Greenbuild 2018 - Report Out, and Top 10

Allison Friedman

Rate It Green Admin
Nov 25, 2018
Greenbuild 2018 - Report Out, and Top 10

The participating companies and attendees at Greenbuild 2018 seemed to have a wider, more open outlook about our work as an industry than I have perceived at times.  We talk about collaboration and even harmonization, but who's going to take that risk and share their inspirations and even some secret sauce?  Who really believes that a rising tide can lift all boats to the point where they will share some of themselves and take what might seem like a risk but is really what we all need to do and say we will do, to make the time and energy share our stories and expertise?  I got the sense this year that more of us are ready to dive in and make ourselves a bit more vulnerable to enact the kind of changes needed to really make an impact.  Like many of our host organizations, sponsors, exhibitors, speakers, media members and thousands of other fellow attendees, I believe that every building should be a healthier and more sustainable building, and that we have to strive for a time when all buildings can be net positive for energy and even overall environmental impact.  I have really enjoyed seeing more activity around healthy buildings and more affordable buildings, and also this sense of increased collaboration in recent years.  Is this the year we cross the line from a stated interest and acknowledgement in the idea of sharing to really collaborating effectively and to building an even bigger and more impactful movement? 

Building more sustainably must of course be about win-wins.  These practices and products must deliver and really exceed expectations in terms of design, quality, durability and price.  And yet, one Greenbuild session wisely recognized that there might be a missing "E" in LEED, for emotion.  We must work to build demand and to bring more companies and people to the table. This movement is bigger than any one of us, and as I always say, we can do so much more together.  I felt a recognition this Greenbuild that none of us can do this alone and that companies and people are more ready to have these collaborative conversations.  People seemed to be welcoming ideas and opinions, and listening for long-term relationship building more than just short-term gain or "telling" or "selling" alone.  I heard great conversations, even when challenging, about what we want this industry and community to be, and even what the show itself should really be about in terms of attendee, host, and exhibitor goals.  I took notes on that particular conversation about the meaning of a show as it was fascinating!  What if we make a real effort to serve and lift up all stakeholders?  What if transparency expands to the point where there are few conversations we're afraid to have?  

From my personal perspective, this was also a year where people really seemed to "get what I do" and to welcome the role that information resources like Rate It Green can play in elevating the green building industry.  Instead of me trying to explain what a platform can do in terms of connecting and gathering and amplifying information, people were telling me what I do and were sharing their own definitions of how information sharing and content marketing can work, and how we can help these companies reach a wider audience than they can on their own.  I am not kidding - at least twice I looked for a hidden camera when someone told me they love our newsletters (always makes my day, and no I am not saying it happens all the time!) and actively try to read them, or told me how great it was that Rate It Green can amplify their news.  I enjoyed joking around that I basically tweet for a living.  Sort of!  But the effect and really the impact of all that tweeting and posting depends on all of you sharing great information and your news.  Quite a few companies enthusiastically shared that they planned to send information to Rate It Green soon, whether this was an existing member or new organization that had been meaning to join and participate in this network and community.  

For those of you I met as far back as at Greenbuild Chicago in 2007, I hope you are as excited about this industry and its potential as I was then, and as I still am now that we were back in Chicago for 2018.  If we met then, you're truly are a member of a group I fondly think of as my "Greenbuild buddies."  That group expanded this year, and I hope it continues to do so.  Thanks for your friendship and support.

And now, I'd love to share my top finds from Greenbuild this year...  


1.  Community Building - Everywhere

I met people in the most unexpected places at Greenbuild 2018!  I made friends in line to attend sessions, which isn't a huge surprise, but some of the places you can meet someone new were more interesting. I met a green building movement leader in line to pick up my registration badge, and several people in the hotel bar the night before I attended the show, two attendees in the hotel gym, and a few people in 3 Ubers.  To the people who paid for my Uber, I did end up paying it forward!  I also met with people at several Greenbuild celebration and other events - some were old friends, and some are now friends.  And yes, I have photos of some of you at celebrations!  but don't worry - I can prove I got the top spot 3x at skee ball (twice in one game) and otherwise, what happens in Chicago stays in Chicago...  Thanks to everyone at Green Circle Certified for being such a friendly group, and also I think that some people from Owens Corning "adopted" me at an event, too.  

