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Riding the green wave

The world’s largest sustainable design event visits the West Coast.

February 13, 2013  By Rich Porayko

The U.S. Green Building Council welcomed close to 25,000 to San
Francisco, Calif., for its 11th annual Greenbuild International
Conference and Expo on Nov. 14, 2012.

The U.S. Green Building Council welcomed close to 25,000 to San Francisco, Calif., for its 11th annual Greenbuild International Conference and Expo on Nov. 14, 2012. According to the organizers, the event is the world’s largest conference dedicated to green building. San Francisco, booming with construction but apparently saturated by offshore curtainwall, marked the biggest expo in Greenbuild’s 11-year history, featuring three floors and 1,660 booths displaying the latest technological innovations and cutting-edge products for everything from toilets to flooring.

Greenbuild continues to grow, and is experiencing some of the associated pains. But when it comes to sustainable design, it is still the place to get the latest information and the jump on the upcoming trends. (Photo credit: Oscar Einzig)


The event was recently described by glass blogger Max Perilstein as a “portrait of disgusting excess” and a “gluttonous ego fest” due to the contradictory nature of having a huge, debatably green-washed commercial trade show event with swanky hospitality suites and swag bags all punctuated with a rock concert featuring the band Train, in the name of sustainability. With that said, it was a major architectural event, all the players made an appearance and the overall mood was very positive.

The sessions were well attended and high-calibre; however, reviews from the expo floor were mixed.

Originally slotted for three days and then trimmed to two, some exhibitors felt the retooled intensive schedule of 150 back-to-back seminars detracted from the show floor. Others were put off by how spread out the expo was over the three large buildings that make up the Moscone Center. As with any show, location is important and exhibitors with prime booth spaces were happy as mobs of attendees, including A-list architects and major west coast glazing contractors, would cluster in certain areas causing booms for some exhibitors and busts for others.

Overall, the quality of the attendees was very high, with suits and professional business attire the norm, raising the bar from the Birkenstocks and ponytails of past AIA Expo attendees. From the glass and metal perspective of the show, surprisingly, there wasn’t much representation from Canada other than a shared booth from the government of New Brunswick.

Mike Gainey, warm edge business manager for Azon USA, was happy with the event. “It’s been fun.

People are looking for improved energy performance and they know that every little component that goes into glass and glazing is important and the products that Azon offers fits right into this regeneration of green building and improved overall U-factor. In the glass and glazing industry as a whole, the aluminum and glass suppliers have put together a good package that makes sense economically and is energy efficient wise as well. The warm-edge product continues to grow in the commercial product. Even though the pour and de-bridge thermal barrier has worked really well for a long time, Azon has continued to improve with wider cavities and even dual cavities on our thermal break products for aluminum window companies.”

Mike Brogan of Skyco Shading Systems was also pleased with the turnout. “It’s been awesome. The technology level has been changing. You can see it throughout Greenbuild. In every aisle there is something new and innovative. It is really changing the whole spectrum on how we are designing and controlling energy in buildings.”

According to Brogan, Skyco offers innovative and unique solar shading products such as light harvesting panels that can power shades with no wiring and solar control fabrics that can change the way a building is shaded for energy performance and comfort. The company distributes louvre systems that Brogan claims are light redirecting, which means they control heat and glare while harvesting daylight and maintaining views to the outside. “Those are the four aspects to the perfect building facade,” Brogan says.

The seminar “What You Need to Know about Bird-friendly Design and Why” was interesting. Don’t roll your eyes just yet. This is real and is coming to major urban centres across Canada soon, if it hasn’t already been adopted by your local council. Co-presented by Christine Sheppard, Bird Collisions Campaign Manager for the American Bird Conservancy, the audience was told that that collision with glass (also known as a strike) is the single biggest known killer of birds in the United States, claiming hundreds of millions or more lives each year. Sheppard claims that unlike some sources of mortality that predominantly kill weaker individuals, there is no such distinction among “victims of glass.” The several-hundred-strong paying audience of architects, politicians, media and students heard that because glass is equally dangerous for strong, healthy, breeding adults, it can have a particularly serious impact on populations.

“Bird kills at buildings occur across the United States,” claimed Sheppard. “We know more about mortality patterns in cities, because that is where most monitoring takes place, but virtually any building with glass poses a threat wherever it is.” The audience was told that the first 14 floors are the most dangerous as they are more likely to reflect trees or enclose an atrium, which are apparently death factories for birds. Mirrored and reflective glasses are also apparently dangerous day and night.

The group has been successful in lobbying major cities such as New York and San Francisco to adopt a “lights out” policy to turn off public and private lights after midnight – not to save energy but to reduce birds getting trapped in beams of light and colliding with buildings.

According to the ABC, the push to make buildings greener has ironically increased bird mortality because it has promoted greater use of glass for energy conservation; however, luckily for the glass industry, green buildings do not have to kill birds. Many functional and attractive solutions are available including screen-printed frit patterns, etched glass, exterior shades, screens, latticework, grilles, and other devices outside or integrated into the glass.

Ironically, the “Natural Light for All” town hall more or less contradicted everything that was discussed in the bird-friendly design seminar and advocated for more glass and access to natural light and views. It was co-presented by Jean Hansen, sustainable interiors manager for HDR. Hansen told the audience that daylight affects us in numerous ways. “Psychologically, physiology, biologically – we require access to natural light for our health, performance, and visually, especially those responsible for complex tasks.

Daylight suddenly provides us with a balanced spectrum of colour. Intuitively, we are attracted to spaces that signal liveability, comfort, well-being and emotional feelings. We are attracted to daylight views, and distant views for surveillance. Natural light has also been shown to speed the healing process.” But everyone in the glass industry already knew that, right?

More than 5,000 gathered in the LEED Gold Moscone Center for the closing plenary, which featured several speakers and special guests, including California Governor Jerry Brown.

“My message today is these things go together: a healthy climate, a healthy environment, and healthy individuals,” said Governor Brown. “California is at the forefront of innovation, and it’s up to you to galvanize the rest of the United States. I see this conference as a mobilizing vehicle to help get this job done.”

Let’s hope that Governor Brown is right. Greenbuild 2013 will be held Nov. 20 to 22 in Philadelphia, Pa. Don’t forget to buy your carbon offset credits and pack your body armour.

About the author
Rich Porayko is a professional writer and founding partner of Construction Creative, a marketing and communications company located in Metro Vancouver, B.C.

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