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Reflections on Greenbuild!

First new Blog post in a while!

Last week was a very exciting week! I attended Greenbuild for the first time ever (and it was awesome, more on that in a few) AND my twin brother John got married!! It was a beautiful, fun, family, and sensory filled event. I am so happy and proud for him. We all got to see family that we hardly ever get to see, reflected a little on those that couldn’t be with us, and celebrated a great couple of people. I am not a wedding fan by any means but theirs was an absolute blast and everyone was having a great time.

I am starting to think about starting my ARE exams. I’d like to start now, my bank account would prefer I wait until after Christmas. I just spent a week in hotel rooms (and mercifully hardly had to pay for any food or drinks) and travelling and the upfront cost just isn’t in the cards right now (2nd Part of my NCARB registration since I got the student discount price and the exam cost). My office recently decided to reimburse for all passed exams, so as long as I keep passing them, I basically just need to make the initial $281 exam payment. My next round of credit reporting is coming up soon too.

So, the main event: GREENBUILD!!! I had a blast! (My photo doesn't do it justice, but man, look at a ll the marketing!) And it was in a city I love and adore. I couldn’t think of a better way to follow nearly a years’ worth of work on disaster resiliency and recovery than to hear about it in the city that I was much surprised to find is leading the charge on Sustainability and Resiliency. I never would have guessed that even 5 years ago, communities around the United States (and even the world perhaps) would be looking to New Orleans for answers. It’s such a conservative community, and in many ways still is, but I was greatly taken aback by the shift in political tone (though I get those at Greenbuild are going to run slightly more on the liberal end of the spectrum). They now have (if I got this stat right, I didn’t write anything down at the Keynote) 7 LEED certified schools in New Orleans, with 26 more up for accreditation. That’s incredible. Their education program is taking a huge shift in the status quo, which is awesome to see.

Greenbuild hosted 26,000 professionals this year and there are currently 200,000+ LEED Accredited professionals in the United States. I wonder, in a country of over 300 Million people, are those numbers enough? Can that small percentage of the population wield enough influence to get everybody to go green in their own ways?

The keynote featured an introduction from Mayor Mitch Landrieu, with a discussion on Climate Change, Politics and Religion among Environmentalist Paul Hawken, President of NextGen Climate, Tom Steyer, and Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley. The event was held in the Superdome. The weight of the history, both of the evacuees of New Orleans fleeing to the convention center, and the trials of those at the Superdome, did not go unacknowledged, and at times I found it overwhelming to think about, much like my first experience into the lower 9th ward. The Superdome and the New Orleans Saints became the community image on Resiliency and it still gives me chills to think about watching the Saints first game back in the ‘Dome just a year after Hurricane Katrina.

Hawken, Steyer, and O’Malley set the appropriate tone for the event. They acknowledged their religious upbringings and lifestyles without disregarding the science behind climate change. They hang on to core conservative social values while addressing the fact that green development impacts, people, the environment, and the economy. NextGen climate I know in particular (as I happened across this on NHPR) has been spending a ton of political money here in NH to campaign against Scott Brown. I don’t like the idea of PACs and SuperPACs, but I like the idea of him as my senator even less. Governor O’Malley set an appropriate tone and at times reminded me of Bill Clinton. I’ve been told by my family in Maryland that despite the higher taxes under him that they’ve paid, they would for him for another term if they could (Maryland has term limits). He may be my new favorite national politician, and I have very few. Their overall message, was to get out and vote in the mid term elections. I wish the video for them was up on the Greenbuild website, but it is not yet and it was the only event I was unable to take notes at.

My sessions varied from daylighting methods by 4 firms, a couple of resiliency sessions and a couple of Education and sustainability/Green Sessions. I was very pleased that not a single speaker was disappointing to listen to. I’ve heard coworkers, teachers, mentors, classmates, etc all acknowledge that they’ve gone to really promising sessions at conventions only to be bored to tears by the presenter. I’ve sat through guest lectures by architects with incredible work, but not the social/presentation skills to back up what they do. Everyone was very clearly enthusiastically passionate about what they do. Several of my sessions could have gone twice as long and the time would have been filled.

When reflecting back on resiliency, the underlying theme (for me at least) of Greenbuild, my big question is this; Are we ready? Today marks two years since Hurricane Sandy struck the NY Metropolitan area. They lucked out because the size of the storm prevented it from being the absolute worst case scenario, but by all accounts Hurricane Sandy was a perfect storm. So from a management perspective? Perhaps. Emergency management has become a rapidly growing field since Hurricane Katrina. And believe it or not, social media has benefitted us greatly through disasters globally. Would Katrina have been a different situation with iPhones and twitter? Very possibly. But we can’t mistake communication and mental preparation for actual physical protection from the next big storm. Our infrastructure is nowhere close to what it needs to be. Our food supplies, are nowhere close and our energy dependence still lies in the intercontinental distribution of fossil fuels. Until we revamp our built environment, develop microgrid energy systems, and strengthen local resources in whatever region you may be in, we won’t be prepared for the next big storm. There is a lot of physical work to be done that goes beyond a change in mindset and policy. Thankfully, I spent last week with thousands of individuals focused on doing just that.

Overall, my first Greenbuild was a whirlwind amazing couple of days. I hope to go back next year. There’s so much to get to and so little time to do it in but it is worth every minute. It has me excited and energized for the future we can build for ourselves!

"Never doubt that small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it's the only thing that ever has." - Margaret Mead

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