It was particularly great to run into people I have met at past events.  I felt like I saw almost every person I have met and stayed in touch with in this group I think of as "Greenbuild buddies." Though yes a few of us were texting and linking in and didn't quite manage to get together, we gave it such a real try it felt like we reconnected with each other anyway!  

I met many new people at Greenbuild, but I don't tend to photograph those I just met!  I also love reconnecting with friends and Rate It Green members like Maura Costella and Peter Pinchot of WholeForest.

Who are these people?  I don't even know - but wouldn't it be great if they all just met?  I met people taking a picture of others we don't know! 

2.  Opening and Closing Plenaries

The Greenbuild 2018 plenaries were impressive, to say the least.  I agreed with George Bandy of Mohawk that our work is "more than a movement, it's a responsibility."  I smiled as he recognized "old friends and foot soldiers" in the audience.  Because it does feel like we're waging a battle sometimes.  And I agree with words attributed to Mahesh Ramanujam that "Partnership is the new Leadership."  This really did feel like the year of collaborations. I also always of course agree with Mahesh about sharing our stories, and how important it is to motivate and inspire through examples, and for me, I'd add connections and shared conversations.  

I couldn't possibly properly summarize Amal Clooney's impressive work to defend human rights from many different angles or perspectives, from protecting the rights of journalists and women and children across the globe, and refugees.  She does this work generally, and she works with specific people in the most difficult of circumstances, and it seems she also does this work tirelessly.  Perhaps this constant fight for justice for people doesn't always seem related to green building, but of course we're actually all interconnected.  Her respect and acknowledgement for this group and how our work is related in part was greatly appreciated.  Amal made clear that although refugees due to violent conflicts are growing at alarming rates and records, climate change refugees will make these numbers far worse.  She warned that 143 million people could be displaced by climate impacts by 2050.  

Amal Clooney reminded us how frustrating it was and is that the United States has in some key ways given up great ground in climate leadership in recent years, most notably by withdrawing from the Paris Agreement.  But she also sees hope in how many companies and people have stepped forward to make and keep commitments.  She encouraged this crowd to keep going, to make the world "more sustainable, more equal." She also encouraged, "If we want things to be better, we have to be the agents of change. No matter the challenges, we must never ever give up.” 

In many ways, Hazim Avdal, a student at the University of Chicago, was a star of the opening plenary.  An Iraqi refugee, Haziml shared some of his experiences and remarked "How strange it is to be safe.”  He's personally and painfully aware of how many people can not say this, and he has made a personal declaration "to do what’s right, to help those in need."  

The closing plenary also did not disappoint.  Mayor Carmen Yulîn Cruz of San Juan, Puerto Rico powerfully described how 35 million people were literally "witnesses to the devastation caused by climate change." They were witnesses to 3000 people dying, and it's clear that Mayor Cruz thinks that much of this devastation was preventable.  "Lives are lost when people don’t pay attention and when we don’t take the opt to fix things before they need to be fixed."  She made clear that the people of Puerto Rico will "never be the same" and that "climate change is real and destroys people's lives."  Mayor Cruz admitted that the island was not ready and prepared for the disaster of hurricane Maria.  She's committed to rebuilding Puerto Rico, but she's also working to prevent others from living through this kind of tragedy. 

Mayor Cruz wanted Greenbuild attendees to think about their higher purpose, "You’re not in the business of making water filters or building things that will withstanding climate challenge - your in the business of saving lives," and "I refuse to believe that it can not be done."  She shared how unbelievably difficult it can be to have people look to a leader for answers and to have none, and to watch people die when at least some of these deaths were preventable. In the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, the people of San Juan has no power, no clean water, and no medication that could be kept usable (cold).  in all of this devastation, Ms. Cruz also shared that there were moments of great hope and of impressive generosity.  She gave examples of products and people who made a difference including a small solar cube and a water filter donation she clearly felt directly saved lives.  The Mayor also took an impressive opportunity to address the crowd with some current, specific challenges and needs regarding hurricane-resistant building design and solar lighting parts.  She was bold and direct, and people literally raised their hands to accept some of her challenges to help.  What a moment when you can achieve that in a crowd of thousands.  



