The green building movement spreads the wealth At the very moment that many critics are writing off the green building movement as a casualty of today's economic crisis, the industry is proving that it will likely weather the financial maelstrom. At the U.S. Green Building Council's (USGBC) annual Greenbuild..
The green building movement spreads the wealthAt the very moment that many critics are writing off the green building movement as a casualty of today's economic crisis, the industry is proving that it will likely weather the financial maelstrom. At the U.S. Green Building Council's (USGBC) annual Greenbuild International Conference & Expo last week in Boston, the message was clear: the effort is more relevant than ever."When people ask if the green building movement is going to survive the recession, you'll say ‘We are how the economy will get back on track - with green jobs, green energy and green innovation," proclaimed Rick Fedrizzi, USGBC president, CEO, and founding chairman. His assertion becomes more on point with every passing week-and every "fireside" web chat-as it seems increasingly likely that the backbone of any imminent economic stimulus plan will be job creation, specifically "green collar" job creation.This year's gathering, titled "Revolutionary Green," was both a nod to the historic host city and a reference to USGBC's new ambitions. Barely a month earlier, the Council added a new, so-called "guiding principle" to its mission: "for the human community, in the broadest sense, to benefit from green built environments, regardless of income, race or any other social factor." Fedrizzi, speaking on the final day of the conference emphasized the weight of this shift. "We finally connected the dots about how integral the values of social equity are with what we do," he said.This refocus on people-and not just buildings-may be a little overdue, and the conference's program made it clear how seriously the Council is taking it. The four-day schedule-overstuffed with meetings, panels, discussion forums, plenaries, workshops and over 100 formal, educational sessions-was punctuated by a handful of "master speakers," including the South African civil rights leader Archbishop Desmond Tutu, public health expert Howard Frumkin, environmental and social justice advocate Van Jones, and MacArthur Genius Majora Carter (the picture below is of her talk).Greenbuild's most powerful moments, however, came when the conference's two overarching themes-the vitality of the green building movement and the newfound shift toward social equity-converged.
During the "Greener Good" panel, regional USGBC chapters presented various initiatives to increase green jobs locally while helping all community members. Reps from the Arkansas outfit talked about its home energy assistance loan pilot program, which helps low-income residents find money to test their home for energy waste and pay for improvements-the cost of which will be recovered in lower power bills. They also discussed NOLA 100, a recovery and rebuilding project designed to bring New Orleans families back to newly repaired, efficient, and healthy homes (unlike those FEMA trailers). Russell Unger, chairman of the Council's New York chapter, held up its "Green Construction Skills Initiative" as a model for training workers from underprivileged communities for green collar construction jobs using partnerships with vocational colleges and union training programs."The vast, vast majority of educational material around green building was designed by and for architects and engineer types," Unger explained, cutting to the core of the USGBC's evolution toward greater inclusivity. "You have a panel discussion or a PowerPoint designed for a white collar audience. Trades and contractors are a different audience. They learn by using their hands, they don't spend lengthy hours in PowerPoint presentations. But they're the largest group of people actually working on green building."The call for better training of the working class echoed Van Jones' comments from a day earlier. After reminding the audience of the President-elect's call to weatherize and retrofit one million homes per year-"Though I'd like him to add another zero to the end of that"-he reminded his audience who would actually be doing that work. "Every one of you has had the experience of trying to find skilled workers," he said, to a chorus of nodding heads, before rattling off a half-dozen organizations that train workers in low-income, marginalized urban communities for work performing home energy audits or installing non-toxic insulation, double-paned windows, and rooftop solar arrays.If this year's Greenbuild is any indication, the USGBC's members are gearing up to put its new rhetoric into action, creating what Jones calls "pathways out of poverty" in the form of good, green jobs to retrofit America. "This green wave should lift all boats," he charged.(Photos by Ben Jervey)