October 1, 2023 - Although both headlines are true, I can’t claim any responsibility for helping avert the shutdown. I will, however, report on the annual Greenbuild conference this year held in our nation’s capital last week.
The United States Green Building Council (USGBC) is celebrating its 30th birthday this year. Ten years after its founding, USGBC created what is the largest conference of green building advocates in the world called Greenbuild. This year Greenbuild was hosted in Washington DC, the first city to receive a LEED platinum certification. USGBC publishes the premier green building rating system called LEED which stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design. The theme of this year’s conference was Building Transformation. However, I think the effort is more to transform our world.
LEED has done a good job transforming the building industry. With over 110,000 LEED certified buildings in over 180 countries throughout the world, buildings are being built better, using less energy and water while reducing their environmental impacts. If you have any doubts as to whether LEED® works, we were told that there are six schools that have achieved a net zero energy rating within 2 miles of the DC convention center.
I haven’t been to a Greenbuild conference since before the pandemic. It seems its attendance and its luster has faded a bit since before Covid. However, the thousands of passionate supporters that attended the conference this year share enthusiasm and passion to build better buildings, stronger communities, and a more sustainable future.
From the dozens of sessions I attended, along with the many conversations, I have learned that almost everyone who attends the conference is trying to make an important impact. Greenbuild is always a call to action to bring together architects, engineers, businesses, governments, and many other stakeholders to learn how to build better and more sustainably.
As always, the USGBC uses the convention to announce new initiatives. The newest being the fifth version of the LEED for Existing Buildings rating system called LEED for Operations and Maintenance V5. It has been amazing to see what the previous versions of LEED were able to accomplish. I remember when trying to get buildings to net zero energy, net zero waste, and next zero water seemed like an impossibility. Now, the leading edge is to actually restore ecosystems, to make a buildings energy positive, and to generate more potable water on sites that we use. LEED v5 is released as a pilot program for existing buildings only at this time. The focus on this new version is to improve carbon performance, climate adaptation and indoor air quality.
It was interesting to hear Kal Penn, the actor and activist, describe a meeting he had recently with President Biden. Kal asked how the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) was able to become legislation. The President claimed that decades of advocacy and activism from young people were able to convince our elected officials that now is the time to address some of our climate issues more powerfully. Indeed, the IRA, which includes over 500 billion dollars of incentives, tax credits and other strategies, will supercharge the transformation of buildings and communities. Most of the funding falls in the categories of energy efficiency, building electrification, and clean energy technologies. Most interesting to schools and local governments is the ‘elective pay’ provisions, or as commonly referred to the direct pay provision. It allows the 30% tax credit, previously reserved for entities that have a tax liability, to be paid directly to a school or town to help offset the cost of a solar power or other clean energy project. Speakers from the US Department of Energy, the US Environmental Protection Agency and the US Department of the Treasury all acknowledged that is has been difficult translating the ‘messy’ legislation into actual programs and regulations. All were hopeful that soon money would be flowing to qualified projects in what some called a jet pack propulsion system for green projects.
A breakfast panel, sponsored by Kohler, showed the leadership they are providing in the water savings space. Seth M. Siegel, a water expert, described a major problem in the US. I was shocked to hear that over 70% of our freshwater resources are used to irrigate agriculture. A picture of a citrus farm in Arizona using flood irrigation highlighted the point. Using a 5000-year-old irrigation process, where temperatures rise above 100° and humidity levels are very low, is insane. He claims just switching to drip irrigation in the southwest can reduce water use by over 50% and fill up Lake Meade. We need to get this info to the lawyers of seven states suing each other to be able to use more of the Colorado River.
Kohler tells us the average home uses approximately 300 gallons of water per day. Kohler is trying to get that number down to 13 gallons of water a day. It’s a huge undertaking but will go a long way to resolve the many water issues in our country.
I was disappointed to not see a session this year by BuildingGreen Magazine on their top 10 products of the year. It’s something I look forward to every year and what is usually one of the most attended seminars. Fortunately, I sat next to Brent Ehrlich from BuildingGreen at breakfast. He is the products and material specialist from BuildingGreen and tells me that in fact, they will be publishing their annual top 10 list, but we will all have to wait to January to read about it. If you would like to see last year’s list, click here.
It was a great conference and we all have so many more tools we can use to help us on our path towards sustainability. See you in Philadelphia next year!