What this Green Homeowner Saw (and Heard) at Greenbuild 2010

Most of my friends have never heard of Greenbuild – the U.S. Green Building Council’s (USGBC) annual international conference and expo–even though it is hailed by the USGBC as the world’s largest conference and expo dedicated to green building. I attend the show each year as freelance press. I can’t say for sure if it is the world’s “largest” green building conference, but I do always learn a lot, both as a green journalist and as a homeowner.

At this year’s show, held recently in Chicago, I found myself wishing that more consumers could see and hear what goes on at this event. For instance, I wished that at least one of my friends or neighbors had heard the conversation that I overheard on the expo floor.

On the second day of the conference, I was casually walking behind two (I assumed by the accent) European businessmen who were conversing about the tradeshow. It was clear that at least one was disappointed in the show, remarking that there was no real new technology on display and that the event was “so small.”

Mind you, this show draws over 25,000 attendees from 112 countries. Keynote speakers have included former Vice President Al Gore and retired Gen. Colin Powell (this year’s speaker). I think that only someone with a slightly skewed perspective could call it small. That’s said, I know from my own industry experience and interviews over the years that the US does lag behind many European countries in terms of green building initiatives, particularly energy efficiency and water conservation. I know this but most consumers do not.

I couldn’t help but remember an interview I conducted at last year’s show, which was held in Phoenix. I was interviewing a representative from a German-based manufacturer of battery-less sensors. Without the slightest hint of arrogance, this congenial businessman told me that there were more solar panels in his hometown in Bavaria, Germany than he had seen during his stay in sunny Phoenix. We both laughed at the irony, but we also knew it was largely because the US had not seen the dramatic increase in energy costs that other countries have. We only think we have. There again, it’s all about perspective.

We have a tendency to believe more of what we overhear than what we are told. That’s why I wished someone else could have overhead the conversation. Perhaps being a fly on the wall at some of these industry events would give the average consumer a new perspective on where the US stands in terms of green building and environmental initiatives. After all, you can’t dismiss a conversation that you overhear as propaganda.

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