Newsletter | Jan/Feb 2005

Greenbuild goes to Portland

by Alexandra Vondeling

This November I attended the US Green Building Council's (USGBC) third Greenbuild International Conference and Expo in Portland, Oregon. The USGBC is the organization responsible for developing the LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) guidelines.

The magazine, FAST Company, recently listed LEED as the number 6 business trend of 2005. There are currently 1500 LEED certified projects and 19,000 LEED accredited professionals. In four years the number of local Greenbuilding Chapters has grown from 6 to 42. This trend was certainly evident at the conference as the increase in interest and attendance was staggering. In it's first year the attendance was approximately 1500 attendees, while the second year was over 3000 and this year the latest number for attendees was over 7000!

The conference had several different components: keynote speakers, seminar series, an exhibit hall, LEED workshops, green building tours, a poster exhibit / competition and of course lots of opportunities for networking and socializing such as dinners and receptions.

The keynote speakers were inspiring visionaries: Glenn Murcutt and Paul Dolan. Glenn Murcutt, an Australian architect and Pritzker winner, has long been practicing climate and landscape informed design with incredible attention to detail, material usage, integrated, innovative solar shading and natural ventilation. He ardently explained much of his work with the aboriginal population of Australia and how that has directly informed his work along with his love of the Australian natural environment. Paul Dolan, winemaker and former President of Fetzer Vineyards, who spoke about sustainable business practices and how he transitioned Fetzer's business after tasting one of the organic grapes from his vineyard. It was quite impressive to see how one step can lead to the next, from partial organic vineyards, to all organic, to recycled labels with soy ink, to a green winery building and even to providing additional social services for his workers such as English classes.

The individual seminars were organized into various categories, such as master speakers, commercial buildings, institutional buildings, residential buildings, economics and finance, and cross border issues, each having concurrent sessions. There were so many great options it was hard to choose! Discussion of "integrated design", collaborative design and goal building from the project's inception, was a common theme.

One of the master speakers I elected to hear was Bob Berkebile, principal of BNIM Architects and founding chairman of the AIA's National Committee on the Environment. He spoke eloquently on integrated design and moving buildings and communities beyond LEED solutions toward restorative and spiritual design. Another frequent discussion topic was the cost of building green. The common perception is that green building costs more. Several sessions set about to debunk this notion both through anecdotes and statistical studies. It was exciting to hear the hard evidence to use with one's own clients and to see developer's jumping on board. Who else is more concerned with the bottom line? One particularly inspirational developer who spoke was Jonathon Rose, President of Rose Companies who has worked extensively in low-income urban neighborhoods in New York City. His discussion exemplified how the built environment can so directly improve environmental, social and community problems.

Portland, with its emphasis on smart urban planning, public transportation planning for the future and incentives for sustainable building was the perfect city for a green building conference. The tours definitely took advantage of what the city and region have to offer as built examples. The free trolley in the urban downtown made getting around a snap and the city was great for exploring on one's own. One of the tours was a biking tour of green buildings. That tour proved to be so popular I was unable to participate! The urban walking tour that I did take involved three LEED projects in the Pearl District, a rapidly redeveloping mixed used warehouse district. The projects included the Balfour-Guthrie building, an architecture firm, owned and remodeled by the architects; the Gold certified Jean Vollum Natural Capital Center which is owned and occupied by Ecotrust, a nonprofit focused on forestry, salmon fishing and native American issues; and lastly the Brewery Blocks, which was comprised of five-blocks of mixed-use development, part of which use to be Henry Weinhard's Brewery. Once again, it was encouraging to see such a sizable LEED project completed profitably and successfully by a large development company, Gerding / Edlen Development.

In what little free time we had between seminars, attendees could wander through the enormous exhibit hall and peruse all the booths of green products and consultants; products included waterless urinals, tankless water heaters, insulation made from blue jeans, counters made from recycled glass, and green roof systems to name just a few.

The two and half days were engaging, inspiring and definitely exhausting! It made you think more profoundly about how one can make socially and environmentally responsible choices that impact both one's own work and personal life. As designers we can lead and inform our clients and really influence the built environment and its impacts on the environment. Won't it be wonderful when, one day, the LEED point system becomes redundant, as designing sustainably becomes second nature.

To learn more about the USGBC and the Greenbuild conferences go to and Next year's conference will be in Atlanta.

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