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.