. More than 18,000 people are anticipated to come to Chicago to attend the three-day program. But is Greenbuild green? Sidestepping the semantic morass of what the word means to begin with, how could something like Greenbuild possibly be green? The lighting energy alone in a conference center is stunning; now toss in the HVAC. There's elevators, escalators, sliding doors. Consider facility maintenance—vacuums, floor polishers, cleaning chemicals. There will be 850 exhibitors from all over the continent and beyond, handing out literal tons of paper and booth swag to 18,000 people that are out soiling sheets and using towels when they're not busy at the convention flushing the toilets and eating catered brunches—chilled California grapes and Wisconsin cheese, Maine lobster, Italian pasta, hot coffee and tea from Brazil and China and England. That's 18,000 people that have to get to Chicago, get around in Chicago, and get back home. This is a story with endless gaps; you can easily come up with a dozen more examples without breaking a sweat, thoughtful person that you are. The USGBC has thought about these things, too, of course. Love 'em or hate 'em, they're not stupid. Spend a few minutes looking over the Greening Greenbuild page on their website. I'll wait. OK. There are things on that list that might seem so insignificant as to be almost ridiculous—the caterers not prefilling water glasses at meals, the convention center providing paper towels and toilet paper with a minimum of 20% recycled content. Isn't that just like green building, though? We look for the big bang, and every so often we find it; but generally, it's the aggregate of smaller details and decisions that add up to the LEED plaque by the front entrance. It's the nickels and dimes adding up to a lot of nickels and dimes. Where the USGBC appears to have hit a home run in making Greenbuild greener is the Cleaner and Greener certification. It goes like this: Using information about the facility, activities, and participants, a third party—Leonardo Academy—calculates the emissions (including carbon dioxide, nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxide, and particulate matter, among others) associated with an event, and coordinates the purchase of offsets from a range of Green-e certified organizations and initiatives, mostly in the form of Renewable Energy Credits (RECs). One nice surprise is that while this certification / offset program delves into the impacts of the local event (including things like food prep and cleanup, and electric use in hotel rooms), it isn't just about point-sources: participant travel to and from the event are included, vehicle and air miles calculated based on the numbers of local, regional, national, and international attendees. The USGBC says that it offsets in excess of 100% of the emissions caused by Greenbuild with this program. That seems worth a Platinum. That said, there are smarter people than me who think the Leonardo Academy program lacks rigor. I phoned the Leonardo people, asking if I could have a look at the guts of the program—its standards and formulas. No go. So I can't defend either side of the issue. The skeptic in me rises up, squinty-eyed and edging toward the detractors. But on the shoulder of my inner skeptic, a tiny angel whispers sweetly in its ear, "Hey—at least it's something." Maybe I'll be able to get some deeper information during Greenbuild: there will be a briefing by a Leonardo Academy rep or two on Wednesday, 11:00, at table #3 in the Exhibit Hall. Among other things, the agenda includes "Draft American National Standard for Trial Use: LEO-5000-2001 - Standard for Emissions Inventories, Reduction Credits & Offsets." If you're going to Greenbuild and would like to take responsibility for your own emissions, you can. The USGBC has posted Greening the Conference case studies for each year of the conference: 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006.

Published October 31, 2007

(2007, October 31). How Green is Greenbuild?. Retrieved from

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