11/23/2015: Monumental Green was the theme of this year’s Greenbuild conference in Washington, D.C. Monumental is how many describe our nation's capital - the history, power and emotion of DC is evident everywhere. The Lincoln memorial at night was my highlight.
I was joined by what seems like overdressed high school kids after a junior ball looking for another photo opportunity to tweet, post and share. Monumental is how many explain the impact green buildings have had on our environment and our economy. However as was said many times over the week, there is still work to be done - so let’s do it.
As always, Greenbuild delivers. It delivers inspiration in the way so many people and communities share their ideas and best practices. It delivers strategies for all of us to consider when we design, build, live and work. It delivers stories on successes and failures as we all try to improve the relationship between our man-made environment and our natural environmental.
Speakers like James Cameron the director of Titanic, Terminator, and Avatar talked about a natural environmental deficit disorder the affects many in our inner cities. We learned about food deserts where affordable and nutritious food is difficult to obtain. Our bike tour stopped by a community garden where they are trying to bring a food oasis to such an area. Cameron suggests a digital detox to reconnect us to nature as many of his public and personal pursuits suggest.
There were sessions on Net Zero buildings and the tallest Passive House building - a 26 story apartment building being built on Roosevelt Island in New York City. Passive House is a rating system that reduces energy use by 80%-90% in buildings. Only one part of what makes a building green.
Awards were given out. A powerful initiative and video by Colgate Palmolive titled “Making Every Drop of Water Count” shows us how much water we waste. It explains that if we don’t shut off the faucet when we brush our teeth we will waste over 2.5 gallons of water - more water than many people in the world have access to in a month. See video here.
Colgate-Palmolive was this year’s recipient of the Ray Anderson Radical Industrialism Award. This award was named after the founder of Interface Carpeting, the world’s first net-zero waste carpet manufacturer.
We also learned about the connections between water use and energy. Amazingly, 20% of California's electric use is related to delivering water.
We have always known that because humans spend over 90% of their time indoors that healthier buildings are better for us. Now a new study by Harvard University confirms that our cognitive ability doubles in green buildings that have better indoor air quality and access to daylight and views. Previous studies have shown that green buildings help increase students test scores, improve worker productivity and reduce absenteeism.
Greenbuild does get political. One speaker excused himself by describing the origins of the word politics - "poly meaning many and tic meaning blood-sucking insect." I believe the partisanship doesn't help. If you want half of the electorate to join the effort to save energy, conserve water, reduce waste and improve transportation, we need to have an open dialogue on the costs and benefits of our efforts. Perhaps they missed Bill Gates’ claim recently that, “subsidies to today’s green energy technology are a waste of money and capable of influencing climate only at a cost that is beyond astronomical”. Bill must have read Bjorn Lomborg’s book “Cool It” where Lomborg says if you care about people you will spend more money on things like malaria nets rather than ineffective carbon reduction strategies. The Gates Foundation recently donated over 250 million dollars for malaria R&D.
There is still work to be done, so let’s do it.