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“Write to be understood, speak to be heard, read to grow.” ― Lawrence Clark Powell

Storytelling for a Sustainable Future - Greenbuild 2017

Posted on 11/22/2017 by in energy efficiency greenbuild green building LEED
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Benjamin Greenberg, Social Media Manager for Sterling Planet, shares his experience as a first-time attendee at Greenbuild 2017, which took place in Boston, Massachusetts at the Boston Convention and Expo Center, November 6-11.

Peering out the plane window as we approached Boston Logan Airport, I could see solar panels on the roofs of several buildings. I excitedly pointed them out to my colleague like a giddy child flying for the first time. As we came in for landing, we also saw several wind turbines and the solar array atop the airport’s parking decks. And in the terminal, I saw posters highlighting the space program’s part in inventing LED lighting and photovoltaics. At that moment, I felt prepared to experience my first Greenbuild

Walking into the Boston Convention and Expo Center I was surrounded by people from all over the world (23,000 to be more precise), all gathered together to discuss, educate, and to learn about green building. During an initial wide-eyed stroll through the expo floor, we passed various booths, including the popular Solar Flower, EV Manufacturer Tesla, and household names such as Home Depot, Mitsubishi, and LG; each individual exhibit a piece to the puzzle of creating more efficient, sustainable, and health positive buildings. This panoply of energy and health conscious materials and technology demonstrates an increased attention to environmental design. With over 100,000 LEED projects listed worldwide and more than 6,000 of them LEED Platinum Certified, we are seeing that the value of resilient energy efficient building is taking hold.

I attended several enlightening sessions, including one on Zero Net Energy Building: “Reducing C02 through ZNE,” in which they told the story of 4 educational institutions and their journeys to ZNE Verified status. Bristol Community College, for instance, achieved ZNE without breaking the budget by using a combination of natural ventilation and air quality monitoring, a hybrid air source-Ground source heat pump, “right sizing” the lighting/plug loads to meet the needs of the building, and Energy Efficient Construction using a large portion of recycled construction waste. Through the “Government Connect and Learn” session, I took away a better understanding of the role of policy change in the future of sustainable building with the General Services Administration and The US Department of Energy. “Sustainability and the Future of Parking” discussed how we can maximize the efficiency of our current parking and offered ideas for adapting to more EV’s and Autonomous vehicles in the coming years. Most notably, I experienced “The Future of CSR,” an inspiring conversation with Dan Esty, noted author of Green to Gold and Yale professor. With Former USGBC president Roger Platt as his provocateur, he candidly discussed his time at Connecticut’s Department Of Energy and Environmental Protection, and his vision of the future of sustainable building, business, and how we can accelerate the adoption of these building practices. 

The Closing Plenary was given by none other than Neil DeGrasse Tyson, famous astrophysicist and science communicator, who eloquently discussed our relationship with light. I left his talk inspired and a bit overwhelmed by the immense scale and complexity of the universe in which the planet we all inhabit humbly exists. More than that, I felt a strong bond as I witnessed a building full of brilliant minds coming together to solve problems. It seemed to represent the aspects of humanity I love most. We have an innate and undeniable power to address the obstacles facing us in thoughtful and innovative ways. 

Perhaps my biggest take away from the conference was an understanding of our need to tell the story of this community. We live in a time where facts and reason alone cannot teach people the benefits of increased efficiency, reduced pollution, more resilient and beautiful architecture, and of course a reduction in GHG emissions. We desperately need the communicators, the artists, the songwriters, poets, screen writers, and storytellers of all kinds to paint the picture of a future with clean energy and resilient, health conscious architecture.

In his closing remarks, Dr. Tyson recalled a time when our culture often envisioned the hopeful possibilities of our future and our relationship with technology and lamented at the reduction in forward thinking and the understanding that we have the ability to shape a better future for everyone. In his reading from Carl Sagan’s Pale Blue Dot, he pulled up the Cassini probes 2013 image of earth taken from beyond Saturn’s orbit. A pale twinkle of blue light beyond the icy rings of the giant gas planet.

“From this distant vantage point the earth might not seem of any particular interest, but for us it’s different. That’s here, that’s home, that’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being that ever was, lived out their lives.”

I’ve sat and listened to this passage easily a hundred times in my life and it never seems to lose its impact. In the current climate of heightened tribalism, science denial, and fragmentation of political groups worldwide I feel it holds more weight than ever. The concepts of resiliency, human health, economic progress, and environmental stewardship are things we can all get behind. Now is the time to show that the way in which we interact with our planet is affecting us all, today, and will affect our children and grandchildren to an even greater extent. We must work together to meet these challenges. We must tell the story of our future as we wish it to be and translate it into a language that speaks to all of mankind.

“In our obscurity, in all this vastness, there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves. To me it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another, and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot.”

Greenbuild 2017 is a prime example of rising to meet that responsibility – a large group of humans with the same sustainable goals sharing their stories, their efforts to improve the world for today and tomorrow, and working in collaboration with their counterparts all over the nation and the world to further these initiatives. With conferences added in India and China this year and Europe in 2018, we see that Greenbuild is growing. The need for sustainably minded professionals, advocates, practitioners, students and teachers, designers and builders, and everything in between is growing. There is no sign of stopping the momentum. After the standing ovation at the closing plenary, I feel proud to say “WE ARE ALL IN!”

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