What a terrific performance in a beautiful venue Thursday night at the Field Museum.  If you haven't seen Buddy Guy perform, go check out his calendar and find a location and time to see him play.  I am taking my husband to see him play this spring!

4. Women In Green, Power Lunch

All I can say is watch out next year.  What an energized and empowered room full of thousands of women, and those men who were there to support women.  USGBC Senior Vice President Kimberly Lewis got the room moving in a fun way, and she talked about this year's theme about leading with purpose.  Jessica Grounds then provided some impressive data and shared her experiences in inspiring and educating more women to run for office, through Running Start.  I did not know that the US ranks 104th globally in regard to women in leadership!  Of course, our representation must be more balanced, and we need more women in corporate leadership as well.  Our table conversations focused on 4 topics, one of which was workplace policies.  I enjoyed meeting everyone at my table, and we had a great conversation after introducing ourselves.  

At this luncheon, we also honored the winners of gb&d magazine's 2018 Women in Sustainable Leadership Awards.  Congratulations to: 

Jane Abernethy of Humanscale 
Jennifer Berthelot-Jelovic of A SustainAble Production 
Dr. Christine Bruckner of M Moser Associates 
Gina LaMotte of EcoRise 
Yasmeen Lari of Heritage Foundation of Pakistan 
Kimberly Lewis of USGBC 
Sara Neff of Kilroy Realty Corporation 
Kimberly Pittel of Ford Motor Company 
Andrea Traber of Integral Group 
Alicia Daniels Uhlig of International Living Future Institute @AliciaDanielsU

So, how do we reduce the gaps in leadership?  Well, Jessica encouraged us with her data on gender catalysts, people who see an imbalance and have enough drive and respect to be able to influence change.  And, interestingly, these people aren't always already senior in their organizations, but these leaders do have respect, often built over time.  Jessica encouraged us all to keep sharing with each other, and to keep telling our stories.  Well, I can agree to that, since that's what Rate It Green helps companies and people do!  Also, Kimberly mentioned that next year's theme is about Courage, and there were nods around our table.  I had admitted during the introductions at our table where many of us shared a challenge that certain functions (like Sales) can be an obstacle, and I got nudges to have more courage!  Let's all find our comfort zone edges and run past them in the next year! 

5.  Tiny Houses

I enjoyed both of the tiny houses on the show floor.  One didn't seem to be labeled with a company name, but it was terrific, and I'd be happy to share who built it!  In this first modern dwelling, I was a little worried when I missed the closets on the way in, but I eventually found them near the door.  Also, I did wonder who has to sleep on the edge of the ledge if you have two people?  The best part: The toilet-shower-sink room!  Or, maybe it was the sculpture that doubles as a stairway.  


The second "tiny house" I visited is a cool converted Uhaul truck.  Derek "Deek" Diedricksen and Alex Eaves created a tiny house on the move that can also serve as a reuse education center.  Both Deek and Alex are multitalented - read about them and their books, film about this project and more (and see about supporting their project) at:  Alex is very welcoming and happy to share about his experiences and the truck.  I really liked the faux fireplace and joked it must be an energy hog, but Alex assured me the whole truck runs on almost no energy (I forget exactly what he told me, but I recall being impressed.)  Seriously, you can help them out with as little as a paint brush - these guys are serious about reuse!   


6.  The Most Fun Booths and Displays

Several booths/items caught my attention the most this year, but I am sorry if I missed something cool, and I am open to editing/adding!

  • Alvéole: The Urban Beekeeping Company.  The Alvéole team installs and maintains hives on roofs, terrces or in backyards, as well as at schools.  They provide service and education, and you get to keep the honey.    

