Don’t Judge Greenbuild by the Political Undertones

Photography by Oscar Einzig

By Trish Holder

What happens when you bring a highly energized entity like the US Green Building Council (USGBC) and its enthusiasts together with the politically conservative stalwarts of the construction industry? It happens each year at Greenbuild, the world’s largest green building conference, and it is a topic I explored in this article for HPAC Engineering Magazine, “Greenbuild: At Risk of Alienating HVAC Crowd?”

What does Greenbuild look like?  For starters, imagine a 20-something doe-eyed architectural student discussing environmentally friendly refrigerants with a 60-something engineer who hates government regulation and carries a photo of Ronald Reagan in his wallet. Now picture thousands of variations of both–and everything in between—and you’ve got Greenbuild.

Greenbuild is actually quite amazing.  The USGBC does a stellar job putting together this massive green building conference, which includes hundreds of top-notch speakers, seminars, and even entertainment, not to mention a tradeshow capable of filling up some of the largest convention centers in the country.  The conference is as much for CEOs of large manufacturing firms, as it is for environmentalists.  If Greenbuild was a restaurant, the menu would include a wide range of vegan fare and enough top choice red meat to give you chest pains halfway through the main course.  The atmosphere and the people alone are enough to make you want to return.

Political Undertones at World’s Largest Green Building Conference

I love Greenbuild.  This year I was particularly intrigued by the speaker line-up at the opening plenary, which included Cory Booker, Mayor of Newark, New Jersey; George Pataki, Former Governor of New York; and Biz Stone, co-founder of Twitter, among others.  I was gnashing my teeth that my plane didn’t arrive early enough for me to attend the opening plenary, but I did talk to a few of my colleagues from the HVAC industry that did.  I was fascinated by what they had to say about USGBC President Rick Fedrizzi’s “no holds barred” speech, as well as the conference in general.  No doubt his unapologetic environmentalism had more than a few conservatives squirming in their seats.  You can read some reactions here.

Just keep this in mind.  Never underestimate the value of youth and diversity or experience and wisdom, particularly when the two are thrown together under one roof.  Fur may fly, but when the dust settles, you may find yourself saying, “That was one heck of a party!  Can’t wait till next year.”



2 Responses »

  1. As a pragmatist and (relatively) data-driven person, I am discouraged when I see environmental/energy/health/financial issues treated as left/right. conservative/liberal dichotomies.

    we have very real problems to solve – but if we can’t frame the problems in a way that does not diss one side or the other, we only put up barriers to progress.

    And, even as someone who is on the progressive side of things, I find the Greenbuild plenaries to be off-putting, because the overall tenor is “we are so correct and they are so wrong – and we’ll show them”

    It rallies the base but undercuts opportunities to engage with the ones who need to be convinced.

    Maybe it is too difficult to be an exciting problem solver in a plenary – though Archbishop Tutu managed it at his Greenbuild session…

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