Monday, March 15, 2010


This past week, I had the opportunity to attend the 8th Annual Green Building Conference at the OnCenter. The presentations were outstanding, and among the luminaries present were Sarah Susanka, author of the Not So Big House, and Rick Fedrizzi, President, CEO, and Founding Chairman of the US Green Building Council.

I’d like to spend a few moments sharing with you what developed as the “takeaway” for me. These thoughts gel around three presentations: that of Diane Brandli of dbdesign, Sarah Susanka’s Plenary Kick-off, and Rick Fedrizzi’s Keynote. I’ll call this the products, place and projects confluence if you will.

The concept of green and sustainable building is complex. As we evaluate products, our homes, and larger building projects like schools it is easy to become lost in the details, and in the certification process. It is also difficult to weigh all the contingencies in a complete evaluation of whether a product or process balances environmental, economic, and equity considerations. As homeowners, architects, designers, and engineers, it can be challenging to know if we are making good choices.

Susanka’s presentation set the tone for how to assess quality in homebuilding. With an emphasis on “less is more,” and on quality over quantity, and supplemented by photographs of completed design/build projects she articulated a vision of home (and other building projects) where a sense of sanctuary prevails. Through modifications of design, small spaces are configured in ways that promote comfort and security, and we are able to live more richly in less space.

Through a careful articulation of criteria, Brandli effectively evaluated the relative merits of products for sustainability. She explored profit, people, and planet considerations--"do no harm” and relative positive impacts, but also did a fine job of detailing how to navigate the certification process for products, and the difference between certifications labeling, levels and consensus standards. Bottom line: a product might not only not cause us harm--through intentional manufacturing we might even see a net positive benefit.

Finally, Fedrizzi’s riveting speech encouraged us to consider, among other topics, existing buildings as an untapped spring of future green jobs. For those unfamiliar with it, Fedrizzi outlined how retrofitting needs in current buildings are actually untapped suppliers of future jobs, providing not only economic development opportunities, but calculable savings opportunities as well. He described a “Pay from Savings” approach to renovations, that I think over a 20 year span was projected to provide 7.9 million U.S. jobs with over 554 billion dollars in savings of which 396 billion is wages.

All in all, some very succinct, clear presentations on what green can mean for these different categories, and for our lives.

-Thad Mantaro, SUNY Oswego

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