Event Report: Greenbuild Is Fringe No More

30 Nov, 2008

With numbers that top AIA's convention, Greenbuild is undeniably a force in design.

While some in the architecture and construction professions still express frustration with what they see as a green fad, last week it became very clear to me that designing sustainably is now in fact the goal of a great number of American design practices. The U.S. Green Building Council's Greenbuild Conference and Expo was in Boston November 19-21. Although I write about sustainability frequently, I have to confess that I was surprised at just how large this conference has become. Greenbuild is easily on par with the AIA's convention and in fact was in the same location. The official tally of Greenbuild attendees this year was 28,197 compared with AIA's 23,950. USGBC president and CEO Rick Fedrizzi said in the opening plenary session that the Greenbuild conference was hosting attendees from 80 countries, including 33 representatives from partner green building councils.

The one area in which Greenbuild was not comparable to the AIA show is in the number of continuing education sessions. AIA's sessions far exceeded the number of offerings at Greenbuild and were easier to get into. I saw numerous sessions with 30 or so attendees queued up and waiting for admittance to packed rooms. Often, Greenbuilders gave up or were admitted only near the end of the session. Both the fewer sessions and the difficulty gaining admittance is probably a symptom of the organization's growing pains. This year being the fifteenth anniversary of its founding, Fedrizzi compared the USGBC to a 15-year-old child: full of idealism and enthusiasm, but still learning about itself and its potential in the world.


The African Children's Choir sang before and after a speech given by Archbishop Desmond Tutu during the opening plenary session. The children's innocence was a physical representation of why the transition to green building is so important and a symbol of the movement's youthful optimism and vigor. (All photos courtesy of Heather Livingston.)

Discussing the global impact of the green movement, Fedrizzi said that those attending the conference were "ready to unleash the strength of tremendous passion and shared goals" to transform the world's built environment and work to mitigate damage caused by CO2 emissions that result from harmful design and construction practices. He further announced that the USGBC is committed to greening homes, schools,

Desmond Tutu called Greenbuild attendees the "cat's whiskers" and praised them for being part of "a revolution that has turned around the moral climate and made it so that politicians must now address green issues," which he equated as being "on par with women's and child abuse issues."
hospitals, etc., within a generation because everyone deserves to live and work in a green building. Praising the commitment and enthusiasm of the attendees, Fedrizzi said, "Before the USGBC and LEED, there was you: thousands of you who are doing better by doing good."

The Tech News
Although the expo floor was packed with green exhibitors, sadly, there still was not great representation among CAD/BIM/technology vendors at this conference. Autodesk was there in full force and Bentley finally made its first appearance at the conference. (I'll bring Cadalyst readers up to date on Autodesk and Bentley Greenbuild news in my next AEC Tech News column on December 11.) With the inclusion of Bentley this year, Nemetschek/Graphisoft was made conspicuously absent. Nor was there a booth for Rhino, SketchUp, or FormZ. However, there were a few tech vendors for software programs that analyze LEED compliance and post-occupancy building performance measurement. Here's a recap of some of the offerings.

LoraxPro (presumably named for the Dr. Seuss book about the environment) is a "virtual LEED consultant" application that manages and analyzes the LEED certification process. LoraxPro streamlines the LEED process by offering document management, automated credits, teamwork facilitation, a historical data warehouse, online LEED charette, task/schedule manager, cross-referencing of multiple projects, and electronic submission.

Quality Attributes Software
Quality Attributes is now pretty well known for its Green Touchscreen interactive kiosk that educates building users about their consumption in real time. At Greenbuild, QAS was touting its newer iBPortal as "intelligent building solutions on-demand." The iBPortal pulls and visualizes data from a single building to a portfolio of multiple buildings and reaches past silos of information to create a consolidated view of business intelligence related to energy consumption and sustainability.

Lucid Design Group
Lucid's Building Dashboard is also a web-based application that provides environmental building performance data utilizing kiosks. Thus far, Building Dashboard has been used predominantly in academic facilities and has even been a catalyst for creating college dormitory competitions to lower water and energy usage at Oberlin, Elon, and others. To see a white paper published on the subject, please visit

GaBi Software
GaBi is an application that supports the collection, organization, monitoring, and analysis of the environmental performance of products and processes. GaBi assists with life cycle assessment, life cycle engineering, energy efficiency/benchmarking studies, strategic risk management, and carbon footprints. The GaBi i-report lets clients generate scenarios from their life cycle assessment case studies, create product-specific eco-design tools, and accelerate reporting with predefined report templates.

Integrated Environmental Solutions
During Greenbuild, IES released two new suites of integrated sustainable analysis tools: the Architectural Suite and the Architectural Suite Plus. The two offerings provide early-stage environmental design assistance in a variety of categories, including energy consumption, carbon emissions, LEED, daylighting, solar shading and artificial lighting, enabling them to perform customized analysis for each project. The environmental analysis tools are integrated around a central 3D model that can connect directly with SketchUp, Revit, and other 3D design tools via gbXML. Utilizing these suites, architects can quickly and easily incorporate environmental performance analysis into their design workflow without rebuilding geometry. Multiple design iterations can be assessed rapidly to help maximize the environmental performance of the final design.

Bluebeam also was present with its PDF Revu, but since I covered it in the November 6, 2008 AEC Tech News, I won't elaborate on it further here.


This structure, erected at the north entrance of the Boston Convention and Expo Center, was designed as a zero-energy smart building. This particular FROG Zero building was showcased as the "school of the future" and features optimal sight lines and acoustics, abundant daylighting, ergonomic interiors, and advanced climate control with improved air quality. Constructed entirely of renewable or recyclable materials, the FROG Zero generates at least as much energy as it requires in a year and produces virtually no CO2. CEO Mark Miller estimates that construction costs for the FROG Zero "should be at least 25% less than traditional construction."

Other News for Designers
Arguably the most interesting offering released during Greenbuild was the launch of A web site of biologically inspired design solutions and ideas, is the creation of Janine Benyus, founder of the Biomimicry Guild and Biomimicry Institute, and funded by Autodesk. AskNature is "about looking at how nature solves problems," Benyus said. One example she cites is how we currently make cement, a building material that contributes 6–8 percent of CO2 emissions. To make cement, we mine and crush limestone and other minerals and bake the slurry at about 2,700 degrees Fahrenheit. To contrast that process, Benyus points to coral reefs which instead remove CO2 from the atmosphere using little but calcium and sea water at life-sustaining temperatures. AskNature "is about learning from how the coral reef does it," explains Benyus.

Biomimetic products are already making their way to market, including a coral-inspired cement known as the Calera prcess and dye-sensitized solar cells by Dyesol. Part inspiration and part social networking site, AskNature is a Web 2.0 project that is loaded with scientific data from naturalist E.O. Wilson's Encyclopedia of Life and other scientific resources. It is intended to be a first-stop for designers seeking inspired sustainable solutions for everyday building problems. Lynelle Cameron, Autodesk's director of sustainability, of their involvement in, explained, "The challenges we face today are the unintended consequences of past design decisions." was officially launched on Friday, November 21.