Greenbuild 2009 – A Personal Odyssey to Where Green Meets Greed
“The old way of doing things is bankrupt!” Declares Rick Fedrizzi, president of the U.S. Green Building Council. On an unusually hot 80 degree November night in Phoenix, Arizona Rick stood on the main stage. This was his introduction to the Opening Plenary for the 2009 Greenbuild Conference and Expo.
As inspiring music echoed throughout Chase Field, and environmental images dominated a big screen, Rick went on,
“Our work should not be defined solely by the number of LEED certified homes, offices, schools, and neighborhoods. It is about the people inside of them. Green building is about the families who must weigh their power bill against their grocery bill; it’s about workers who labor in buildings that take a toll on their bodies and spirits; and it’s about kids who spend their entire childhoods in toxic classrooms.”
A feeling of revolution swept over the crowd of 28,000 real estate professionals, government officials, corporate executives, educators, and academics. Rick used emotional rhetoric to connect the financially and environmentally motivated audience to an overall value proposition: Green is what the people need.
Al Gore, Nobel Prize recipient and environmentalist, followed Rick with a powerful message encouraging the audience to connect and collaborate towards a greener world. He passionately declared, as he has many times before, “if you want to go quickly, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” His inspirational speech was followed by a performance from nine-time Grammy winner Sheryl Crow. I left Chase Field that night green-eyed and ready to change the world – I opted to take the light rail home.
Every year thousands gather at the Greenbuild Conference and Expo to network, learn, and celebrate green accomplishments. U.S. Green Building Council hosts Greenbuild. It is recognized as the largest green building gathering in the world. The conference featured speeches from global leaders in sustainability, an executive roundtable, LEED certification workshops, and hundreds of educational sessions. Notable presenters included the presidents of Starbucks, Marriott Hotels, CB Richard Ellis, Arizona State University, and the United States Commissioner for Public Buildings. The expo featured over 1800 green companies, all of whom are fighting for a stake in this emerging marketplace. There were 87 green roofing companies, 89 different green consulting firms, and 50 concrete manufactures.
With the emergence of new technologies, a shift in consumer behavior, and generous government tax incentives, building green has become profitable. In fact, many early adopters see green building as a means for a competitive advantage. According to Al Gore, more venture capital has been invested in green technologies than in Internet startups. The market for sustainable products has increased to 60 billion dollars, up from 7 billion just five years ago. Attendance at the 2009 Greenbuild conference was up almost 300% from the year before, mirroring the explosion of interest in green building.
During the educational session “How to Model a Green Lease”, commercial real estate brokers, who identify themselves as “Green Brokers,” spoke of the many tenant benefits of green office space. Benefits include sustainable branding, decrease in facility operating expenses, decrease in the number of sick days due to improvements in air quality, and an increase in workforce productivity. These benefits increase the demand for green office space and can justify higher premiums. According to a recent national survey, on average corporate executives are willing to pay a 3% premium for LEED-certified office space.
In addition to the shift in commercial demand, LEED certified buildings are currently being valued, on average, 10% higher than traditional non-LEED certified buildings. Despite vacancy rates nearing 20% in North America, property owners like Scott Muldavin, who created a billion dollar Green Building Finance Consortium, are continuing to build and retrofit commercial buildings to LEED specifications. Scott is releasing a 650 page book which includes his net-present-value and discounted cash flow calculations. The book is free and will be available by spring, 2010.
I had the opportunity to interview Sally Wilson, the Global Director of Environmental Strategy for CB-Richard Ellis. When asked what types of skills MBA’s need to posses in order to differentiate themselves for careers in real estate, she said they, “definitely need to have a strong understanding of sustainability and LEED.” Each Fortune 500 president at the executive roundtable expressed a need for graduates who understand the major issues and opportunities of sustainability management.
Michael Crow, the president of Arizona State University was given a round of applause for his criticism on the country’s higher educational institutions. “We need to stop producing sustainability simpletons. People need to stop acting like raw consumers... There is a lack of comprehensive logic.”
Sustainability needs to be a core value for our generation to tackle the difficult issues in the news today. Environmental resources are rapidly depleting, global warming is not a myth: sea levels are rising, and the United States’ dependence on foreign oil has become a matter of national security. Green buildings can remedy the headlines and reduce the nation’s carbon emissions by 38%, electricity consumption by 72%, and waste output by 30%.
Al Gore addressed the need for the youth to get involved when he told the story of John F Kennedy’s dream to send an American to the moon within ten years. The day Neil Armstrong stepped foot on the moon, the average age in Mission Control was 26. Eight years and two months earlier when JFK made his announcement the average age for the leaders of the Apollo mission were 18. Don’t let your age dictate your potential. The reality of tomorrow starts with a vision today.
Join the revolution; visit www.usgbc.org for more info.