Greenbuild 2019 - Looking to the Future (Sustainable and Successful, for Everyone)

Allison Friedman

Rate It Green Admin
Dec 02, 2019
Greenbuild 2019 - Looking to the Future (Let's make it happen, and take everyone with us)

It is a fun and fairly common experience at Greenbuild to find mid conversation that you already know the person you’re speaking to from an email exchange, a social media connection, or in my case that they’re already a member of our online green building network!  One of my favorite moments this year was when someone stopped me on the trade show floor and thanked me for promoting an event for an organization she interned for this past summer.  It’s always so nice to know that the message was received and did its job! 

There were many highlights at Greenbuild19 - here’s a list of some I observed.  One regret was that I had to leave town just before Friday’s closing keynote.  Did you attend Friday’s Climate Discussion with Jamie Margolin and Dr. Marshall Shepherd? If so, let me know - we'd love to share your notes! 

Some top themes continued this year, such as health and wellness, transparency, storytelling, collaboration, and the need for benchmarking and measurement.  Some newer emerging ideas seemed to be a greater focus on social justice and really thinking more about the next generation.  It did feel to me that Greenbuild attendees are becoming more diverse in terms of industry segments and experiences - a question is how much this is true outside of the show experience, and how we can work on diversity overall.  I would love to hear more thoughts on these themes, and also to hear what I may have missed!  


There was a lot of gathering going on at the Mindful Materials Pavilion!

Barack Obama’s Candid and Inspiring Keynote Conversation

You couldn’t ask for a better start to Greenbuild 19 than listening to Barack Obama live and in person with a few thousand colleagues, all focused with rapt attention.  So many things our former President seemingly effortlessly and candidly shared in his conversation with USGBC President and CEO Mahesh Ramanujam clearly resonated strongly with this passionate crowd of green builders.  Some top themes from this talk: Walk the walk; Listen - and consider others through listening; Take everyone along, respectfully.  

President Obama didn’t mince words, stating early and pretty clearly, “Climate change is not like other issues; you can be too late.  It can become irreversible.” The President urged us all to be more collaborative - and inclusive, pointing out that he doesn’t see how we resolve our climate challenges if we have continued "huge gaps in opportunity and education.”  Reaching for a goal as a disjointed, disconnected community, “undermines our sense of politics and community, and people can also become resentful.  It’s harder to mobilize the body politic around taking collective action,” if we’re not raising everyone up at the same time.  

If that sounds too brief a summary, click to read more!

Presdient Obama was inspiring and (mostly, fairly) apolitical.  Many consider sustainability to be such an obvious bipartisan issue in any case.  Much of his focus was on listening and making sure we work to make a more sustainable world a better world for everyone.  Here's something fun that happend.  Our tweet on his speech was in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Women in Green Power Luncheon

USGBC Senior Vice President Kimberly Lewis knows how to rev up her audience and take it with her on an awesome journey.  This year, she jumped right in, speaking of this year’s Women in Green theme, “A Culture of Courage,” which she called "a clarion call for courage that can permeate in and throughout our culture.”  She easily picked up on themes where President Barack Obama left off earlier in the day, reminding us to talk the talk but also to do some serious walking, to foster a culture of integrity, leading by being a convener of the best and brightest, and also reminding us that both the President and USGBC President and CEO Mahesh Ramanujam spoke about the power of stories to connect and inspire.  

There are almost no words sufficient to describe Women in Green Power Luncheon 2019 Keynote speaker, Dr. Mildred McClain, AKA Mama Bahati, currently the Executive Director of the Harambee House/Citizens for Environmental Justice she founded in 1990.  For over 50 years, Mama Bahati has worked in the fields of education, community development, public health, environmental justice, and people's liberation struggles.  For the past 30 years, Mama Bahati has fought as a pioneer for environmental justice in marginalized and disenfranchised communities throughout the USA. 

In addition to many other capacities, degrees, honors, and certificates, Mama Bahati also happens to be a certified roofer (who can dance and sing in front of a very big crowd, too).  Her top request of the assembled audience was to “take someone with you, literally, through the door.”  She challenged those assembled to work with at least three women of color, to bring them into the fold - to help them become architects, engineers, researchers, scientists. sustainable designers, etc.  She made less money than the men she worked with, she had to work in an environment where she was treated differently and inappropriately due to her gender, and she asked the audience to be brave and to “run our race and step into destiny,” as she has.  

Mama Bahati’s close was as strong as her start: "Courage is defined as having backbone, gumption.  Be brave today and become even braver when we leave.  Speak out against all justice, inequities inequalities, racism, discrimination, stand up for women everywhere, and when you go through a door please take someone with you.”  

Click here to read more about the Women in Green Power Luncheon. 

USGBC Leadership Awards

This year, the Leadership Awards were open to all attendees with full trade show passes.  I wasn't taking notes, but I was listening, and I have to say I was impressed by the breadth of the organizations. projects, and people represented.  For a full list of USGBC 2019 award recipients, click here

The people receiving recognition for their work at the forefront of sustainability seemed to be exactly the kind of people who would not seek this kind of recognition, and that makes it all the more wonderful when we celebrate their accomplishments. Of particular note to me (from memory - I don't meant to say others weren't inspiring!):

  • Diana (Dede) Yazzie Devine, President and CEO of Native American Connections – For 40 years, Diana has worked to improve the lives of Native Americans in the Phoenix region with an approach to development that focuses on efficiency and also the long-term health of the community by providing access to culturally appropriate behavioral health, affordable green housing and community development services.  
  • John Chadwick, Assistant Superintendent, Facilities and Operations at Arlington Public Schools – John was pivotal in helping Discovery Elementary School in Arlington Va. become the world’s first LEED Zero school.  The school looks amazing - and there’s a wonderful, shareable story here that can inspire other schools and districts, as it saves well over $100,000 in operating costs per year as compared to a typical elementary school in the area of the same size! The project was also completed under budget, and sends surplus energy back to the grid.  

Dede and John represent two amazing leadership examples for us all.  We at Rate It Green hope to be a part of amplifying their stories so that more people, organizations and even municipalities can learn from them and have more impact.  


Connecting and catching up in person!

There were plenty of people to meet or run into at Greenbuild this year.  I caught up with some favorite Rate It Green clients, both older and fairly new to our community, I enjoyed meeting people in person who I had previously only known through email or social media, and I met some folks who inspire me as well!  I met Dede Devine of Native American Connections on an escalator after she was honored at the Leadership Awards, for example.  She clearly loves what she does as well as the community she's a part of, and she was open to how sharing her work might inspire others.  And yet, she really is in no way seeking attention for the good she does.  I also believe I may take her up on her offer for the grand tour when I am in the Phoenix area! 

Here are just some of the people I "ran into" at Greenbuild this year:


The team from Global GreenTag seemed to be having a great show, with all kinds of recent news and accomplishments to report.  Global GreenTag has been doing a great job of sharing inspiration, expertise, and news through Rate It Green.  

It's always great to see Brad and Ron of the GreenCE Inc. team! GreenCE has contributed excellent articles and discussions to Rate It Green, and the organization has also leveraged the platform to promote their well known webinar series.  That's their "Architects of Rock" CD they're holding - ask them for a copy! 

New Rate It Green members Simon and Gretchen of Green Dot Sign had a productive show, showing off ADA Compliant Sustainable Signage.  

One of my favorite people at a favorite organization as well, it was super to hang out with Chris from Youthbuild USA.  Even if we're both from Massachusetts (!), the show helped us find some great time to catch up. 

It was terrific to meet Kimberly and Taryn with USGBC.  As we promote all the green building news and information we reasonably can, we of course "know" folks at the USGBC through social media or email... but it's also super to meet in person!  

Similarly, Sarah and Amanda seemed like old friends, and yet we're never met in person! 

Engaged Learning on the Expo Floor 

We want to give a shout out to the increased education lab learning sessions available on the expo floor at Greenbuild.  While this may seem like a simple evolution or change, it makes for sort of a more collegial experience at times.  And this arrangement sure makes for less running back and forth between different parts of the event.  These sessions seem to provide companies with an improved way to share and teach over focusing on sales opportunities in a traditional sense from a booth.  Companies can tell their stories can share a particular experience or expertise.  Some of the sessions were quite interactive.  

These photos are from a trade show floor learning session hosted by Interface Carpet on legislative and voluntary drivers for a transition to a Circular Economy for Building Products.  The session was informative, realistic, and also optimistic - though there's clearly work ahead.  According to speakers, "Climate change can’t be solved in a linear system - We can’t get to the climate we want from there."  

