By Myer Harrell
Myer Harrell is a Principal and the Director of Sustainability at Weber Thompson. He believes in the power of design to promote a sustainable future and manages the firm’s initiatives to that end.
Myer’s current project focus is urban boutique-scale commercial office construction
More from our Greenbuild guru, Myer Harrell (who you might have seen at Tuesday’s ULI presentation on vertical farms).
Still one day ahead of the official Greenbuild conference, my Tuesday in Chicago was dedicated to the USGBC Chapter Forum. It was a rare opportunity to interact with green leaders from all over the country, and meet face-to-face with national staff. We opened with an introduction by Rick Fedrizzi (CEO and co-founder of USGBC) and Mark MacCracken (incoming chair of the board of directors). What followed was a “speed greening session” – tables of 8-10 people spent a focused 15 minutes with experts from USGBC on issues like technology (extranet, web, and LEED Online), committee development and growth, and regionalization credits. I attended the breakout session on leveraging small firm and large firm successes, and in small groups we brainstormed ideas for improving chapter operations.
After hours, I headed to one of the “specialty set” rooms – arranged with seats facing inward toward a central stage and a four-sided digital screen – for a high-energy event called Take 5. Organized by Emerging Professionals and USGBC Students, we heard from MGM Las Vegas’ sustainability director, a founding partner of The Plant (a highly successful urban farm in Chicago) and others doing inspirational work, in a fast-paced presentation style similar to Pecha Kucha.
Wednesday was the official start to Greenbuild 2010. The opening plenary featured Retired General Colin Powell, who somewhat lamented his bygone high-profile careers in the military and presidential cabinet: “One day you’re the Secretary of State of the free world…the next day you ain’t.” He’s currently making his mark through investment of clean technology and green building projects. He stressed the importance of leadership, especially by the US in the global arena. He was charismatic, but perhaps rubbed a few greenies the wrong way with talk of the need for coal and nuclear energy alongside renewables.
At lunch I attended a Specialty Update (typically on the latest industry and organization initiatives). This session focused on the AIA 2030 Commitment – for architects to make strides to improve building performance – that I am proud to say Weber Thompson has recently signed. A few developers of the program outlined the connection between the AIA commitment and the 2030 Challenge, walked through the tools and finer details, and discussed long-term goals. There is a lot of data collected in the program, and curious architects and engineers wanted to know how the data was eventually going to be used, and gave critical feedback to improve the process.
On a whim I stepped into a Master Speaker session to hear Geoffrey Canada. I was blown away by this president and CEO of Harlem Children’s Zone, a comprehensive neighborhood network for Harlem children from birth through high school. He seamlessly weaved wonderful anecdotes with educational theory (“teaching is the only business I know where failure is acceptable”), tied in parenting lessons, the local food chain, and the effect of physical environment on learning. His presentation style and content were captivating; he was a highlight of the conference and demonstrated how closely green building is tied to social issues: “In this movement…you cannot exclude large groups of Americans that are a necessary part.”
The afternoon session featured the four finalists in this year’s Natural Talent Design Competition (the same national competition that awarded Eco-Laboratory first place two years ago). In 2011 they will construct the four disaster-resistant home designs in New Orleans, measure their performance for one year, and award the grand prize to the one with the lowest utility costs. I found the team compositions interesting – one student entered the competition by himself, another winning team was a professional firm created by an architecture, construction, and business student who founded their practice while still in school (similar to Pb Elemental in Seattle). They analyzed the competition entry in business terms, comparing their input of time and resources to the payoff (a good portfolio piece) even if they didn’t win.
After hours I made sure to attend the most vital Greenbuild sessions – the parties! I tagged along to an FSC award ceremony, and then to the chapter party at the House of Blues, and let me tell you – there is no combination quite like green builders and karaoke.