We’re havin’ a party!
It’s true: Americans do it bigger. Under bright autumn skies in early October, the U.S. Green Building Council’s annual Greenbuild International Conference & Expo descended upon downtown Toronto, as 23,000 delegates congregated for four days of networking, educational sessions, green building tours, master speakers and plenary events, in addition to checking out the 1,700 booths, 20 per cent of which were Canadian companies.
I was amazed at the scope and production value of this show. Never before had I seen a construction-related expo as big as this in Toronto, and certainly not one that convenes the industry’s largest gathering of representatives from all sectors of the green building movement. It made Construct Canada look like a garage sale.
The attitudes that were front and centre during conversations conducted and overheard at Greenbuild certainly underscore the importance of its cause: scientists predict that if left unchecked, emissions of greenhouse gases from human activities will raise global temperatures by 2ºF to 11.5ºF this century, which is disturbing because buildings are responsible for the lion’s share of those emissions. For example in Toronto, buildings account for 76 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions per year, with commercial and residential responsible for 60.9 per cent of that.
Building green is one of the best strategies for meeting the challenge of climate change because the technology to make substantial reductions in energy and CO2 emissions already exists. Not only that, it can make good business sense. By 2015, an estimated 40-48 per cent of new non-residential construction by value will be green, equating to a $120-145 billion opportunity. And existing building projects is expected to grow at even faster rates than new construction. An upfront investment of two per cent in green building design, on average, results in life cycle savings of 20 per cent of the total construction costs – more than 10 times the initial investment. And building sale prices for energy efficient buildings are as much as 10 per cent higher per square foot than conventional buildings
But it was listening to NY Times columnist Thomas Friedman give his keynote address to a massive audience at the Air Canada Centre – during what felt like a Baptist revival for the sustainability industry – that re-cast my perspective on the prevailing sentiments at the show.
“Those of us who were hoping for a green revolution…are going to be disappointed,” he said. “Now I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking ‘But Mr. Friedman, we’re having a green revolution! I read about it!’ Really? Us? Having a green revolution? Have you ever been to a revolution where no one gets hurt? That’s the green revolution we’re having, one where everyone is a winner. Sure, Exxon Mobil is a winner, I read about it on the NY Times op-ed pages. GM is a winner, they finally put a little yellow cap on the flex fuel Hummer. BP is a winner, they stood for ‘Beyond Petroleum.’ We’re all winners! That’s not a revolution, friends, that’s a party. We’ve been having a green party.”
He went on to illustrate how we’ll know the revolution is here when three things happen: companies have to change, or die (remember the IT bubble?); there is a price signal to initiate long term consumer demand; the word ‘green’ disappears from our lexicon because to build anything requires building it to the highest levels of efficiency and sustainability.
Greenbuild was a great party, but I’m still waiting for the revolution.