Key Notes from Greenbuild 2013

Greenbuild 2013 in Philadelphia set a welcome new tone for the green building movement. Gone is the doe-eyed optimism of the initial rush to the movement; gone is the recent combative anger of a company under attack from industrial interest groups. We instead found an emerging conversation about serving the underserved, net-zero design based as much on occupant behavior as in building improvements and a dialogue between preservation and sustainability (including a repeated assertion from Secretary Clinton about the overwhelming need for green renovations and retrofits).

Here are six notable themes from this year that we will see a lot of in the year ahead:

1. Product Transformation: The conversation among the product vendors has shifted. The shift to compliance with the added chemical declaration requirements of LEED version 4 (with some vendors using this as an opportunity to revise and cleanup the chemistry of their products) — or discussion of a new layer of difficulty to overcome to stay competitive. The challenges set by LEED and demands for deeper automation, efficiency, and measurement is resulting in material and functional breakthroughs years in the making.

Rick Fedrizzi addresses a stadium full of "Greenbuilders."

2. A Plan for the Challenges Ahead: We found an increasingly rigorous movement towards addressing some of the hardest challenges ahead: the increasing frequency and intensity of natural disasters; poverty and unequal access to resources; stagnant national and global government leadership — and so much more.

The mayor of Greensburg discusses citizen and civic responsibilities in a post-disaster recovery, "what you're entitled to, after a disaster, is the opportunity to lead."

3. Building Reboot: The discussion around building reuse and retrofits were abundant. The National Trust and USGBC each have networks of around 200,000 professionals. Just think of what could happen if we could align the visions of these two organizations!

Life cycle footprinting from office tower retrofits and replacements, used to illustrate a point about the role of the occupant and the opportunities offered in designing for a longer-term building.

4. Public Interest Design: A notable shift towards serving the underserved underpinned the conference this year, with great optimism for the proven and transformational power of design. The growing sentiment is that green design is for everyone.

At the Sustainable Community Forum, Majora Carter convenes a deep discussion about under-served community engagement, and leads a thoughtful dialogue about the challenges and opportunities offered by changing a neighborhood through strategic civic investment, training and placement, green design/living education, access to jobs and financing. Arthur Johnson, Executive Director of the Lower 9th Ward's Center for Sustainable Engagement and Development, commented: "Remember, above all, that this is a community, not a project! Health, food security, and safety all have to be part of the sustainability dialogue."

5. Material Reuse: There is potential for material reuse to support the recovery of post disaster communities. Employment opportunities can be found by creating a long term depot of low-cost materials which carry a "memoriphilia" that connects to the heritage of place. There is economic potential for thoughtful material recovery and reuse done right.

6. The Power and Prevalence of Green: As the USGBC passes its 20th year, the movement has grown — in just a generation — from a handful of design and industry professionals to a network of hundreds of thousands of professionals actively focused on designing green buildings for everyone.

Hillary Clinton's closing keynote at Greenbuild applauded the transformation of green building from a luxury to an all-inclusive and hugely expanding movement that crosses industries national borders and professions.