Greenbuild 2013: The Kool-Aid Not Tasting Quite As Sweet

2013 Greenbuild

"Image courtesy of zirconicusso /"

By Trish Holder

I returned this past Thursday from three days at the 2013 Greenbuild Conference and Expo in Philadelphia, my ears still ringing with every green cliché ever uttered by anyone associated with the green building industry.  By the end of the trip a part of me wanted to cover my ears and run to the closest politically incorrect location I could find where the landscape was colored with hues opposite of green on the color wheel.  If all that sounds like I’m experiencing a little burnout, I probably am.  But why?

I tried to figure it out it on the plane ride home.  It’s not that I don’t love going to Greenbuild, and especially reconnecting with some wonderful vendors and good friends in the industry, especially the HVAC industry for which I write.  I reasoned to myself that every large trade show precipitates a certain amount of sensory overstimulation that tends to make you want to run to the nearest dark closet and cover your ears.  But this year it was more than just the hackneyed phrases (“it’s easy being green”) and the overabundance of chartreuse that was getting under my skin.  It was, I’m afraid, the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), the agency that puts on this show each year.

Average (Green) Joes – Underappreciated and Unrepresented?

This year I found it hard to ignore what so many have come to perceive as a certain arrogance and exclusivity of the USGBC in its management of this tradeshow, which happens to be extremely expensive for the average Joe to attend or the average company to exhibit at. I kept running into examples of little people getting the shaft.  There was the Professor of Architecture from Texas who was refused entry into an alternate educational session when she was too late to attend the session for which she had signed up. (Some show personnel had misdirected her to the wrong location, she said, making her late).  Mind you, she had paid a handsome price to register for the class, was not refunded her money, nor was she permitted to attend another session in its place.

Chatting with this woman on the shuttle from the hotel to the conference, I learned that she and her students hold fundraisers just so they can attend the show each year.  She’s an educator with direct influence on the young people who will be designing our homes and buildings, specifying products, and perhaps managing their own LEED projects.  This woman was ticked – and I can understand why.

Right or wrong, such incidents lend credibility to those who have long accused the USGBC of being a money making machine, instead of the 501(c)(3) nonprofit it officially is.  It also makes some of us who have volunteered our time to local USGBC organizations, promoted Greenbuild, and even gone through the rigors of a LEED certification feel unappreciated to say the least.

Okay – maybe I am still smarting from the fact that I would have to buy my own plaque signifying that I own a LEED certified home.  But I do sense that the USGBC is at a crossroads where it must decide to become more accessible to the average green-minded consumer.   After all, if an organization like the USGBC is slipping in the esteem of someone like me – “a true believer” or an “early adopter” of green — you have a public relations problem.  And I don’t want the USGBC to have a public relations problem!

The silver lining in all this is that somewhere between Philly and home, I remembered the fact that Greenspiration Home remains dedicated to homeowners.  Period. Personally, I’d trade the presence of some celebrities and high profile speakers at Greenbuild (no offense intended to Bon Jovi or Hillary Clinton) for the sight and sound of the average homeowner.  But that’s just me.

In fairness to the USGBC, they may have realized their show management skills were lacking.  They have now partnered with Hanley Wood LLC, the well-known media, event, information and strategic marketing services company, to help them manage future Expos.  I spoke with several exhibitors that believed this would be a positive for the future of the conference.  I hope they are right.

Stay tuned for what I liked about Greenbuild 2013.


5 Responses »

  1. Trish, great synopsis of GB2013. My and my design staff also attended and can say without reservation that GB has finally succumbed to the commercialization of a once hip and trendy event.

    My first GB was Portland OR…I think it was the second conference they did. Back then, everything was new, organic, interesting. People invented healthy/eco-friendly materials and showcased them like a flea market. The energy in the building was amazing.

    After GB Phoenix, I vowed to never go again, since the show has really just turned into the main commercial construction show in the US. Green…truly green mind you… has taken a back seat to greenwashing. But as a 22 year veteran of the green building supply industry, i just couldn’t stay away another year, so i went to Phily to see if the energy was back. It wasn’t.

    I have four retail locations of my own and distribute to another 100 stores across North America. My customers are those looking to build/remodel healthy, not just green. There needs to be a show for that customer, as GB completely ignores the residential consumer. Let me know if you have any suggestions.

  2. Good afternoon, Trish

    Thank you for your honesty about the 2013 USGBC.
    Everyone both large and small customers should be able to attend the show without feeling like it is “too expensive” to attend because prices to atend have increased because of the show’s popularity, in my opinion. I also feel that the show’s management should make sure to provide the best customer service possible especially in light of the higher prices they are charging for admission and to attend classes, so that if someone is late for a class, then the person can still attend the class without being denied admission to the class like the example you wrote about.

    I enjoy reading your articles so please keep up the good work.

    Happy Thanksgiving.

    Thank you

    Del Barbray
    Broker Associate
    Weichert, Realtors-Galster Group

  3. Greetings -

    This is helpful to read – I too attended GB 2013, but from a different point of view. I’m a member of the Board of Directors. I’ll make sure these concerns / suggestions are passed on to staff – although the staff is so good, they may already have seen them. The concern about the cost of attending is on the radar of the organization, and it is important to note that USGBC does provide scholarship funding for students and non-profit organizations, especially from the world of affordable housing. This funding is often supported by sponsors. Please encourage the professor you met to send a note to the staff at USGBC. (for the record, I’m an architecture professor myself – and I would be pretty frustrated myself). Thanks for caring enough about the organization to make constructive criticisms.

  4. It was really fun meeting you in person at the show. To be honest, I like the builder show better. There is so much more electricity there. I really didn’t see anything exciting at the show since I have been in this industry almost a decade.

    I would like to see more new technologies. Perhaps if the price point for exhibitors was less, there would be more innovation.

  5. Hello Trish,

    I appreciated your comments describing your concerns about what USGBC is becoming. I have also attended several conferences and I share your frustrations. There have been several times that I have been frustrated about the content of some sessions I’ve attended that became more political than practical. As a facilities director in higher education I am more concerned about how I can incorporate sustainable best practises into our project designs and construction plans than wading through political or commercial commentaries. Often times the best part of attending the conference is the colaboration with our peers and networking to establish spport for other professionals in tne trade.

    I do get a little tired of opening pearless oysters (sessions) while I am there. I agree with the other comments, that it is time to become more organic and practical and respectpect the ‘grassroots’ base of the organization.

    Maybe it’s time to run for an office to affect change :).


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