Greenbuild 2010: Redefining Leadership

By Matt Baker

It’s no secret that the current recession has hit few industries as hard as the building sector. As architects, designers, manufacturers, contractors and other related trades look for a way forward, the event held mid-November at McCormick Place should prove to be a beacon. For the first time since 2007, the USGBC hosted their annual Greenbuild conference here in Chicago. With hundreds of exhibitors, dozens of educational seminars and over 25,000 attendees from more than a hundred countries, it could be deemed a success in any economy, let alone this one.

The Greenbuild 2010 expo floor.

The USGBC used Greenbuild to announce several advancements, including LEED Automation. The new program is a collaboration with leading technology companies designed to streamline and create capacity for the LEED building certification process. LEED Automation enables project managers to submit documentation and certify LEED projects while interacting with third party technology platforms. This marks the first time USGBC has opened LEED Online to the software application market and third party software developers. It also will standardize LEED content and distribute it consistently across multiple technology systems.

The USGBC also announced the launch of two new endeavors: LEED for Retail, its newest green building rating system, and the LEED Volume Program, a program designed to meet the certification needs of high-volume property developers. Following a pilot program that has been in place since 2007, LEED for Retail will recognize the unique design and construction needs of this market, enabling forward-thinking retailers to integrate green building design, construction and operation into ground-up construction, retail interior and build-out projects.

The Aquia dual flush, wall mounted toilet by TOTO.

The LEED Volume Program is intended to streamline and make the LEED certification process faster and more manageable for high-volume property developers such as national retailers, hospitality providers and local, state and federal governments. Utilizing a prototype-based approach, the program enables large-scale organizational builders to deliver a consistent end product faster and cheaper.

Acknowledging that organizations can best identify the uniformity and similarities of their projects, the program was designed to be flexible, allowing owners to define the criteria for grouping similar buildings and the credits they plan to pursue. The volume approach also facilitates bulk purchasing and advance ordering of materials, reduced consultancy requirements, more efficient internal processes, greater speed to market as well as more precise documentation of corporate sustainability efforts.

But for a real gauge of where green building is driving the design and construction markets, the expo floor at Greenbuild couldn’t be more enlightening. Flooring, wall covering, landscaping, energy management…there wasn’t an absent subtrade at this year’s Greenbuild. There were even some surprise exhibitors, such as Ernst & Young. Anyone wondering why a group of CPAs and auditors were at the show might have been impressed by their sustainable financial assistance consulting efforts.

The Pathfinder chiller by Daikan McQuay.

As expected, lighting advancements featured prominently at this year’s show. USAI, a manufacturer of solid state lighting fixtures, featured several new products. Their “NanoLumen” fixture combines features of previous models for advanced thermal management. A light-weight, high-performance, aluminum heatsink is designed to dissipate twice as much heat as traditional die cast aluminum, maximizing the lifespan of LEDs up to 50,000 hours.

General Electric also featured some unique new products. The latest evolution of their LED bulb, rated for a 17-year lifespan, sports a series of fins which draw heat out, keeping the LEDs cool to ensure a longer life and greater efficiency. The bulb was also designed for better light distribution, delivering omni-directional light like a traditional incandescent bulb.

Next year, GE will prove that hybrids aren’t just for cars and Dr. Moreau anymore when they bring to market a light bulb that takes advantage of two different lighting technologies. The halogen capsule inside the hybrid halogen-CFL bulb comes on instantly, allowing the bulb to operate noticeably brighter in less than half a second. The capsule shuts off once the CFL comes to full brightness.

Attendees inspect the new Honeywell wind turbine.

Boral Roofing, a clay and concrete roof tile manufacturer, had several products on display. Their clay tiles are Cradle to Cradle certified and have a high solar reflectance, reducing HVAC loads. Similarly, their concrete tiles both reflect solar rays that hit the roof surface and thermally emit what solar radiation is absorbed. Concrete is a water-intensive material, but few things will last as long atop a roof. Boral claims that with proper maintenance, their concrete tiles can last 75 years or more.

The product they were most excited about, however, was a roof tile coated in a micro-mortar of titanium dioxide, able to scrub the air of air pollution. The catalyst embedded in the upper body of the tile speeds up oxidation and removes nitrogen oxide, a major component of smog, from the air. A 2,000 square feet roof of smog eating tiles can destroy the equivalent nitrogen oxide produced by the average U.S. automobile. The photocatalytic properties of titanium dioxide have been known for a while, but commercial products making use of the technology have been difficult to acquire outside of Europe and Japan.

