Have you ever paid $8 for a movie ticket and still had to sit through commercial messages in the theater before they showed the main feature?
Commercial messages are an established part of the American way of doing business, and we’ve all learned how to sit through them when necessary. The same rules apply at a major conference like GreenBuild as at your local Cineplex. Even if you pay $700 for a ticket, you still have to sit through a few ads.
At national conferences, some speakers are invited because they are experts in their field. Others buy their way on stage.
At the opening plenary session of the GreenBuild conference on October 4, 2011, in Toronto, the audience listened politely to a commercial message from David Kohler, the faucet-and-bathtub magnate whose plumbing supply company helped fund the conference. At the closing plenary session, conference attendees listened politely to Scott Case, Director of Markets Development for UL Environment, as Case explained what his company, a conference sponsor, was up to.
However, the oddest speaker by far at GreenBuild’s closing plenary session, John Picard, was hard to categorize. Was this another advertisement from a conference sponsor? Or did the invitation for Picard to speak just represent a monumental example of poor judgment on the part of the conference organizers?
Fedrizzi, Bloomberg, and Picard
From all appearances, Picard is an entrepreneur drumming up interest from investors in his Silicon Valley start-up, Soft Power. From his October 7 speech, it appeared clear that he is a personal friend of USBGC president Rick Fedrizzi, and that they two of them like to hobnob with Republican politicians, especially New York mayor Michael Bloomberg.
The Picard speech was a train wreck — strangely fascinating to watch, all the more so because it occurred on stage before a crowd of thousands. His nervousness had a hint of mania to it. His message, in a nutshell, was the following:
- We are about to solve the climate change crisis.
- The solution to the crisis is more technology — specifically, energy monitoring equipment and software that Picard hopes to develop and promote.
- Picard expects to become very wealthy from his new company.
- Picard is promising owners of commercial real estate that they, too, will become wealthy if they install his equipment
- Michael Bloomberg is a genius who will eventually become president of the U.S.
- Picard is a very important person who is about to change the world, and his vision of the future is one that USGBC shares.
“I’m out in front”
I took notes continuously during the speech, but I was unable to keep up with Picard’s rapid flow. Picard told us, “The path ahead is a major shift: the shift from analog to digital. I’m out in front catching fire, catching flak. I’m fearless about seeing ideas and all that may be possible. Anything is possible. In a place called the Valley. My career is a series of seminal movements. This is what’s next: the Valley. The Valley is about what is next. Silicon Valley.
“We are now armed with artificial intelligence, advanced simulation systems, advanced visualization tools. We are armed with people: the people who backed Ebay and Amazon. We are building the Facebook of energy. We call it Soft Power.
“This is a game changer. We’re working with Grundfos and David Kohler. The idea is to use the cloud. What’s the cloud? The cloud means loading all the world’s data to one place. We need to scale this up — this new machine. I want to do as much good as I possibly can.
“We have a concept for I-Buildings. We will launch these kinds of things in New York. We can switch the value portfolio of New York up, because the fifth fuel exists there. It’s actionable information. It’s about engaging the tenant. Over half the building cost is fixed. Soft Power is how we get higher utilization of that asset. These buildings will have lower risk. They are auditable because they are mathematically expressed. We can increase the value of your building. New York will be worth 20% more.
“Let me project forward: in 2014, Soft Power goes on line. In 2016, Michael Bloomberg wins the U.S. presidency. In 2020, we reach the peak of Mount Sustainability.
“We will win every bid to build what is right. Facebook is one of the most unifying forces today. We all love life, and soon we will have the power to protect it, to discover what is right. I am the son of an Apollo engineer. And I am the first one who went to the steps of the White House…”
At that point in the proceedings, I broke off taking notes to write an aside — “Megolomania?” — and by the time I was ready to resume taking notes, the crowd was applauding loudly.
My impression is that the USGBC represents a small slice of the green building movement — and a rather strange one.
Last week’s blog: “How to Install Rigid Foam Sheathing.”