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Musings of an Energy Nerd

GreenBuild Conference Opens in Toronto

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

The GreenBuild 2011 conference in Toronto opened with four keynote speakers: Cokie Roberts of NPR, Dr. Paul Farmer of Partners in Health, former Canadian Prime Minister Kim Campbell, and New York Times columnist Tom Friedman. After a round of speeches, the four celebrities engaged in an on-stage panel discussion.
Image Credit: 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 Passivhaus 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…

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  1. TJ Elder | | #1

    To be specific...
    Vinyl: The material for sustainability...of the Vinyl industry.

  2. GBA Editor
    Allison A. Bailes III, PhD | | #2

    Jumbo toilets
    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.

  3. Andrew Henry | | #3

    I'll up your office tower...
    ...with a convention centre!

  4. Andrew Henry | | #4

    I'll up your office tower...

    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.



  5. GBA Editor
    Martin Holladay | | #5

    All-glass LEED buildings
    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.

  6. Trish Holder | | #6

    I CAN'T HEAR YOU!!!!
    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.

  7. GBA Editor
    Martin Holladay | | #7

    Response to Trish Holder
    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?

  8. Trish Holder | | #8

    Response to Martin Holladay on Noise at Greenbuild
    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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