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Green Building Curmudgeon

Another GreenBuild Down

The exhibit hall and educational sessions were disappointing, but I enjoyed networking

Image 1 of 3
This unique lecture setup met with mixed reviews.
Image Credit: Carl Seville
This unique lecture setup met with mixed reviews.
Image Credit: Carl Seville
I wasn't even aware that my textbook was on sale at the show, and I found two other books that I had contributed to as well. Another great little foam giveaway for my collection.

After missing GreenBuild 2011 in Toronto, I was excited to be back this year in San Francisco, a city I visit so frequently that I consider it my second home. GreenBuild is a big conference, with attendence in the range of 30,000, down slightly from a few years ago, but still very impressive. It was held in the Moscone Center, well located in downtown San Francisco.

Even though the Moscone Center has three separate buildings, the amount of walking is comparable to the monster halls in Las Vegas, Orlando, and Chicago, and when the weather is nice, it provides an opportunity to get outside.

A very active passive house in the exhibit hall

Conferences are sometimes maddeningly similar: a big exhibit hall with too many booths and endless one-hour overview seminars.

I didn’t see too many new things in the exhibit hall. (See Alex Wilson’s post to learn about new and exciting products.) One corner of the hall was populated by a row of Passivhaus product suppliers — interesting, since the movement is still quite small.

It was nice to see super-high performance ERVs and flashing systems becoming more available here, although I rarely see any opportunities to incorporate these in my work as a consultant. As I pointed out in my last post, I struggle to make my client’s build buildings only slightly less crappy than they would otherwise. Being involved with true high-performance buildings is still a dream for me.

Education still lacking

As is often the case, the educational component was a mixed bag. I made the mistake of going to several sessions with interesting content, but, unfortunately, most of the speakers were not very engaging.

Where the speakers were good, they lacked enough time for any depth of content. In my opinion, 15 to 20 minutes per person barely leaves time to introduce a subject. GreenBuild education tends to be a combination of motivational talks, high-level introductions, and a few self-serving sales pitches. I believe the conference would be better served by adding one- to two-hour in-depth sessions with single, excellent, speakers providing advanced instruction. I know that there were some excellent sessions, but apparently I missed most of them this year.

While the facilities were nice, they conference room ceilings were frighteningly tall, creating a cavernous feeling. Some rooms were set up with a central elevated runway, video monitors, and high-end lighting. This setup was a nice change from the typical dais-at-the-end-of-the-room arrangement, but it seemed a little forced, and I couldn’t help thinking about how much all the equipment cost.

Networking is where it’s at

Although I was disappointed with the education and the exhibit hall, as always, GreenBuild does offer excellent networking opportunities. I reconnected with old friends and associates, met new people, and made some good connections for future opportunities.

As always, some people will love it and be inspired, especially those who have not been before. Some people will be lucky and pick sessions that are interesting and engaging.

A few (or many) like me will be disappointed with most of what they see and long for more depth.


  1. wjrobinson | | #1

    Absolutely useless
    Absolutely useless blog.

    Carl, we come here to further our abilities in building green. I want my two minutes back.

  2. Expert Member
    CARL SEVILLE | | #2

    Aj, What's your rate?
    Send me your hourly rate and your address. I'll send you a check for your wasted 2 minutes. Hopefully upcoming posts will better meet your needs.

  3. Brent_Eubanks | | #3

    Thank you
    Speaking for myself, I appreciate posts like this. Being an effective green builder or designer or engineer means being a change agent. Greenbuild is the big gathering for such people, so keeping a finger on the pulse of the organization is valuable to the professional community. Despite living in the Bay Area, I did not attend myself, largely because I perceived the seminars to be lightweight and unsubstantial. It is helpful to have a reality check on this perception by someone who was there, and this simply encourages me to push for more substantive educational sessions for future Greenbuilds.

    Relatedly: Is there any group or organization that is actively trying to reform or guide Greenbuild in the direction of more substantive, technically informative education sessions? If so, I'd like to support them - I agree that 15 minutes just isn't enough time to say anything really interesting.

  4. homedesign | | #4

    Thank You Carl
    I appreciate you and your articles

  5. Expert Member
    CARL SEVILLE | | #5

    Changing Greenbuild
    Brent - I was on the residential education committee a few years back (for Phoenix show, I believe) and I pushed hard for changes in the entire process, suggesting they get away from filtering through any submissions towards creating a curriculum, then inviting the best speakers to teach specific classes. The powers that be pretty much ignored me and never invited me back to be on the committee. There seems to be a tradition that they insist on upholding, similar to most other conferences. Hopefully we will see improvement down the road.

    Thanks for your support, John. Maybe we can get together with AJ sometime and set him straight!

  6. albertrooks | | #6

    Status quo?

    The Passive House zone is where all the cool kids are hanging out these days. The PH "zoners" have re-upped for Philly next year with an even larger area and a bit more central.

    Yep. PH is still small, but that is where the "energy" is.

    Like sub atomic particles, there's a heck of a lot going on in that little PH world.

    Maybe you'll get to play with some of those high performance toys in 2013. We can hope!

  7. user-946029 | | #7

    Response to Brent

    I could be off base here, but I always got the sense that RESNET and EEBA held educational sessions with some real meat to them.

    Anyone care to agree or dispute that notion?

  8. JoeW519 | | #8

    Two "Things"

    A few years ago an association I belonged to seemed similarly disabled by an insistence on dog&pony shows over substance. I suspect their commitment is fed by corporate "donations" but don't know. But I found others who were unsatisfied by what they put on the table and we decided, on our own, to offer an "off campus" option. We got volunteers -- we found the "big names" were as bored by the current policy as we were -- and, for the price of a dinner for each presenter, offered a couple of seminars on two evenings (the first year). The next year we managed to come up with 4 different offerings. Attendance grew each time and was usually SRO (because we had small rooms, mostly).

    It didn't happen again because the powers that be decided to join the fun. The following year a serious bone with meat on it was brought out with advance signup and a small enrollment fee. It was "sponsored" by one of the big vendors.

    A question: do you get the impression that "green" business is hesitant/cautious and put off by the economic song and dance that politicians on at least 3 continents seem hell bent on putting us through? Does "fracking" seem to be a "gloom and doom" cloud at all? Just wondering.

    Thanks to the Curmundgeon.

  9. wjrobinson | | #9

    Carl, you know aj loves you
    Carl, you know aj loves you buddy. Just not this blog. email me a pic of two cents and call me paid off.

    Merry Christmas yaa fellow green grinch...
    ;) aj

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