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GreenBuild Conference Opens in Toronto

A report from my first day attending workshops and walking the trade-show floor

Posted on Oct 5 2011 by Martin Holladay

The GreenBuild conference in Toronto, Ontario, opened its gates on October 5, 2011. This is the first time that the U.S. Green Building Council has held its annual conference outside of the United States.

The keynote speech was provided by New York Times columnist Tom Friedman, a longtime promoter of the benefits of globalization. His usual “capitalism is good for the planet” message has been tempered lately by some sensible opinions on the need for governments to impose carbon taxes on fossil fuels, and his speech was well received by the crowd. The event, held in a hockey arena decorated by a 20 foot by 40 foot custom-made neon sign blinking “Next” — USGBC’s chosen theme for this year’s conference — was conducted like a pep rally. There were several opportunities for green building promoters to engage in self-congratulation. Friedman, a quick study, understood the mood and did his part, repeatedly praising those who construct green buildings.

After Friedman spoke, he joined an on-stage panel discussion with Cokie Roberts of NPR, former Canadian Prime Minister Kim Campbell, and Dr. Paul Farmer of Partners in Health, a true hero. Unfortunately, Dr. Farmer had few opportunities to share stories of his work in Haiti, in spite of valiant attempts by Cokie Roberts to balance a conversation that in many ways was dominated by Friedman's mostly optimistic world view.

This morning I attended a presentation on the PassivhausA residential building construction standard requiring very low levels of air leakage, very high levels of insulation, and windows with a very low U-factor. Developed in the early 1990s by Bo Adamson and Wolfgang Feist, the standard is now promoted by the Passivhaus Institut in Darmstadt, Germany. To meet the standard, a home must have an infiltration rate no greater than 0.60 AC/H @ 50 pascals, a maximum annual heating energy use of 15 kWh per square meter (4,755 Btu per square foot), a maximum annual cooling energy use of 15 kWh per square meter (1.39 kWh per square foot), and maximum source energy use for all purposes of 120 kWh per square meter (11.1 kWh per square foot). The standard recommends, but does not require, a maximum design heating load of 10 W per square meter and windows with a maximum U-factor of 0.14. The Passivhaus standard was developed for buildings in central and northern Europe; efforts are underway to clarify the best techniques to achieve the standard for buildings in hot climates. standard. The two American presenters, Bronwyn Barry and Prudence Ferreira, managed to get through their explanations of how the standard works in the U.S. without once mentioning the PHI/PHIUS divorce. The closest that Barry came to the topic was when she explained that “You can have your building certified. These certifications are now changing.”

The trade show floor has a few interesting products, including a new type of hemp insulation manufactured in Quebec. I'll be providing more information on new products in upcoming blogs. For now, check out these photos I took today — and stay tuned for more details.

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Image Credits:

  1. Martin Holladay

Oct 6, 2011 12:30 AM ET

To be specific...
by TJ Elder

Vinyl: The material for sustainability...of the Vinyl industry.

Oct 6, 2011 10:16 AM ET

Jumbo toilets
by Allison A. Bailes III, PhD

I've sometimes wondered how the very obese manage with the standard toilet sizes, especially in some of the tiny stalls in public restrooms (or, since you wrote this article in Canada, I guess I should say washrooms). Now I have to figure out how to get these images out of my head. Thanks, Martin.

Oct 6, 2011 4:10 PM ET

I'll up your office tower...
by Andrew Henry

...with a convention centre!


Oct 6, 2011 4:16 PM ET

I'll up your office tower...
by Andrew Henry


You're glass walled office tower reminded me to put up the photo of the new convention centre here in Ottawa. The photo in the previous post was taken late day in December. You can see the sun reflected off the glass wall, which means it is facing west. I imagine the building will have very good solar heat gain in the summer. No doubt they spent lots of money on glazing with a low SHGC.

And it's going for LEED Silver!

There is a fundamental problem underlying LEED if a structure that is an ideal heat emitter can be certified as LEED Silver.

I don't feel that we have any hope of adapting to Climate Change if our new "green" buildings pay attention to everything but how much energy is needed to make up for that lost through the building envelope.

"Adapt or Bust"; zero emissions by 2050 or bust. I just don't see how "Green" buildings like the Ottawa Convention Centre can possibly be considered sustainable. The architects are just kidding themselves, and so are we.



Oct 6, 2011 7:18 PM ET

All-glass LEED buildings
by Martin Holladay

One thing that becomes clear from attending a GreenBuild conference: complying with LEED has become a huge industry, and many companies are prospering from jumping through the LEED hoops -- especially architects and building materials suppliers.

As your example shows, however, the construction of a LEED building does not save a single polar bear cub.

Oct 12, 2011 5:27 PM ET

by Trish Holder

I think the opening speeches were good....from what I could hear. It's hard to read lips from that far away.

Seriously, am I the ONLY one that was there who noticed that only about 1/3 to 1/2 of the crowd was not even pretending to listen? The rest were carrying on conversations and/or literally had their back turned on the speakers. It was embarrassing and disheartening. THIS is the real story for the opening of Greenbuild. Few people were listening.... and I'm not sure why. I recognized industry faces who have aligned themselves with these values yet these same people completely disregarded the speakers, drank their beers, and left early -- perhaps to return for the concert later.

I felt really, really bad for the speakers.

Oct 12, 2011 9:02 PM ET

Response to Trish Holder
by Martin Holladay

I was sitting toward the front of the crowd, but like everyone else, I kept being distracted by the oblivious attendees at the back of the arena who were carrying on loud conversations as the speakers on the stage were struggling to be heard.

After turning my head backwards repeatedly, I eventually concluded that the loud conversational noises were being propagated by a strange acoustical fluke. I think the arena was designed for hockey, not public speaking -- and that the conversationalists at the back of the arena were therefore being unjustly vilified. The arena amplified the voices of those at the rear. Note to architects: study acoustics.

But those oblivious conversationalists certainly sounded loud, didn't they?

Oct 13, 2011 10:04 AM ET

Response to Martin Holladay on Noise at Greenbuild
by Trish Holder

Hi Martin,

I was sitting on the side, about midway from the guest speakers -- or maybe a bit further. I don't know... I kept looking in front, to my side, and in back. It seemed to me that most people were talking and not listening and not even facing the speakers. There were acoustic issues, I'm sure, but from my vantage point there was limited attention also. It was a long day, after the show, and a long program. Maybe it was too much to ask of a large crowd, ready to "cut loose" for the evening. Still, I was saddened that there was so little respect shown to these speakers from a group of professional adults.

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