Heidi Sandborn of the National Stewardship Action Council (NSAC) has been "talking trash for 30 years."  She shared an example of how producer responsibility legislation can make a difference, moving 12% of the market, but she also illustrated how necessary transitions can take a lot of work.  California carpet laws raise $30 million a year to support carpet recycling, which goes into a fund that supports recyclers in the form of grants and subsidies.  8 years in to the program, she can now call California "the carpet recycling epicenter of the world."   

I also attended an Education Lab session on Incentivizing and Standardizing Healthy Affordable Housing.  Did you know that in the US, Over 38 million households spend more than 30% of their income on housing?  Affordable Housing supply is not adequate, and even less housing is available that can also be considered healthy housing.  According to Joanna Frank of the Center for Active Design, there has been a significant increase of the amount of data linking buildings and health - including community health and mental health.  We literally now know from some of the data gathering from the Fitwel program specifically what the resulting and ultimate impact will be on many building design decisions.  This means that buildings can and should be part of the solutions to these challenges. 

Other Top Sessions

I wish I could share everything I observed -  I seem to be trying to!

In Thursday's Keynote, Jeanne Gang of Gang Studio asked us to articulate big ideas that can also be achieved in our lifetime.  She shared the story from her book "Reverse Effect" of how solving a challenge in Chicago's South River brought a community together that now treasures and enjoys this resource in ways that were just not previously imaginable.  

Wednesday, I rushed from the show floor to hear about Green Building in Troubled Societies.  I was sorry to be late to hear Bahar Armaghani, Director and Lecturer of Sustainability in the Built Environment program in the University of Florida's College of Design, Construction and Planning, and Jennifer Sheffield, Head of LEED Consulting for GBWAWA, which has offices in Tel Aviv and Philadelphia.  Among other accomplishments, Bahar established UF’s LEED program and has served as director for more than decade. She has also served as an international advisor, and introduced green buildings and LEED rating system to the public and private sectors in Jordan, Republic of Georgia, and Iraq, including universities in these countries. She played a leading role in establishing the Jordan Green Building Council. Most recently, she established Kurdistan Green Building Interest group. Jennifer advises Sakhnin Municipality, an Arab city in Israel, on responsible development and the UN SDGs, and is the International Relations Coordinator with Sakhnin College. Previously, Jennifer supported the Negotiation Strategies Institute, a Jerusalem-based training program for Middle Eastern officials and international diplomats. Jennifer is Co-chair of the LEED Social Equity Working Group and is the project manager of Ramboland, a regenerative, universal access project. Both are extraordinary speakers and are clearly involved in meaningful and impactful work.  Both also made significant time available to speak to attendees after their session.  

Thursday afternoon, I attended a session on, "What do Clients Want? The Future of Sustainability."  Jennifer Taranto of Structure Tone shared some key findings fro their annual Sustainability Survey.  One highlight was that companies absolutely recognize employee retention as a reason to be sustainable. Another is that 69% of respondents do not believe current sustainability standards are sufficient.  100% of respondents agree that green building is not a passing fad and yet 100% also do not feel that green building is pushing the envelope - now there's an opportunity! Carlie Bullock-Jones of Ecoworks Studio asked the audience two pointful questions:

1. Where would you go if you could go anywhere in the world to be creative?

2. Did anyone say their office? 

Carlie spoke about a focus on the built environment and its impact on both the environment and on people.  Our speakers spoke of Health & Wellness as a "Gateway Drug," which drew some laughter from the audience.  But this was part of a larger of course serious discussion of how and why we can move the needle on sustainability.  

I was only able to attend half of a great session on Thursday afternoon on "Leading with Equity, Working towards Inclusive Sustainability.  I heard about the $18 million transformation of Edgewood Court into Amani place in Atlanta by the Jonathan Rose Company.  This project illustrated the importance of listening to the community about their needs and working to meet them - where old reviews talked of shootings and gangs, new comments refer to feeling like home and kids playing in peace.  This was a huge reminder in our speakers' words that "Where you live matters" and has a huge impact on safety, community strength.   

My first session on Friday morning was terrific - "If Poor Performing Buildings are the Problem, then What is the Solution?"  Each speaker really could have had their own session.  I mention below Anna Amodeo speaking of the student led effort to LEED certify her high school.  Hearing about Seattle's building tune up program was striking - it's amazing what can happen when the engineers go in and see to find out how a building can be more efficient!  Technology is improving in leaps and bounds, but some examples shared that we will have to make sure we set and maintain this technology properly.  The best cooling system might not work so well if you never install the required filter, for example...  A theme from many Greenbuild sessions this year - the numbers don't lie.  

I wanted to fully attend Healthy Designs for Healthy Minds on Friday, but it was between that and getting home on time!  I was in attendance to see the Healthy Design Pyramid...  and the idea that it's ideal to make the avoidable, desirable appropriate choices good ones if we can, as this provides a great opportunity to impact the population at large.  I wanted to hear more of abut cognitive design and the health of the whole human, but... I was out of time.  

There were definitely more sessions I wanted to attend and/or would be happy to hear about! 


Involving and Celebrating Youth 

This year, it seemed there were quite a few young people in the crowd and up on the stage, and on our minds as well. Several keynote and session speakers spoke to the importance and urgency of both generally and directly supporting next generation training, activism, and passion.  

At a standing-room-only Friday morning 8 am session, Anna Amodeo shared and discussed a 5-year, student-led effort at her high school to achieve LEED Gold certification.  Built to LEED certification standards originally but not certified at the time, Apple Valley’s School for Environmental Studies appears to be the first in the world to be certified under LEED 4.1 as an existing building (more difficult than for a new building), and is certainly the first project of its kind led by students.  Notably, over 45 students worked on the project over five years. 

Anna shared some triumphs, as well as some lessons learned.  According to her, data helped to explain to others who might not otherwise understand sustainability issues and wins, like her Mom.  She also shared that sometimes it was hard to get an adult ear, just being a young person.  But she also was clearly appreciative of all the adults and professionals who had helped the students, nothing that the project is mentor supported even if student led.  Like President Barack Obama, like USGBC VP Kimberly Lewis, and like Mama Bahati and others, Anna believes it’s critical that prior generations share their knowledge and expertise and understand the pressure we’ve put on current young people to resolve crisis that had their start long ago.  As Anna concluded, "We may not have all the knowledge, but we want it…. The tools, knowledge, resources are there.  We need you. 

Anna Amodeo and her fellow students led a 5-year effort to achieve LEED Gold certification at her high school.  


Bees! (Well, in reality... Honey!)

The Bee Downtown exhibit on the edge of the show floor caught my attention, as it just looked like FUN.  I think it's important for Greenbuild to include different but related, and also more local businesses in the show (and I'd encourage more of this, too!)  

Bee Downtown installs and maintains beehives on corporate campuses in urban areas to help rebuild healthy honey bee populations while simultaneously providing turn key year-round employee engagement and leadership development programming to our partners. At Greenbuild, the company was on hand to do an actual honey harvest for the Georgia World Congress Center's honey - so this was intriguing but also a terrific fit.  

Wouldn't it be great if everyone could say this about their work? "It is a joy and an honor to get to live out each and every day doing what we love most. To see corporations and their employees fall back in love with agriculture while simultaneously becoming better leaders because of it, is one of the best feelings in the world."

This is an actual honey harvest - with a smile.  

Would it be great if all jobs were THIS much fun?


A Creative Way to Share Stories 

I admired the "What is Your Story" exhibit and stopped by to talk to Lindsay of Orange Sprakle Ball.  With their partners, Spark Corps and Booknbrunch, the organization has created a travelling installation to enable story telling through anonymous messages in used books.  Those who read the stories can even anonymously send a reply to story authors via postcard.  What a terrific way to help people find their voice!  

The "What is Your Story" Project allows visitors to anonymously send a message of support to anonymous authorrs who have shared their stories in used books.  

Continuing the Conversation 

It’s always of course terrific when a group of passionate green builders can gather in person to connect and share our expertise and stories.  I love the energy in the room!  As you can see, interactive exhibits, a diversity of ideas, and great people, organizations, and topics caught my attention this year.  

At Rate It Green, we recognize that we can’t always be “in the room” together, and we work through our green building directory and network to keep these conversations going by enabling connections and information sharing through articles, discussions, groups, news and events.  In person impact is priceless, but let’s not lose momentum.  We need to appreciate and amplify the amazing expertise in this community, and to work to share green building companies, organizations, people, products, services, and your news and stories far and wide, and make them accessible to as many people in as many places as possible, and around the clock.  

We can accomplish more together and still more by bringing new people into this industry and community who are eager to learn from others and those who have come before.  What top things did you learn or share at Greenbuild19?  What would you share with someone online who couldn’t be in Atlanta this year?  Let us know.  Better yet, post your thoughts, and we will hep them reach  as many companies, organizations, and people as possible.  

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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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