Seeing the forest of opportunity in the trees

We're flooded with all things green. How to decide what to read? Two articles bring the point home to MEP engineers.

By Michael Ivanovich, Editor-in-Chief December 1, 2007

I became involved with green buildings in 1995 as a research scientist for the U.S. Dept. of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL). At that time, The U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) was a nascent organization, its LEED rating system didn’t exist, and the only green associated with buildings were mold and money.

In 1995, the PNNL team, which consisted of three experts in the field of human factors (James Wise, PhD; Judith Heerwagen, PhD; and David Lantrip, PhD) and yours truly (as project manager and building scientist), were chartered to examine the ancillary (non-energy) benefits of green buildings. We presented a preliminary report of our findings from analyzing a case study (one of William McDonough’s early buildings) at the Second International Green Building Conference and Exposition, Big Sky, Mont. I think 300 people were there—and this was considered a crowd.

Confused? Probably. USGBC’s conference, GreenBuild, drew more than 22,000 people to Chicago in November, and had President Bill Clinton speaking to a room of more than 6,000 people about his multi-billion dollar energy and carbon saving initiatives.

Hence my point. In only 12 years, a single event has grown from 300 to 22,000 people. The number of journalists alone was more than 600, twice the 1995 event’s total attendance. And that’s my second point. The number of magazines, journals, books, electronic newsletters, blogs, Web sites, and conferences covering green buildings—and the amount of press the topic garners in newspapers—has grown to saturation. And we’re seeing more every day.

So what information should people turn to for learning about green buildings? That’s a tough question to answer. The editors of this magazine will be stepping up our coverage of green buildings with carefully selected topics and articles.

This month, we’re publishing two that tell very different stories. The first is that the fast and powerful emergence of the green building market has shifted the engineering profession off a foundation that had become staid and, frankly, recalcitrant to the desires of owners and architects to join the parade. The result is tremendous opportunity. The second presents a story about how a major company retrofitted and refined its energy-consuming systems in its three headquarters buildings, and certified them at the platinum level by the USGBC’s LEED EB. Talk about greening the bottom line!

Look to CSE in 2008 as we provide more on green buildings, and as we look over that hill becoming a mountain to what may lie beyond.

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