Hydrotech’s GardNet confines loose growing media on green roofs.

Japanese toilet manufacturer TOTO has an idea for reducing toilet paper use, but you may not like it. Once in fashion in Europe, and apparently now widespread in Japan, bidets are an alternative form of bathroom hygiene. TOTO’s Washlet device reduces the impact on the wastewater reclamation system by reducing use of toilet paper by 50% to 90%. As Americans use the equivalent of 54 million trees’ worth of toilet paper annually, that would be no small contribution.

A bit more conventional, but still imaginative is the Aquia dual flush toilet. Varying from 1.6 to 0.9 gallons per flush, this wall­hung toilet saves space as well as water. The reservoir is packed inside the wall, even in a cavity created by 2×4 studs, maximizing the space of often cramped bathrooms.

Hydrotech’s InstaGreen sedum carpet installs like sod on virtually any pitch roof.

McQuay International, a division of Daikin Industries, was on hand to exhibit several of their HVAC products. The Pathfinder chiller uses R-134a refrigerant, which has no ozone depletion potential and no phase-out schedule.

In addition to enhanced refrigerant management, the chiller optimizes system efficiency. A “RapidRestore” option with variable frequency drives ensures that chillers restart immediately after a power outage for critical facilities like hospitals and server rooms. Other products recycle waste heat and/or humidity to generate significant energy savings. A fully integrated CO2 sensor helps some models maximize efficiency in delivering required ventilation. Practicing what they preach, their Minnesota research and development facility achieved LEED Gold earlier this year.

The UK-based company Dyson is best known for its bagless vacuum cleaners but is now using that powerful little motor to upgrade the historically ineffectual bathroom hand dryers in a move that may finally do away with the need to wipe your hands on your pants. The Airblade runs up to 80% more efficiently than standard dryers, and its 400 mph sheets of air dry hands in under twelve seconds. A HEPA filter, anti-microbial finish and touch-free operation reduce bacteria transmission. But most importantly, the Airblade dries twenty-two pairs of hands at the cost of one paper towel, with none of the needed transportation impacts associated with the latter.

GE’s halogen/CFL hybrid bulb, available in 2011.

Owens Corning had several green products and services on display, but two really stood out. Their two-part, foam-based sealant, EnergyComplete, can be sprayed into the corners of stud bays similar to spray foam insulation, reducing a home’s air infiltration by 70%, addressing a major source of energy loss. When paired with standard fiberglass batt insulation, this system can cut down a home’s air handling needs by up to a third.

Launched earlier this year, the company’s shingle recycling program has diverted nearly 50,000 tons of material from landfills. The old roofing shingles atop one house is equivalent to recycling that household’s waste for a year. Dozens of contractors around the country have pledged to recycle asphalt shingles whenever possible, which are then converted into roadway material. The program is currently active in seven markets, including Chicago.

EnergyComplete sealant, by Ownes Corning.

Hydrotech manufactures and installs all aspects of a green roof, from the membrane up and they have been involved on projects throughout Chicagoland, most notably atop Millennium Park which technically is a vegetated roof. They had two standout products on display at Greenbuild this year. The InstaGreen system is a sedum carpet that looks and is installed much like sod, with 75% coverage on installation and 90% after two years. It is an ideal option for flat or gently sloped applications.

For grades of up to 45°, there’s GardNet, an expandable, durable polyethylene sheet strip assembly, connected by a series of offset, ultrasonic welded seams. When expanded, a honeycomb, cellular confinement system appears. GardNet is typically used to hold lighter growing media and allows for free drainage of excess water.

Greenbuild has proven in the past—and this year was no exception—that the impetus for change can often be quite pedestrian. It need not come in the form of catastrophe or regulation; the opportunity for change can occur with any and all of us. “Leadership has to be passionate,” said retired General Colin Powell during his keynote speech at Greenbuild. “Each person involved must believe they have a purpose.”

Powell’s address focused on the traits of a strong leader and of the role that everyone plays in redefining the future–a message well-received by the thousands of attendees representing every sector of the building industry. “I like to go through life looking the windshield,” Powell said. “No side mirrors.”

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