Keeping efficiency real

While some may scoff at environmental change, there isn’t a big downside to becoming—and making buildings—more efficient.

By Amara Rozgus, Consulting-Specifying Engineer December 15, 2017

At the end of a recent conference, I had an interesting conversation with a gentleman who ran conferences for a living. The education sessions and trade show expo were over, and manufacturers, engineers, and building experts were slowly leaving the city. While waiting for our flights, we chatted about how different this conference was from others he had attended or managed.

His first impression: This was the most energy-efficient event he had ever attended. Waste from exhibit booths was either recycled or donated. Attendees walked, used ride-share options, or took public transportation to get from their hotel to the convention center (and I’ll bet many offset their flight’s carbon emissions). Consumer waste during the education sessions and on the convention floor was carefully recycled, composted, or properly disposed of.

If you’ve been to this event, you know exactly which one I’m talking about. You’ve carried around your reusable water bottle. You know that you can compost certain things, while other items go into the landfill. (Note: I had no idea gum goes into the landfill. That may change my gum-chewing habits.) You know that everyone at the conference is as sustainable as humanly possible—or at least tries to be. There are no naysayers trying to push climate change as a “myth.”

Building engineering rises to a whole new level in conference discussions. How do we design a new building to be net zero? What can all parties (architect, engineer, contractor, interior designer, etc.) do to make the building as efficient as possible from cradle to cradle? How do we work within existing buildings to retrofit for more sustainability while still meeting occupants’ needs? Can technology be leveraged to eliminate inefficiencies?

The conference manager I was chatting with saw different aspects of the convention that I didn’t see. He realized that many of the expo materials were reused, donated, recycled, or otherwise found a second life. He marveled at the dedication of the volunteers and attendees in making the experience both appealing and planet-friendly. While not a building designer himself, he appreciated the deep dives that presenters took to discuss energy efficiency, climate change, and smart buildings and cities. 

We both wondered the same things as we discussed the various experiences we’d had at the conference: Why didn’t all conferences, expos, education sessions, and events do this? Could all event planners acquire food locally to cut down on transportation? Why weren’t all industries working smarter to achieve greater efficiencies in reducing waste? How could each of us, no matter our background or job description, become less wasteful?

A lot more than I know or hear about occurs at professional events, in building projects, and at the personal level. While many practices in place don’t allow all of us to be as efficient as possible, I’m still going to try. First on my list: Switch to mints.