Greenbuild 2017 Retrospective
As Greenbuild 2017 wrapped up, I began my annual post-conference reflections by considering three questions: Where is the industry going? What can we learn from it? And have I been inspired in some way to change?
We’re Only Growing in Complexity
It becomes more and more apparent that the field of sustainability is becoming increasingly complex and growing in diversity, expertise, and clarity. Sustainability is no longer just about a rating system, though it served the industry well as we began our knowledge quest around this practice. And while we all agree that a rating system is not the end-all, we seem to have responded to this challenge by creating more rating systems to address the growing complexity of the discipline. In fact, the newest reality I heard addressed is that our industry, building owners, and clients alike are “rating-system fatigued.” So, experts in the field are approaching the conversation differently and beginning with the question: “Why?”
Once we understand the client’s values—beyond a desired certification level—we can offer our expertise to identify the precise system or certification model that most naturally matches their sustainability goals. This relieves the pressure of trying to make a facility fit into the box of a certification standard, and leaves room to select the standard that best meets their needs. This then becomes a value-added approach to any given building project, rather than a strict set of standards around which to mold the design process.
Never Stop Learning
While there is a lot of new, explicit knowledge presented at Greenbuild, there are also implicit lessons learned. This year, I recognized topics that have been developing over the past two, three, or four years and noted an evolution in the way this knowledge is changing. This process of evolving knowledge appears to follow a consistent “adoption cycle.” Once recognized, this cycle can then be applied to many other domains of knowledge that, in turn, can help identify where an organization is in that cycle and what needs to happen to move to the next level. Many of these knowledge areas appear to be at the “burden of proof” phase. Everyone seems to be harvesting more data to offer meaningful insight into why certain actions or design choices affect the life of a building. I also see that this burden-of-proof-phase is the point where most ideas stall out before moving on to mainstream adoption. I expect to see more advanced research coming from a variety of businesses and organizations in the coming year.
Meeting Challenges Head-On
With the growing complexity of this field of practice, I felt challenged and inspired to begin thinking about and capturing the ever changing design vocabulary within sustainable domains of knowledge. For instance, zero-net energy is no longer a question of should we do or whether it is possible. As that question moves toward mainstream adoption, new concepts and language take its place: Think zero-net carbon and net positive energy. Understanding the nuances of this vocabulary will be key to success as we lead our clients into these pioneering adventures in sustainable design.
This conference always inspires change for those who attend. What we do with that inspiration—which I’m taking as a professional challenge—will determine the speed of change within our industry and how quickly we approach a truly sustainable world.