By Amy Berry
I recently returned from the United States Green Building Council’s (USGBC) 2009 Greenbuild Expo in Phoenix, Arizona. The conference boasted more than 28,000 attendees and more than 1800 exhibitors. Former Vice President Al Gore gave the keynote speech as leaders of the green building world converged to discuss the future of building and the impact this community of architects, designers, builders, project managers and corporate sustainability managers can have on mother earth’s future. Attendees snacked on organic appetizers and drank from compostable plastic cups. Student volunteers filled the convention center excited, to be able to participate in the event, and in exchange spent their time sorting attendees’ garbage into the appropriate recycling, composting or trash bins.
As one of those 1800 exhibitors (we had a full Windspire wind turbine up in our booth) I spent the majority of the show on the expo hall floor. The energy on the floor was described as electric, engaging and awesome by those tweeting with the hashtag #Greenbuild and by some of the more than 100 media in attendance. If you believe that smarter buildings that use less energy and water are a real solution to global warming, this was the place to see and be seen. The USGBC must be applauded for educating so many on real solutions to the global climate crisis.
But what was palpable on the floor but totally unspoken during the event was the real success of the USGBC: its ability to make building supplies sexy. The majority of the 1,800 exhibitors were traditional building supply companies. Walking the floor of the expo hall meant reviewing products like concrete, paper, lighting, toilets, office furniture, carpet, and control systems. A pretty uninteresting category of exhibitors, but add in the focus on how these products can change the world and suddenly you don’t have a trade show, you have a movement. And kudos to these exhibitors for making the most of the atmosphere and their products. Carpet maker InterfaceFLOR, traditionally a petroleum based industry, focused its messaging on the need to reduce dependence on foreign oil. InterfaceFLOR attracted people to its booth with “Get off oil” buttons and t-shirts. Attendees were seen all around the show wearing this gear. When was the last time it was “cool” to wear a carpet company’s giveaways? At the same time, it was made very clear to all that “greenwashing”- the act of faking your green benefits- was totally unacceptable in this environment. Show how your product can reduce the carbon footprint in real world terms or don’t show up at all.
The Expo was as close to a true representation of the “Three P’s” as you’re likely to see. People from all over the world gathered to discuss solutions to save the planet, but at the end of the day it was all about Profit. The 1,800 exhibitors didn’t show up to this “green party” just to see the Sheryl Crow concert (although it was definitely a performance to see). They were there to sell their goods and services. The good news for our planet is that so many businesses are now focused on providing products that will allow buildings to use less water, to use less energy, and to incorporate renewable energy into site plans. The products don’t just solve climate issues, they reduce the overall costs of operating buildings and homes. It is a fairly simple and important concept: reduce your energy and water use and you can reduce your expenses. With a continued focus on the bottom line- on the 3rd P- those who offer sustainable solutions will thrive while leaving those who can’t keep up in the dust. And lucky for the 1st and 2nd P’s- people and planet- this will have a major impact on the climate crisis.
Amy Berry also enjoys her green job as the manager of corporate communications at Mariah Power. She has seen firsthand the awesome transformation and inspiration of the ex-autoworkers in Manistee. She tweets all things wind and green @wind2power