Greenbuild International Conference and Expo 2019 brought thousands of attendees to Atlanta to discuss and observe what’s new in the world of sustainable buildings.
Former President Barack Obama preceded the grand opening of the show floor Wednesday morning with an impassioned interview alongside U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) CEO and president Mahesh Ramanujam. (Read our five takeaways from the event.)
The expo floor showcased a wide range of sustainable-forward building solutions, from energy-saving pumps at Armstrong Fluid Tech to biophilic-inspired carpeting from Mohawk Group. Below are a handful of trends that I came across during my time on the show floor and in education sessions.
1. Social equity
One of the major themes among speakers, including Obama, and exhibitors this year was the idea of implementing social equity into sustainable design—the idea that buildings should not only be environmentally conscious, but go a step beyond and leave a positive impact on occupants and the surrounding community.
One of the ways this was demonstrated was through the announcement of the LEED Positive initiative, the green building certification’s new “development roadmap” for a new kind of LEED that aims to require buildings to give back more than they take.
“Doing better for the climate and for people at the same time—they’re intrinsically related,” says Julie Janiski, principal at BuroHappold. “I think the benefit there is really obvious.”
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2. More focus on embodied carbon emissions
The overall environmental impact of a building isn’t just the energy that it’s using every day. It also comprises the energy that was used to construct the building. This is what’s often brought up when discussing embodied carbon, the carbon footprint of a material.
Numerous sustainability experts at Greenbuild agreed that lowering embodied carbon emissions from construction need to be more of a focus.
”Carbon is going to become a real organizing principal,” says Susan Rochford, vice president of sustainability for Legrand. “We have to think about it across all three scopes—not just energy in our factories, offices or warehouses, but our sales fleet, our automobiles, our upstream and downstream transportation of our supply chain.”
The industry hasn’t spent nearly as much time on lowering embodied carbon emissions as we have operational carbon emissions, Janiski says. BuroHappold is currently doing research with Massachusetts Institute of Technology on embodied carbon, comparing concrete, steel and heavy timber construction.
“We’re trying to bring embodied carbon to the table as a discussion point, to say you have can a huge impact on reducing your project’s environmental footprint if you look at this materials versus that one,” she says.
3. Air quality monitoring
Having worked in air quality monitoring for many years, Liam Bates, CEO of Kaiterra, says there has been an exponential increase in discussions surrounding air quality monitoring beyond surface level observations.
Photo credit: Kaiterra
“I’ve been really surprised to see how much people are talking about it in the states and even Europe,” he says. “A lot of these places are putting in regulations at a national level that buildings must monitor air. Five years ago, people were like, ‘Measure air?’ Now, you have to. It’s a great step in the right direction.”
Other air quality monitoring professionals on the show floor included Airthinx, Pure Air Control Services Inc. and RenewAire LLC.
4. Building data
Another discussion point that came up often was the idea of using building data effectively for better performance efficiency. Jay Weisberger, communications specialist for DPR Construction, says the industry lacks quality data, in both building performance and operations. Benchmarking data could be analyzed and tracked in more meaningful ways, he says.
Greenbuild presented plenty of solutions for building owners and facilities managers when it comes to sustainable building and design. Inspiration for fighting the climate crisis was also abundant this year—and especially felt through Obama’s event and the wide variety of sustainable product categories on display.
More Greenbuild 2019 coverage: