Greenbuild Day 1: Zero Carbon and Reusing Old Buildings

Submitted by Bill Valentine, HOK:


Thanks to everyone who is reading this blog! I was shocked by the number of people who came up to me today and said they read yesterday's post. I never thought I'd be Tweeted in my lifetime, I'll tell you that.


With more than 25,000 people attending Greenbuild, it's like a party in downtown Phoenix. The coffee shops are packed and the streets are full of demonstration Smart Cars and Priuses.


I stopped by HOK's booth and said hi to Mike and the gang. They're filming attendees' "Green A-Ha!" moments, so stop by booth #3442 if you want to be the next YouTube superstar or want to pick up some free salsa!


In walking through the expo hall and looking at the products, you get the strong impression that, to paraphrase Winston Churchill, we're at the "end of the beginning" for sustainable design. Incredibly exciting things are underway. And I'm happy to see a big push to make these products affordable so that they make economic sense.


I was particularly interested in one product I came across – a LED downlight that looks like a flat screen TV and is more than twice as efficient as a typical fluorescent ceiling light while putting off significantly less heat. This light was actually cool to the touch. I got so excited that I called one of our lighting designers – David Ziolkowski in our St. Louis studio — to talk about it. David said we're headed toward a time that, as the lighting quality improves, this type of low-energy, low-heat, high-efficiency light will be the standard.


I heard Rick Fedrizzi and Gail Vittori of the U.S. Green Building Council talk at lunch. It struck me that one reason the USGBC has been so unbelievably successful is that this organization is open to change and willing to morph. They're always seeking to learn and improve in order to take their efforts to the next level. Now they're starting to focus on what is beyond LEED Platinum, which soon will be the entry point instead of the pinnacle.


Speaking of what's next, there's a big buzz here about carbon neutral design. This is something we're very interested in and working on at HOK. Carbon neutral comes in a lot of manifestations. I went to a lunch meeting today in which my friend Ray Anderson spoke about what Interface is doing to move toward making zero impact on the earth. Ray told a sweet story about when President John F. Kennedy visited the Space Center in Florida sometime after NASA had achieved his stated goal of landing an American on the moon before the end of the 1960s. What President Kennedy noticed there, said Ray, was a humdrum attitude about their accomplishment. Why? Because, the folks at NASA told him, "That goal was too simple – we could have done much more!" That's the attitude we need to take when we focus on zero carbon: That's great, but what more can we do?


In another seminar, I heard that energy consumption in Europe, even with their very high standard of living, is half per capita of our consumption here in the U.S. Their buildings consume much less energy and they also aren't disposable – they're built to last.


That's the perfect segue into the other buzz from today, which had to do with retrofitting our buildings to consume less energy. This is much more important than what we're doing with new buildings because there are so many existing buildings that we can make a real dent in our energy consumption by making them more efficient. It seems to me that we haven't yet succeeded in getting our society excited about reusing our old buildings. But whether we're restoring a landmark or taking an existing structure down to the slabs, columns and foundations, this is incredibly important. It is a critical social, economic and cultural idea that we have to promote. So I was elated to see that push here, and I can tell you that it is a trend that will have a significant impact on the building industry. Is your firm ready for this? I'm going to make sure we are.


Tonight is Al Gore's speech and Sheryl Crow's performance at Chase Field, which is the downtown baseball stadium. Someone asked if I'll be there and I said, "Does a cat have a tail?"


That's the news from Lake Wobegon. See you tomorrow.

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