Greenbuild 2011 – Part 3

Greenbuild 2011 - Part 3

Today is 1 month since I returned home from the Greenbuild 2011 expo. I’ve had time to reflect on some of the things I experienced and learned while there, investigate some of the companies and technologies I encountered, and begin to implement some of the energy and ideas from Greenbuild into my professional practice.

In this post I’m going to touch on a few of the important ideas and lessons I learned from the education sessions, and share some of my personal experiences from the trip.

The single most important concept I picked up from the various education sessions I attended, as well as from talking to vendors and other green professionals, was the idea of the Ecodistrict. Without planning it to happen as it did, the various education sessions I attended all reinforced the Ecodistrict idea.

The first one was a brilliant presentation by Rocky Mountain Institute‘s Amory Lovins, who spoke eloquently (as usual) about the possibilities for energy efficiency and recovery with existing buildings. Next was Jerry Yudelson‘s panel on ecodistrict planning, which clarified many of the broader concepts about connecting ecodistrict infrastructure and integrating them with surrounding community areas.  These were followed by a presentation on the Oregon Sustainability Center, a Living Building Challenge project being designed in Portland, Oregon. This further reinforced the idea of a connection to the surrounding neighborhood.

Two of the biggest issues surrounding buildings and communities are that they need energy and they produce waste. These 2 problems actually complement each other quite nicely, as illustrated by the last 2 education sessions I attended. The first was a report on the transition of the Swedish town of Malmo to biogas & bioenergy derived from wastewater, and the second was a discussion panel on the benefits of decentralized wastewater treatment systems. It is possible to extract usable heat from building wastewater, extract the sludge and generate biogas from it, and then treat the remaining wastewater on-site to a high enough degree that it can be used for limited building re-use, irrigation, or groundwater recharge.

It has been said that the next wars will be fought over water, and I don’t disagree. In North America we waste an extraordinarily large amount of water each day, but this can be changed. The technology exists to dramatically reduce our water consumption, and to stop the discharge of polluted water back into the environment. In a future post, I’ll cover the Ecodistrict concept in more detail, focusing on the impacts of a decentralized water treatment system.

Despite several days of sleep deprivation, excitement, and information overload, I feel that my experience at Greenbuild was very productive, informative, and beneficial. I met many of my green building heroes, as well as met some of my colleagues that I’d previously only spoken to via email or telephone. I was also able to talk to representatives from several of my favorite companies. The one that excited me the most was Dr. John Todd’s Eco-Machines; Dr. Todd’s book From Eco Cities to Living Machines was the book that actually inspired me to switch majors to study Environmental Engineering, so being able to pass a message along to him was very exciting to me.

The interactions with vendors didn’t all go that well unfortunately. I approached one booth, with a middle aged British gentleman representing Hemcrete; a natural building product made with hemp fibers. I shook his hand, introduced myself, and said that I’d read about Hemcrete online and was very interested in building with hemp. I then quipped that it wasn’t “just because I’m from BC”… He then decided to go on break, and then walked away shaking his head; I guess he didn’t get it!

Greenbuild 2011 was an amazing experience, and although it was an exhausting trip, I feel very lucky to have attended. The travel days were brutal; I averaged 22 hours awake each day I traveled, and the 3 days in between involved a large amount of walking through the trade show floors, frantically writing notes in the education sessions, and early morning wakeups to get to the USGBC breakfasts on time. The trip back home to Victoria was an adventure itself, that was the day that the TSA workers at the Toronto airport decided to go on strike, stranding many of my friends in Toronto due to missed flights. I made it home on schedule, and for that I was very happy. I’m glad that all of my friends made it home safely, even if a little bit delayed.

I’m very grateful to Linda Sorrento & Kimberly Lewis from the USGBC, and Mona Lemoine from Cascadia, for making my Greenbuild trip not only possible, but phenomenally amazing as well. Thank you!

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Steve holds a degree in Environmental Engineering Technology from Humber College in Toronto, is a LEED Accredited Professional and a Certified Sustainable Building Advisor. He currently lives in Victoria BC and works as a green building consultant specializing in residential projects.


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