Ken’s First Blog from Greenbuild (and ever!)

Posted by Ken Wilson, Principal, Envision Design

Ken-Wilson I depart on a plane from National Airport at 10:30 am on Tuesday, November 10th. It was not surprising to see a number of familiar faces on the plane such as Raheem Cash, Director of GSA’s Environmental Division. I have been going to GreenBuild before it was GreenBuild (it used to be called the “USGBC Annual Meeting”) and it is something of an old home week for me. More so even than NeoCon. It is one of those places where I can’t walk 20 feet without running into someone I know. These are my people.

I am traveling with my wife Sally, who is Global Director of Environmental Strategies for CB Richard Ellis (and a tenant broker) along with my partner at our new environmental consulting firm, Eco-Impact, Penny Bonda. The cab ride from the airport to the center of downtown Phoenix is surprisingly cheap: $20 for four people (we pick up a friend of Penny’s). I am staying at the Sheraton, a brand new hotel a block from the Phoenix Convention Center. I am lucky to have this hotel because I hear the town is booked up with some people staying in hotels 10 miles away.  I am staying at this hotel only because of family connections.  Sally is the current Chairman of the Green Building Certification Institute who books her a room well in advance.  I am cool with that.  Connections are great when you have them.

Sally and I have lunch at the hotel and then check in for the conference.  Along the way we run into a number of old friends.  We then check out the reception CB is having at the Morton’s Steakhouse which is right below their office.  How appropriate that is.  They probably don’t even have to grill the steaks for the brokers….

Next we return to the convention center for the opening of the exhibition hall.  We run into Chris Smith, COO of USGBC.  You could not find a nicer guy.  We make plans to have dinner on Friday night.  The expo is vast.  Due to its size, the expo is located on two levels.  It is hard to identify the unique new products because there is so much stuff here.  It is mind boggling.  I am talking to Al Kabus at the Mohawk booth when the lights dim down as a signal to everyone that it the expo is closing down for the night.  Its like last call at a bar.  I head back to the hotel and catch up on some email before going to bed.  I have a bad case of what I call hors d'oeuvres stomach. Kind of full but kind of not.

One of my emails reminds me I have a proposal due the next day for a project in Kuala Lumpur. Darn.  I fill out the card for room service breakfast with the idea I will be spending the morning in my hotel room finishing this damn proposal.  Why does this always happen to me.

I am awake a 6:00 am and instead of going to the gym I am working on the proposal and eating a nice bacon and egg breakfast.  It sucks to have to write a proposal at the conference but I bet I am not the only one in this position.  It seems that writing proposals is all I do anymore.  I miss the first morning session but break away for the Executive Roundtable.  The panel is expertly moderated by Roger Platt, a newcomer to USGBC.  We hear from Ray Anderson, Bob Peck of GSA, Michael Crow – President of Arizona State University, Mark Nicholls of Bank of America, Arne Sorenson of Marriott, Mike Lafitte of CBRE and Tony Arnel – chair of the Green Building Council of Australia.

Bob Peck says the GSA will become a “proving ground” for green design and I believe him.  I know Bob and he is a no-nonsense guy.  He also says that in five years he won’t hire an architect that has to use a “green consultant”.  He believes green design must be integral to the practice of the firms he will hire.  Right on Bob!

Arne Sorenson says he wants to build his company to a point where people will say, “I will stay at a Marriott because they are a company that deserves my business.”  That is cool.

People ask, what is the shock that will get people to change their bad habits.  Tony Arnel says that in Australia, it is the 15-year drought.  He says that water use targets in Phoenix are 800 liters per person and in Australia it is 150 liters per person.  Wow….just think about that.

From the Executive Roundtable I go to the Leadership Luncheon, and special, invitation-only function that I am lucky to be invited to.  Ray Anderson gives an inspirational speech from the heart.  His is damn good at this.  He says everyone has one story to tell and that is their own story. He goes on to say that every story also begins with a question.  He says that the question every leader should ask: “is what we do worth doing?”  Ray is brilliant for putting life into perspective.  I get him to sign a copy of his new book “Confessions of a Radical Industrialist” after the luncheon.  Now I have to go back to the room to finish that damn proposal.  I miss the next to seminars, but the proposal gets done.  As I send it off I think there are probably a ton of firms that would do this project for a lot less.  It is a tough time to be in this business.

Next I go to a reception sponsored by the Forest Stewardship Council.  I received an Honorable Mention (second place) in an FSC award program for our design for the Generation Investment Management Office at One Bryant Park in New York City (Al Gore is CEO).  I receive our award and bolt to the opening plenary session where Rick Fedrizzi and Al Gore will speak at Chase Field (home of the Arizona Diamondbacks) followed by a Cheryl Crow Concert.  Rick is awesome.  Such enthusiasm!  I am totally sucked in.  I love this guy.  He makes me very proud to be part of this movement.  Then Al Gore comes on stage.  The crowd goes nuts (how the hell did this guy lose the election?).  He is brilliant.  I think how fortunate I am to have both of these guys as clients.  They are both incredible human beings and are so inspirational to others.  After the speech I have the opportunity to visit the USGBC VIP skybox where Al Gore is signing his latest book, “Our Choice”.  In addition to his book, I also get him to sign my FSC award for the design of his office (I am still lugging it around).  He seems genuinely happy to see me and I am honored.  I later have some drinks and chat with Vivian Loftness of Carnegie Mellon.  I’ve known Vivian for some time and she is amazing.  Again, I am feeling very lucky to be a part of all this and my bad attitude about the state of the profession starts to wane.  It’s not so bad after all and I feel our firm’s work is on the right side of things.  I run into Ray Anderson again and he tells me “you can look the world over and not find and x-environmentalist”.  How true.  I can go to bed happy tonight.

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