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Reflections Upon Greenbuild 2021

This year was the 20th anniversary of Greenbuild, the largest conference in the world dedicated to green building. Having attended every one, this seems like a good time to reflect upon the impact of Greenbuild. At the start of the century, there were annual conferences dedicated to gathering leaders from around the country, such the AIA COTE conference in Chattanooga in 1999. The USGBC’s first dedicated Greenbuild conference took place in Austin in 2002, with about 3,600 people. When helping to plan Greenbuild in Pittsburgh in 2003, I suggested that over 5,000 people might attend, to the incredulity of others on the host committee. The next year in Portland had over 8,000, then Atlanta over 11,000, then Denver, Chicago, Boston, Phoenix, Toronto, San Francisco in successive years, with attendance topping 30,000, a highwater mark. In those days, the largest challenge seemed to be how to address and harness this exponential interest and desire for knowledge.

evolveEA team at Greenbuild 2021

evolveEA team at Greenbuild 2021. From left to right, Marc Mondor, Deborah Stadler, Nicholas Rubenstein, Ian Cook, Mae Catino.

Chatting with my friend Nicola Douglas of South Africa’s Green Building Council, I asked why she was drawn to attend from so far away. Because, she said, this is the largest conference in the world dedicated to this, there’s nothing else like it. LEED seminars were a staple of the conferences, with sold-out demand. In the late oughts, each of the dozens of us LEED Faculty were traveling to teach a dozen seminars per year. This desire for presenter-led seminars was smoothly and inevitably replaced by more flexible and less expensive webinars and web videos.

Last year brought us a completely virtual conference for the first time, in tune with today’s realities, which was then followed up by last month’s Greenbuild in San Diego, a hybrid event. The stark difference for me was the sparse physical attendance. With about 2,000 attendees, four session tracks and about 50 exhibitors, I felt transported back to the small scale and intimacy of Austin. The excitement of those attending for the first time meshed with the wisdom of the multi-year veterans.

keynote session at greenbuild 2021

The opening keynote session at Greenbuild 2021 in San Diego, CA.

The most noteworthy difference for me was the breadth of content held within our movement now. In 2002, sessions were about energy, water, air, resources, real estate, renewables, communications, and specific LEED certification case studies. Our turf today still includes these topics, but now includes wellness, equity, carbon, resilience, net-zero, engagement, living buildings, green infrastructure, regenerative design, education, ecodistricts, automation, biophilia, and embodied energy – many of which were not fully fleshed disciplines even a decade ago. The movement has grown in relation to the challenges we face as a society and the ability of sustainability to address them. People sometimes ask if LEED and Greenbuild are on the decline. I answer that there is still so much work for us and the USGBC to do, that a decline would be an indicator of the wrong things, as we are busy attacking our planet’s largest problems and making the solutions workable.


evolveEA presents at Greenbuild

In addition to the five evolvers who attended the in-person event, two team members presented virtually. Christine Mondor and Anna Rosenblum presented an on-demand session titled “Breathe Easy Millvale: Community Air Quality Planning, Uniting Placemaking and Performance.” Anna and Christine also led a session at the August 26 Resilience Summit, titled “How Three Southwestern Pennsylvania Rivertowns Became the First Three Certified EcoDistricts in the World.”

Excerpt from Breathe Easy Millvale: Community Air Quality Planning, Placemaking and Performance

Evolve EA