  • Naava's Vertical Garden.  I enjoyed talking with Heather and Niko of Naava.  Their green wall looked more compact than some others I am aware of, and I asked if the Naava system is for residential applications as well as commercial.  Happily, the answer is yes.   

  • Davies Office, the Circular Economy in Motion.  Yup, this exhibit moved - in a circle.  I thought that this literal display of office recycling and reuse puts it just like it is.  Why not rework and refresh what we already have instead of buying new?  What a fun way to display this concept.  

  • Accurate Perforating thought up a fun way to show off what they do - WHO doesn't like Lite Brite??


7.  Sessions, and More Educations and Activity at or Near the Show Floor

Exhibitors want company of course, and I thought it was great to have many sessions this year at or near the show floor.  The only challenge would be that some did tend to "sell out" in advance, and I did hear some people suggest a lot of sessions seemed full this year...  But if one is willing to wait, you can still usually get in?  The sessions I observed on the floor seemed pretty focused, really designed to help the people in attendance jump in?  I also really enjoy high level and industry survey sessions, as they are great for newcomers and also I can tweet out from these sessions and help educate people at a general level as to what green builders are up to.  I enjoyed a session on marketing green buildings, and I also heard about an amazing Green Chemistry session others were raving about.  A few times, it was hard to choose what to attend at the same time.  That's a good problem to have.  Some sessions I want to revisit - I admit it's slightly challenging to listen as closely as I would like while also sharing what's going on!  I also arrived late at what seemed like a super session on the Energy Star Tenant program. Perhaps we can share more about that through a Rate It Green article...! 

One of my last sessions was about whether a spec can reverse climate change.  Early on a Friday morning, the room was full and there was a great discussion about the drastic carbon reductions that must take place in the built environment.  Did you know that approximately 2 trillion SF will be be built between 2020 and 2050?  This is like building all of Manhattan every year for 32 years straight…  We're going to have to do this differently, and we are indeed going to have to change the conversation on climate - especially with this report out now that up to 10% of our economy is at risk.  Really, that number could be a lot higher - and we still face so much denial.  Why not compete for leadership in a cleaner energy future instead?  How can we do this?  Our speakers encouraged us to bring all of our creativity and energy, as we need nothing short of an industrial "re-revolution."   


8.  Interaction Opportunities 

Perhaps thanks to the folks at the Mindful Materials Pavilion, there were some new and super opportunities to network and engage at Greenbuild.  I attended the "Speed Dating" session for AEC professionals and manufacturers to report on this event and to send some photos out into the social media sphere, and several welcoming people kept asking me to join at a table and tell them what I do!  One need not stand on the sidelines apparently... so next time, maybe I would jump in.  The conversations seemed to cover a wide range, and were not as focused on transactions as one might have expected at an event where supporting buyers and sellers and also maybe just supporting exhibitors in a new way were worthy and likely goals.  I really perceived a lot of general sharing and listening and just idea collecting at the end of a show day.  I think everyone left having met quite a few people of different backgrounds.  There seemed a similar spirit at the Mindful Materials Breakfast the next day, which also then led into an interactive session.  


9.  Conquering Fears, Leaving Comfort Zones

Ok, so maybe courage doesn't have to wait 100% until next year....  A big event can also be a place to try something new, or to face a challenge.  I am going to admit that I filmed something brief for a friend's company on Wednesday, and well, I am generally not very comfortable being on film!  I get a little anxious and nervous, and I knew what I wanted to say, mostly, but I just don't think it was very smooth.  I was asked one question, but I was thinking about the other questions they had on hand too, and wait, where did they want me to face and look?  Oops.  Everyone was nice and all, and they don't have to use anyone's tape.  But I had wanted to do a decent job, just for the sake of it.  Well, there was filming for something else on Thursday, and they asked a question I had an easy answer to....  and though I was still nervous, the very nice person filming just coached me along.  (Denver also happens to be very good at this.)  This may be a small victory, but you know, I liked what I said, it came across better, and it was good to face even a small fear.   See below for my honorable mentions - thanks personally to Denver of Freeman for the coaching! 

