Here's an interview transcript from the recent Northeast Sustainable Energy Association (NESEA) convention in Boston. Alex Wilson wrote Your Green Home: A Guide to Planning a Healthy, Environmentally Friendly New Home, a reference book I like, in addition to his other accomplishments listed below...
Interview with Alex Wilson, NESEA Thought Leader and Lifetime Member
March 1, 2010
Today we’re talking to Alex Wilson, a lifetime NESEA member and Executive Editor of Environmental Building News (the nation’s first newsletter dedicated to environmentally responsible design and construction). The company he founded in 1985, BuildingGreen, is based in Brattleboro, Vermont.
Q: How did you come up with the idea of creating the BuildingGreen Top Ten Products? Has your list made an impact on the companies/products selected?
A: This is America – the land of “Top 10 lists.” That's not something we should be proud of, but it's a reality. We realized nine years ago at BuildingGreen that naming the "Top 10" products would be a way to get exposure for some of the many very exciting products that are being introduced each year. Along with calling attention to cool products, the most exciting thing about this list has been how much it's helped those companies. In some cases, this recognition has put fledgling companies on the map – really jump-started their futures.
Q: Do you have a favorite green product? What is it, and why do you like it?
A: That's a tough question. I guess it has to be TimberSil, a treated-wood product produced by infusing sodium silicate into wood then heating the wood to create an amorphous glass that surrounds wood cells, rendering it unrecognizable as a food source for decay organisms. The stuff is non-corrosive, imparts fire resistance, and contains no VOCs. As an added bonus, I recently learned that the sodium silicate TimberSil Products’ use is derived from rice hulls, a waste agricultural product.
Q: How long have you been affiliated with NESEA and the BuildingEnergy conference and trade show? What do you get out of the relationship?
A: A long time. I was hired by NESEA as executive director in 1980, and in 1983 I organized a conference at Mount Snow in Vermont that became the first of the BuildingEnergy conferences. Not long after starting at NESEA, Ronald Reagan was elected and promptly eliminated the DOE program that had been providing about half of NESEA's funding. That turned out to be a blessing in disguise, as it forced us to expand our focus away from just solar energy (we were at the time the New England Solar Energy Association) to cover energy-efficient construction, quality construction, and broader issues of sustainability. The BuildingEnergy conferences emerged through those efforts. As a result, NESEA became a stronger organization.
My connection with NESEA also helped to launch my next career – as a publisher. When Nadav Malin and I came up with the idea of Environmental Building News in early 1992, we tested the idea on the NESEA membership, and a remarkable 14% of them signed up as paying subscribers. We were off and running. I've maintained a strong connection with NESEA throughout these last three decades, serving two terms on the board and attending dozens of conferences.
Q: As a member of the media, you are a gatekeeper when it comes to publicizing sustainable products and projects. Is the competition for coverage intensifying in the green category?
A: Oh, sure. When we started EBN in 1992, we were the only publication focusing on green building. It's now a fairly crowded field – though we continue to be the only publication in the field that does not carry advertising. This policy allows us to be totally objective in writing about products and technologies.
Q: How would you like to see NESEA evolve over the coming years?
A: A lot of people say they like NESEA just the way it is, and they don't want it to change. But the strength of NESEA has been its ability to evolve to meet new needs. NESEA started out as a solar energy organization 35 years ago, and it has broadened and shifted its focus time and again over its history. To succeed, I think NESEA needs to continue being an organization that evolves – a "learning organization," if you will.
Q: How would you like BuildingEnergy to evolve?
A: By reporting on the cutting edge in energy design and construction, BuildingEnergy will by its very nature evolve. It is often the first place I learn about new ideas and new technologies. With the slow-down in new construction, I expect that BuildingEnergy will be focusing more on renovation than new construction over the next couple years.
Q: Who should come to BuildingEnergy, and why?
A: People who need to know where building practices are heading, people who want to be ahead of the curve, people who want to be leaders rather than followers. For me, BuildingEnergy is also the place where I reconnect with friends and associates – the networking opportunities are invaluable.
For more information, visit http://www.nesea.org/buildingenergy/