Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Thank you, GreenBuild

At the risk of sounding like a bona fide hippie, this Thanksgiving I am grateful for the Earth. More specifically, I’m thankful for the green movement and all the people in it who are working to make our world a healthier place.

I just returned from the 2008 GreenBuild conference & expo in Boston, where some 29,000 green and sustainability professionals from around the world spent a week swapping stories and ideas. It was enlightening, inspiring, and tinged with the hope that at least the green building part of our economy is moving in the right direction.

The week started on a celebratory note with an opening speech by Archbishop Desmond Tutu. He thanked the crowd, on behalf of the world (with a healthy dose of self-deprecation and glee) for the good work we are doing for the planet. He said plenty of other things too, but his words were so simple, genuine, and heartfelt that they left few dry eyes in a large conference hall.

By the end of the conference, attendees had seen and heard so much about the topics at hand that I think we were all refreshed to witness a closing session that was a departure from the usual talk of community development and building construction. World-renowned biologists E.O. Wilson and Janine Benyus spoke of biomimicry, loss of species diversity, and how their work in conservation biology can overlap with ours in the design world. The concept of approaching the natural world as students instead of as conquering colonists is revolutionary, considering human history, yet the idea of adapting principles that have evolved as elegant, natural solutions in the living world makes so much sense that it begs the question: why didn’t we think of this sooner? And, now that we know about it, why aren’t we adapting this approach on a larger scale? Wilson and Benyus presented the tools for us to do just that: the websites for the Encyclopedia of Life and represent a compendium of everything scientists know about the natural world, and a forum for exploring how its lessons can be adapted to the human world.

In between, there were speeches, presentations, forums, product demonstrations, question & answer sessions, and everything else you’d expect from a conference about green, building, and green building. At last year’s GreenBuild in Chicago, the loudest buzz was about BIM software and how it’s changing the climate of the architecture and engineering world by creating new opportunities for collaboration and software interoperability. However, this year I heard more about energy studies in high performance buildings and ecological footprint reporting (although, in the interest of full disclosure, I should mention that my job roles have changed from BIM software to carbon footprint study over the past year… so consider the source).

As with last year, I’ve returned home excited, inspired, full of new ideas and leads to research… and exhausted! This Thanksgiving, more than anything, I am grateful for a vacation.

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