Chris Cato of Youthbuild USA and Youthbuild's Green Initiative records his thoughts on Greenbuild 2018, working with Denver Shindle of Freeman.

10. The Ask - and Commitment - Can We Do this Going Forward?

Shaw Industries and Mindful Materials hosted a session on transparency that got me thinking.  I mean, I agreed of course with so much of what was conveyed.  As Tim Conway said, we have to be clear about what we stand for, and we have to be catalysts who accept this daunting task of changing an entire industry.  And we absolutely have to collaborate to get the job done.  Where Tim felt that some critical aspirations and collaborations had started back at the time of the New Orleans Greenbuild, he now feels things are really starting to change.  But now we need to shift our goals and ask the harder questions and effect change on a more massive scale. A key point is that the industry challenged manufacturers to respond, and now they are, to the ingredient level.  There are 80,000 chemicals in our lives every day now.  We need to be “brave enough to look behind the curtain” and to ask what these chemicals do and how they affect us and our planet, and which ones we really need in these products.  And now we have to keep demanding this information, and keep using it.    

And then Tim and his colleges did something I think many of us don’t do often enough.  They made some asks, and they gave some homework.  Just as Mayor Cruz asked for people to raise their hands in Greenbuild’s closing plenary if they knew how to design hurricane resistant using or how to make or deliver solar light posts to Puerto Rico, Tim Conway, Jeff Frost, and Rebecca Best gave some pretty specific asks and requests to the audience.  Tim asked for people to use this information “we asked for” as an industry, to show manufacturers there’s a reason to continue.  “Start specifying what you stand for.”  Rebecca shared information about how the Mindful Materials database works and asked people to sign up of an account and to start using the system.  According to Jeff, "We are creating this information for you. We have the information, we are ready for this conversation, we must ask.”  If "80% of the people out there just want an easy list, we have to do a lot of hard work together to get to the point where that can happen."  But this hard work will only progress sufficiently rapidly it seems if we show the demand.  Examples can be as simple as demanding an HPD, or prioritizing companies that prioritize transparency.  This means literally showing the companies that aren't earnestly working on transparency simply will not get the business.         

I hope I am attributing the right words to each panelist, but my point is that it’s great they shared and even better they let the audience know what some next steps are, and what they actually want people to do.  I think we all need to do that more often.  I found it bold at first! But we have a lot of work to do in the short run as well as toward our longer-term goals and impacts, and so we may need to be more clear with each other to get more done.  Can I take that next step and ask people in person to do something specific? Can we all?  Sure, I tell people that Rate It Green can host and promote their information, expertise and news, and help them connect in a way that complements the information provided by a more technical and ingredient-focused resource like Mindful Materials, but thinking about it, I don't always tell people a solid next step, or an action item.  

I liked Rebecca’s point that we need to start "cheering every step of the way - we don’t have to wait for a huge epiphany.  There’s so much work to do, so many collaborators."  It’s really ok for all of us to be clear and make some asks, too.  We will keep learning and growing, both when our peers say yes, and when they say no and give us feedback as well.  

Maybe this point is more obvious to others.  I haven't really seen panelists make such clear asks before, and it made me think sometimes I assume people know what to do when it would be ok to give more direction.  Heck, people might even prefer it.  

Honorable Mentions! 

These folks may not have been in the official program, but they helped make the show a better place.  Thanks for the coaching on speaking in front of the camera, Denver.  And I didn't get the DJ's name, but I definitely moved to the music a few times (and I did get to say thanks!).  

  • Denver Shindle - thanks for filming us! (See photo above)
  • The DJ in the hallway - that was nice and woke me up!  


That's my report out, thanks!  Especially if you could not attend Greenbuild this year, or if you are thinking about attending next year or are new to the green building industry, I hope this article gives you even a small window of what the show is like.  

I will hope to be in Atlanta, and to see you there!

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Allison Friedman // Rate It Green Admin

I am excited to work with the Members of the Rate It Green Community to host conversations, create connections, and generally share information and help green builders everywhere. Please feel welcome to reach out to me directly with suggestions for improving Rate It Green.

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