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The Star of Greenbuild 2012

Passion. Fire. Intensity. Collaboration. A fervor for sustainability and green building. That is what Greenbuild 2012 in San Francisco was all about.

Granted, this was the first Greenbuild of my life, and I’m sure the past conference and expo’s have been filled with this same passion, but as a new experience, it was truly overwhelming and eye opening.

The opening plenary, featuring powerhouse personalities like Cory Booker, Gavin Newsome, Joe Scarborough and current Mayor of San Francisco Edward Lee were certainly ready for the show, but I personally found the best opening was provided by someone without quite the same star power.

A Powerhouse Plenary

USGBC President and CEO Rick Fedrizzi absolutely blew the crowd away.  With a fiery passion usually reserved for political conventions, Fedrizzi forcefully and emotionally told green building critics to “Bring It On”, and went on to compare the green movement to past social movements such as women’s suffrage, civil rights and LGBT equality.  It was moving, it was inspiring, and it was the type of speech that makes you want to stand up and do something… and it turns out, that’s what this entire conference was about.  At its core, Greenbuild is about bringing together 30,000+ people and reinforcing their belief in what they’re doing.



Want to get fired up too?

Fedrizzi starts speaking at the 26:50 mark of this video, although I won’t fault you for watching the whole thing!

I won’t deny that business plays an amazing role in this industry and conference, after all, we do recognize it as a nearly $1 trillion dollar industry worldwide, but the people here recognize business as the means to accomplish their goals. Walking through the Expo floor (in all 3 Moscone buildings!), you can feel the excitement stemming from the hundreds of businesses displaying the best of the best green technology. You can hear it in their voices when they describe how their products will literally change the world. You can see it in their faces that they are genuinely happy to be speaking with other people who get it, who get why this is all so important.

It was an absolute pleasure to be a part of, but also an eye opening reality check.  This business, this opportunity, this necessity to change the way we create and interact with the built environment makes all the sense in the world to the people at this conference, but that is not enough.  There are millions of people in this country that have been convinced it’s all for naught, that it’s unnecessary, or too expensive, or some environmentalist utopian fallacy.  They’ve been convinced that we are wrong, but as Fedrizzi says:

We. Are. Right.

We should learn from those past social movements what worked, and what didn’t. We should be spending our resources making the case to the non-believers, not patting ourselves on our backs in echo chambers.  We should be promoting the benefits of green building besides the amazing environmental aspects.  We should be having meaningful discussions with our friends, family, neighbors, and even elected officials. We should be doing this because we know our opposition is. We should recognize our detractors will not play above board, will not fight cleanly, will not stop protecting their outdated and destructive business models, because the reality is, they make a lot of money doing things the old way. We must recognize this for the simple reason that ignoring it, that not addressing it, that not fighting it fire with fire will doom us into tertiary players in the future of our country and our world.

Making an Impact

Of course, I’m not advocating playing dirty… that’s just not the way the green industry works. (Rimshot!) However, we need to understand that while Greenbuild is a great way to share ideas on actual green building products, services and strategies, it is also an opportunity to rally the troops. To provide clear guidance and message so that we can be advocates and champions of this movement when we return to our own states, to our own cities, to our own homes. In the end, that’s what it will take, and that’s what it’s all about. That’s why President Fedrizzi spoke so passionately, that’s why it felt like a political rally at a certain point, and that’s why it fired me up so much.

Greenbuild 2012 was a wakeup call for me, a call already embraced by intelligent, forward thinking business people, architects, designers, builders and community leaders across the country. This industry is here to stay, here to grow, and here to make a difference.  I look forward to getting my hands dirty, to preaching this message, and to making an impact in my community.  Thank you Greenbuild, you’ve reignited the fire.  I’ll see you in 2013.

Ryan Spies

About the Author : Ryan SpiesRyan is an Engineer, MBA, and a LEED Green Associate. After graduating from the Olin Business School at Washington University in St. Louis in 2011, Ryan’s career has focused on global market understanding of the solar industry, while demanding an ever growing role within his company’s sustainability program. He loves burritos, video games and the St. Louis Cardinals.View all posts by Ryan Spies

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